Onomichi, city of bugs

As mentioned last time, today’s topic is the temple walk of Onomichi. It is slightly embarrassing to say (or write, I guess) that I got lost before even reaching the first temple, but that’s all on me for there was a sign pointing the way that I hadn’t seen. I stopped at a bench outside the first temple, Jikoji, to have my breakfast. It was the first time I tried a macha swiss roll and instantly fell in love. I ate many of them during my trip, buying one every time I saw it in a konbini.
Jikoji Temple had many hydrangeas that would’ve looked beautiful earlier in June, but they were mostly wilted by the time I went there. There were quite a few other flowers to make up for it. A mother carrying her crying and struggling daughter to school passed by, determined to get her to class in time.

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The walk includes 25 temples and is a mix of slopes, stairs and turns as one passes through the residential streets. Some of the temples had their gates closed or were simply deserted but open, later I realised that this is probably because it was a Monday. I wasn’t looking at my map and signs seemed to be non-existent, but there was a different temple around every corner so I just jumped from one temple to the next. Maybe I missed a couple.

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As long as my hand!

What I remember the most from Onomichi, however, were the bugs. Wasps and bees reaching unimaginable sizes and buzzing way too close for comfort, insects of all colours that really just looked like a flash of red or blue or green as they flew past in a hurry, dozens of beautiful dragonflies, spiders hanging from every corner. The most memorable was the giant centipede I caught creeping along a wall; it was the length of my hand! I kept my distance since they are very venomous, it soon went through a window and into someone’s back garden.

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After only four or five temples, steps began to dominate the walk. The first few were fine, but as I turned a corner only more steps appeared, and then more as I turned again, and more all the way to the top. Hiking Mt.Shosha was honestly easier than this, although it is mostly the heat’s fault as well as that of the buzzes I kept hearing from insects flying past non-stop.

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Another man was the only other person who hadn’t taken the ropeway up to the observation point, and we exchanged ‘ganbatte’s and ‘atsui’s every time one of us advanced the other.
Senko-ji seemed like a tourist hotspot even though the rest of the walk was empty. From here you can see the whole city stretch out below as well as the sea and Mukoujima Island right in front. If you’ve seen any photos of Onomichi, chances are this red temple is part of it. There were three different counters selling temple goods (lucky I learnt to read the sign telling me where to get a goshuin stamp to add to my collection), a group of ladies taking a rest on the benches, the ropeway that I saw pass by was crowded with people. The man that had also taken the steps leaned against the rail next to me as we both enjoyed the view of the city below. I deemed it unnecessary to go up even more to the observation platform since the views from the temple itself were already stunning.

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Finally arrived to the top!
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Senkoji with Mukoujima in the background

The walk down was much more enjoyable, the streets became more narrow (which also meant less wasps) and I felt like I was seeing more of the daily life than during the first half.

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My favourite of the route was by far Ushitora Shrine, two huge trees with moss on their big branches almost covered the whole grounds and gave me some much needed shade so I could have a bit of a rest.

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Ushitora Shrine

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I’m going to nominate Taisan-ji as my second favourite, it had quite a few statues of ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ with a little twist: instead of covering their mouth (or eyes or ears) the monkeys were shouting. Not too sure what that is supposed to mean as I doubt the temple was dedicated to evil or anything similar, but it was amusing nonetheless.

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Saikoku-ji is dedicated to tabi shoes and has six giant shoes hanging from the entrance gate as well as a row of hydrangea bushes leading to, you guessed it, more steps. Most of the temples were small and I don’t know anything about their history. Honestly, I doubt I’ll even remember most of them a few years from now.

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Saikoku-ji entrance

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Once I considered I’d seen enough temples, I headed back to my hostel to pick up my bag and head off to a different place for more sightseeing. The owners of the hostel were outside taking photos of their new bike and I was able to say goodbye and thank you to them in person.

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Onomichi Tanabata manhole

The initial plan was to go to Takehara as I made my way to Hiroshima for the night, but Kure Line had been closed for a few days because of heavy rainfall (hard to believe, seeing how hot and sunny it was in Onomichi), so I moved Takehara to another day and decided to attempt another visit to Fukuyama Castle after missing out on it the day before.

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Only just exiting Fukuyama Station, the steps to the castle were right in front of me. I was excited to be here since this would be the first castle I went inside… but it was closed. I then realised that it must be because it was a Monday, the day when many museums and apparently castles have their day off. I made sure to check the timetables of the places I’d be visiting so this wouldn’t happen to me (I learnt my lesson when I wasn’t able to see the Imperial Palace in Tokyo last time), but nowhere said that Fukuyama-jo would be closed on Mondays so I supposed it meant there were no closing days. I’ve informed jcastle.info about this so they can update their database.

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Fukuyama Castle!

Anyway, although the main keep was closed the grounds were still open, so I was able to see the yaguras from up close (and touch them!) and walk around the main keep.
Mizuno Katsunari, cousin of Tokugawa Ieyasu, was the first of the Tokugawas to be stationed in Chugoku (1619), his job was to keep an eye out on Hiroshima and Okayama areas (being non-hereditary vassals I guess there were deemed to be tensions over the successors). As a Tokugawa he was given a lot of money, materials and even buildings being transferred from Fushimi Castle to build Fukuyama Castle quickly. The castle was completed in 1622, unfortunately it was mostly destroyed in air raids during 1945, the only survivors being a yagura and one of the gates.

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My visit to the castle didn’t last too long though and, pitying myself for my bad luck at not being able to see the inside of the main keep, I decided to at least make the most of Fukuyama and walk around for a while.

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Kura storehouse

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I came across a shrine called Fukuyama Tenmangu, a red bridge crossing the small stream (canal?) that was running between the road and the houses of the street. Many steps later I finally reached the main complex. This shrine was very different to the temples I’d seen earlier in the day in Onomichi; firstly because of the vibrant red colour and the size, but also because it was hidden between trees that gave it shade, crows substituted wasps and ‘deserted and empty’ became ‘mysteriously silent’. I definitely enjoy shrines like this.

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Entrance to Fukuyama Hachimangu Shrine

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Unsurprisingly, the two museums near the castle were also closed, but the park and the many statues were still very enjoyable to walk through. While I was waiting around for the train on the lower platform I heard a rumble of a train passing by on the tracks above: a shinkansen! It would still be a couple days until I actually saw one but hearing it and knowing that it was so close was still very exciting. I can’t wait until a future trip when I can finally ride one myself!

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But alas, I was stuck with taking locals since it was nearly 3000yen cheaper (no seat fare). I won’t complain though, it turned out to be my favourite train ride of the trip. I read a description on japantravel.com by someone who said: “Rolling green hills and picturesque countryside scenes will have you wanting to stay on board the train until the sun goes down”. That’s definitely the best description I can think of. The view of the beautiful old houses interrupted by rice fields every now and then and lush green trees that stood tall with dignity covering the mountains all the way into the distance. I think that is what I love most about local trains, being able to see the landscape pass by slowly, the day-to-day life of the people getting on and off at every station. Many of the houses had shiny brown tiles that made them really stand out. I don’t know if that’s a characteristic special of this area or if it is also seen elsewhere, but I made a game of spotting as many as I could. I also saw kura storehouses similar to the ones in Kurashiki fly past, even kura with shiny brown tiles!
I caught a glimpse of the SkyBridge near Hiroshima Airport high up in the air as it started to rain. The rain only made the countryside look even more beautiful, it finally felt like I was there during rainy season.

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What most of the houses looked like (stolen from Google Street View)

After about two hours that went by very quickly, the countryside scenes were left behind and a city atmosphere took its place. I decided to start writing an email to my parents to fill in the time left to my destination, but soon the speakers announce the next station: Hiroshima! Just as I heard the name of the city I looked out the window again and the first thing I saw was the Peace Pagoda at the top of a hill north of Hiroshima.
As I got off the train and made my way outside I finally put good use to the umbrella I’d bought at Sannomiya my first day, although I didn’t need it much since there were only a few steps until the tram that took me all the way to Dobashi Station near my hostel. I had made it! Hiroshima was my absolute must-see for this trip and the rest of my itinerary was planned around my stay at this city. Finally the changing hostels every night had ended and I’d be staying in Hiroshima for 6 nights in a row, no more ups and downs and forgetting my backpack. I was looking forward to getting to know the city in the days to come.

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