If you are a cat lover, you have to visit Onomichi. The city is a scenic seaport located in the East of Hiroshima prefecture in Japan. Although the local hill in the middle of the town is known as a place of pilgrimage more than 30 Buddhist temples and shinto shrines, even more cats can be found in the alleys which climb up to its peak.
During my trip to Japan earlier this year, a friend of mine took me to small city in Hiroshima Prefecture (not the city) from our way back home from Kurashiki. She sold it to me as “an easy trip” and as a “relaxing day”, but everything turned out differently…
Before you just close the browser window and resume looking for another, easier destination, let me spoiler something important to you: you have to prepare for a little walking, but not even close as much as we did. Just read until the end of my story. And, you will find tons of cat items along the way.
Arriving at Onomichi station
We arrived at Onomichi station in the later in the morning and stored our stuff in one of the convenient lockers at the station. Afterwards we started our tour with a short walk to the port which is located right next to the train station and the rather sad main shopping street.
We then moved on to the city’s main attraction: a 2.5 kilometers (1.55 miles) long trail with 34 temples and shrines up the local mountain. At the beginning we were welcomed by a Japanese only map. Let me tell you, that’s a clear sign that there are not many non-Japanese speaking tourists around. As adventurous as I am, I did not mind. I took a quick photo which helped to find our way around the area.
Hiking the Temple Walk
Yes, the name is misleading. Like the Vienna Ugly Tour, which is no “tour” but a “walk”, the Onomichi Temple Walk is not what I might call a relaxing stroll. Although it is named a “walk”, if you climb up all the slopes and stairs, it definitely feels more like a hike. Do you see what I mean?
Anyway, luckily we found our way through the narrow alleys and reached the first temple closest to the station without any problems. It is called the Ajisai Temple, named after hydrangea, which is means Ajisai in Japanese. As you can see, it’s all in the name, and you can find hydrangea all around the area. When we were there in June, it was actually Ajisai season, so we were lucky to see them blooming.
We climbed up further and passed one temple after shrine after the other. Higher and higher up the hill.
After one and a half hour we finally reached the last temple before the peak station.
What I forgot to mention: Along the way we crossed paths with several cats.
It turns out the cat have names. Later on we found a map with the cat’s names and home bases on it.
Aiming for the top
The cuddles also made good rests before we climbed up the last stage which included many stairs and slopes. After the last temple and take the cable car down the hill. The only thing which lay between us was a unpaved path to the top.
If you manage it to the top, you will be rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view from the a small look-out.
… and you will find even more cats.
There is also a small shop next to the look-out where you can buy small snacks and drinks. Don’t stuff yourself though, wait with it until you get down the hill and are on the way to the station again. Why? Just read on.
Taking the cable car
By the way, after reading so far, you might not have guessed that there is a cable car which runs up and down the hill. Because, you know, we hiked up the whole thing.
After thinking about it a little bit, let’s summarize it. There are two ways to get to the peak of the hill:
1) Do it like a clever, well prepared person: Take the cable car up the hill. Then you either take the cable car down again or you walk down.
2) Do it like Mister Wong: Climb up the slopes and countless stairs when it is 30°C (68°F), exhaust yourself and explore the limits of your untrained body. And then take the cable car down.
By the way, you can find the prices for cable car down in the list with my special insider tips.
Gladly, enough oxygen reached my brain so I could appreciate the view of the surrounding area. The view was just beautiful and it was exciting to see temples and shrines from the top.
On the hunt for more kitty cats
Enough with the culture. While we climbed up the hill many cats crossed our ways. Some were shy and others where excessive attention seekers which demanded cuddles. But when we looked around the area near the cable car station, we found many other cat-related items. Wooden cats and others made of metals or stone and some were painted on walls.
We also found a cat-related items only store, a cat-themed cafe…
…as well as a art gallery specialized on cat designs, which was unfortunately closed on that day.
Don’t forget to try kitty cat shaped ice cream
Even if Onomichi is yet a unknown cat lover hotspot outside of Japan, the locals already noticed their potential of becoming the next big pilgrimage site for crazy cat lovers.
How so? On our way back to the station, we found a cute teahouse called Sakura Chaya (they have a Japanese website). I, as a true cat lover, had to stop there because they are offering cat-shaped ice cream combined with Japanese traditional sweets.
We got ourselves cat-shaped icecream, homemade mochi with kinako and matcha powder as well as a traditional unsweetened matcha tea which went perfect with the desserts. Energy restored.
Cat Lover Mister Wong’s personal photographer’s crucial opinion
Okay, I have to admit, that I am a crazy cat lover. Small ones, big ones, fluffy ones, old ones, itty bitty tiny cutesy kitty cats… I want to cuddle them all. And that is exactly what I did. I stopped for every cat which demanded a tickle under its chin or wanted a belly-rub. There are also so many cat-related items which are used to decorate the small alleys around the hill. It was a little like a scavenger hunt to find them all and not to miss anything.
Forget Aoshima, Tashiro-jima and Enoshima. If you ask me, Onomichi is the secret kitty cat hotspot of Japan.
Aside from that the hike was exhausting but really interesting and is definitely worth being considered by lover’s of temples and Japanese culture in general. The town offers quite a lot to see and let’s you experience a less touristy and more local area of Japan.
Mister Wong’s random tips of which he thinks of as “insider information”:
- Be careful when you are allergic to cats. Some are pushy and demand to be petted.
- Wear comfortable shoes if you are too stingy for the bus and the cable car. You will have to walk a lot.
- You can find a few really cool shops on your way up (or down), so keep your eyes open.
- The city’s specialty food are Onomichi Ramen. If you get there, don’t forget to eat a serving of delicious noodle soup. I was too stuffed with ice cream and about myself a instant pack to eat them at home. They are delicious.
- Find more information about Onomichi and the cable car on their official travel website, which is also available in English.
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