Posted by Heliocentrism on October 16, 2016
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Sunday, September 18, 2016
Mark planned this trip, or at least he tried. Some small towns in Japan, even though they would love to boost international tourism in their town, don’t put much effort into placing their town’s information online.
We actually wanted to visit downtown Fukuyama, but there was no evidence on the internet that there would be sufficient sightseeing to justify driving the two hours to get there. But, in a subsection of Fukuyama there is the town of Tomonoura. There were some inklings that fun could be had in this town, but still there were no decent maps online.
The only way to really put a day trip together was to go there, find their tourist information center, and hope for the best. Onomichi was just a freak town with a great tour guide online; we will probably never come across something like that again.
What we knew before the trip
Tomonoura is the town where Hayao Miyazaki, Mr. Studio Ghibli, stayed for two months back in 2005. From this town he got inspiration for the setting for the film Ponyo. Some buildings, streets, and other areas in town gave Miyazaki ideas for the setting of his film.
“We could do a Ponyo tour!” we thought. But, since we could not find any decent maps of the area that pointed out or explained the town’s tourist spots, we didn’t know for sure how much the town had to offer. We guessed that it would take roughly two hours to see everything in and around the town. Since that’s not enough for a whole day of entertainment, we made reservations for a themed restaurant in Hiroshima for later that night.
We also didn’t leave home until 11:00 am that morning. We got to Tomonoura at 12:30 that afternoon. Parking was easy to find. There is a lot right at the Tomonoura Tourism Center.
We walked in and started looking through their free maps and guides. “They’re really not into the English here,” I complained as I tried to find an easy-to-read Japanese map. “I found some stuff in French,” Mark replied trying to stay positive.
By the entrance, there was a sign for a “Voice Tour” and English was one of the languages available. “Let’s just get one of the audio tour things. This town clearly hates English maps.”
Mark walked up to the counter and asked for one of the audio tour devices. They looked somewhat like a walkie-talkie, but with an earpiece. The man at the counter lit up.
“Oh yes! You have English map?” He seemed to be doing 10 things at once. He was putting something away and ringing up a customer’s purchase while he was talking to us.
“No, we don’t have an English map,” I responded a little annoyed. I had only been looking for one everywhere online for the last month or so. Then I came here to still find no English maps. “Where the hell did this guy think I would find the illusive ‘English Map of Tomonoura,’” I thought.
“Okay,” he smiled. He finished with the customer and ran into a little back office rifling through several papers. We could hear lots of movement coming from the small office. Then he popped back out. “What kind of tour, you want?”
We stood there frozen by the odd question. We looked at each other, then turned to him. “A Ponyo Tour?”
“Oh, yes. Ponyo Tour,” he said to himself, like this was the usual answer. He ran back into the office and resumed moving papers around. When he came back out again, he held in his hand several papers and a few magazines. I felt like we had just answered a riddle correctly and was about to be rewarded with all the English maps this guy had.
“Ponyo tour, Ponyo tour,” the man kept saying to himself. Very sacredly, like he was handing over his holy maps, he showered us with Ponyo related information as he gave us one paper or magazine at a time. He opened one magazine to the map inside and started drawing lines and circles everywhere.
Information poured out of him like water over Niagara. “This is where Sosuke and Ponyo meet first time”, “This is something something”, “You must see blah blah blah.” He went on and on. He didn’t write any of the information down, just lines and circles. We were to remember what he said. But, it was way too much to take in.
He went through each piece of paper and fired information and recommendations at us. We stood there dazed. It had been months that we were looking for a tourist guide for this town and here, in the span of 5 minutes, we got all of it.
When he was done, he had handed over all the papers. Then he left us to show another customer where something was. We looked at the papers now in our hands not knowing where to go first. I looked through the maps. They were just maps; they don’t have much information. “We should get the audio guide,” I told Mark.
When the man came back he took one of the maps back. He pulled out his marker and added more lines and circles. “Oh, I forget to tell you to see blah blah and important thing with very long Japanese name.” He had finished with the Ponyo attractions and was telling us about temples, shrines, and folklore.
“Can we get one Voice Tour, please?” I interrupted. “Oh, yes!” He gave us the form to fill out and took our payment and deposit. The whole time he talked non-stop about things to do in town. “The blah blah museum is loved by many, many tourists.” We also paid 1,000 Yen for our parking and got a ticket for proof of payment.
We stood there for five extra minutes getting more information from the tourism center guy. “When will he stop? It would have been fantastic if all this coming from him was written and online,” I thought. This man was a wealth of information. But, since we could not remember it all, it was wasted on us. We needed time to write it down, but he spoke too quickly.
We were saved by another tourist asking for information. We headed to our car to sort through the papers alone. Mark also wanted to switch out his earbuds for the earpiece that came with the audio guide. That way we could both listen to it.
It had been raining all day, sometimes very hard. At that moment the rain had stopped and we were discussing whether to take our raincoats, our umbrellas, or both. I guess we took too long.
“Okay, still here?” a voice came from behind me. It was the tourism center guy. He held his marker in his hand and asked for one of the papers back. “It’s happening again,” I wanted to scream.
He actually didn’t want one of the maps back. He wanted us to hand back the parking ticket. “I forget. Parking 500 yen off for Voice Tour,” he smiled. He gave me a 500 yen coin and wrote the rebate on the parking ticket. “Thank you,” I said, feeling bad for being annoyed moments before.
Then he pointed towards the road. “No rain now. You should see blah blah, something something, very long name, and random temple soon. But first go this way for Fukuzenji Temple. It will rain again soon. Hurry!”
Mark and I grabbed our stuff and headed down the road. “Wait Mark, weren’t we going to eat something at the information center’s restaurant?” “No,” Mark led me across the street. “He’s letting us go right now. We should go before he remembers more things to tell us. It’s information overload.”
“Where are we going, Mark?”
“To the only place I can remember. The last thing he told us about, Fuuuu something Temple. It’s this way.” We walked down the street just as a parade was passing by.
I recalled the tourist center guy saying something about a festival. “It’s a funny time,” I think he said. It was a very small parade. Not many people on the street paid them much attention. Traffic was not even stopped for them. Cars slowed down a little to maneuver around them. “What a strange parade,” I said.
Along the sidewalk, Mark typed in the number for our first stop and we both listened to the voice as we walked. The speaker was a lady with a Japanese accent. She spoke very slowly. “This is how I talk during listening tests for my students,” I complained. It was too slow for me. I let Mark listen to the whole thing and asked him for the highlights.
We found “Fuuuu something Temple” with no problem. Throughout the city there are many maps posted on small waist-high pillars. We just followed them to Fukuzenji. We took off our shoes, went in, and paid the entrance fee.
The view was spectacular. “If I could, I would buy this place and turn it into my house. I would love to drink my morning coffee to this view,” I whispered to Mark.
We moved around the temple and looked at the many things on display. There was a man in a blue jacket oohing and aahing over a spying apparatus. He knew the thing was fantastic, but he had no idea how to use it. First he looked at the thing the wrong way. Then he walked around it, talking to the device.
Finally Mr. Blue Jacket found the right spot to look through it. “This is amazing,” he shouted in Japanese. He giggled like a little school boy and called his friends over to join in on his discovery. “Damn it,” I thought. “I was going to be next!”
I waited, not so patiently, for all his friends to look through the mechanism and listened as they waxed poetically, in Japanese, about the little pagoda across the water. They really seemed to like this thing and I badly wanted my turn with it.
Eventually, the friends all cleared out and stood off to the side, no doubt reminiscing about their newly shared experience. I stepped up to the mini-telescope and saw the pagoda on the adjacent island. It looked like it came with an Instagram filter already on it. I called Mark over for him to enjoy it and be inspired to verse.
Mark came over and looked through the lens as I took his photo. “I don’t see anything,” he said, unimpressed.
“How?” I asked him in disbelief. I had just used the thing. I knew it worked just fine. How could he not see the splendor that was the little pagoda? “You mean you don’t see that pagoda right there?” I looked out to point to the pagoda. Then I saw that Mr. Blue Jacket was standing right in front of the viewer, blocking Mark’s enjoyment. We waited for a few minutes hoping he would soon move. But, he was fiddling with his camera and would be occupied for hours. “What an ass,” I huffed.
Mark, not knowing the wonder that was the viewer, lost interest and moved to Buddhist statues. Among them was a statue of the Virgin Mary made to look like the mother goddess Bodhisattva Kannon. During the Edo period people would come here to secretly worship in the forbidden religion, Christianity.
Next we visited some random shrine while looking for Enpukuji Temple. This was where Ponyo and Sosuke first met. We never actually got to the temple. We walked out along a stone path in the sea to get photos of the city and found the lighthouse. We headed to the lighthouse next, forgetting all about Enpukuji.
On the way to the lighthouse we passed Sumiyohi Shrine. According to the Voice tour, there are heavy stones placed around this shrine. They were used to tell fortunes long, long ago. The audio guide gave a confusing account of people predicting the stones’ weight before lifting it. The comparison of what the stones weighed and how much they thought the stones would weigh meant something about a person’s future.
We wondered our way through the little town, down old timey Japanese streets until we came to the Old Joyato Lighthouse. Lighthouse, seems too heavy of a word for this thing. When I think of a lighthouse I think of a… well, house; something that a person can enter. This was more like a light… post.
There were people walking around the base of the lighthouse. Among them were an old couple. They each had cameras bigger than their arms. The lady was the first to attempt to climb down from the lighthouse’s base.
She first looked down to gauge where her chair was. It was a brown padded folding chair that was placed right against the wall of the lighthouse’s base and mere inches from the edge of the walkway. She turned around and hung her right foot off the base of the lighthouse trying to find the chair by gently kicking the air. She found the chair by giving it a little nudge closer to the edge.
Seeing that this woman was about to kick her chair off the walkway and into the water 5 feet below, then shortly follow it, Mark ran to her and grabbed her arm. He held on to the chair so it would not move any further. He helped her off the chair and onto solid ground, not noticing her husband right behind her.
He had no idea why Mark felt the need to help his wife. As Mark and the lady were talking, the husband turned around and did the same kicking procedure to find the chair as his wife did. He kicked the chair even closer to the edge as he slammed his foot down on the chair with half his weight. This caused the chair to teeter, a little closer to the edge, then a little further. The man noticed none of this.
He was making a lot of noise and soon caught Mark’s attention. “Oh be careful,” Mark warned. “You’re so close to falling into the water.” But, the man spoke no English and had no sense of the danger he was in. He didn’t even stop for a moment to think what to do about his wobbling chair. He wiggled his right foot to make room for his left foot on the chair. Luckily this wobbled the chair away from the edge. Mark ignored the wife, who was still thanking him, and ran over to the man. By the time Mark got to him, he was safely on the ground.
“Are you okay,” Mark asked in Japanese.
“Yes, of course,” the man snorted like Mark was treating him like a baby. He was an old man, but he didn’t need Mark’s help. Mark pointed to the chair and wobbled it to show the man what the concern was. “I’m okay!” the man muttered and he, his wife, and their cameras with telescopic lenses waddled down the street.
It started to really rain again. Mark and I found a restaurant that was restored with a little help from, none other than, Mr. Hayao Miyazaki. We were so happy to be walking in Miyazaki’s footsteps throughout this town and with the little courtyard in the restaurant that we barely took notice that the food on the menu didn’t look that delicious.
The food was expensive, but we ordered two of the least costly dishes. When we got our food, there was a tea pot on each of our trays. “Where are our tea cups?” I asked Mark.
Mark called over the lady who took our order and tried to ask her about the lost tea cups. But as she came closer she said in Japanese, “Oh, there is no spoon. Just a moment.” She ran to the back and came out with one wooden spoon and placed it on Mark’s tray.
“Thanks, but how?” Mark asked. The woman seemed amused by Mark’s lack of knowledge and simply poured the “tea” into Mark’s rice bowl. Then took the wooden spoon and swirled the contents of the bowl around. Then she mimed picking up chopsticks and putting the raw fish from another bowl into the rice. “How odd,” I thought as the woman left.
Mark tried his newly formed soup. “It tastes like wet rice,” he announced as he poured more “tea” into his rice bowl. “If it tastes like wet rice, why are you adding more ‘tea’,” I asked. Mark tossed in a few other things from his tray into the rice bowl. “I’m not willing to give up on this dish just yet. With the right combination, my wet rice might not be so bad.”
Mark sampled the liquid from his tea pot by itself. It had a slight bouillon flavor. Mark never found the combination to make his wet rice better. I ate mine without the tea. The lady never remembered to give me a wooden spoon and I wasn’t interested in wet rice enough to ask for one. We did not enjoy our meal.
Next we looked for Whisper Bridge.
A long time ago there were some Korean entertainers in town. I think they were acrobats. Everyone in town loved their performances; one young lady in particular. She would go to every show. She had a favorite. He was quite handsome.
It wasn’t long before he noticed her too. They would talk every night after the show. Soon they fell in love. They tried to keep it a secret. Love between a Japanese and a Korean was strictly forbidden. They started to meet under the cover of darkness at night after the shows. But, eventually they were found out.
They were told to stop. They said they would, but they were lying. They tried harder to keep their meetings secret. They failed.
The whole town got together to hold the two stubborn youngsters accountable. Their four hands were tied together. Their four feet were tied together. “You want to be together. Fine! Be together forever,” the town’s people said. The couple, bounded to each other by hands and feet, were thrown off a bridge. They drowned.
That bridge, from which the town’s people with no appreciation for a good love story, so callously tossed a perfectly decent young couple, no longer exists. The bridge fell down a few times and was rebuilt a few times. But eventually, after the town grew and waterways were moved to more convenient spots, everyone decided that the town just didn’t need a bridge.
But by then, this town did appreciate a good love story. This one in particular. They wanted to keep the bridge even if they no longer needed it. So they built a non-needed bridge so small most people wouldn’t even know it was there. It was so tiny, you would have to be looking for it, to see it. This was my favorite part of this whole trip!
We came to a shop decorated with dragons. Tomonoura doesn’t have special food, like Onomichi had their subtly fishy ramen. But they do have special moonshine. It’s a type of herbal sake. Mark has convinced himself that this booze is the liquid Ponyo’s father is playing with at the start of the movie. He claims this is what gives the Japanese Poseidon his power.
Mark bought the smallest bottle the store had for sale. He could not try it there, since he needed to drive home. Japan has a zero tolerance for alcohol and driving.
Next we headed to Sosuke’s house, or rather the house that inspired the look of the house in Ponyo. (Let’s be honest, it looks nothing like the house in the movie.) We headed down a cute stone-paved back street to look for the house.
We found the house, feigned excitement. and tried to remember what the house in the movie looked like. The next day we watched Ponyo again and could not see how the one house inspired the other.
We looked at the time. Mark thought that Hiroshima City was a 1.5 hour drive away. So, we had just enough time for a quick ferry ride to Sensui Island on the most bad-ass looking ferry ever.
The island itself was meh. Everything there was closed or closing while we walked along the trail. We did make it to the gift shop in time to buy some salty ice cream. Salt is harvested on this island. In fact, the harvesting plant is one of the attractions. So, in the spirit of tourism, salty ice cream is the only flavor sold. (I’m not sure if that is true every day. But on the day Mark and I went, the choice was salty ice cream or no ice cream.)
It was awful. It tasted kind of bad on the first lick and went downhill from there. Mark and I shared one cone between the two of us. I ate until I could no longer stand it. Mark finished it. This is not the town for people who like delicious things.
We went back to the tourist information center to return the Voice Tour. We met our old friend again. He gave us back our deposit and asked us questions about our visit. “Did you see blah blah?”
“Oh yes. It was lovely.”
“How about something something?”
“That was my favorite part!”
We lied. We had no idea what he was talking about. We just felt so bad for not remembering most of the information he gave us. I thought it was better to just lie.
Once of the road, our Garmin told us that we would not make it back to Hiroshima until 21:30. We would be too late for our reservations. So, we’ll do that another time.
How to get there:
You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.
Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.
- Emergency Numbers:
- Police 110
- Ambulance and Fire 119
- Important phone numbers to know while in Japan
- Comfort Woman
- The Commoner
- Empire of the Sun
- Flyboys: A True Story of Courage
- Geisha, a Life
- Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission
- The Last Concubine
- Memoirs of a Geisha
- Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath
- Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
- Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan. Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
- International ATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask what ATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
- ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
- The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
- You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)
- Coordinates 34°23’08.3″N 133°23’01.4″E
Tourist Information Center –
- 416-1 Tomochotomo, Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture 720-0201
Tomonoura Tourist Information Center
- +81 84-982-3200
Parking at the Tomonoura Tourist Information Center
- 1,000 yen / day
- You get 500 yen off parking if you buy something at the Tomonoura Tourist Information Center.
- 500 Yen Rental
- 1,000 deposit
- 500 yen off parking
Tomonoura Tourist Information Center
- 9:00 – 19:00
- Try some homeishu (保命酒). a local sake with herbs.
- I think it tastes vile, but I hate alcohol.
- Mark didn’t like the smell, but thought it wasn’t too bad.
- Coordinates 34°22’59.2″N 133°23’00.0″E
- 〒720-0201 広島県福山市鞆町鞆2
- 200 Yen
- 8:00 to 17:00 Everyday
- Inside this temple is a statue of the Virgin Mary in the disguise of the Buddhist Bodhisattva Kannon which was used in the Edo Period. Then Christianity was banned and had to practiced in secret.
- Coordinates 34°22’56.7″N 133°22’50.9″E
- Japan, 〒720-0201 Hiroshima-ken, Fukuyama-shi, Tomochōtomo, 広島県福山市鞆町鞆843-1
- +81 84-928-1043
- 24 hours
- This a small lighthouse that is out in the open.
- Apparently you can climb up on the little stand the lighthouse is sitting on.
Coordinates 34°23’07.5″N 133°22’48.2″E
- 24 hours
- This is a very tiny bridge that is easy to not notice.
- It’s really more of a speed bump than a bridge.
- It’s part of a Japanese Romeo & Juliet. Here a Korean entertainer is the Romeo and a Japanese Tomonouran is the Juliet. The couple were tied together and pushed off a bridge.
- They weren’t pushed off this bridge. This is a smaller replica. The original bridge fell down and is no longer needed.
- The replica was made to keep the story going.
The Ponyo House
Coordinates 34°23’00.1″N 133°22’38.7″E
- free to look at
- I’m not sure if you can go in. It might be someone’s actual house.
- 24 hours
- It doesn’t look like Sosuke’s house. It is just an inspiration.
- You can find it by walking towards Iouji Temple. It’s half way up the hill. (It’s not too strenuous a walk.)
Goddess of Mercy of Abuto/ Bandaiji Temple
Coordinates 34°21’57.9″N 133°20’46.0″E
- 1427 Numakuma-cho Notohara Abuto Fukuyama City , Zip code 720-0312
- 〒720-0312 広島県福山市沼隈町大字能登原１４２７−１
- 100 Yen
- 7:00 a.m.-17:00 p.m.
- The Goddess of Mercy of Abuto happens to be Ponyo’s mother.
How to get there:
Coordinates 34°22’54.4″N 133°23’00.5″E
- Tomochotomo, Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture 720-0201, Japan
- 24 Hours
- Near this temple is the spot that inspired the meeting place for Sosuke and Ponyo.