A Walk in Totoro's Forest - Sayama Hills Day Trip from Tokyo

10 Feb 2020

Under the thick shadow of overgrown trees, mosquitoes stick to my skin as we hike up a hill. The air is dense with moisture and the heat, almost unbearable. The buzzing of cicadas threatens to deafen us. I smile. We're in Totoro's Forest.

We drove here from our little guesthouse in Akasaka, Tokyo in under an hour. We're on a road trip to the incredibly picturesque town of Yamanouchi but I want a break in the drive. The Sayama Hills are spot on.

The Sayama Hills

Just North-west of Tokyo lush forests, farmlands, rice fields and woods surround the Sayama and Tama lakes. Golfing, cycling, indoor skiing and other activities are all on offer here. A handful of small shrines and Buddhist temples can be found nearby. But the true joy is in walking through this traditional Japanese landscape, the edge between rolling hills and farmland, the 'Satoyama'.

Totoro's Forest is the name given to a collection of forests in this area, presumably because they inspired the backdrop for Miyazaki's film My Neighbour Totoro. Since Chris and I are hardcore Studio Ghibli fans, a visit to the Sayama Hills is a no-brainer.

Into Totoro's Forest

We've parked the car on a dirt road behind us and after stopping briefly at a sign at the entrance of the forest, we're making our way up a path.

We come to a set of steps indented onto the side of the hill. We climb up and follow the path up and around several farmlands.

The greenery is dense, it's hard to believe we're so close to one of the largest cities in the world. Here, we're in a world of our own.

We arrive at a shrine 'Horigushi Tenman' and take a breather. It's not an arduous walk by any means, but the heat, the mosquitos and the humidity are palpable.

Kurosuke House

On our way down we meet an Aussie - Mel. She's heading up for the hike, the first person we've seen since we arrived here. She asks us about the path ahead and we part ways. As Chris and I get onto the car and I start pulling off, I can see her running back to us on the rearview mirror.

She's against the walk. By this point, it's very hot, and she wants to see Kurosuke House. "That's where we're headed!," I say. "Climb in".

The Sayama Hills are under threat from deforestation and illegal dumping. To prevent this, a charitable trust called the Totoro Foundation has been working with donated funds to buy and preserve these forests. Some years ago the Foundation bought a hundred-year-old house, restored it, and gave it the name Kurosuke House (Kurosuke are the little black dust creatures in the Totoro and Spirited away films that only children can see).

On this hot day, we find a group of elder Japanese visitors sitting on the engawa verandas - those bits of wooden terrace surrounding Japanese houses. They're having lunch and sipping on hot drinks. They smile at us as we approach.

The house is impressive, and we can spot a little something special waiting for us here.

Once inside, we kick off our shoes and take a look around, exploring to our hearts' content.

Even the garden is scenic.

When we've had a good look around every corner of the house and made some new Japanese friends Chris buys a postcard for me and a white and pink Totoro t-shirt for himself. Then, it's time to be on the road again.

But not before I get a picture with Totoro.

How to get to Totoro's Forest

A train from Tokyo gets you to Seibu-Kyūjō-mae station in under an hour. From here, it's a 25-minute walk to the forest. From Tokyo, take the Seibu Ikebukuro Line from Ikebukuro Station to Nishi-Tokorozawa, and change lines to Seibu Sayama Line. 

We drove from Akasaka in about an hour, on our way to Yamanouchi town in Nagano (Snow Monkeys Mountain). It provided the perfect spot for breaking the drive, as it was on the way. 

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