Hayao Miyazaki to Build Nature Sanctuary for Children on Remote Japanese Island

Hayao Miyazaki - H - 2013
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The animation legend, whose work is filled with wonder and appreciation for the natural world, is spending $2.5 million of his own money on the project.

Now retired from feature filmmaking, legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is bringing his enchanted visions into the real world. In a move that will strike his legions of fans as vintage Ghibli, the 74-year-old director is working to build a children's nature retreat on a remote island in southern Japan.

The idea behind the project is to give kids a greater appreciation for the natural world through direct experience. Scheduled for completion in 2018 on Kumejima Island, which sits about 55 miles west of the island of Okinawa, the facility will be constructed within a virgin forest, taking care to integrate the buildings within the natural setting, reported Japan's Kyodo news service. A two-story dormitory to accommodate 30 kids will be built on the site of a disused playground in a small clearing, which the town of Kumejima has donated for the project. Further plans are being kept under wraps for now (a drawing of the sanctuary concept is below).

Miyazaki, whom Roger Ebert once called “possibly the best animation filmmaker in history,” is a noted environmentalist and contributor to social causes in Japan. His films are suffused with moments of quiet appreciation for the natural world. From his directorial debut, The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) to Spirited Away (2001), which won the best animated feature Oscar, to his final feature, The Wind Rises (2013), a recurring theme is humanity's interconnectedness with nature, as is the childhood sense of wonder at the natural world and its impending loss. In past interviewsMiyazaki has expressed concern that it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach children's souls because of the encroachments of consumerism and digital life. "Utopia exists only in one’s childhood life,” he has said.

According to Kyodo, Miyazaki is spending about $2.5 million of his own money on the project.

The facility should be a boon to the small island's economy, as Miyazaki is said to be working with local design and construction firms to create the sanctuary under a "made in Kumejima" concept. The director also is consulting with local townspeople to decide how the sanctuary will be run. Construction will begin in April 2016.

A drawing of the planned sanctuary is below.