Tomonoura is a peaceful port town where guests are welcomed by local fishermen and cats alike. Located roughly 100km east of the famed Hiroshima city, Tomonoura is located within the same prefecture but not as well known. However, it has its own reasons for fame, too. This beautiful town was the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Ponyo, by Ghibli Studios.
Miyazaki himself spent a few months living in this town in a secluded forested hilltop. His rented apartment studio was open to visitors as an exhibit for a few years to follow. Now, the property is no longer on display, but the beauty that the famous creator Miyazaki saw in this town hasn’t gone away.
A view from the hilltops, explained in more detail below.
Sanpo around the town and chat with the locals
Sanpo is the Japanese term for taking a leisurely stroll. This is what I did a lot of in Tomonoura. It was even encouraged by a store owner whom I chatted with for while. “Here, get a sanpo chikuwa, take it on your stroll,” he said. Chikuwa is Japanese fish cake, but I’ve never seen one on a stick like this before. This little gift shop cooked homemade fishcakes which they put on sticks to encourage people to walk around while eating them. Excuse me, what? In Japan, people are immediately frowned upon if they walk and eat or eat outdoors at all in non designated areas. But he offered it to me with a smile of encouragement. Perhaps the kind people in some areas are much more accepting and forgiving than other parts of Japan.
I sanpo’d and I ate. I came across many artists perched with their easels set up to capture the beautiful port with their own hands. I eyed a vegetable and fruit market on the side of the road where friends gathered to catch up and hear of the day’s specials.
Here, peeled persimmons hang to dry so they can be turned into delicious dried fruit.
The town is reminiscent of an old Edo period Japan, but slivers of modernization can be seen in crevices throughout the narrow alleyways. An old apothecary and candy store are just a couple of stores in the alleys. Around one corner, I saw an elderly woman running the family bakery giving some young kids sweet bread as gifts. Another wooden home smelled heavily of fish and when I peeked in, a man was cutting up to hang and dry the fish he caught that day. In these actions, it’s evident that the historic town is alive and still thriving in its own way.
Here stands the famous lighthouse in the background, and a Meiji-era postbox. In between sits a cute café overlooking the port. Cafés like this are all around the port.
Take a hike up the hills
Tomonoura is well known for its temples and shrines that mainly sit at the head of the little mountains. A walk up the hills aren’t so treacherous, and the views of the town and water below are well worth it.
Traditional Japanese gravestones rest on mountainous fields. Visitors can snake through the steps and rows to check some out, with respect to the deceased and their families, of course.
The view of a lighthouse out at sea.
Another temple sits on a mountain top.
A street like this was common closer to the back areas of the town near the foot of the mountains. Many homes are run down and covered in thin steel panels. Most homes still run on gas tanks that need to be changed out every so often. Many homes also seemed deserted, perhaps a sign of a shrinking town.
Experience how much the cats are loved
Coming in second to the beloved Ponyo, cats are quite the item in Tomonoura. They run and graze freely around the port town where fishermen are their best friends who feed them fishy leftovers. Unlike many stray cats around big cities in Japan, Tomonoura cats are mostly friendly, simply minding their own business and letting you get a few pats in. There is a movement in town to help stray cats find homes, and overall, it’s evident how the humans and felines live in harmony.
Visit the nearby Sensujima Island and National Park
Tomonoura Harbour is all part of the larger Setonaikai National Park founded in 1934, which was the first National Park in Japan. The town itself may not feel like a national park, but just a skip across the narrow parts of the harbour lies Sensujima, a quiet island with swimming holes and a beautiful walking path all around its 6km circumference. The island doesn’t house any permanent residents; only the two hotels and a campground. It’s also home to a cave sauna, indoor and outdoor onsen hot springs, and outdoor activity areas by the campground. There are also a few eateries and cafés.
With the short time I had left to spend on the island, I took a stroll for about one or two kilometers along the outer rim pathway. There are multiple hiking trails found around the island, but the pathway I chose runs all around the island and showcases the geological beauties created by Mother Earth. Rocks come in all colors from green to yellow, red to white, and there’s evidence of past lava flows and shifting of the geological features. The sunset from Senningaoka Observation Point was even named in The Top 100 Sunsets in Japan, so be sure to stay for it if you can.
This island is accessible by a little pirate ship-like ferry from Tomonoura. The ride is only 5 minutes long and ¥240 roundtrip for adults, ¥120 for kids. The ferry runs every 20 minutes from 7am to 9:30pm, so you don’t have to spend a night here to enjoy the glories.
Tomonoura’s Goodbye in a thousand colors
When the sky gets dimmer, the light in this famous little lighthouse goes on.
I parted with my afternoon spent in Tomonoura with the town painting itself in more than a thousand colors. The pink and blue skyline shined its darker reflections on the water. Artists along the port began to pack up their paintings and the fishermen’s boats sat obediently in port, resting until they run another early morning. Shops begin to close up and the tourist town turns into a regular residential neighborhood, all going home to enjoy meals with their families. Tomonoura is an ombré blend for seeing a town become a must-see tourist destination, while holding on tight to its authentic local neighborhood beliefs.
Access to Tomonoura
From Fukuyama station take the Tomotetsu Bus headed to Tomokou. 32 minutes on the bus will bring you to the last stop, Tomokou, which is the town of Tomonoura.
Nina is a professional and recreational writer currently exploring her motherland of Japan. When she's not busy working on her upcoming conversational English book, she can be spotted biking around Tokyo to indulge in delicious food and attempting to snuggle with kitties at cat cafés. She's an odd collector of free brochures from travel counters, always looking for the next exciting destination. Nina often likes to escape the Tokyo city life to go discover new trails on the outbacks of Japan, where she enjoys connecting with locals and wanderers alike.
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