A beautiful edo-style port town


visit west japan, visitwestjapan, hiroshima prefecture
Photographer | Takuma Kimura


Located on a peninsula in Fukuyama City is the quaint little town of Tomonoura. It has been immortalized in both live action movies and animation on account of its authentic traditional Japanese townscape by the sea. The local residents have a saying, “the smaller the town, the closer the people”. 

Perhaps the Studio Ghibli animated feature Ponyo is most synonymous with Tomonoura in recent years. It is certainly worth watching to get a sense of the warmth of the close-knit community and the nostalgic small town atmosphere.

Although part of Tomonoura’s charm remains that it is a true fishing port where families continue to make their livelihood from the sea, the attention it has received in light of its use in media has shone new light on the town.

Another interesting aspect of Tomonoura is that it has plenty of its own local points of interest. For example, the Edo era Joyato Lighthouse, several museums, temples and shrines, offshore islands, old merchant houses and last but not least, the port that helped bring the area to life.

When you see images in the media of Tomonoura and even postcards the most common scene is the view of the coastline with Sensuijima Island and Benten Island in the distance.

Sensuijima is an uninhabited island nature retreat with a marvelous campsite and a well-appointed pension house. A nature-walkers paradise, there are carefully laid out trails throughout the island as well as heated seawater baths.

Benten is a temple island with a Shinto gate that you have to pass through after you come ashore. From there, a series of steps lead you to a stone pagoda, which is not only a designated cultural property, it is also thought to be the oldest in Hiroshima Prefecture with a verifiable age, as its inscription dates it to the year 1271.

Built in the 17th century, the island temple is one of Tomonoura’s landmarks although it is not normally open to the public. In fact, Benten Island itself can only be reached by specially arranged charter, adding to its allure.

There are a host of temples on the mainland of historic significance. Housen-ji is a 14th century Nichiren Buddhist temple where you can see the remains of a 630 year old pine tree that would have been planted at the time of its founding.

Fukuzen-ji is a 10th century Shingon Buddhist temple that is famed for its architecture and lovely view of Sensuijima and Benten Island.

Founded in the late 13th century with the main hall dating back to the early 14th century, the Rinzai Buddhist Ankoku-ji Temple is a nationally designated cultural heritage site.

About four kilometers to the west of Tomonoura is the eye-catching cliffside Bandai-ji Temple. Like Ankoku-ji, it is associated with the Rinzai school of Buddhism and is a nationally designated cultural heritage site.

Hongan-ji is a Ji-shu school Buddhist temple that was used regularly to provide lodging for envoys from Korea during the Edo era.

A Shingon-affiliated temple, Jizo-in has a pleasant garden that is filled with Buddhist statues. Enter the main hall where even more await.

If you want a great view of Tomonoura try a temple-trek and climb the 583 steps to Io-ji. Have a seat under the massive cast iron bell within the complex.

Seikan-ji Temple was originally constructed during the 9th century and was home to many national treasures, most of which were lost to a series of fires during the Edo era. It also provided accommodation for Korean envoys during the same period.

Myoen-ji is a Shin Buddhist temple that has been located in Tomonoura since the 16th century. There are regular events and activities held throughout the year with spring cherry blossom viewing being a particular favorite.

Zengyo-ji Temple is thought to have its origins in the 16th century. Located in central Tomonoura, it also served as lodging for Korean envoys during the Edo era.

People of many faiths would have passed through or spent time in Tomonoura as the town was a commercial hub for centuries. As the feudal lord of the region was tolerant of Christianity, Jitoku-in Temple was one place where believers in that faith could gather.

Amida-ji is a Jodo Buddhist temple that was founded in the 16th century. In the main hall there is a striking five meter high golden statue of the seated-Buddha.

While temples have clearly been an important part of the fabric of town life, commerce played a vital role as well. This is evident as you stroll around the area near the port and inspect the numerous storefronts that speak to this past.

Today, you will find eateries and shops which continue to attract visitors to Tomonoura from far and wide.There are also plenty of options for shopping for collectibles and souvenirs.

About the Area

Fukuyama is the second largest city in Hiroshima Prefecture and borders Okayama Prefecture to the west. The city is famous for is annual rose festival and the splendid Fukuyama castle. The castle is the cultural center of the city, as many yearly events and festivals are held there or in the vicinity.

Tomonoura is a port district of the city that has become well-known for its use in both live action and animated features. Most famous for being the inspiration behind the setting of the Studio Ghibli animated film Ponyo, the quaint Edo era structures of the town have a timeless appeal.

There are quite a number of sights to see within Tomonoura, including Fukuzenji Temple, with its stunning view of the Benten Island. You can also visit the elegant Enpuku-ji Temple. Other sights on the mainland include the Joyato Lantern, Ankoku-ji Temple and Nunakuma Shrine.

Just off the Tomonoura coast is the resort island of Sensuijima, which can be reached by ferry in a few minutes. The island has three hotels, a swimming beach, a hiking course and a number of notable scenic spots. There are also several heated seawater baths around the island as well.

Access:  Take the Shinkansen from JR Okayama Station to JR Fukuyama Station. Then take the Tomo-ko Port bound bus from JR Fukuyama Station to Tomonoura.

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