Our last stop in Japan was a quiet one, again due to our lack of planning. But it turned out to be an unexpected surprise, in the form of Onomichi.
Yet again we were thwarted by Japanese Autumn weekends, as everything in Hiroshima was booked up meaning we couldn’t extend our stay there.
So we didn’t visit Onomichi by choice. It was simply the only place which had anywhere available for our last night, and we didn’t want to go back to Tokyo early.
The great thing about Japan is that there are very few if any bad places to go. There are plenty of very quiet towns and cities but you’ll always be sure of something to see and some good places to eat. Which pretty much describes Onomichi.
We arrived after a short train from Hiroshima to an eerily quiet town. A lot of Onomichi is arranged upon a large hill, with the commercial area on the flat land next to the sea and the port with the railway seperating them. The shopping area pretty much consists of a long covered arcade housing a multitude of local shops – from knives to crafts to fashion to restaurants. There isn’t much of interest to tourists (since so few foreign ones come here) but it’s an interesting area to look around.
Our hostel was in this covered area. We arrived and the first thing the owner asked was ‘are you here for the cycling?’. He looked a bit confused when we said no (as we had no idea about the cycling) which made more sense later when we found out about the epic cycling routes in the area. The whole route is something like 70km and people either do it in one hit or stop along the way, one of the main stops being Onomichi.
We briefly considered hiring some bikes and cycling some of it but we’re ashamed to admit we were a bit too lazy. So we had to see what else the town had to offer.
The area on the hill is luckily chock full of temples and shrines. There is a temple walkway which runs horizontally along the hillside and takes you to them all, and the Path of Literature which goes vertically up the hill. This path is littered with quotes by Japanese authors but as they were all in Japanese we obviously couldn’t read them.
The best thing about this walk is the view. As you get higher and higher it just keeps getting better – you can see the port, the impressive mountainous terrain which surrounds the city and a cool bridge. We stopped in a small park area to admire the view and I annoyed a sleeping cat.
Further up the winding staircases we found a small shrine with hundreds of Niko Niko Jizō dolls laid out and special branded Rilakkuma wooden Ema (small pieces of wood upon which people write their wishes) which I was very tempted by…
Up through another small park we finally made it to the summit which sported an ice cream parlour and a largely pointless viewing platform (but we went up anyway).
I found love (with some stone cats)
The view was naturally at it’s best from here and you could see for miles around. To get down there was one of my favourite things – a ropeway! It was a very short one but pretty cool all the same.
Once down we walked the temple path for a while and checked out some temples – Saikokuji was the most impressive.
It was also interesting to walk the alleys and see local life in a small Japanese town – not that there were many people around.
Eating was interesting in Onomichi. At lunchtime we walked 100m and found something unexpected for such a small town – a Mexican taco shack. Run by a friendly woman who speaks English and Spanish as well as Japanese, and filled with various tequila bottles and Mexican wrestling masks, it was the real deal and the tacos were delicious. Probably one of only 2 or 3 meals in Japan we had that weren’t Japanese!
In the evening we unexpectedly struggled to eat – nowhere had English menus of course, nowhere had prices nor photos nor plastic food. Nor were there actually many restaurants open. Finally, after a long walk we stumbled into an Izakaya expecting to point at things (not a problem) only to be met by an owner who spoke great English and had visited Liverpool so was eager to talk about England.
We had an early night and went back to our hostel. We stayed in a traditional tatami mat room which was a first for us in Japan. Most people do it properly and stay at a Ryokan but the prices of those made our eyes water…so this was the next best thing!
Onomichi didn’t feel all that exciting at the time but it was a gentle end to our Japanese adventure, and looking back, it makes us really miss the country. For every crowded Kyoto, there’s a tranquil place like Onomichi where you can be in a minority as a tourist and experience the real Japan.