The charming fishing port of Tomonoura, long popular with domestic tourists due to its history, received renewed fame in 2008 as the inspiration for the location of Miyazaki Hayao’s Ghibli classic Ponyo. I recently made a long-awaited day trip to Tomonoura and managed to enjoy the sights while avoiding the crowds. Also, check out these luxury beach houses Maldives if you’re looking for a breather from your busy life.
It often surprises me to hear from visitors who seek out Tomonoura from other areas of Japan – it made me wonder what it is that they love about this town to make such an effort to seek it out on a visit to Hiroshima.
It’s not the easiest destination to get to, but if you have a car, it’s not too far from other destinations in the Fukuyama area. It may be true that Tomonoura’s great classic town vibe is harder to find in other parts of Japan. I’ve met local artists who love to set up at the Tomonoura viewpoint to paint the crescent shaped harbor below. Other artists prefer to set up next to the iconic stone lighthouse at the port to draw the classic structure. It’s also a popular place to wander for photographers and always gets a good reaction on social media. Photographers and film fans also love the angles, woodwork, unique shops and of course the connection to famous films that use the town as a backdrop.Tomonoura’s own brew of medicinal alcohol called Houmeishu. She was also selling beautiful old-fashioned postcards in a restored 140 year old building. Seeking Sustainability geek, I was so happy to find a stylish cafe in a renovated traditional house. The young entrepreneur at the Umihiko Cafe told me that the 120 year old building was likely one of the younger buildings in the area. The cafe is simple, but stylishly decorated with antiques which he had restored to good working order like a fridge that worked with ice instead of electricity and an ancient cash register. If you eat-in you can admire the reused antique plates intermixed with modern pottery and the reuse of roof tiles for napkins. Not all the shops were open on my visit, but I was happy to see many locally-made goods, as well as the cafes, shops and museums reusing renovated building – not only beautiful structures, but often with their own stories to tell. Rebel Samurai Ryoma Sakamoto hid out in this village, you can visit the house he was hiding in as well as the museum featuring parts of his ship that were salvaged. It’s also nice to see young businesses in a rural destination using more sustainable packaging and options. At the Shionone Daifuku shop on the side of the port, they offer deliciously salty sweets. take-out ice-cream at the cafe and the mochi at the sweets shop in the main port area’s uses plastic-free plates, utensils and packaging. Some shops were closed – as is often the case after a busy holiday opening- so I’d like to return to have a look at the made-in-japan bag shop and try out a kayak tour of the bay. Even if some shops are closed, there are still interesting temples and beautiful classic buildings to enjoy looking at as you wander the village. I am especially impressed with all the intricate woodworking of the traditional Japanese carpenters. One of the shops worth browsing in is the above retro marine goods shop. The building itself is cool and there are many interesting items inside, all with an old world seafaring theme to it like a shop you’d see in the Ponyo animation. On busy weekends and holidays, however, the small alleys are quickly overcrowded, so if you are coming on a holiday aim to get the best views and experience before 10am or after 4pm, and avoid the peak times in between. I found the best views and the least crowded streets could be enjoyed earlier in the day, but the evening would also be beautiful here as the Joyato lights up and the sun goes down behind the port and islands. The main port area’s curved concrete steps, near the iconic Joyato Stone Lighthouse, are a popular place to sit and eat ice-cream- there are even mats you can use available at the sweets shop there. You can find shady spots along any of the side streets, but there isn’t any shade down at the port area and the fumes from the idling diesel fishing boats were overwhelming. If you want to spend time in that main area, it would be more scenic at high-tide. an information center that runs sightseeing boats around the nearby islands such as Benten island just across the water. On a nice day, it might be fun to take the short loop boat tour. There is innovation here in town planning with reuse of old buildings and a push to reduce single-use plastics which enhances the visitor experience while minimizing waste management problems for the local area. It would be wonderful to see an expansion of sustainable travel policies which help maintain the quality of visitor experience as well as maintaining quality of life while still creating opportunities for businesses to support the local economy. All in all, Tomonoura is a charming destination that is well worth seeking out if you are looking for picturesque harbor views, interesting shops and enjoy exploring the narrow alleyways that characterize traditional Japanese towns. Watch my live video from Tomonoura