We were initially drawn to Tomonoura by Hayao Miyazaki (co-founder of Studio Ghibli) and his 2008 film ‘Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea’. ‘Ponyo’ was written by Miyazaki after a sojourn in the port town which largely inspired the setting for the film. We hoped to get a glimpse at his inspiration, maybe figure out just a fraction of his method, and if we were lucky, catch a whiff of the magic he manages to pour into every frame of his animations. A late addition to our itinerary however, we had allocated a measly three hours for all this wizardry to happen.
On arriving we were instantly drawn in by the people, they were so open, friendly and had so much to share about their town. Needless to say we never made it to our afternoon appointment and spent the whole day happily wandering the streets of Tomonoura.
Unlike most of the other places we visited in Japan, Tomonoura hasn’t really been ‘touristified’. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Japanese tourists around the town (just not foreign ones) and the other places we visited still retain the majority of their charm, but there was something incredibly special about Tomonoura. Maybe it was just truly authentic or lived in, or maybe it was something else, whatever it was that Miyazaki had come in search of and evidently found.
See some practical Tomonoura tips, links, and recommendations at the bottom of this post.
At Fukuzenji temple, our first stop, we were approached by a samurai! A cool guy who’s vocation is now to educate people in the history of his tradition. His katana only comes out for photo ops. Despite the language barrier he brought us on a tour all around Tomonoura, bringing us to an off the beaten track museum and telling histories with such animation that we almost felt we understood. He picked up other Japanese tourists along the way who were more than happy to help with translations and offer their own stories.
^ Ferry to Sensui Island, a beautiful resort full of onsens
^ Some of the creepier residents of Sensui island and many of the parts of Japan we visited, not harmful, beautiful, but creepy nonetheless…
We took an old style ferry across to Sensui island where we watched massive hawks circling over the sea and avoided (non-harmful) spiders. On returning to the mainland we wandered around the wooden, edo-style streets and visited craft and antique shops filled with everything from antique Godzilla toys to porcelain raccoons. There were lots of opportunities for traditional snacking on dried shrimp (I’m reliably informed it tasted exactly like sand), matcha (japanese powdered green tea), and dango (japanese sweet dumplings).
FUN FACT: Marvel’s ‘The Wolverine’ (2013) was filmed in Tomonoura
Tomonoura became especially magical as the sun set and dusk fell. We wandered out along the bay to catch a glimpse of Sōsuke’s kindergarten and kept following back streets, coming across temples and shrines made eerie and mysterious in the twilight. I felt like it could have been any era.
Then of course there was Ponyo, lot’s and lot’s of Ponyo! Following our Visitor Center map we made it to Sōsuke’s kindergarten, the shop where he bought his ice cream, the house Hayao Miyazaki stayed while in Tomonoura, the cove where Sōsuke found Ponyo and more. Although you didn’t really need a map, the landmarks were obvious but more amazingly, so was the atmosphere.
^ It was pretty easy to spot where HM had got his inspiration (Sensui Island, 5 mins ferry from Tomonoura)
^ The approaching Typhoon Vongfong only added to the atmosphere – Joyato lighthouse
^ We tried Sōsuke’s ice cream
^ The buses looked strangely familiar…
^ …and it seemed that Hayao Miyazaki had left his mark around town
See the rest of my Tomo-no-ura photos here.
Tomonoura is very accessible by bus from Fukuyama JR station which is about 40 mins by shinkansen from Hiroshima. You will find a handy Tomonoura transport guide in the ‘how to get there’ section here. There is also a good guide on how to use the local bus system here which applied to all the local buses we used around Japan. I would recommend getting off at the second last stop and paying a visit to Tomonoura Visitor Center (see below) rather than heading straight for the port. All the important sites of Tomonoura are walkable and part of the charm of the town is exploring it on foot.
Tomonoura Visitor Center
Aside from the fact they have a huge range of Ponyo merchandise (see photo below), they have exceptionally friendly and helpful staff with excellent English. We spent ten minutes chatting to them and left with an armful of maps (including one exclusively dedicated to Ponyo landmarks) which greatly enhanced the quality of our day.