Hayao Miyazaki is a much beloved figure with fans from all over the world. The Studio Ghibli museum in Tokyo is one of Tokyo's most popular attractions and a must see for Miyazaki fans. Others fans will venture to Yakushima, the inspiration for the forests in Mononoke Hime, or visit the replica of Mei and Satsuki's house from Totoro in Nagoya. However in Hiroshima there is another less well known spot that should be on the list of any Ghibli fan. Tomonoura, a port town in Fukuyama, was the inspiration for the town in the film Ponyo. Miyazaki and his team spent two months in Tomonoura doing research for the film, a fact the town celebrates. In fact, in the visitors center, you can even find a map of all the places that show up in the film. As you walk around town, it's not hard to find stores that cater to Ghibli fans by selling Ghibli goods, and many restaurants, shops, and even homes will have Ponyo themed decorates.
However, Ponyo isn't Tomonoura's only pop culture claim to fame. Scenes from The Wolverine were also filmed there. In the film, Wolverine flees Tokyo, which leads to a battle on the Shinkansen before he heads to Nagasaki to hide and recover. Scenes were actually filmed around Fukuyama station and in Tomonoura. In the visitors center, there's a small section for X-men fans as well, with a giant signed Wolverine poster and a pamphlet with pictures of areas that showed up in the film. While you sadly won't find mini-Wolverine decorating any storefronts, you may run into something else inspired by the film: The Wolverine: Fukuyama rose. Fukuyama is proud to call itself the rose capital of Japan, and in order to honor the film as well as to promote its local flowers, a special breed of rose was created and named after the titular character. While Wolverine had less of an impact on Tomonoura itself than Ponyo, it's fun to imagine a strange world where the two characters may meet.
Tomonoura Port, with Joyato lighthouse in the background
Tomonoura is a beautiful place to take a leisurely walk, whether you are on the hunt for places from Ponyo, Wolverine, or just enjoying the town. The preserved Edo periods buildings are quaint and picturesque, and the harbor offers beautiful views and a chance to see the fishermen at work. While the port is relatively quiet today, during the Edo period it was an important and busy port. From the port, you can also find the symbol of Tomonoura, the Joyato lighthouse. It stands at 11 meters tall and was built during the Edo period. The harbor is actually listed as one of the top 100 historical natural features, and Tomonoura itself has been deemed one of the most scenic municipalities.
The view from Taichoro
As you walk, you will come across many beautiful temples and scenic alleys. Tomonoura is best explored by simply wandering rather than coming in with a set itinerary. However, that’s not to say that there are no worthwhile sites; the town has far more to offer than just its connection to Ponyo and Wolverine and its well preserved townscape. Fukuzenji temple, while unassuming on the outside, offers an amazing view of the beautiful islands that dot the bay like Bentenjima and its pagoda. The traditional style tatami room is called Taichoro reception hall, and it was understandably a popular place to receive guests; a Korean envoy claimed it was the most beautiful view in Asia, and it is indeed stunning. It’s a nice place to sit and gaze at the picturesque Seto Inland Sea. The temple altar is worthwhile as well due to its interesting statues such as one of the Virgin Mary reimagined as a Bodhisattva called Maria Kannon. As Christianity was banned during the Edo period, statues such as this offered Japanese Christians a way to worship in secret. Fukuzenji is open every day from 8 until 5, and entrance is only 200 yen. As it’s only five minutes from the port, it’s easy to access. For those arriving by car, there is no parking at the temple itself, but there are plenty of paid parking lots in the area.
Another highlight is the Abuto Kannon or Bandaiji Temple. It is located four kilometers from central Tomonoura so a car or a bus ride is necessary but the temple is absolutely worth the detour. This stunning temple is built right on top of the Abuta cape, and the temple blends in perfectly with the rocks it is built on top of. The shock of the bright orange of the temple contrasts beautifully with the white stones and green ocean, and the temple itself offers lovely views of the Seto Inland Sea. While the temple is small, it is quiet and relaxing and quite unique; despite seeing countless temples throughout my time in Japan, this remains one of my favorites and one of the most memorable. At only 100 yen, it is very cheap to see too.
If that’s not enough, you can also take a ferry from the port to one of the smaller islands, Sensuijima. The ferries run a few times an hour from 7:10 to 9:30, and the five minute roundtrip ride costs only 240 yen. From there, there are numerous walking paths around the island, offering beautiful views of the seas and cliffs. The island is only 6 km in circumference, and while there are two hotels, the island is uninhabited so it is a good place to see unspoiled nature and to enjoy the sea from a less crowded vantage point.
Tomonoura is a relaxing town to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s the perfect place to get lost in for you will be sure to stumble upon many beautiful sights that will make you feel like you are transported back to the Edo period. There is ample paid parking for those coming by car (though be warned that some of the roads do get narrow or crowded with tourits), and there is a bus from Fukuyama station for those coming by public transport. Fukuyama is a Shinkansen station, making it easy to access from Kansai (77 minutes from Kyoto, 8930 yen) or Hiroshima (23 minutes, 5150). For those who don’t want to pay a Shinkansen ticket, it’s 2 hours and 1940 yen by JR from Hiroshima. While it is a little far, it is well worth the journey for Ponyo or Wolverine fans as well as anyone interested in the Edo period.