(this was written in 2017, reposted again 2020)
During my travels to Hiroshima this time, I took a trip out to a small port town south of Fukuyama, Hiroshima called Tomonoura. Perhaps the name might sound unfamiliar to you, but what if I said Ponyo? Or perhaps, Wolverine?
If you haven't guessed already – yes, this is the port town where the animated Ghibli movie Ponyo took place. Various scenes from The Wolverine (2013) were also shot here. The Japanese drama Ryuusei Wagon (流星ワゴン, 2015) also recently filmed in this town.
The town is a 30 minute bus ride from Fukuyama station.
I took the bus all the way to the last stop, Tomokou. However, I highly recommend getting off the stop before, which is Tomonoura. It stops right in front of the main tourist information center.
I was greeted by a few people in the souvenir area and eventually a friendly tourist information guide standing behind the colourful Ponyo display.
Upon offering his assistance in Japanese and (pretty good) broken English, I immediately asked him about Ponyo.
I'm guessing tens of thousands of people visit for the same reasons, because he had reached for two detailed colour map in a matter of seconds. The first map was a zoomed-in map of the area. The second map was a general map of the town and surrounding areas coded with numbers, pictures and brief descriptions of how that numbered area is referenced in Ponyo.
I didn't need to ask more. I thanked the guide and went on my merry way.
Unfortunately some areas are quite some distances away from the town. There are about 20 spots on the map that are labelled in reference to the movie. I had arrived in town around mid afternoon from Okunoshima (yes, that is code name for bunny island), so I had to be selective about what to see.
My first destination was Sensuijima (仙酔島). There is a ferry that runs every 20 minutes to the island until about 6pm.
The spots from Ponyo are immediately upon disembarking the ferry.
There are inns on the island and lots of green space and trails to hike around. Take your time to explore and enjoy the scenery, but don't forget to double check the times of the last ferry!
Once I got back to the main island, I took an uphill route towards Miyazaki Hayao's private residence. It is quite heavily gated, but you can still catch a glimpse of the buildings through the bushes.
Next, I stopped into Taichoro Guesthouse (対潮楼).
By the port, there are other familiar scenes of Ponyo and Wolverine you can enjoy!
This is one of many fishing docks in the area. This is definitely a very big and active fishing port town in the area. You can also see the view of the lighthouse, museum and where many unique local stores are from a distance in the second photo.
And if you're itching to do some shopping for souvenirs, these shops by the lighthouse will have what you need - and you can help support the local businesses by purchasing them, like that Tomonoura shirt you see in the photo above.
I walked back towards the tourist information center, where I stopped by the home where Sakamoto Ryoma used to hide away from his assassins. A pretty normal home, and probably a good place to shy away from those trying to kill you!
Finally, time to head back by bus...
Even the bus stops are as cute as ever! Each one in the town seems to be of a different cat design, which is definitely a selling point for cat lovers.
Whether you are here for an anime pilgrimage or purely an off the path experience, it is a quaint little town that caters to different interests. It is a town with a wealth of history and culture. And because it is fairly off the path from other popular tourist destinations, you can enjoy all of it without getting overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of city life.
I highly recommend this spot if you have a lot of time on your travel agenda!
Until next time, Tomonoura!
How to get there (Tomonoura):
From Fukuyama station – Take the Tomotetsu bus towards Tomokou (Tomo line 鞆線) (http://www.tomotetsu.co.jp/tomotetsu/jikoku/tomosen.pdf) and get off at Tomonoura. It takes about 30 minutes from Fukuyama station.