When films truly touch us, particularly when the settings play a very prominent role in the narrative, there can be something magical about personally setting foot on a production location. The simple act of visiting a town or restaurant or stretch of highway that features prominently in a favorite film can be profoundly impactful, and at the very least you get a great social media photo-op! Here are few locations from popular Japanese films that are easily accessible to travelers in Japan — all the way from the northernmost island Hokkaido to the south in Okinawa. By visiting these settings, both film-lovers and tourists can gain insight into the real-life inspiration behind the movies, as well as discover something new through their own perspective.
1.Hokkaido: The Yellow Handkerchief/幸福の黄色いハンカチ
Lake Akan, Hokkaido
The Yellow Handkerchief (1977) is one of the most popular and influential road movies to come out of Japan. The heartwarming story of three strangers who embark on a long road trip across Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Starting from Abashiri in the island’s northeastern coast, the trio travels over 300 kilometers until their final destination, the city of Yubari, passing through popular Hokkaido locations, including Lake Akan, Obihiro, and Rikubetsu. The movie is based on a 1971 column in the New York Post by American journalist Pete Hamill, and lucky for contemporary travelers, 2017 Hokkaido looks much like it did 40 years ago, replete with stunning scenery, friendly locals, thriving wildlife, and great food! With far less traffic than in other smaller prefectures in Japan, Hokkaido is the perfect destination for a road trip — follow the movie traces as you hit the roads from Abashiri city — where Japan’s most infamous prison is based — to Yubari, the city of the country’s most delicious melons. Travelers to Yubari can also stop by at the “Kiiroi Hankachi Omoide Hiroba,” a sightseeing spot dedicated to the movie.
Main Cast: Ken Takakura, Kaori Momoi Director: Yoji Yamada
2.Nagakute, Aichi, Satsuki and Mei’s House: My Neighbor Totoro/となりのトトロ
Morikoro Park（Expo Memorial Park, Aichi）
An undeniable bellwether in the global popularization of Japanese anime, My Neighbor Totoro has amassed legions of fans from around the world. The story of two young sisters in post-war Japan focuses primarily on their adventures with friendly forest spirits, but “the house” is also a primary setting. The film proved so popular that a real life version of the fictional, animated house, assembled and decorated with exacting detail, was deemed a worthwhile tourist destination. So, even now, nearly 30 years since the film’s release, fans can visit the Morikoro Park (Expo Memorial Park) in Nagakute City, Aichi Prefecture and tour Satsuki and Mei’s house for a time slip into Showa-era Japan.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
3.Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo: Otoko wa Tsurai yo/男はつらいよ
Over a 26-year run and 48 total film installments, the stories of Otoko wa Tsurai yo (“It’s Tough Being a Man”) had one common setting: the Shibamata neighborhood in northwestern Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward. The films’ recurring protagonist, the romantically doomed Tora-san would travel near and far around Japan, but always long to return to his beloved and idyllic Shibamata. For modern-day travelers, Shibamata Station is only about an hour from Shinjuku, and immediately upon your arrival, you’ll be greeted by a statue of Tora-san erected just outside the station!
Main Cast: Atsumi Kiyoshi, Chieko Baisho Director: Yoji Yamada
4.Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo: Tsukiji Wonderland/築地ワンダーランド
This is one location where travelers need to move quickly! Well, at least by autumn 2018, when the Tsukiji Fish Market is scheduled to be shut down and relocated. As the world’s largest fish market, Tsukiji offers a number of attractions for both domestic and international visitors who invariably end up being counted among the market’s estimated 30,000 daily customers. Tsukiji Wonderland, a documentary film, focuses specifically on characters among the fish market’s wholesalers, exploring their expertise and devotion to finding and delivering the best fish possible to their customers. Tsukiji is a destination where you’d want to go to very early in the morning with an empty stomach, because there will be much irresistible seafood to consume!
Director: Naotaro Endo
5.Kamakura: Our Little Sister/海街 Diary
Whether one is a fan of Koreeda’s Our Little Sister or not, Kamakura is a wonderful travel destination — regardless if you’re fan of a traditional Japan or just want to take a stroll on the beach. Regardless of what time of the year you decide to arrive, you definitely will not be disappointed — and fans of the film will know why, because in addition to the film’s focus on family and sisterhood in particular, the natural, four-seasons beauty of Kamakura also plays a significant role. The story of three sisters welcoming an unknown fourth is beautiful in narrative and in setting, and the latter is quite easy to visit.
Main Cast: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
6.Spa Resort Hawaiians（Joban Hawaiian Center）: Hula Girls/フラガール
Spa Resort Hawaiians（Joban Hawaiian Center）
In this dramatization of real-life events circa 1965, the residents of Iwaki City, a struggling coal mining town in Fukushima Prefecture, take a chance on starting a hula dance troupe. The dance troupe is merely the first step in building a Hawaiian-style resort and theme park to bolster a flagging, primarily coal-based economy, but the plan is vehemently opposed by much of the town. As you can probably imagine, even though much drama ensues, the hula dancers do eventually win the community over, and thus was born the Joban Hawaiian Center, now known as the Spa Resort Hawaiians, which is open and welcoming to travelers from around the world.
Main Cast: Yasuko Matsuyuki, Yu Aoi Director: Sang-il Lee
7.Fukuejima, Nagasaki: Goto no Torasan/五島のトラさん
Set in Fukuejima, one of the 140 Goto Islands off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture, the movie follows the lives of a large, nine-member family over a 22-year span. Against the backdrop of partings, tears, everyday life happiness and strong family bonds, each family member is unique, but they all share something in common: making udon (Japanese noodles), the family business. The father, and owner of the business, Torao “Tora san” Inuzuka uses udon to teach his children life lessons about work, survival, and dedication, but we get to see him on a few occasions when life takes him by surprise and leaves him in tears over family affairs. This all happens on the Fukuejima island, which we get to see a lot in the documentary — its beauty is stunning despite its remoteness and general sense of isolation from the rest of the world. It is a location you can understand only by an actual visit — which you can do if you hop on a ferry from Nagasaki Port Terminal ride for a good 3.5 hours and get off at the Fukue Port Terminal.
Director: Masaru Oura
Japan’s ongoing tourism and travel boom have made the nation more accessible to visitors than ever before. Of course fluent English isn’t common everywhere you travel, but easy, safe, clean transportation, loads of great food, and generally polite and often friendly people are. If a location from a Japanese film was touching or meaningful for you, then by all means take a trip!