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In the movie Spirited Away, Haku tells Chihiro that to avoid being turned into an animal she must have a job at the bathhouse. Later, we find out that Yubaba the witch who runs the bathhouse, has made a vow to give anyone a job who asks for one, which she regrets but is bound by. So it's reasonable to assume Haku has this in mind.

Yet he sends Chihiro to ask Kamaji the boilerman for a job instead, and Kamaji, unable to offer her a job, tells her she will have to ask Yubaba.

Why didn't Haku send Chihiro to Yubaba directly?

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    I feel like if you're going to ask for justification for the things the characters in Spirited Away do you'll be here for a while. Lovely film, but none of the decisions make any sense at all. – Daniel Roseman Feb 7 at 10:04
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    Spirited Away is a great film. Most of the important elements seem to have clear symbolic meaning (the train: what's the most obvious reason spirits need to go on a journey? and why did it used to run both directions but now only goes one way?) Possibly there are some inconsistencies or loose ends that aren't tied up but not more than most movies, as far as I can see. – Batperson Feb 7 at 10:11
  • I have some ideas for Haku's action, if there are no better answers I will post them. But I want to hear what other people think first. – Batperson Feb 7 at 10:13
  • I feel like it's just a matter of Kamaji being the first one you need to see. You can't just waltz into Yubaba's office, someone needs to escort you there. And if you're new to the place, you need to know whom to ask. So you talk to a person (Kamaji in this case) who gets someone to escort you to the boss, then you talk to the boss. It isn't all that different in real life. – Misha R Feb 8 at 20:06
  • Yes, I think this is Right. If Chihiro had tried to go straight to Yubaba she would not have gotten far on her own. – Batperson Feb 9 at 20:11
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I like Batperson’s answer, but I think he left something important out. (If he wishes to update his answer to include this information, I will gladly defer to him.)

Haku made no mistake. He knew everything about how things worked in the bathhouse/hotel, who to trust, etc. There was never any way he could have marched Chihiro through the front gates and up to Yubaba’s without getting her damaged or killed. And he also knew that Kamaji and Lin would be able to protect her and eventually realize that they had to smuggle her up to get a job — he carefully seeded her with the directive to ask.

BTW, in Japanese culture, it is not uncommon to refer to someone unrelated to you that you care about/relate to/etc in terms of “big sister” or “little brother” or “grandfather” or something like that. By calling Chihiro his “granddaughter”, Kamaji was very explicitly saying that she was under his protection.

  • That's a great answer, I'm accepting it. In particular the insight on Japanese culture. – Batperson Feb 10 at 22:28
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Two reasons:

  1. Kamaji is a much kinder person than Yubaba is. And Haku needs to buy some time for the chase and confusion to calm down.

  2. Any job Kamaji could give her is less dangerous by a significant margin than any job Yubaba could give her, by the fact that she will meet less spirits and other people in the boiler room than in the bath house proper. Even just getting a job from Yubaba carries a heavy price: she takes your name away (Chihiro becomes Sen). And it is implied she takes your memories away after a while if you forget who you truly are while serving her, so you remain in her service forever.

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Chihiro has to approach Yubaba and Haku knows this

Any job for Chihiro has to come from Yubaba: most likely she is the only one who can sign on a new employee under a work contract which will give her a degree of status and protection from being arbitrarily turned into an animal or some other cruel fate. Certainly a lowly boilerman doesn't have this authority. So even if Kamaji has some work that Chihiro can do, she will still need have it formalised by Yubaba. And it is Yubaba who is bound by the vow to give a job to anyone who asks, which Haku is well aware of.

However, he needs to buy Chihiro time

When Haku sends Chihiro to Kamaji, the alarm has been raised. His priority is to get her somewhere out of the way where she will be safe, and the boiler room is her best bet: not many people will go there and she won't encounter any scary or dangerous bathhouse guests. Kamaji won't harm her: in fact he protects her by telling Lin that she is his granddaughter. This might conceivably be true, or it might be a ruse, but for it to be plausible Kamaji would have had to be human once. It's likely Haku knows this and is counting on it to evoke sympathy for Chihiro.

Haku probably intends to come back once things have quietened down and sort the situation out then. Either Kamaji will be able to say truthfully he "needs an assistant" and just happens to have found one, or else Haku will be able to use his authority to engineer some other opportunity for her to stay on. Then he will prepare her to approach Yubaba with some degree of protection.

The fact that Chihiro encountered Lin, and Lin was able to be persuaded to take her to Yubaba, was serendipitous. Haku probably did not expect this to happen or that Chihiro would be willing to go with her.

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