If you physically stepped into the fantastical world of Spirited Away or another Studio Ghibli film, what would it be like? After a long wait, fans of the Japanese animation studio can finally experience it. Tucked away in the outskirts of Nagoya is Ghibli Park, less a traditional theme park and more an authentic, unforced experience, one built in “close consultation with the surrounding forest,” as its website states.

Sam Anderson visits to tell us all about it. While he doesn’t meet Hayao Miyazaki himself, he speaks with his son, Goro Miyazaki, and studio co-founder and “the yin to Miyazaki’s yang,” Toshio Suzuki. In this piece, Anderson gives us a delightful glimpse of the park, and also celebrates the legendary animator’s unmatched vision.

I stopped to watch a spider working in some upper branches, building a large web, twisting and prancing, silhouetted against the blue sky. I passed clusters of fallen acorns on the ground — the forest replenishing itself — and they made me think about Totoro, and thinking about Totoro made me notice more acorns, and soon I stooped to collect some. I filled my pockets. I was happy. And it struck me that this was exactly what I went into Miyazaki’s films for, and what Miyazaki’s animation almost paradoxically did for me: It helped me to find reality, to really see it, to experience it as real, ordinary and strange, boring and surprising. Ghibli Park, in its simplicity, honored this spirit completely. Goro’s vision of a theme park was more radical than the grandest roller coaster could ever be.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.