As most Japanese pop-culture enthusiasts would know, Studio Ghilbi produces some of the most renowned, enthralling, and beautifully animated movies across the globe. One of their most popular pieces that have made headlines across the world includes “My Neighbour Totoro”, by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, a heart-warming story about two sisters who befriend some delightful forest creatures when they move into a new home. What most people don’t know is that the beautiful forest where the two sisters first meet Totoro, the main character, for the first time, and subsequently go on adventures with in, is actually inspired by a forest in Sayama Hills, affectionately known as “Totoro’s Forest” or “Forest of Totoro”.
If you and your partner have long ago fallen for the charms of Totoro, and want a chance to get in touch with the spirit of the much-loved character, then a walk through the trail in this forest is the perfect way to do this! It’s not too strenuous of an outdoor activity (hooray for those who don’t want to sweat it out profusely!), the setting is extraordinarily beautiful (it’d have to be, to inspire the magical forests of ‘My Neighbour Totoro’), and best of all, it can be done as a day hike from Tokyo (so convenient!).
In addition to all of the above, Sayama Hills is so much more than just the luscious forest. There are multiple equally as beautiful attractions to appreciate as you make your way through the trail to Totoro Forest. Below we’ve outlined all that you need to know to make the most of your day out in Totoro Forest in Sayama Hills, from how to get there, where to go, and what to look out for. Pack a little picnic, bring your charged camera, and you and your partner are guaranteed to have a good time!
Sayama Hills – How do we get there?
From Tokyo, it is simply one-hour trip by train or bus. The closest train station to the Totoro Forest is Seibukyujo-Mae Station, which is on the Seibu Sayama Line. Once you arrive at Seibukyujo-Mae, it is an approximate 30-minute walk from there to the forest, but you will immediately be blessed with some great views as you walk outside the station. Japan’s countryside is simply amazing!
On the official ‘Totoro Forest’ website, there are a few walking guides you can print out in an attempt to follow, however, they’re all in Japanese and leave much to be desired, as their adorable illustrations seem to have been the priority during the map-making. If you would like to print them off and bring them along, you can view them here.
What to Do at Totoro’s Forest, Sayama Hills
To begin, you need to head out of Seibukyujo-Mae Station, and take a right. From there, you can either head to Sayama Lake (towards the left), Totoro’s Forest (towards the right), or straight for Kurosuke House, which is a little further away (45-minutes walk).
They are all within walking distance of each other, so you can pick and choose how you would like your day to pan out. Our suggestion would be to head to Sayama Lake for the gorgeous views, then from there, walk to Totoro’s Forest and do a bit of exploring, visit Kurosuke House and pay giant Totoro (and friends) a little visit, and then wind back to Sayama Lake for a little lunch picnic before the day is finished.
Point of Interest #1 – Sayama Lake
A beautiful lake reservoir with picnic areas located in Saitama.
Sayama Lake was originally just an artificial body of water, made to supply water into the Tokyo Metropolis. Hikers through Totoro’s Forest however, quickly (and unknowingly) rebranded it as an attraction. Whilst it is still a man-made lake, it is absolutely gorgeous in its own right. When you’re looking out at the perfect blue hue of the still lake, a wave of calmness can’t help but wash over you. It is an experience and a feeling you definitely want to enjoy with your loved one.
There is a gate which stands guard all around lake, however, you can still nab some lovely pictures. Nearby the lake, there are picnic tables and chairs set up, which is the dream place to have a small picnic lunch with your partner. When you first arrive at the lake, you will see some tables and chairs. However, if you cross over to the other side of the bridge, the view is much nicer, and it is quieter without the traffic coming in and out of the lake, making for a more romantic setting. Sit down and relax after a bit of walking, and take in the fresh air mixed with the leaves.
Details for Picnic Area at Sayama Lake (狭山湖 右岸四阿)
Address: 359-1154 Saitama Prefecture, Tokorozawa, Shorakuji
Point of Interest #2 – Totoro’s Forest
A hiking forest destination located in the Sayama Hills, Saitama.
From the lake, it is roughly a 20-minute walk towards the forest. You will cross some roads and go through some residential areas to get there, which is expected. Some paths may seem overgrown with shrubs, but don’t worry, they’re all part of the adventure!
There are more than 40 ‘forests’ in total across the entire Totoro’s Forest (‘forests’ are described as different vegetation areas within the forest that you can visit. They are outlined in Japanese on the maps). Whilst you probably won’t be able to visit all of them in one day, you can definitely plan which ones you’re interested in through downloading the official walking guides from the website, and then plotting your way through. They’re all unique in their own way, whether in location, vegetation density, flora types, or layout, so have fun and try to visit as many as you can!
Also, whilst seeking out the different forests is an adventure itself, don’t forget to stop, look around and up and down, smell the fresh air in the forest, hear the crunch of the leaves as you hike the steps, appreciate the greenery, and stop once in a while to look a little closer at the forest creatures surrounding you – this forest is stunning in silence, it’s inhabitants unique in every day, and it will inspire you to keep exploring the outdoors, just so that you can keep seeking places like this all around the world.
Details for Totoro’s Forest
Address: 359-1153 Saitama Prefecture, Tokorozawa, Kamiyamaguchi, 雑魚入351
Point of Interest #3 – Kurosuke House
A traditional house that’s over 100 years old, home to a giant Totoro, wooden crafts, and Totoro merchandise.
One of the highlights of this trip would definitely have to be visiting Kurosuke House. It’s believed that that is where the magical creatures live, and you will be happy to know that a giant Totoro is waiting for you at the entrance! He sits there on the daily, contemplating life and just offering tranquil vibes to all those around him. When you head there, you will pass through some residential areas, where you might see some locals walking their pooches!
This house was built in 1990 as an attempt to shed light on the forest conservation efforts of a few select individuals. Whilst it was a successful venture, it now exists for visitors to come and enjoy, to take pictures with Totoro, and possibly donate some money to continue the efforts to conserve the forest. The fund is called ‘Totoro no Furatosato Foundation’ (Totoro Fund), and you can donate by dropping some money in the donation boxes around the house, or purchasing special edition Totoro merchandise at the quaint little store nearby. Most visitors are extraordinarily generous, which is why the funding so far has allowed for the preservation of the land and forests. There is also a tiny exhibition nearby on one of the older huts that detail (in Japanese) the conservation efforts so far.
Details for Kurosuke House
Address: 3 Chome-1169-1 Mikajima, Tokorozawa-shi, Saitama-ken 359-1164
Access: From both Totoro’s Forest and Sayama Hills, it is a rough 20-minute walk. Pop the above address into your Google Map, and head through the slightly inclined roads through some residential areas to the small house. When you get there, the entrance gate is on the right.
Hours: Only opened on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from 10am – 3pm (Closed on public holidays, year-end and new year holidays)
If you and your partner are thinking about doing a day hike from Tokyo, don’t hesitate to plan a day out in Sayama Hills. Just an hour away from the heavy traffic-laden metropolis of Tokyo lies a gorgeous sanctuary when you can relax your mind and enjoy Mother Nature’s creations for what it is without any distractions. There’s nothing like you and your loved one getting in touch with the wildlife side of things, and you’ll return possibly tired and sore, but with a refreshed mind, ready to take on the city again.