Onomichi is a fascinating little town. A port with a long history that lies on a narrow channel that runs between it and the island of Mukaishima on the edge of the Seto Inland Sea, it is known to Japanese cinema buffs as a location in the classic film Tokyo Story directed by Yasujiro Ozu. In the 1953 film, Onomichi serves as a contrast to hustle and bustle of Tokyo, a place where Japan is still Japan and, over 50 years later, the town never fails to inspire warm feelings of nostalgia among domestic visitors.
You will find a smattering of trendy cafes and stores along the retro ‘shotengai’ shopping arcade and the narrow streets that thread their way up the steep slopes between the waterfront and Senkoji Temple, but history and tradition are still found here in spades.
One of the town’s main historical attractions is its Temple Walk which takes in 25 temples that hug the side of the mountain. Picking up a map, or perhaps renting the ¥500 audio guide, at Onomichi JR Station or at the Ropeway Station, and following some or all of the walk is a very pleasant way to spend a few hours at any time of year. Gaining a full understanding of the temples and their history can take some effort, but, if nothing else, the walk provides some structure to wandering through Onomichi’s hillside neighborhoods.
For the past 15 years, however, for one night in mid-October, the temples and other parts of the town take on an entirely different aspect during the Onomichi Akari Matsuri. Akari means light or or lantern and, during the festival, 16 of Onomichi’s temples and several more locations are illuminated by over 30,000 candles.
Although the festival, which is usually held on the Saturday during the 3 day National Sports Day holiday weekend in October, attracts around 150,000 visitors annually, its organization is small scale, very local affair that relies heavily on the 2,100 volunteers who help with all those candles.
Visiting all of the illuminated locations can take most of the 3 hours between 6pm and 9pm that the event runs. As well as the candle displays, you will find little music concerts and performances being held in the various locations. Maps are available, but, like Onomichi itself, the Akari Matsuri rewards wandering. So, just follow your nose, or the crowds, and you are unlikely to go wrong.
Canadian visitor Annie went to check out last year’s event and to the 2018 event.
We enjoyed walking around downtown Onomichi and discovering previously unexplored corners of the city in an atmosphere that was both peaceful and festive. The thousands lanterns lining the paths to the many small shrines around town were a truly unique and impressive sight.
With 150,000 people descending on Onomichi for 3 hours event it can get quite busy. Annie, adds, “It gets crowded and it took us an hour to find parking, so I would advise taking public transportation.“
Taking the train or the bus, of course, allows you to enjoy another of Onomichi’s most famous offerings, its ramen, washed down with a beer or some sake!
Onomichi Akari Matsuri
The Onomichi Akari Matsuri is held in Onomichi City on the Saturday that kicks off the annual 3 day holiday that finishes with National Sports Day (or Sunday if it rains on the Saturday).
The 2019 event will be held on Saturday, October 12 18:00-21:00 (Postponed until October 13 in the event of rain).