travel and tourism

Turning Japanese: Philippines gets a Ghibli-themed Christmas village

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Turning Japanese: Philippines gets a Ghibli-themed Christmas village

GHIBLI PARK. A Christmas village featuring characters from Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli opens in Bayambang, Pangasinan on November 17, 2023.

Screenshots from Mayor Niña Jose-Quiambao/Facebook

(3rd UPDATE) A Ghibli-inspired Christmas village in Pangasinan opens, in another sign of Filipinos' growing appetite for Japanese creations

MANILA, Philippines – There’s a new Ghibli park and it’s not in Japan, where fans of the renowned Asian animation film studio can visit. 

A town in northern Philippines introduced last Friday, November 17, a Japan-inspired Christmas village in time for this year’s holiday season. 

The “Ghibli-inspired Paskuhan sa Bayambang” (Christmas in Bayambang) launched in Pangasinan, a four-hour drive or 300 kilometers north of the capital. 

CAT BUS. A local tourist has her photo taken in Ghibli-inspired Paskuhan sa Bayambang. Posted on Mayor Niña Jose-Quiambao’s Facebook page.

Similar to the Ghibli theme park in Aichi, Japan, which opened to anime fans and tourists only over a year ago, this public park has popular Ghibli characters such as Totoro, Cat Bus, No-Face, Yubaba, Moro, Kiki and Jiji, Laputian Robot, Ponyo, Calcifer, and a Howl’s Moving Castle, among others, where visitors can take selfies with the anime characters. 

The village is a project of Bayambang Mayor Niña Jose-Quiambao, and created by a Philippine firm, Couple Minds Events Studio, based in Calasiao, Pangasinan. Couple Minds posted a video of the Ghibli-inspired park days before the opening.  Watch in this video below:

It is, however, much smaller and simpler than Japan’s seven-hectare Ghibli theme park.

Other photos of the Ghibli-inspired village have been posted by Couple Minds Events Studio. See below:

Ghibli Park opened only over a year ago inside the Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park. It has no rides but is a large exhibition of the world of Studio Ghibli. It has interactive exhibits, a play area, a screening room which shows the studio’s animated shorts, a souvenir shop, and a café. 

Japan also has Ghibli Museum in Tokyo which showcases the works of Studio Ghibli. It opened in 2001.

Ghibli characters are among the most well-known Japanese anime worldwide. Studio Ghibli, led by award-winning animators and directors Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao, is the Japanese film studio behind hit anime movies such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Castle in the SkyKiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo

Mayor Jose-Quiambao – a former Pinoy Big Brother housemate and actress – led the opening of the Christmas village. Jose-Quiambao, a first-term town chief, is a self-confessed fan of Japan. In a post in October 2022 on her Instagram, showing her wearing a kimono with her businessman-husband, former Bayambang mayor Cezar Quiambao, she said: “Japan my favorite country. I miss you.”

She also likes the character Ponyo from Studio Ghibli’s 2008 film of the same name about a goldfish princess who meets a boy and becomes a human. Quiambao lost her baby, Marian Hannah Claire, after carrying her for five months in 2023, and the Christmas village was put up partly to remember her child.

“Ponyo is like my Hannah,” she said in a post on her Facebook account while promoting the Christmas village. Some of the commenters on her post said Ponyo was also their favorite Ghibli character.

In another post on November 26, Sunday, she said: “The Paskuhan [village] is mainly dedicated to my daughter, Marian Hannah Claire. I love Ghibli films so much and I thought I would be announcing my pregnancy on that day and instead it was a memorial for my daughter.”

Many of Quiambao’s constituents expressed gratitude to the mayor for putting up a Japan-inspired Christmas village. 

“Thank you, mayor, for bringing us closer to Japan Wonderland,” said netizen Leila Gabriel in a comment on the mayor’s Facebook post.

Unlike the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, and the new Ghibli Park in Aichi, the recreation ground is free to the public. 

Japanese brands

This Ghibli-inspired Christimas village is another sign of Filipinos’ love for Japanese creations and brands as travel to the Land of the Rising Sun recovers post-pandemic. 

There’s been a growth in Japanese brands throughout the Philippines after its former colonizer made it easier for Filipinos to visit Japan in 2013

Tips on getting a travel visa, 2023 edition

Tips on getting a travel visa, 2023 edition

From only a handful of Japanese food establishments in the 1970s, there’s now a wide array of Japanese restaurants and ramen stores in major Philippine cities. Japanese brands such as clothing apparel company Uniqlo, bag store Anello, optical shop OwnDays have sprouted in malls in the past decade.

The Philippines’ leading mall operator SM Prime has found a niche anime market and now exclusively shows Japanese anime movies regularly in its cinemas. 

One of the Japanese anime movies shown this year is the basketball film The First Slam Dunk. Digimon Adventure 02: The Beginning will be show exclusively in select SM Cinemas on December 6. 

One of the leading prime time series this year was a live adaptation of the Japanese anime televison series Voltes V: The Legacy, shown on GMA Network, The Philippines’ largest broadcast company.

The Philippines’ biggest indie movie, rom-com Kita Kita, which earned P300 million at the box office, was shot in Hokkaido, northern Japan, in 2017. 

An upcoming movie expected to do well next month in the 2023 Metro Manila Film Festival is When I Met You in Tokyo, a reunion film of 1970s love team, veteran drama actors Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon. It was shot in Japan. 

A number of establishments now also have artificial cherry blossom trees to give a Japanese feel to their establishments. 

The Philippines was the top eight source of visitors to Japan as of August 2023 with 367,480 visitors from the Philippines in the first eight months of 2023. 

Among Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines was Japan’s third leading source of visitors after Thailand and Vietnam so far this year.

Of the 367,480 total visitors from the Philippines to Japan in 2023, the 299,079 Filipino tourists accounted for 81%. 

The number of Filipinos visiting Japan is also close to reaching the peak reached in 2019 or before the pandemic shut borders, when 613,114 Filipinos went to Japan, of whom 523,109 or 85% were tourists. 

A 2023 study done by travel and experiences app Klook shows that bookings for Japan have already exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 83%. (READ:  Want to do revenge travel in Tokyo? Here’s what you need to know)

And tourism will likely get a boost after the two countries signed a five-year tourism deal early this month during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

The agreement seeks to increase tourist arrivals from both countries by enhancing air and sea connectivity, among others. –


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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.