Japan's long-awaited Ghibli Park is now open

Visitors look around the central staircase of 'Ghibli's Great Warehouse' on the opening day of the new Ghibli Park in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture on Tuesday. (AFP photo)

NAGOYA: A theme park featuring the beloved characters of Studio Ghibli and scenes from its hit animation films such as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away opened in central Japan yesterday.

Ghibli Park in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, opened three areas -- Ghibli's Grand Warehouse, Hill of Youth, and Dondoko Forest -- to expectant fans of the famed animation studio, with tickets for November already sold out.

Visitors entered the park after a countdown to its partial opening, looked on by film director Goro Miyazaki, the son of Ghibli co-founder and legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki.

Natsuki Miyauchi, 19, a university student from Saitama Prefecture, eastern Japan, expressed excitement as she wore a red hair bow in a nod to the young witch in the 1989 movie "Kiki's Delivery Service."

"It's like a dream come true to experience a world that I've known since I was a child," she said.

Unlike Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea near the Japanese capital and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, Ghibli Park has no rides but is expected to enchant visitors with artifacts and exhibits reminiscent of their favourite movies.

It is built inside a commemorative park on the site of the 2005 World Expo held in Nagakute, with the areas blending in with nature, a theme often depicted in Ghibli movies.

At a commemorative ceremony on Monday, the younger Miyazaki, who supervises the park's construction, said he was very happy to see the park's opening and vowed to "do his utmost" until the remaining two areas -- "Valley of Witches" and "Mononoke Village" -- open over the next two years.

When all five areas will have opened in the spring of 2024, Aichi estimates that Ghibli Park will have attracted 2.8 million annual visitors and created an economic ripple effect of about 48 billion yen for the area.

As the prefecture hopes for a regional tourism boost, the park faces the challenge of attracting not just new visitors but repeat customers.

"Parks without rides face a high hurdle of making visitors want to come back," said Megumi Nakajima, a part-time lecturer of management at Meiji University.

"There are around five million people living within an hour's drive of the park. If the park has rotating special exhibits or seasonal events, repeat visitors from the local area will grow and increase the park's profit," she said.

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