Scenes From: A Temple Walk in Onomichi
There's a quiet allure to Japan's small-town temples.
I was reminded of it this week when we visited Onomichi, a charming little port town situated on the edge of Japan's wildly scenic Seto Inland Sea. We traveled to Onomichi to cycle the Shimanami Kaido, a 60 kilometer-long network of roadways and bridges that connect the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku (more on this to come), but our mid-day arrival hindered us from beginning the cycling journey until the following day.
With a hotel map in hand, we spent the afternoon exploring Onomichi's steep slopes on foot. Climbing the crumbling stone-paved stairwells into the town's hillside residences, we were cheerfully greeted by uniformed schoolchildren dutifully sweeping the steps of their schoolhouse. A further heart-pumping push up the 450 foot-tall Mt. Senkoji revealed a Jetsons-era spaceship-like observatory, with sweeping views of the tiny islands that dot the Inland Sea like stepping stones in a pond. Cold, unforgiving February winds whipped at our faces, and I looked longingly at the bare cherry trees and wisteria vines lining the roads, wistfully envisioning the breathtaking explosion of spring that lay in the months ahead.
A ropeway connecting the observatory with the town's temples below proved to be the quickest - and most attractive - option for descending the mountain. Our tram glided over the tiled rooftops of unassuming pagodas, giving us a bird's-eye view of Onomichi's ancient cemeteries before depositing us in a labyrinth of narrow laneways. The air here was quiet and still; we were the only tourists. Within just a few steps we'd stumbled upon a shrine, nestled in a grove of giant 900-year-old camphor trees. Their gnarled branches coiled and twisted into the sky, creating a green canopy that seemed to glow beneath the bright winter sun.
Beguiling in its contrasts - old and new, picturesque hillside and industrial harbor - Onomichi is a place that unexpectedly captures the heart. If you go, don't miss the Temple Walk which connects 25 of the town's temples and shrines.