The Gallery Hanna in Utsunomiya in the approximately 90-year-old house where anime film director Hayao Miyazaki once lived as a child. The gallery hosts a cafe and exhibits cups and saucers by contemporary potters through February. (Mitsuteru Mori)

UTSUNOMIYA--A near century-old wooden house near the Utsunomiya city government building here holds a special place in Hayao Miyazaki’s heart.

The famed anime director, who is now 77, moved to the dwelling from Tokyo when he was a toddler during World War II because his parents were concerned about U.S. air raids.

These days, the two-story structure attracts a wide range of visitors, many of them Miyazaki fans, as it now houses a commercial gallery for hand-crafts, such as pottery and hand-died textiles. It opened to the public in 2012.

Large swathes of Utsunomiya were destroyed in the July 1945 bombings, but the house remained intact.

Miyazaki stayed in Utsunomiya until he was in third-grade at elementary school. Later, the property was purchased by a relative of the current owner.

Built about 90 years ago, the house has relatively high ceilings and its finely-crafted interior retains characteristics of the modern style of the early Showa Era (1926-1989).

It also boasts a steep staircase that features in a documentary produced by Studio Ghibli about the source of Miyazaki’s creativity.

The suggestion is that it bears a close resemblance to the iconic staircase in Satsuki and Mei’s house portrayed in “My Neighbor Totoro.”

A book edited by the studio explained that the design of the house where the protagonist of “The Wind Rises” was born and grew up reflected the image of the house in Utsunomiya.

The gallery’s operator, Asuko Thomas, 40, initially intended to rent the building solely as a home. She did not know that Miyazaki once lived there, but was fascinated by its well-crafted fittings and the building itself.

The owner preferred the house to be used as a shop as well, so Thomas decided to open a gallery there, given that she had related working experience.

Since Gallery Hanna opened in February 2012, it has increasingly been inundated by people eager for a glimpse of “Hayao Miyazaki’s house.” Some visitors took no notice of the exhibited works, but just took photos in the house instead.

Thomas was bewildered by how the building itself attracted far more attention than the exhibits, and questioned whether she had been right to open a gallery there.

However, over the course of time, people who came to the gallery because of Miyazaki started to appreciate the crafts on sale, and they started to come back especially for new exhibitions.

“This is a unique room as the building does not detract from exhibited works, but rather it complements them,” said Thomas. “I would like to continue doing what can only be done here.”

In February 2013, when The Asahi Shimbun was doing a story on the gallery, it asked Miyazaki for a comment without much hope of a response, as the production of “The Wind Rises” was nearing its end. However, a message was delivered the next day.

“The house holds a special place in my heart,” Miyazaki wrote. “I believe that the light and shadow in the house and garden had formed some part of me. I would love to revisit there one day.”

After the publication of the article, Miyazaki visited the gallery by himself on a gallery holiday. Thomas showed him around the house, and he shared many episodes of living here. He seemed to be happy that the house has survived, Thomas said.

The gallery is open when an exhibition or event is on. Groups of 10 or more are not admitted at a time. For more details and the exhibition schedule, visit the gallery's website (