Why Does Chihiro Cry When Eating?

by Hazel

In the critically acclaimed film “Spirited Away” by Hayao Miyazaki, a poignant scene unfolds when Chihiro Ogino, the young protagonist, breaks down in tears while eating. This moment, though brief, is densely packed with emotional and narrative significance, encapsulating the themes of loss, transition, and personal growth that define the film. This article explores the multifaceted reasons behind Chihiro’s tears during this meal, delving into the psychological, thematic, and narrative dimensions of this emotional response.

Chihiro’s Journey and Initial Loss

Chihiro’s journey into the spirit world is abrupt and frightening. One moment, she is a sullen girl moving to a new town; the next, she is thrust into a mystical realm where nothing is familiar. This transition represents a profound loss of the known world. Her parents, who turn into pigs after indulging in forbidden food, symbolize the first tangible loss Chihiro faces in this unfamiliar world.


The Role of Food in Spirited Away

Food as a Symbol of Change and Entrapment

In “Spirited Away,” food plays a complex role. Initially, it acts as a trap that ensnares Chihiro’s parents. Later, food becomes a symbol of nurturing and community when offered to Chihiro by Haku and others. When Chihiro eats the food given to her by Haku, it not only sustains her physically within the spirit realm but also signifies her beginning to accept the help and care of new friends in a daunting world.


Food as Connection and Memory

Chihiro’s breakdown while eating is not merely about the food itself but what it represents. The rice balls she consumes are simple, yet they are imbued with kindness and care from Haku, who provides them. This meal, therefore, connects Chihiro not just to her new acquaintances but also to memories of her previous life, her parents, and her lost sense of security.


Psychological Dimensions of Chihiro’s Tears

The Onset of Realization and Acceptance

Chihiro’s tears can be interpreted as a moment of emotional release in the acceptance of her new reality. Psychologically, crying is often a response to overwhelming situations—it can signal acceptance and the beginning of adaptation to new circumstances. As Chihiro eats, she is nourished not only physically but emotionally, catalyzing a pivotal moment of transformation in her character arc.


Emotional Eating: Comfort and Solace in Food

Eating, especially in stressful or transformative times, can offer comfort and solace. For Chihiro, the act of eating also marks a moment of solitude where she reflects on her situation. It is a pause in her adventure, a quiet space where the weight of her emotional burden, borne silently until then, comes pouring out.

Cultural Context of Crying and Eating in Japan

Emotional Expression and Social Norms

In Japanese culture, emotional expression can be quite nuanced. Crying while eating—something that might be seen as unusual or overly emotional in some cultures—is portrayed in “Spirited Away” with a deep level of empathy and understanding. It underscores a universally human moment, crossing cultural boundaries to touch on the themes of vulnerability and resilience.

Nourishment Beyond the Physical

The food in “Spirited Away” transcends mere physical nourishment. It becomes a vessel for healing, connection, and even magic. As Chihiro consumes the rice balls, she not only feeds her body but also her spirit, which is starved for comfort and a sense of belonging.

Thematic Resonance of the Scene

Isolation and Communal Healing

The scene highlights a crucial thematic element of isolation versus communal healing. Chihiro, initially isolated, finds a semblance of community through the interactions surrounding food. This transition from isolation to acceptance is a key element of her emotional and narrative journey.

Loss, Transition, and Personal Growth

Chihiro’s tears also symbolize the pain of transition and growth. Each tear reflects a step away from childhood toward a maturity forged in the crucible of her experiences in the spirit world. Through her journey, Chihiro learns resilience, bravery, and the value of compassion—qualities that are nurtured by her experiences and symbolized by her emotional reactions to eating.


Chihiro’s emotional response while eating in “Spirited Away” encapsulates her entire journey within the narrative. It is a moment of vulnerability and strength, reflecting her loss, her adaptation, and her growth. As such, this scene is a microcosm of the film’s broader themes of navigating and overcoming the trials of life. In exploring the depths of Chihiro’s tears, we uncover layers of emotional and narrative complexity that contribute to the enduring impact and depth of Miyazaki’s masterpiece.


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