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Tomonoura

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Tomonoura (鞆の浦) is a port town at the southern end of Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture. Situated at a bay facing the Seto Inland Sea, the picturesque port town features an endearing old-fashioned fishing townscape, with a calm and laid-back atmosphere. Tomonoura is part of the Setonaikai National Park.

Tomonoura prospered in the olden days of sail boats, when merchant ships traveling along the Seto Inland Sea would dock at its port while waiting for a favorable tide. The town center flourished with the bustling sea activity, leading to thriving industries such as the production of "homeishu", a medicinal liquor of shochu and 16 types of herbs, said to promote longevity.

In recent years, Tomonoura has been picked as a filming location for several international and local movies, such as "The Wolverine" starring Hugh Jackman and "Ponyo on the Cliff" by the popular Studio Ghibli. The port town portrayed in the beginning of "Ponyo on the Cliff" was modeled after Tomonoura.

Old Town Center

The old town center of Tomonoura has many photogenic alleys lined by rustic old houses with wooden facades. There are a few shops selling homeishu, the local medicinal liquor. The bayfront area is littered with small boats, demonstrating the port's continuing relevancy. Here are some attractions around the town center:

Joyato Lighthouse

The Joyato Lighthouse was built during the Edo Period (1603-1867) and is a symbol of Tomonoura. The eleven meter tall structure stands prominently at the waterfront directly south of the town center.

Ota Residence

Hours: 10:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Closed: Tuesdays (or following day if Tues is a national holiday), Dec 29 to Jan 1
Admission: 400 yen

The spacious Ota Residence belonged to a family who started brewing homeishu in the late 17th century. From 1710 to the onset of the Meiji Period, the family flourished as it was granted the monopoly over homeishu production. The residence was later sold when business took a downturn, but its new owner preserved many features of the buildings. Today, visitors can view the residence's multiple tatami mat rooms, tea rooms and homeishu storehouses.

Irohamaru Museum

Hours: 10:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Closed: December 29 to January 1
Admission: 200 yen

Irohamaru was the name of a merchant ship that sank in 1867, prominent because the important historical figure Sakamoto Ryoma was on board at the time. More than a hundred years later, residents from Tomonoura discovered the wreckage and retrieved artifacts and parts of the ship, which are exhibited at the Irohamaru Museum today. The museum also informs about Ryoma and relating stories about him but unfortunately lacks explanations in English.

Museum of History and Folklore

Hours: 10:00 to 17:00
Closed: Mondays (or following day if Monday is a national holiday), New Year holidays
Admission: 150 yen

The Tomonoura Museum of History and Folklore provides information about the industries of Tomonoura and historical events that took place at the town. It displays exhibits relating to the daily life of the local people, such as festival floats, models of merchant ships and artifacts of the former Tomo Castle. The museum is only somewhat interesting with little English information.

Pier

A stroll along the bay is refreshing with good views of the town and the sea. At the eastern corner of the bay there is a long pier that offer nice views of the town and coastal scenery.

Temples and Shrines

A wealth of temples and shrines surround the town center, remaining today both as reminders of Tomonoura's heritage and as local attractions. Some of the town's best views can be seen at some of these places of worship:

Fukuzenji Temple

Hours: 8:00 to 17:00
Closed: No closing days
Admission: 200 yen

Fukuzenji Temple offers the arguably most famous view at Tomonoura - that of the nearby Bentenjima Island and Sensuijima Island through the veranda of the temple. As a side note, the temple also houses a statue of Maria Kannon, who is Virgin Mary made to look like the Buddhist Bodhisattva Kannon during the Edo Period, when Christianity was banned in Japan and Christians had to practice their religion in secret.

Enpukuji Temple

Hours: Always open
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free

Enpukuji Temple as we see it today was relatively recently constructed around 1600 on the hilltop location of a former castle. The castle served as a base for the Southern Court forces during the struggle for power between the two imperial courts in the 14th century.

Ioji Temple

Hours: Always open
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free

Nostalgic stone and earthen walls with tiled roofs guard the temple grounds of Ioji, from where good views of the bay area of Tomonoura can be seen. A 15 minute ascent up the hill behind the main temple building leads to the Taishiden hall, from where even better views looking onto the bay can be enjoyed.

Nunakuma Shrine

Hours: Always open
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free

Nunakuma Shrine consists of two shrines which are respectively dedicated to deities of the sea; marine safety was obviously very important to Tomonoura's success as a port town. Nunakuma Shrine features an old noh stage.

Ankokuji Temple

Hours: 8:00 to 17:00
Closed: No closing days
Admission: 150 yen

Ankokuji Temple was founded during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). It houses a couple of designated national treasures and important works, such as a wooden statue of Amida Buddha and a stone statue of a sitting Jizo Bodhisattva. The temple compound spots an interesting selection of tropical plants.

How to get there

How to get to Tomonoura
Tomonoura is best accessed from Fukuyama Station by buses that run every 20 minutes. There are no English signs, so look out for buses bound for Tomo Port (鞆港, Tomoko) at bus stop number 5 just in front of the station exit. It takes about 30 minutes and costs 510 yen to get to the Tomonoura (鞆の浦) bus stop next to the visitor center, and 35 minutes and 530 yen to get to the Tomo Port bus stop where buses turn around and make the return trip. Besides cash, Icoca and Paspy IC cards are accepted on these buses, but other IC cards are not.

Fukuyama Station is on the JR Sanyo Shinkansen. Direct Sakura and Nozomi shinkansen trains connect Shin-Osaka Station to Fukuyama Station, costing about 7500 yen one way and taking slightly more than an hour. The Japan Rail Pass fully covers the trip on Sakura trains but not on Nozomi trains.

Direct Nozomi trains connect Tokyo Station to Fukuyama Station (225 minutes, about 16,500 yen one way, hourly departures). The Japan Rail Pass is not valid on Nozomi trains. Pass holders should take Hikari and Sakura trains via Shin-Osaka Station, instead, which adds about 30-60 minutes to the journey.

How to get around Tomonoura
The attractions of Tomonoura are within distances from the bus stops that can be comfortably covered on foot. Rental bicycles are an alternative. There is a rental outlet next to the terminal from where the ferries to Sensuijima Island depart. Bicycles cost 300 yen for the first two hours and 100 yen per 30 minutes thereafter.

information source: japan-guide.com

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