Christmas in the Philippines

Meet the creators of the Philippines’ Ghibli-inspired Christmas village

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Meet the creators of the Philippines’ Ghibli-inspired Christmas village

CREATIVE COUPLE. Event stylists Jessica (left) and Oscar Gironella are the couple behind the Philippines' Ghibli-inspired Christmas village in Bayambang, Pangasinan, a personal project of former Pinoy Big Brother housemate and now Bayambang Mayor Niña Jose Quiambao.

Oscar Gironella III/Handout

(1st UPDATE) Despite not having ever been to Japan, event stylists Oscar Gironella III and wife Jessica Tamandong created a Japanese-themed Christmas village in Bayambang, Pangasinan, a personal project of its mayor, former actress Niña Jose-Quiambao

MANILA, Philippines – They’ve never been to Japan and yet this couple was able to create the Philippines’ first Ghibli-inspired Christmas village. 

Meet Oscar Gironella III and his wife Jessica, the couple behind event stylist Couple Minds Events Studio. They’re the creators of the Ghibli-inspired Paskuhan sa Bayambang (Christmas in Bayambang) in Pangasinan, northern Philippines, which features many of Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli’s well-known characters such as Totoro, Cat Bus, No-Face, Yubaba, Ponyo, Moro, Kiki and Jiji, Chihiro, Laputian Robot, Calcifer, and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Turning Japanese: Philippines gets a Ghibli-themed Christmas village

Turning Japanese: Philippines gets a Ghibli-themed Christmas village

In a Zoom interview with Rappler on Monday, November 27, the couple said the park, which sits on 500 square meters of the town plaza, is a “personal project” of first-term Bayambang Mayor Niña Jose-Quiambao, a Ghibli fan; and her businessman-husband, Cezar, the former mayor of the town

COUPLE. Event stylists Jessica Tamandong and Oscar Gironella III are interviewed by Rappler.

Cezar is a former president of Stradcom Corporation, a company which, for many years, was the IT provider of the Land Transportation Office. His wife is a former Pinoy Big Brother housemate and actress. She succeeded her husband in the 2022 local polls. 

The Gironellas were personally contracted by the Quiambaos last September to do the Christmas village, and it took two and a half months to complete the project. 

While the mayor is a Studio Ghibli fan – she chose the Ghibli characters featured in the village – the Gironella couple said they were not familiar with the works of the Japanese animation company, and thus had to do a lot of research so they could create the Ghibli-inspired park. 

“When we first heard that [Ghibli], we said, ‘Ano ‘yun (What’s that)?’” said 29-year-old Jessica, recalling the time when the mayor pitched it to them.  

“It was challenging for us because when we were asked to make it, we’d never heard of Studio Ghibli so what we did, we watched videos on YouTube, [videos of] bloggers. We even watched those [Ghibli] movies to get inspiration,” said 30-year-old Oscar, a computer engineer. There was no discussion with the Quiambaos on the licensing of the Ghibli characters, he added. 

Japan has two Studio Ghibli recreation grounds: Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, and the newly opened Studio Ghibli theme park in Aichi near Nagoya in central Japan.

Many of the Ghibli characters in the Christmas village are combinations of styrofoam and paper mache sprayed with water-proof paint. However, the big characters in the park, such as the Cat Bus, have a wooden structure beneath and cloth – often used for mascots – on top. The Ghibli-inspired houses at the park also have a steel structure. 

At least 35 workers were tapped to make the village a reality. 

The village is open from 4 pm to 11 pm, but due to the scores of people wanting to see the park and have their photos taken with the Ghibli characters, the municipal government has had to limit the number of people going in as well as the length of time they are allowed inside the park. The queues to see the Christmas village have also grown, and there’s a clamor to extend the village’s opening and closing times.

The Gironellas said the Ghibli-inspired Christmas village is their biggest project following the Christmas Miracle Garden that their hometown, Calasiao, also in Pangasinan, built for Christmas 2022. 

The Christmas Miracle Garden in Calasiao, a project of the town’s late mayor, Mamilyn Agustin-Caramat, was patterned after Dubai’s Miracle Garden, the world’s largest natural flower park.

Similar to the Ghibli-inspired village, the Gironellas have also never been to Dubai, so they had to do a lot of research online to be able to do a smaller version of the Dubai Flower Garden, which uses real flowers. The Christmas Miracle Garden in Calasiao used silk cloth. 

Puro (All) research, browsing of blogs,” said Oscar. 

Explaining the concept for the Miracle Garden, Jessica said that when she visited Manila to see Christmas displays, she noticed that very few focused on flowers, so she thought of pushing the flower-themed Christmas village in their discussions with the then-mayor of Calasiao.  

The flower garden was shut down a few weeks after the mayor unexpectedly died in January 2023. 

With the publicity from these two major projects, the Gironellas said they’ve been getting calls to do similar projects in other local areas, but they’ve had to turn them down since they don’t want to compromise quality if they take on too many projects.

Entrepreneural spirit

The Gironellas, high school sweethearts who married in 2020, have been in the events industry since 2016. Couple Minds Events Studio has been styling weddings, baptisms, birthdays, and other special events, mostly in Pangasinan. 

One sign of the couple’s entrepreneurial spirit is their trading venture during the pandemic when public gatherings were limited. 

They went into buying goods from upscale grocery membership store, S&R, in Manila, and selling them in Calasiao, around six hours drive from the capital, to tide them over during those difficult years. 

Aside from events styling, the Gironellas are also into gowns and suits rental, as well as the laundry business. They also recently took over managing a hotel, the Pangasinan Regency Hotel in Calasiao. The Gironella family also manages the Philippine College of Science and Technology in Pangasinan, where Oscar is a principal.

After their successful Christmas village projects, the Gironellas hope to be able to visit Japan and Dubai some time in the future.

FAMILY. Jessica and Oscar Gironella III with their two kids. Oscar Gironella III/Handout

“Yes, yes, but not now because we have [a] new-born,” said Jessica. They have two children: Zara Eloise and their new baby, Oscar VI. – Rappler.com

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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.