Driving to Onomichi
That morning we said sayonara to Bingoya and Kurashiki and moved on to our next destination – Onomichi. I had already bookmarked some places to see on route, including Tomonoura Port, a small seaside town that inspired director Hayao Miyazaki, during my research for this holiday. Driving for a few hours is never fun, especially children can easily get bored and therefore we always planned breaks are always an idea.
Half way along is Tomonoura, nestled in a half moon bay in the middle of the Seto inland sea. The town used to be a stopping point for ships going between western Japan and Edo. The town is still largely unspoilt and not a lot has happened here since Edo times.
A Picturesque Seaside Town
The picturesque seaside town has a labyrinth of narrow alleys, where every other building is a designated national asset and an old harbour, which can easily explored by foot. Children might also be interested in the fact that director Hayao Miyazaki stayed here for two months and got his inspiration for the town where Ponyo’s friend Sosuke lives. Ponyo could be seen in many of the shops and bought as souvenirs.
A Walk through the Port
Our walk around Tomonoura port led us through the alleys past the old stone lantern, the Joyato lighthouse, which was built in the Edo period and measures 11 meters, even though only about 2.5 meters can be seen above ground.
You should head up a little hill to Fukuzenji temple which offers the most famous view of Tomonoura and the Seto Inland Sea from its own veranda.
Back down in Tomonoura harbour, depending on the time of day you may be able to watch the fishermen bring in their catch fresh off one of the boats. We got lucky to see an old man cleaning his mountain of fresh shrimps, and putting them out to dry on nets in the open air, all propped up on a wheelbarrow. He then put the dried shrimps into plastic bags ready to be sold on.
If you have more time than us, you should take the five-minute ride on the pirate ship, children will love this, to Sensuijima, a small island just off the coast. There’s a beach, hiking trails, which are perfect for children as they are not too long and if you’re lucky you might spot one of the many racoons living there.
Kitchen Natty Restaurant
We moved on to 小室浜海水浴場 a small beach further along the coast towards Onomichi which I had spotted thanks to google maps and had planned to have lunch at beach cafe Kitchen Natty. We weren’t disappointed, Chris had a chicken terriyaki pizza, which was surprisingly tasty and the view overlooking the sea was very relaxing. A friendly Japanese couple run the café, (please note there’s no English menu and no English spoken) he was the chef and she served us. You should check their website for live music events if you’re staying in the area.
On the Beach
Our stomachs filled with pizza we chatted to a lovely Japanese couple, they were in the area for their honeymoon and gave us some tips for the rest of our time in Japan. We then went down to the beach, the boys fancied a swim in the sea to cool off, while I lazed and read a book.
Time for a Swim
When they came out of the water they were covered in a brown film even though the water was clear, which we weren’t able to figure out where it had come from until later, when we drove into Onomichi and passed a huge wood factory Ikagami, which had thousands of logs floating in the bay. The boys decided the brown was bark and dust from all the logs!
Our Arrival at Hotel U2 Cycle
From the beach it was about another hour drive through some industrial areas to Hotel U2 Cycle in the port of Onomichi. Hotel U2 Cycle is a cool, modern hotel, where one can even check in with a bike if you want to and store it in your hotel room! The only downside we found was that they don’t provide spare beds for children. The child either has to sleep in your bed or you would need to book a separate room.
On the Boardwalk
Outside on the boardwalk behind the U2 Cycle Hotel were plenty of tables and sofas to relax, perfect to watch the ships go in and out of the port. The hotel even invites you to a free drink here when you check in. Breakfast at Hotel U2 Cycle was included for our stay, and it was delicious. There were plenty of western and Japanese choices, which one can select from the buffet. There was also shop selling local products, like drinks, biscuits etc.
After we had checked in we settled ourselves outside on the promenade, with a cool drink and ice cream from the cafe for a relaxed afternoon while playing Scopa, an italian card game that is developing into a family favourite since our visit to Venice.
A Quaint Port Town
Onomichi is a quaint port town, characterised by houses and temples hugging the steep hillside. It is known for a scenic temple walk, but it is also the start of the Shimanami Kaido trail, that was one of the reasons for us having staying there. The Shimanami Kaido is a 70km long cycle route, which passes across the many bridges and islands connecting Honshu and Shikoku, and has become popular with cyclists of all abilities.
When in Onomichi you should try the speciality Onomichi Ramen, which can be tasted in one of the many ramen shops in town. Onomichi ramen looks like any ordinary soy based ramen but at closer look you can see the melted lard floating on top and taste the stronger fish stock. We slurped ours at a small ramen eatery, Onomichi Ramen Tami next to the station.
Ramen Ticket Vending Machine
To order food here, as is common in local ramen cafes, we had to buy a ticket from the vending machine by the door. First we selected our dishes from the pictures on the buttons. All very easy and straight forward, a common way in Japan to order food, especially in ramen bars. It made ordering very easy as we didn’t need to read or speak Japanese. We then took the tickets, sat down on one of the stools along the bar and handed the tickets over to one of the staff members. We had some tasty gyoza with our bowl of Onomichi ramen. For my liking Onomichi ramen were a bit too greasy but we always like to try local delicacies if possible.
Where to Stay on Your Tour of the Shimanami Kaido:
Onomichi: The uber cool U2 Hotel Cycle, even Paul Smith stayed there…
Innoshima: Hotel Innoshima somewhat dated but a truly authentic experience and very helpful staff offering amazing views
Ikujijima: Tsutsui, a lovely, modern ryokan in the heart of Setoda
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