Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese animated film maker, co-founder of Studio Ghibli and the creator of 2001’s masterpiece Spirited Away. It is well known among fanatics that Taiwan serves as the base of inspiration for Miyazaki, with lush forests contrasting with modern cities. However there is a small place where not only can you relive Spirited Away‘s inspiration but you can also eat in the same locations.
If you get on a bus and drive north for about an hour out of Taiwan you’ll find yourself at the base of a mountain – at Juifen. Vice’s Elyssa Goldberg takes us there.
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Juifen is a small village situated a little way up the mountain which experienced a large gold rush from 1893 to 1971. Its name translates to “nine portions” and reflects what the nine families who lived in the village were meant to bring from the markets at the base of the mountain.
For the most part, the buildings remain intact since Japanese occupation started in 1895, and as such the historic feeling is strong.
Photo credit: Elyssa Goldberg
Since the village is oriented vetically, you actually begin in the same place as Spirited Away‘s heroine Chihiro does. There are a couple of main streets running parallel to each other but Juifen’s Old Street is the most popular. With stairs, lanterns and winding cobblestone streets packed tight by the buildings spanning back the last hundred years, it’s easy to feel lost in time here.
Juifen has become a food-enthusiasts paradise, with food stalls serving traditional treats such as taro balls at Grandma Lai’s Yuyuan, tea eggs, and pineapple cake. As the smells of cooking and the sounds of the dialect fill the air, it’s possible to snatch a glimpse of the mountains covered in the thick Studio Ghibli-esque forests with the South China Sea bordering.
Juifen is a very, very pretty place.