Why “Spirited Away” Jiufen is a Must in Your Taiwan Itinerary

July 13, 2023 Travel

When I saw Jiufen in our itinerary, I was happy. I was elated when our tour guide, Felix, told us that Taiwan Tourism Bureau had arranged a tea ceremony for us at Amei Tea House.

He was careful explaining Jiufen to us and did not mention its biggest tourist draw – Spirited Away. That got me curious. 


When I first visited Jiufen with my close friend, we had Amei Tea House on top of our list. We barely gave attention to the colorful stores lining up the alley leading to the teahouse. But we were not successful in getting a good photo of the teahouse and could not get a slot inside. Throngs of tourists had the same agenda.


We believed Jiufen was Hayao Miyazaki’s inspiration for the animated film Spirited Away, Studio Ghibli’s most successful film, which won an Oscar in 2003. 


Jiufen’s winding alleys were said to influence the movie’s "downtown" scenes, and Amei Tea House, the focal point, inspired the bathhouse. 

Amei Tea House


Our group

According to Taiwan News, Miyazaki confirmed in several interviews that he has never visited Jiufen. “Spirited Away is not inspired by any one place," he said, but is rather a product of his imagination.


But still, tourists come to Jiufen to get spirited away, and locals and tour companies still promote the myth.


Spirited away or not, Jiufen is magical.


Located in the northeastern part of the island nation, Jiufen is a mountain village with winding alleyways lined with red lanterns, known for its unique street food and other finds, historic teahouses, and spectacular mountain and ocean views. 


We rushed past the shops because of our tight itinerary, but we could not help but spot some interesting food items like dumplings, different skewers, and that Taiwanese dessert – one of my current favorites – that has taro balls, sweet potato balls, and jellies in syrup. I also saw some nice skirts, cute souvenirs, and liniments. I am obsessed with liniments now. 

This is among the most quaint and storied markets I have ever seen and one of my favorites. 


Jiufen was a gold mining hub in 1893. Prior to that, it was the center of the harvesting and processing of camphor in Taiwan. The name Jiufen translates to “nine units” or “nine sections.” Some accounts attribute the name to the 90 camphor stoves grouped together into nine processing units. Others say the nine units are the nine families in that isolated village – thus, nine portions for every shipment that arrives.


The initial tourism boom, which Felix explained to us, was from another movie that was filmed here. The 1989 film A City of Sadness was a Golden Lion award winner at the Venice Film Festival.


Amei Tea House is 55 steps down from the main alleyway and is located at Shuqi Road. It was originally a blacksmith’s shop built in the 20th century in that small mining village. While Miyazaki denied the rumor, there is some resemblance to the bathhouse in Spirited Away, with its eye-catching Japanese architectural style.


Amei was the owner’s granddaughter, who turned it into a teahouse. 


The building has several levels divided into east and west wings. The east wing is for tea tasting, while the west is for dining. 


Before we entered the teahouse, we stopped by the view deck to get a photo. Finally, I had a solo photo with the teahouse as my background.

After we went inside the teahouse, our tour guide asked us to sit down for the tea ceremony, but we could not help but photograph the view from Amei’s Tea House, with its red lanterns in the foreground. Being perched on the side of Keelung Mountain, the teahouse has a good view of Taiwan’s northern coastline. 


When Felix finally got us all together, our mistress of ceremonies started by distributing postcards and pointing to us our current location. We were on the third floor of the teahouse. 

Pointing where we were


She lit her stove and started the ceremony. Along the way, she explained the process of preparing Oolong tea. 


Amei Tea House has been performing tea ceremonies for many years now. The staff serves teas cultivated from the mountains in Taiwan. 

The taller cup is the smelling cup


After each of us was served, we tasted our tea. It was delicious, and we also started munching on the different Taiwanese desserts spread around us.


After our tea ceremony, our guide gave us 30 minutes of shopping time, so up the 55-step flight of stairs and into the narrow alleyways we went again. I did not get to sample any more of the food I wanted, but I got my liniment. 

To experience Taiwan, fly from Clark International Airport to Taipei via Cebu Pacific Air, Eva Air, and soon, Starlux Airlines. Details are on Clark International Airport’s social media accounts and clarkinternationalairport.com.


More about Taiwan at eng.taiwan.net.tw.


It is always a good time for Taiwan. 


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