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Onomichi, for me, is like the essence of a love sonnet. A place that evokes good vibes, where good memories are made, and where you can relax and take time to be in the present. But this is me romanticising about one of my favourite cities in Japan.
Onomichi is best known as being one of the two end points of the Shimanami Kaido, an over 70 kilometer long cycling route that traverses numerous islands in the Seto Inland Sea (Seto-naikai) and connects the main island of Honshu and Shikoku. However the city has more to offer to anyone who visits, be it Japanese culture, local cuisine or the hipster cafes that have sprouted up over the last few years. While many visit Onomichi as a day trip unless traversing the Shimanami Kaido, I find that staying overnight in the city allows one to enjoy the town after hours and head to the next destination the following day at a leisurely pace.
For this trip, I stayed overnight at the hip Hotel Cycle Onomichi which is a stone's throw from Onomichi Station along the waterfront. More commonly referred to as Onomichi U2, the property used to be a row of warehouses before they were repurposed to liven up the waterfront. Inside, visitors can find a bicycle shop, dining and shopping options and the above-mentioned hotel. While the hotel is open to everyone, it in particular attracts cyclists who travel with their bicycles. There is space at the reception for bicycle parking but more importantly, cyclists can bring their rides into the room. In fact, the entire hotel is extremely cyclist-friendly and in the same way makes it accessible.
It typically takes about a day to see all the sights in the town at a leisurely pace, and the two main attractions in Onomichi are the Temple Walk and the shopping street (shotengai). Note that it is advisable to wear good walking shoes as a lot of walking is involved including going up and down stairs.
I started my day from Onomichi U2 and walked along the waterfront towards the station while enjoying the breeze and industrial views of Mukaishima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea and part of the Shimanami Kaido. The sheltered shopping street starts from Onomichi Station, and while the shops look closed or boring at first glance, keep going in further will be rewarded. The shotengai is lined with shops, coffee places and restaurants, some requiring more courage to enter than others. As I went down the street, I felt like I was playing a game of "should I go for this or should I save my stomach for something else" as I passed the shops. With only limited time and stomach space, it was quite difficult to decide which ones to go for! Spoiler: I ended up not saving my stomach.
It was quite a relief for my stomach then that I had arrived at the lower ropeway station to Senkoji Park. The plan was to visit the temple and museum at the peak, then walk down and visit the temples east of the park, and hopefully negating all the calories consumed before. My first stop after getting off the ropeway was the observation deck at Senkoji Park. Good weather meant that I could see relatively far into the distance, and I wondered how was it that all these tiny islands came to be in the Seto Inland Sea.
The Onomichi City Museum of Art was on my list of places to go in the city. It was hard to pass up a chance of seeing one of Ando Tadao's buildings, and what is more, this very same museum was also famous as the spot where a cat tried to enter a cat-themed photography exhibition (but was turned away) a few years ago. Continuing on the feline front, I followed the cat alley route eastwards and down towards the other temples.
There's something about wandering along winding and narrow alleys that gives off this sense of adventure, and it was the same here as I made my way between temples, crossing paths with stray cats and the occasional old person. I never knew what to expect at the next turn and was constantly wondering if I was on the right path. But the temple walk route is clearly marked and it wasn't difficult to navigate at all. The little distractions of the narrow pathways and random cats helped me avoid being templed out, and it wasn't long before I found myself at the other end of the shopping street.
After sunset, the sleepy town of Onomichi gets even quieter; however this doesn't mean that dining options become severely limited. It was time to hunt for a delicious spot, and I hit jackpot along my favourite shotengai. Heading to an izakaya or a kappo (a restaurant that is between an izakaya and a kaiseki restaurant) is a good way to sample the local and seasonal cuisine, and needless to say, I ended my day well satisfied.
Thus ended my day in Onomichi, the town of quiet beauty that is just the right size. Not only is the town compact and easily navigable, I also enjoyed having easy access to both hills and sea, and not to mention the wide variety of food available along the shopping street and waterfront. Onomichi is definitely a place I would go back to again and again, and each time find something new or a reinvention of something old.
Getting There and Around
Onomichi is a short 20 minute local train ride (410 yen one way, frequent departures) from Fukuyama or about a 30 minute shinkansen ride from Hiroshima. More detailed access information to Onomichi can be found here.
By Raina Ong, japan-guide.com