Continuing on from my list of obscure places in Japan to visit is Onomichi. According to the internet, this industrial port town is known as the home town of Japan. I’m not all too sure what that means but I came to know Onomichi thanks to one of my friends. As part of the JET program, she was based in this town. Before I started exchange back in 2014 my first port of call was her house in Onomichi. It was freezing cold, and far away from the big city, but the stray cats, the sparkling blue waters and the very first cherry blossoms of the season captured my heart.
Onomichi – Setoda day 10
In some ways, Onomichi station reminds me of some Melbourne stations. To get to the other platform it can be necessary to cross the tracks. However, I don’t think that there were any boom gates going down!
We couldn’t check into the accommodation just yet, so we dropped off our bags and decided to while away some time before our ferry ride. As we wandered along I remembered the famous Karasawa ice cream store that I had been taken to last time. The ice monaka was just as good as I remembered. Crispy wafer surrounded a nostalgic vanilla ice cream.
Near the port is a relatively new hotel cum restaurant, bakery and store. U2 onomichi was still being built the last time I visited. It’s popular amongst cyclists for the handy bicycle storage but also seems to be a bit of a hot spot with Japanese Instagram foodies.
The reason for being at the port was a short trip over to Ikuchijima on this day. The ferry ride actually features a few stops on industrial looking islands. Even though the islands are now joined by a bridge, we saw an older man getting off and being met by presumably his wife, which was very sweet.
Setoda port is a bit strange because there’s not a lot of signage around. We sort of muddled our way around to a temple and a nature walk, before realising that we were headed in the wrong direction. We made our way back down the hill and onto a main road leading to the temples and museums.
Kosanji temple was interesting as an almost direct contrast to Koyasan. The temple was built relatively recently by a Japanese businessman. The temple was erected as a show of filial piety and dedicated to the man’s mother. There are numerous replicas of other famous temples in Japan.
More unique is Miraishin no Oka otherwise known as Heights of Eternal Hope for the Future- which is a mouthful. Even though it is connected to the temple this landmark has no religious significance. It features an interesting geometric landscape of white marble all the way from Italy. It is a somewhat bizarrely placed art display but we had a lot of fun climbing all over the marble.
On maps, there’s more to Ikuchijima, such as a sunset beach and citrus orchards. In the interests of making it on the boat back to Onomichi, we gave these things a skip. I’m sure that with a bicycle these areas would be much more readily accessible. On the way back to the port we ran into children who called out to us and were generally bemused by our presence.
If you’re a ramen aficionado perhaps you have heard of Onomichi style ramen. Interestingly, this small town has its unique ramen. Almost everywhere in town, it goes by the name chuuka soba, but make no mistake this is ramen. The broth is mostly clear but has pieces of pork fat floating in it. Ryan was keen to try this specialty but at dinner time most of the well-rated stores seemed to closed. Luckily, right when we were at the end of the road Ramen matatabi was open!
This humble looking store comprises of only one counter where you can watch the master at work. When I dithered about wondering what to order, he said that everything on the menu was a recommendation. I ended up with wonton men and Ryan ordered the chashu ramen. This wasn’t the traditional Onomichi style that we were anticipating, but the clear broth had a lot of depth and the slippery wonton skins went down a treat that chilly night. As a bonus, it was easy to make conversation with the owner, who happened to have a friend in Melbourne. He said that he was thinking of doing a pop-up ramen shop in Melbourne in the future so I’m keeping my eyes peeled for him!
There didn’t seem to be a lot of night life going on in Onomichi so we went back to the hostel early. The communal area was perfect to sit, take advantage of the free tea and organise our finances and future itinerary.
Onomichi day 11
I’m a pretty big fan of the Japanese panya. The freshly fried curry bread and interesting combinations like mentaiko baguette always entice me in. Koro Bakery is a cut above the rest. Early in the morning, the smell of fresh bread was incredibly intoxicating. They appear to specialise in a range of bagels with baked in fillings but everything was delicious. We picked up a few things to go on our morning walk.
On one side of Onomichi is the sea, ports and main roads, but the other side of the town goes upwards towards the mountains. If you don’t explore this windy and sometimes rather vertical paths you wouldn’t realise that there are a number of temples dotted throughout. There is a popular temple walk that plots through most of them, but we took the short cut with a direct walk up to Senkoji Park. Like many other scenic spots in Japan, there’s also a ropeway up and down, but it’s also a very relaxed walk. There weren’t many people about so I was free to try and make friends with the stray cats I found and run around to my heart’s content.
The park is a well known cherry blossom viewing spot amongst locals. In fact it was here, that I saw a blossoming cherry blossom tree for the very first time! Alas we were a little too late for the blooms, but the view will always be good.
I think I was in a souvenir buying mood after Tottori. Through the shoutengai, there was a whole range of stores selling goods from Onomichi and surrounds. Seeing as citrus fruits are some of my favourites I wanted to buy almost everything. This traditional bath house turned coffee store and shop was particularly charming.
We were determined to try true Onomichi style ramen before we left. Ramen Shuukaen is the most famous store in town. Before the opening, time there was already a sizeable line. The store is surprisingly large, so even with the considerable crowd, almost everyone was seated straight away.
This was Onomichi ramen in the truest sense. Swimming on the steaming hot clear broth were large pieces of pork fat. The thin noodles have a fair bit of bite to them which contrast with the soft melting fat. This is definitely something unique and I would recommend trying it if you’re in the area!
On the weekends there are often couples from neighbouring cities going on dates and getting a bit of a sea change in their system. However, we decided to go the other way. Having completed our ramen quest, it was time to leave this sleepy town for somewhere a little bit busier.
Ryan expressed that he was a bit bored in Onomichi. In a way, I feel like I might have let him down a little because when I went I was happy to be guided along by a local and naturally had a very good time. I wasn’t nearly as good a guide. That said, Ryan is probably right when he states that he felt the town had a lot of untapped potential. Perhaps if we go back it will be by car or bike.
Amongst Japanese and International cyclists Onomichi is famous for being the first stop on the Shimanami Kaido. This 60km route goes along the seto inland sea, connecting islands and offering spectacular views and a healthy dose of exercise. If you’re a keen cyclist Onomichi and the surrounding islands are definitely something that you should consider.
We stayed at Guest house Anago No Nodeko. This is roughly 10 minutes walk from the station through the shoutengai. The staff are fairly friendly if not all completely fluent in English. The guest rooms themselves are really cute and interesting with an abundance of manga and cute little cubby like beds.
Yamaneko cafe (if you try to google this it will take you to Wildcat cafe) is a cafe that I visited last time I went to Onomichi. If you’re looking for a vegetarian meal or something a little less traditional this is the place to do. Not to worry for those who aren’t vegetarian there’s also a meat dishes on offer. The produce was phenomenally fresh and the staff incredibly friendly. We even got a guide map from one of them!
Not to be mistaken for Yamaneko mill which sells delicious Japanese purin by the glass jar. Instead of the usual bitter caramel, the purin has a cute little fish shaped container that contains a lemon sauce to squirt on top!