Director Hayao Miyazaki's childhood home gets new life as art gallery

April 06, 2013


UTSUNOMIYA, Tochigi Prefecture--A traditional Japanese-style house where acclaimed anime film director Hayao Miyazaki spent part of his childhood has been drawing crowds since it became home to a small modern art gallery last year.

The 80-year-old, two-story wooden structure, now housing the Hanna art gallery, has been the inspiration for a number of scenes in Miyazaki's films.

The house had been unoccupied for several years until it was rented by 35-year-old Asuko Thomas, who opened Hanna in February 2012.

Thomas, who also lives in part of the house, created a lounge upstairs, and uses a Western-style room and a Japanese-style room on the ground level as exhibition spaces.

She has held personal exhibitions of pottery makers and dyeing craftsmen whom she met while traveling across Japan.

She also holds classes to teach how to make fashion accessories and repair broken ceramics with gold-dust lacquer.

Thomas said she initially did not know Miyazaki used to live there. Instead, she was attracted by the structure's elaborate interior and exterior.

A three-minute walk from Utsunomiya City Hall, the workmanship of the home made in the early Showa Era (1926-1989) has been preserved. It features high ceilings and black-plastered walls. Glass set in sliding paper doors called “shoji” bears family crests, and transom windows above shoji are pitched so that dust will not accumulate on them. It also has an elegant Japanese garden.

When Miyazaki was 4 years old, his family was forced to evacuate Tokyo during World War II and moved to the house in Utsunomiya, where he lived until his third year of elementary school.

“That house is very precious for me,” Miyazaki, 72, said in a message sent to The Asahi Shimbun. “I think the home, as well as light and shadows in the garden, has formed some part of who I am. I’d like to visit it again someday.”

The house appears in a documentary made by Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli Inc. that traces the early days and formative years of the director. The house's steep stairs that appear in the film are reminiscent of the hidden stairs that appear in "My Neighbor Totoro."

From the upstairs window, visitors can take a look at trains of the Tobu Line running on an elevated track and be reminded of a scene from "Spirited Away."

Miyazaki said a scene of a fortress burning in "Castle in the Sky" was based on his memory of fleeing from the Utsunomiya house to Kanuma, also in Tochigi Prefecture, during an air raid.

Thomas said she chose the name "Hanna" for the gallery because when separated into two characters, “han” and “na” mean “bond” and “harmony,” respectively. Thomas hopes her gallery will create a bond by harmonizing creators and customers.

Thomas said some people visit her gallery because they are interested in seeing Miyazaki's childhood home, but some of them also become interested in the art exhibits.

“Sometimes people who are at first not interested in (art) are drawn into artworks after they talk with the creators,” she said. “I want to help bridge that connection.”

Hanna art gallery is open about two weeks a month for personal exhibitions. The next exhibition will feature the works of Mami Yonekura, an illustrator from Tochigi Prefecture, held between April 6 and 21.

During exhibitions, Hanna is open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, contact Gallery Hanna at +81-(0)28-638-6123.

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Asuko Thomas opens her art gallery in an 80-year-old house in Utsunomiya where film director Hayao Miyazaki lived as a child. (Mitsuteru Mori)

Asuko Thomas opens her art gallery in an 80-year-old house in Utsunomiya where film director Hayao Miyazaki lived as a child. (Mitsuteru Mori)

  • Asuko Thomas opens her art gallery in an 80-year-old house in Utsunomiya where film director Hayao Miyazaki lived as a child. (Mitsuteru Mori)
  • Steep stairs next to the entrance are believed to be the inspiration for the hidden stairs appearing in Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece "My Neighbor Totoro." This photo was taken in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture. (Mitsuteru Mori)

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