Onomichi Temple Path

Onomichi Travel Diary

When talking about a must-go route when visiting Western Japan, the Kyoto-Himeji-Hiroshima (Miyajima) route is certainly the one you can not avoid, and of course anyone who has not yet borrowed it must do so at least once. If this is a second time, or if you prefer to think outside the box, there are many places around this road that you should visit. This time, I will introduce you to one of these many spots, Onomichi.

The city has many nicknames such as The Sloping City, The City of Literature, The City of Cats, or The City of Cinema. It has recently regained popularity, especially thanks to the cyclists of the Shimanami Kaido road, who start or end their experience in Onomichi according to the direction they chose.

When I got off the train, I instantly could smell the strong scent of the sea and feel the retro atmosphere of the city. The long shopping street that stretches like the backbone of Onomichi city, between the mountains and the sea, goes on for more than 1 km, making it the longest covered passage of Japan and one of the main tourist spot of the city. There is a mix of relatively new and old fashioned stores. Souvenir shops and elegant cafés are built inside old buildings, and the atmosphere of the shopping street itself is quite retro. Onomichi’s ramen shops, which have gained popularity in recent years, are all along the street. Unfortunately, Shukaen, the restaurant that gave birth to the Onomichi ramen, located along Yakushido-dori Street, not far from the main shopping street, closed its doors in June 2019.

Walking through the shopping streets of Onomichi, I turned to the mountains. Onomichi has so many temples built in its heights that it is sometimes called the Little Kyoto of the West, and a trail along the ancient temples has been constructed.

I started with the Kairyu-ji temple at the west end, then continued towards the oldest temple of Onomichi, the Jodo-ji which would have a history of more than 1400 years, then the Saigo-ji oldest architectural structure of the Buddhist sect Ji-shu, and finally the Shonen-ji which water source would extend the life of the one who drinks it.

After that, I headed to the Saikoku-ji, the main attraction of the ancient way of temples. The latter is the largest temple among those of Onomichi and is the headquarters of the Daigo school of the Shingon sect. One is instantly captivated by the huge sandals of Buddha and the superb statue of Nio, one of the guardians of the temple doors. There are stone tengus (creatures of Japanese folklore), called Omokaru Tengu, on the right after crossing the main gate of the Kongo-in. It is said that if we lift them slightly, our wish will come true. In addition, at the highest point of the temple are the Kondo and a three-storey pagoda, which were built more than 600 years ago, and are designated as important cultural properties of Japan.

La porte de Niomon et les sandales géantes
As I walked down the stairs along the narrow streets of Onomichi, I found a cat sitting quietly in the shade. In fact, the fishing port of Onomichi, with its abundance of all kinds of food and especially fish, has attracted a large number of cats who wander here and there in the city. If the number of wild cats is decreasing, the domestic cats walk just as freely in Onomichi as their colleagues. Perhaps more freely than I, who was suffering the 30 degrees of hot air of the city full-on.
A cat in Onomichi

Thinking about those cats lying on the burning ground, I thought it was time for me to have lunch so I decided to head back down to the city center. I walked past the Misode Tenmangu Shrine and overheard a conversation from a group of people who were saying the place was a very popular location to shoot films. By checking quickly, I realized that this is the place where the two main characters of Tenkosei (1982), very famous film in Japan by director Nobuhiko Obayashi, exchange their personalities after quite a bad fall. Even if it was just a coincidence, I couldn’t stop thinking about that scene in the movie, and it’s all moved that I kept going.

I was determined to go eat an Okonomiyaki. Of course, I had also thought of eating one of the Onomichi Ramen which were trending so much lately, but the desire for a Hiroshima-yaki, traditional food loved by the local population since ancient times, took over on the need for novelty. So I went to Kagi masa, a popular okonomiyaki restaurant in the city, in a small alley. As expected, the restaurant was packed with locals, and the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, prepared by the pretty owner, is exquisite. The warm atmosphere allowed me to be very relaxed and, after resisting the temptation of a second beer, I decided to head back to the temple path.
OkonomiyakiAs time began to run out, I took a shortcut and rode the Senkoji Ropeway rather than walking back up. Before arriving at the boarding platform, attracted by an intriguing looking torii (Shinto shrines entrance gates), I decided to make a small detour. The short and narrow road led me to the oldest Shinto shrine in Onomichi, Ushitora-Jinja. Once again, this place returns to me, it is also the place of a scene of a film by Nobuhiko Obayashi, The Little Girl Who Conquered Time (1983), which is part of his trilogy of Onomichi, with Tenkosei quoted earlier and Lonely Heart (1985). Surrounded by camphor trees designated as national natural monuments, one feels quite well in this sanctuary with a spiritual atmosphere.Ushitora-jinja Shrine

It only takes 3 minutes to reach Senkoji Park at the top of Senkojiyama by cable car. From the top you can see the streets of Onomichi that stretch along the sea, Mukojima, the first island of the Shimanami Kaido road, and the rest of the islands that stand out in the distance. 2500 cherry trees are planted in the park and the place has therefore been selected as one of the 100 best spots to observe cherry blossoms in Japan. The Onomichi City Museum of Art, designed by Tadao Ando, exhibits works related to the city.

From the gazebo, one can return to the center by the cable car, but it is better to descend slowly while strolling in the path of literature. Onomichi was not only the birthplace of many writers and artists such as Fumiko Hayashi and Nobuhiko Obayashi, but many figures of the literary scene also moved there, such as Naoya Shiga and Kenkichi Nakamura. The path of literature is a walk where extracts of 25 literary texts connected to Onomichi are written on stones, eventually reaching the Senkoji temple.

The Senkoji temple, which was founded 1200 years ago, is certainly the most representative of Onomichi. The main hall and the bell tower painted in red that stand on the cliff in Mount Senkoji are worthy of being the symbol of the city, and the view that the place offers is simply superb.

Among the large and small megaliths surrounding the main sanctuary is the Tama rock which originated the name of the Senkoji temple. In fact, according to a legend, this stone would have been a natural source of light in the past, and it is today an artificial light that illuminates it. One can also see a “mirror rock” that is supposed to reflect light, and the rocky area behind the main hall is called Kusariyama. The temple also offers a quick experience of monk training for a 100¥ by climbing rocks with chains. It only takes about ten minutes and doesn’t require a lot of physical strength, but some places are a little dangerous and it’s at my own risks that I ventured there.

I then kept on going down towards the city enjoying the landscape that was unfolding before my eyes. Along the way, there were several remarkable places such as the three-storey pagoda or the path of the cats. The Temple Path wasn't over, but, tired, I decided to go for a beer at AOI Soraku instead, a café overlooking the three-storey pagoda and the Onomichi Strait. And this is where I gave up my walk for the day. To finish the day, I awarded myself an ice cream to congratulate my tired body at Karasawa, a local beachfront glacier.

Even though I’ve been wanting to visit Onomichi for a long time, I thought I could handle it in half a day, big mistake. Full of history, splendid views, good food, Onomichi is filled with charm. The atmosphere of the city keeps a rustic, not so touristy, side, and locals speak with honesty and often approach you with a welcoming attitude. The retro atmosphere of the city filled me with a sweet nostalgia… The city is both mysterious and attractive, almost enchanting. No surprise that so many writers and artists have found a source of inspiration there.

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