What To Do In Onomichi, Japan’s Modish Coastal Escape

The ramshackle port in Hiroshima Prefecture is putting small-town Japan on the map. Here's where to eat, sleep and explore on a visit

Where?

Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan.

Why now?

If you're looking to follow in the footsteps of Japan's transient creative crowd, take a trip to Onomichi. Post-pandemic, the country's young professionals have been fleeing their urban habitats in search of simpler, small-town existences - and Onomichi, with its mesmeric surrounding landscapes, and modish industrial edge, has caught their attention.

A port town located along the Seto Inland Sea in Hiroshima Prefecture, Onomichi was already a hit with two-wheeled visitors, who, since 1999, have been peddling into town to join the Shimanami Kaido, a 70km cycle path that crosses bridges and islands along the coast. But it's this seaside destination's rustic, rusting appeal that's now put it in the spotlight.

The Temple Walk, and rusting town buildings

The waterfront is, like in most Japanese coastal towns, a touch industrial, but those creaking fishing ships add to the ambience when you're seated outside one of Onomichi's handful of new wine bars and restaurants. And that industrial architecture on the waterfront? It's perfect for housing a new hotel. Navigate your way over the toytown-like railway tracks, meanwhile, and you'll find older areas to explore, where ramshackle wooden homes cling to steep hills.

What to do

The Temple Walk. Steel your legs for an arduous climb through winding, quaint streets and stone pathways to reach a string of 25 shrines and temples spread across the town's surrounding hills. The higher you get, the better the view, as the mesmeric, mist-swirled landscape of the city's surrounding islands rises above temple rooftops. Famous religious sites include the 15m-tall rock at Senkoji Temple - said to have once glowed at night to guide ships safely to port - the giant straw sandals of Saikokuji Temple, a site that pilgrims have visited for centuries to pray for good health and hardy walking legs, and a 900-year-old camphor tree. You'll likely encounter a few gangs of lazily purring cats - they're celebrities in the area. At the prefectural art gallery nearby, there's a whole (free) exhibition of cat-inspired sculptures.

Local felines, left, can be found beyond the railway tracks

Where to stay

Hotel Cycle, a sharply dressed stay housed in a former warehouse. This is a hotel made for peddlers - the industrial-looking contraptions on the wall of the bedrooms aren't sculptural interpretations of the building's history, but stylish racks to hang your bike on. In the lobby, meanwhile, a repair space lets cyclists fix any last-minute punctures.

It's not all for the Lycra-clad pack, though: rooms are moody and modern, and come with soft linen pyjamas for lounging. If we had room in our panniers, we'd be poaching them.

Where to go for dinner

Head through the glass doors at Kado Kado, an independent clothing store with a prime spot on the town's main promenade, and you'll find an airy dining space and open bar that serves farm-to-table food and natural wines from 3pm until 10pm. Menus are written on blackboards (in kanji) and change daily to match the seasonal ingredients available and the owner's mood, but past highlights include Hiroshima oysters doused in a Japanese pepper oil, tender mackerel carpaccio drizzled with a fiery harissa sauce, and fresh seafood salads.

Onomichi Shoya is a rough-and-ready ramen bar serving up belly-filling bowls of the classic, Onomichi-style: a rich, clear soy broth is served with flat noodles, chashu pork, bamboo shoots, thinly sliced spring onions and a jammy, soy-marinated egg. The moreish pellets of soft pork fat floating on top won't be to everyone's taste - but there's a reason this local favourite has made its way to ramen shops all over Japan.

Space for something sweet? Duck beneath the lilac awnings of Yuyake Cafe Donuts (1 Chome-15-21 Tsuchido) for adventurously flavoured fried bites and cold brew coffee. The soy sauce doughnut is mind-blowingly good.

Views from the hills, and the waterfront

And for a drink?

Kog Bar, at Onomichi U2, for waterside views and classic cocktails. If you're there before they open, take a peek in Shima Shop, an independent store selling locally crafted products, such as bags, jeans and homeware, next door.

Who to take with you

A friend with creative flair - and, perhaps, a decent camera. The tumbledown charm of Onomichi is ripe for creative interpretation, and has inspired filmmakers, writers and artists for centuries.

Essentials to take home

Lemons are Hiroshima Prefecture's pride and joy. Look out for citrus snacks, zingy soft serves and even lemon-infused pale ales around town.

How to get there

Take the Hiroshima-Tokyo Sanyo Shinkansen line to Fukuyama, then jump on a local Japan Rail train bound for Onomichi.

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