6 Setouchi Spots Used as Anime Settings

Dogo Onsen

From quaint port towns and traditional bath houses, to urban schools and Shikoku’s vine-infested valleys, the Setouchi region has inspired several anime films.

From quaint fishing towns with rustic surroundings to traditional Japanese bathing houses, Japan’s landscape, whether urban or rural, coastal or mountainous, traditional or modern, has been the inspiration for many anime artists over the years. 

This summer marks ten years since the release of Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (yes, that makes us feel old too!). It’s a little-known fact, but the village in the film is actually based on the small, rural fishing town of Tomonoura, Hiroshima prefecture.

On your visit to the Seto Inland Sea region, why not explore one of several locations that have inspired popular and award-winning anime enjoyed around the world? Read on to find out more about the top six spots in Setouchi that have been used as anime settings!
 

1. Tomonoura, Hiroshima Prefecture – Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Tomonoura_Village

The port town that features in Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea was modelled upon Tomonoura, a quaint port town located at the southern end of Fukuyama city which prospered in the early days of sail boats and trading. Also the main port town for neighbouring prefecture, Okayama, its lighthouse - the biggest stone lighthouse in Japan - guided boats and ships safely to the pier. 

The lighthouse remains a landmark attraction in the town, while the town centre offers visitors photogenic alleys lined by rustic houses with wooden facades, with several temples and shrines adding to the traditional ambiance of the town.  Visitors to Tomonoura can stay in traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring) hotel, Ofutei, which offers uninterrupted views of the Seto Inland Sea from its guestrooms.

2. Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture – In This Corner of the World; A Letter to Momo

Tomonoura_Village

With its beautiful location right on the Seto Inland Sea waterfront, it’s perhaps no surprise that the small town of Kure has been the inspiration for a number of films. Best known for its shipbuilding industry, this former naval port is home to the second oldest naval dockyard in Japan and is where the famous Japanese battleship, Yamato, was constructed during World War II. 

The classic anime, In This Corner of the World (1944), tells the story of a young girl who moves to Kure, where she marries a clerk who works at the local naval base. Taking inspiration from the historic background of the city, the film depicts the life of the town during World War II. 

More recently, award-winning film A Letter to Momo (2011) portrays another side of the city, set in the outlying inhabited islands of Kure city that can be seen from the port. It tells the story of a young girl, who moves from Tokyo with her mother to reside on the remote islands, with the picturesque landscape surrounding the mainland forming the backdrop for the film.

3. Dogo Hot Springs, Ehime Prefecture – Spirited Away

Dogo Onsen

For fans of Studio Ghibli films, this one perhaps requires little introduction - but since it’s so iconic we’ll introduce it anyway! One of Japan’s oldest onsen (hot spring) resorts, the town of Dogo is located in central Matsuyama, Ehime prefecture, on the island of Shikoku. The main attraction here for anime fans is Dogo Onsen, a wooden public bathhouse dating back to 1894. 

The interior of the building is a maze of stairways, passages and rooms, all of which are bustling with bathers during opening hours, while a colourful exterior is created by red-tinted glass windows. A similar structure features in the hit Studio Ghibli anime film, Spirited Away (2001), which took its inspiration from this bathhouse. 

Before relaxing in the hot spring baths, why not explore the other attractions of Dogo Onsen, which include a shopping arcade, interesting temples and shrines, and a museum about Masaoka Shiki, one of Matsuyama’s most celebrated figures?

4. Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture – Grave of the Fireflies

Kobe and Rokko mountains
 
Chiefly set in Kobe, with additional scenes in nearby Nishinomiya city, Hyogo prefecture, the heartbreaking anime classic Grave of the Fireflies (1988) follows the story of two siblings and their desperate struggle to survive during the final months of World War II. 

The film does not shy away from depicting the historical reality of the war, after Kobe and the surrounding areas have been bombed. However today the prefectural capital of Kobe is now a vibrant and thriving city - the sixth-largest city in Japan, best known for its Kobe beef as well as its unusual location, sandwiched in between the sea and the Rokko mountain range.

With a setting of towering peaks that frame the harbour, Kobe is considered one of Japan’s most attractive cities, and in 2019 it will become a host city for the Rugby World Cup. Rugby as well as anime fans will delight, as England have been confirmed to play the USA at Kobe Misaki Stadium on 26 September, 2019.
 

5.  Shikoku – Pom Poko

Iya Valley
 
Southwest of Japan’s main island of Honshu, Shikoku, which translates to mean “four countries”, is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. True to its name, the small but perfectly formed island consists of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi and Tokushima. 

Nineties anime film Pom Poko (1994), was set in various locations on Shikoku, and uses the island’s picturesque landscapes as the home of mythical raccoon-like creatures known as tanuki, who are depicted as heroes protecting their forest home from urban development.
 
Other locations include Takamatsu city in Kagawa prefecture (best known for the spectacular sprawling Ritsurin Garden with a teahouse, koi ponds and landscaped hills), Matsuyama city in Ehime prefecture (the prefectural capital, home to the Dogo Onsen bathhouse), and Komatsushima city in Tokushima prefecture (a major port hub connecting Shikoku to the Kansai area on Honshu).  

Visitors to the island can experience a kominka (traditional Japanese house) stay in Tokushima’s hidden Iya Valley, which features landscapes similar to the lush forested backdrop in Pom Poko that can be explored by a series of narrow paths and thrilling Indiana Jones-style vine bridges.
 

6.      Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture – The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya 

Kobe city view from shrine

Urban city Nishinomiya is flanked by its bigger and more well-known neighbours, being equidistant from Osaka to the east and Kobe to the west (in fact it is just 30 minutes journey by direct train from each), and can be divided into two areas: mountains in the north and a coastal plain in the south. 

Best known for its cherry blossoms in Shukugawa Park – one of the most famous blossom viewing spots in the region – Nishinomiya’s metropolitan vibe inspired the look and feel of the settings in the anime film, The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi (2003). 

The film is based around Nishinomiya Kita High School, and many other spots around the city were used as the inspiration for the artwork for the film, including the famous cherry blossoms, which can be seen and enjoyed by visitors every April.
 
Find out more about inspirational locations across the Setouchi region on
setouchtrip.com

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