Jiufen – Inspiration for Spirited Away?

A hike from Houtong to Jiufen via the Jinzihpi Ancient Footpath.

Houtong & Jinzihpi Ancient Footpath

After leaving Shifen (see previous post) I took the train to Houtong, another former coal mining settlement which now markets itself as Houtong Cat Village to draw in cat-loving tourists from around the world.

Shop at Houtong Cat Village

There were a number of cat-themed shops and cafes but I did not see many real cats. Perhaps, as it was a hot afternoon, they were all off somewhere having a shady siesta.

My main reason for coming here was because I had read that there is an ancient trail linking Houtong to Jiufen which was my ultimate destination for the day. What I didn’t realise is that there are a number of ancient trails traversing this hilly forested terrain and not all of them go where I wanted to go.

The trail goes to the top of this hill.

I finally came across a sign for Jinzihpi Ancient Footpath (also spelt Chintzupei) and luckily this trail took me in roughly the right direction.

It was a well made path with even stone steps and took me up to the top of the hill in about an hour or so.
According to a plaque, this poem was written by Liu Ming-teng, commander-in-chief of military forces in Taiwan while touring the area in 1867.

I was lucky with the weather, mild and sunny, and from the highest point of the trail I could just make out Taipei 101 (the world’s tallest building until overtaken by Burj Khalifa in Dubai) some 35 km away.

I could just make out Taipei 101 in the distance.

The trail then emerged onto a road which I walked along for a few more kilometres before reaching a point overlooking the town of Jiufen.


Follow this road for another hour or so to reach Jiufen.

Jiufen is down there.


Some years ago on this blog I wrote about the Japanese animated film, Spirited Away (see post here).

Apparently the film’s producer, Hayao Miyazaki, took inspiration from Jiufen when creating some of the scenes in his film. Amei’s teahouse in particular is considered to be similar to the bathhouse in Spirited Away (can’t see the resemblance myself). Others however doubt this claim and some say there is no evidence he even visited Jiufen.

Whatever the truth, the story has done wonders for the town’s tourist trade and the narrow lanes around Jiufen Old Street are heaving with visitors, including many from Japan.

Definitely worth a visit when you are next in Taiwan.

Totoro at Tokyo Sky Tree

Tokyo Sky Tree

Tokyo Sky Tree is a fairly new addition to Tokyo’s skyline, having opened to the public in May 2012.

The Guinness World Records (GWR) book ranks it as the tallest tower in the world with a height of 634m, which makes it about twice as high as the Eiffel Tower but it is still dwarfed by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (828m), the world’s tallest building.

If you are wondering what is the difference between a tower and a building, GWR defines a tower as a building in which usable floor space occupies less than 50% of its height.



This CNN graphic below compares heights of the tallest structures, including Sky City, a mega tower scheduled to be completed next year in Changsha, Hunan, China.tallest-buildings

When Tokyo Sky Tree first opened, tickets to the observation decks were sold out months in advance. When we went last month there was not much queuing at all but it was still fairly busy.

As you might be able to make out from my photo, there is a lower observation deck level around 350m up and a higher deck at 450m. You pay more for the higher level. We only went up as far as the lower deck where it was already too high up to get a decent photo with my limited skills and lack of tripod.

View of Tokyo from Sky Tree Floor 350.They have some clever touch-panel displays which can zoom in on particular districts, switch from night view to daytime view, provide information on points of interest and show speeded up time-lapse shots of a 24 hour cycle.

There is also a glass floor section for thrill seekers.Cool gadgets at Tokyo Sky Tree

While we enjoyed the Sky Tree, my kids preferred the Studio Ghibli shop which is located in the Solamachi shopping complex at the foot of the tower.

Studio Ghibli merch

Studio Ghibli are the creators of Totoro, Spirited Away and other classic Japanese animated films.

Totoro at Tokyo Sky TreeNo Face at Tokyo Sky Tree

Cat Bus at Tokyo Sky TreeMei chan at Tokyo Sky Tree

The shop sells stacks of official merchandise and Mums and Dads have little chance of exiting the shop with wallets intact.

For Totoro Fans

A good place for Totoro fans!

The shopping centre also has a food court and an excellent supermarket where we spotted this cuboid watermelon selling for a cool Yen 20,000 (USD200).

Square Melons at Tokyo Solamachi

This rather risqué sign looked a little out of place in the supermarket’s bakery section.

I would definitely recommend a trip to the Sky Tree while in Tokyo.

Spirited Away in Mimaland

When I heard that there was an abandoned theme park near Gombak, just north of Kuala Lumpur, I immediately thought of Spirited Away, the wonderful film from Studio Ghibli, makers of the Japanese animated classic Totoro.

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In case you haven’t seen it, Spirited Away is about a family who accidently stumble across a defunct theme park which was built during Japan’s bubble economy of the 1970s and later abandoned.  After sunset the 10 year old heroine, Chihiro,  finds that the park gets taken over by spirits and monsters and her parents are turned into pigs. Chihiro has to work in a spirit-world bath-house in order to secure freedom for her parents.

I had read that Mimaland opened in 1975 and was a popular water park until it closed down in 1993. This predecessor of Sunway Lagoon used to have water slides, boating and fishing ponds, a dinosaur attraction, chalets and other facilities. Nowadays it is almost forgotten and overgrown and there is even talk of tiger sightings in the area.

With this in mind I set off to locate Mimaland which I knew was just off the old Bentong Road not far from the Orang Asli Museum.  I had to stop a couple of times to ask locals for directions but eventually found the turn off which passed under a wooden gateway which had weeds growing out of the roof.

Entrance Gate to Mimaland Road

The road was badly rutted and potholed so I parked my car on the roadside and continued up a steep slope on foot.

The road had badly eroded in places.

After fifteen minutes or so I arrived at a tall metal fence blocking the road marked with warnings not to trespass any further.

No entry beyond this point.

Through a gap in the fence I was able to photograph the park’s dilapidated entrance gate. There was a small hut there with a motorbike parked outside, presumably belonging to a security guard although there was nobody around. It was clear that the jungle was reclaiming this park and visitors were no longer welcome.

Entrance Gate to Mimaland

I took a side trail to see if there was any vantage point to get a view of whatever still lies inside but the tall metal fence continued to block access. Clouds of mosquitoes buzzed around my skinny white legs in search of a meal but fortunately I do not seem to have been bitten. Either my blood was not to their taste or the Carrefour repellant wipes did their job.

Lots of mozzies here.

I did not really expect to see any ghosts or stink spirits at Mimaland but I wouldn’t wish to go there after dark – just in case!

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