Tomonoura guide


Adventurous, international travellers may make it a point to visit Hiroshima, but not many are aware of Tomonoura, a small fishing town just 100km east of the city centre. Dubbed the real-life Ponyo town, Tomonoura is the scenic harbour town that served as the setting for the charming animated film. 

From spotting the adorable fish girl among narrow alleys to admiring stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea, here’s how you can spend a day at the quaint fishing port that inspired Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo


1. Stroll along the quaint bay area


Tomonoura - sea viewImage credit: @ryollard_photo

Located at the south of Fukuyama City, Tomonoura (鞆の浦) is a charming port town with a nostalgic fishing townscape. 

Tomonoura - port town Image credit: @ekolu_hoku

Though it is pretty laid-back now, the area was bustling in the olden days as merchants would dock their ships at the harbour while waiting patiently for favourable tides. Thanks to the high foot traffic, the town prospered, with many tea houses and shops sprouting up in the area.

Tomonoura - ponyoImage credit: Studio Ghibli

Avid fans of Studio Ghibli may find the picturesque view familiar as the town featured in Ponyo was actually modelled after Tomonoura

Inspired by the environment and beauty of the seaside town, director Hayao Miyazaki decided on a scenic setting that’s similar to the real-life Tomonoura, culminating in the cult classic that is beloved by many today.

Tomonoura - streets at tomonouraImage credit: Xiu Ting Wong

Besides gorgeous sea views, Tomonoura is also home to rows of rustic wooden houses and historic buildings. Venture through the nooks and cranny of the narrow alleys and you’ll find yourself transported to olden Japan.

Address: Tomo Tomocho, Fukuyama, 720-0201 Hiroshima


2. Jōyatō Lighthouse


Tomonoura - joyato lighthouseImage credit: Xiu Ting Wong

A defining landmark of Tomonoura, Jōyatō Lighthouse (常夜燈) has been the symbol of the quiet town since it was built over 160 years ago. The humble 11m-tall structure stands proudly at the tip of the harbour, and it has been guiding vessels safely for almost two centuries.

Tomonoura - joyato lighthouse
Image credit: @keisuke.fujikawa

Go closer and you’ll see a pair of stone frames inscribed with the words “金毘羅大権現” (konpira dai gongen) and “当所祇園宮” (tōsho gion gū), both of which are deities of maritime safety. 

Today, the lighthouse serves as a popular photo spot, so be sure to snap a shot when you’re there to commemorate your visit.

Address: 843-1 Tomocho, Fukuyama, 720-0201 Hiroshima 


3. Breathtaking view of Seto Inland Sea at Fukuzenji


Tomonoura - view at taichoroPanoramic view of the nearby islands at Tachōrō
Image credit: @brown_sugar310

The harbour may have transported you to the magical world of Ponyo, but the view at Fukuzenji (福禅寺) is a different kind of breathtaking altogether.

Boasting an unobstructed view of the tranquil Seto Inland Sea, Taichōrō (対潮楼), a tatami veranda within the Fukuzenji temple, offers a magnificent scenery of the nearby uninhabited Bentenjima Island, Sensujima Island, and Nunakuma Shrine.

Tomonoura - taichoroImage credit: Xiu Ting Wong

Built in the early 1690s, the space first served as a guesthouse for the Joseon Tongsinsa – envoys sent from Korea – and was often used as a gathering place for calligraphers and scholars.

In fact, Lee Bang-eun, a Korean ambassador who visited the temple in 1711, raved about the grandeur of the vast landscape, calling it “the most beautiful area in the east of Korea”. Today, you’ll spot his remarks immortalised and hung on top of the temple’s beams. 

Address: 2 Tomocho, Fukuyama, Hiroshima 720-0201
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 9AM-5PM | Sat & Sun 8AM-5PM
Admission: ¥200 (~USD1.57) for adults, ¥150 (~USD1.18) for middle and high school students, ¥100 (~USD0.79) for elementary school students


4. Look out for the miniature Ponyo fountain


Tomonoura - ponyo fountain
Image credit: Xiu Ting Wong

Ponyo may be a fictional character that exists only in the Ghibli universe, but that won’t stop the locals from taking some creative liberty to bring the film’s cutesy charm to real life. 

Along one particular narrow alley, observant visitors will spot a tiny Ponyo fountain, with the titular goldfish princess squirting water, just like in the movie.

Tomonoura - shop
Image credit: Xiu Ting Wong

Hidden in a discreet corner beside Tsukuroi Kūkan, a quaint little shop that sells artisanal canvas bags, the Ponyo fountain can be easy to miss for those not in the know. Look out for the prominent shop sign and the red mailbox that’s hung just above the fountain.

Tsukuroi Kūkan
Address: 838 Tomocho, Fukuyama, 720-0201 Hiroshima
Opening hours: 10.30AM-4PM, Daily
Telephone: 0849-83-5085


5. Fresh sea bream prepared four ways


Tomonoura - sea bream set mealImage credit: Xiu Ting Wong

No trip is complete without giving the local delicacies a try. Thanks to the abundance of sea bream that gather in the calm Seto Inland Sea at Tomonoura for spawning every early summer, the port town is famous for its fresh fish dishes.

Chitose, a shop specialising in sea bream cuisine, is a favourite amongst domestic travellers. 

Tomonoura - sea bream set mealImage credit: Xiu Ting Wong

Go for their set meal (鯛定食; tai teishoku), which allows you to enjoy freshly caught sea bream prepared four ways – tempura, sashimi, nitsuke (fish simmered in soy sauce), and shioyaki (grilled fish with salt).

Choose either two (¥1,650, ~USD13.00) or three (¥2,310, ~USD18.16) of your preferred preparation methods – the set also comes with sea bream rice and an array of side dishes. 

Chitose
Address: 552-7 Tomocho, Fukuyama, 720-0201 Hiroshima
Opening hours: Wed – Mon 11.30AM-2.30PM & 6PM-8PM (Closed on Tuesdays)
Telephone: 0849-82-3165


6. Enjoy soft serve with a view


Tomonoura - soft serve
Image credit: Xiu Ting Wong

After a day of exploring, head over to Shionone, a popular cafe that offers a selection of refreshing desserts such as daifuku, soft serve, soda float, and parfait.

Adorned with a crisp buttery cookie in the shape of Jōyatō Lighthouse, the soft serve (¥340- ¥370, ~USD2.67- USD2.91) is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up to relieve fatigue from a day of walking.

Tomonoura - view of portImage credit: Xiu Ting Wong

Shionone provides free picnic mats, which are placed right beside its entrance, for rent. Customers are welcomed to lay the mat down on the stone steps outside the store and enjoy their sweet treats with a panoramic view of the port. 

Tomonoura - shiononeImage credit: Xiu Ting Wong

The shop is also known for its shio daifuku (¥270- ¥280, ~USD2.12- USD2.20) that’s made with salt from the Seto Inland Sea, so give that a try if you’re still feeling peckish after an ice cream cone.

Shionone
Address: 869-1 Tomocho, Fukuyama, 720-0201 Hiroshima
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 11AM-5PM | Sat, Sun & Public Holidays 10AM-6PM
Telephone: 0849-82-9109
Website


7. Drink hōmeishu liquor


Tomonoura - honmeishuImage credit: Xiu Ting Wong

Unique to the town of Tomonoura is hōmeishu (保命酒), a local medicinal liquor that’s concocted using 16 kinds of herbs. While it sounds bitter, the local drink is actually sweet – the sweetness is derived from glutinous rice, and it contains no artificial sweetener or sugar.

Tomonoura - honmeishu
Image credit: @a.r.i.a.r.i

Dating back to as early as the late 1650s, the traditional remedy is a must-try as the locals swear by its efficacy in combating heat fatigue and the cold. There are several shops that offer hōmeishu, all of which are equally delicious, so feel free to drop by any.


8. Take a ferry to the nearby island


Tomonoura - sensuijimaImage credit: @tomoworld228

If time allows, allocate at least one afternoon to visit Sensuijima, an island just off the coast of Tomonoura. 

Legend has it that thanks to the lush vegetation, crystal clear water, and well-preserved rock and crag formations, the landscape on Sensuijima is so beautiful that hermits get drunk on the scenery – a literal translation of its name, “仙酔島”.

Tomonoura - five colour rock on sensuijimaImage credit: @tomoworld228

Visitors can easily venture through the island via several marked hiking trails and take in an unspoiled view of nature. In particular, look out for the Five-Colour Rock (五色の岩; goshiki no iwa), a spiritual spot where a myriad of coloured crags blend in seamless harmony.

Tomonoura- bentenjimaImage credit: @kusu__ken

Sensuijima is accessible by a short 5-minute ferry ride, which costs ¥240 (~USD1.89) for a round trip and departs every 20 minutes. Along the way, you’ll be treated to a view of the uninhabited Bentenjima floating in a vast expanse of emerald waters, and the lone stone torii gate of Numakuma Shrine.


Getting there


Tomonoura - bus stopImage credit: Xiu Ting Wong 

The fastest and easiest way to get there is to start your journey at JR Fukuyama Station, which is just a short 23-minute shinkansen ride (¥4,510, ~USD35.33) from JR Hiroshima Station.

Head to the bus interchange situated just outside Fukuyama Station and locate the Tomonoura bus stop. Buses are available every 20-30 minutes, and the ride will take you straight to Tomonoura Bus Stop (¥530, ~USD4.15) and Tomo Port Bus Stop (¥560, ~USD4.39). You can alight at either stop, though the former requires a short walk to the main port area. 


Tomonoura guide


Tomonoura may be slightly off the radar for many international tourists, but the humble port town is worth a detour, even if you’re not a staunch Ghibli fan. Consider making the trip down when you find yourself in Hiroshima in the future. 

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Cover image adapted from (clockwise from left): Xiu Ting Wong, @ryollard_photo and @brown_sugar310

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