Getting Spirited Away to the City of Sadness: Jiufen

Located less than an hour drive outside of Taipei is the enchanting town called Jiufen (九份 / jiu fen). The history of Jiufen is as vibrant as the location is today with tales of trade, gold, and Japanese-influence.

Though the area started as a rural village requesting “nine portions” to support the nine families that lived there, Jiufen eventually found itself in the midst of commercial activity with a gold rush occurring in the early 1900’s.

After the mines were shut down, the area largely came under disarray. That is, until the movie A City of Sadness boosted popularity of Jiufen and made the town into a tourist destination.

Today, one can only imagine what the town may have looked like, though the way the buildings have been built into the hills may speak to some of this history.

Enough about the history, for now, though.

My journey started at the top of the old street (九份老街 / jiu fen lao jie) where I found this cool sign.

Walking down this narrow street, you’ll find store after store peddling a variety of wares including many fancy and unique foods.

As this was my first time experiencing freshly shaved peanut ice cream rolls (花生捲冰淇淋 / hua sheng juan bing qi lin), we stopped to watch them prepare the dessert.

Towards the second half of the old street, I found this interesting offering—BBQ mochi with a variety of flavorings. Next to it though, was an alcoholic boba shop. The alcoholic boba won out! 😛

Towards the end of Jiufen Old Streets is a great view with Keelung to the north.

This is the view that everyone likes to capture as it looks a lot like the world created in Spirited Away. It’s actually funny how many shops cater to the idea that Jiufen was inspiration for Spirited Away, though Miyazaki himself denies this. The view is still beautiful and quite enchanting still.

This path leads down to A-Mei Teahouse and up to a police station.

Once you’ve made your way to the end of the street, the only way to really go (without exiting) is back the way you came. On the way back out we got taro balls and shaved ice for dessert. It was so good!

Before heading back to the car, we picked up some nougat crackers for the road.

Jiufen was a nice, albeit immersive, way to begin my trip to Taiwan. I remember being in awe at all the things I saw, smelled, and tasted. It was an experience that I will continue to cherish.

If you only have a short stay in Taiwan, I would definitely recommend checking out Jiufen and the old street. No longer does it feel like a “City of Sadness.” It’s an immersive town that’s able to capture a nice amount of the essence of Taiwan in a compact manner.

九份老街 (Jiufen Old Street)

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