Sunday, November 1, 2015

Onomichi, Japan

When planning our Japan trip, we wanted to spend Craig's birthday in Onomichi to bike the Shimanami Kaido. This popular 45 mile bike route connects the cities of Onomichi and Imbari through a series of seven islands. The bridges spanning the islands were designed with bikers in mind so they all have a separate bike lane for cyclists to safely cross. I wish more cities had this kind of planning!

Being partial to working water fronts and steep mountains, I was especially fond of Onomichi's location, which featured both. It is port city surrounded by mountain peaks and Japan's inland sea. Much like Washington's Puget Sound, islands with steep shorelines dot the surrounding sea, painting a tranquil scene when observed from a high vantage point.

Its picturesque setting was enhanced by the mix of old and new Japanese architecture built into the steep hillsides. It created a very retro feel, which is probably why several Japanese movies and shows have been filmed here. 

Below are some photos and stories from our time in Onomichi:

Back on the train headed for the transfer station to Onomichi.

In an effort to promote tourism, Japan prefectures and cities have started adopting mascot representatives of their local area. Although we didn't notice them everywhere, we definitely saw some cities really embrace this idea. Here is me high-fiving Octopus-kun at the train station on our way to Onomichi. Strangely enough, he is the mascot of Minamisanriku, located much farther northeast of us so I'm not sure what he was doing in these parts.

Bari-san (on the left) is the mascot of Imbari, the city we would bike to from Onomichi. He was EVERYWHERE from stuffed animals to candies along the bike route. I also recently read that Bari-san was voted the most popular mascot in Japan! Lucky duck...or chicken....I'm not really sure.

At the transfer station to Onomichi

Walking along Onomichi's waterfront

Onomichi Castle

Although this hotel wasn't nearly as nice as the modern place we stayed the previous night in Hiroshima, it offered a nice waterfront view.

Craig and me at Senkōji Park

Lover's Sanctuary, also at Senkōji Park. Visitors could buy locks and keys to write their name on and hang here. Stray cats are also famous in Onomichi so they are a commonly incorporated into the local art. Note the two cats in love here!

Sunset from the park overlooking the city and waterfront

Another angle of Onomichi Castle

Distant ridges viewed at sunset.

Sunset from the park overlooking the city and water front.

Originally built as a five story Pagoda in 1388, this temple was damaged and eventually rebuilt with only three stories.

All the hotels we stayed at in Japan offered yukata (bed clothing). It was usually a nice robe-like article, but in Onomichi, it looked more like an old-fashioned bed gown. We took advantage of this opportunity to take an old-time photo! ha!

Craig's birthday bike ride! The 45 mile bike route of the Shinamami Kaido is shown here in blue. There were many roads that could be taken, but this was the 'recommended 1-day route.' The logistics of doing the ride were much more complicated than they should be. Once the rider gets to the other side of the sea, there is not an easy way back. There are ferries, but none that go back to Onomichi and buses only leave a few times a day. We opted for a bus option and then had to move quickly, hoping to make it in time. Although the ride was very fun and pretty, I would love to go back and do a different route on some of the less traveled sections of the islands. The recommended route often took riders right through the most populated and less scenic regions.

Awaiting the ferry to take us to the first island. The first bridge is the only one without a good bike path.

One of the bridges we crossed. The cyclists cross on the lower deck.

Cruising on the lower deck!

A quick stop at one of the beaches of the inland sea. It was chilly and gray that day, but the set up for this area looked like it was designed for large crowds.

Craig making his way across another bridge.

More biking views.

Onomichi and the offshore islands are known for their citrus. On many of the islands, we biked through citrus farms full of oranges and lemons. Citrus flavors were also incorporated into many of the local desserts.

Lemon ice cream! Yum!

Several of the bridges had this suspended design. Note the oranges in the foreground!

Craig and me mid-ride at our lunch stop.

After eating lunch, we ran into these guys. They were on a mission to make 100 friends by the end of the day. After chatting with them for a while, they had us write our names on the white board and pose for a photo. Fun!

Making our way back up from the waterfront.

Love biking in my own lane!

The scene from one of the islands.

Bridge-biking birthday boy!

On ramp to the next bridge.

Craig on the ramp to the final and most dramatic of the bridges leading into Imbari. From here we successfully made our bus back to Onomichi. Interestingly, our bikes were placed in the bus seats behind us rather than under the bus as I would have expected.

Craig's birthday sake and sushi dinner in Onomichi! I just love the presentation of Japanese food--so colorful!

The waterfront at night.

In total, we spent two nights in this lovely port town. With its inspiring setting and unique bike access to nearby islands, it's no wonder that this is a Japanese vacation destination. Despite the appeal, it is located a little outside the main tourist hot spots, so we didn't see many Westerners. Although I really enjoyed Onomichi, if I could do it over again, I would have done a little more research about good dining spots. We ended up finding a few good places (including a lemon pizza), but we walked all over the city looking for interesting restaurants and often came up empty-handed. Granted, the bleakness of the search might have been elevated by the coincidental timing of me getting pretty tired of Japanese-style food. haha!

We head from sea level to the high mountains in the next post about Takayama!