The minute we saw Onomichi, I realized I had made a big mistake. I'd booked us for only two nights. Not enough time. We'd just finished a 3-week stay in Kyoto, which is totally landlocked. Onomichi is on the sea--the Seto Inland Sea to be precise. A good part of the business area lies on a thin strip of flat land that hugs the coastline. Steep hills arise just behind the train tracks. And the sea is dotted with gorgeous islands, not unlike the San Juans. Although there's a big modern bridge, a small fleet of tiny ferries, carrying maybe up to 9 vehicles at best and some foot and bicycle passengers, ply the water between the islands. The island closest to the mainland supports what appears to be a busy shipyard. However, we were told that the shipyard has been losing business to China on a regular basis.
Fortunately, the city has had the foresight to diversify. For the last several years, it has looked to become a tourist destination. The city (population around 150,000, so we were told) has a webpage and a guidebook in English. Mostly young people come from all over the world to do the Shimanami Kaido, a 70 km bicycle route over the expressways starting in Onomichi, going through the islands, and ending up in Shikoku. For Japanese visitors not interested in biking, Onomichi has a history in the arts: many famous Japanese authors have lived there and many Japanese films have been filmed, at least in part, there. As someone told us, lots of people from all over the world come to Onomichi, no one comes to Fukuyama (the town up the coastline).
In fact, perhaps the most famous person from Onomichi was the writer, Fumiko Hayashi, who plays a part in Okano family history. When my cousins and I were young, we heard stories about how our great uncle--my grandmother's younger brother--was the lover of a famous Japanese author. Our reaction was sure, right .... Maybe famous in Japan. And then we forgot about it. Turns out that the author, Hayashi, is indeed famous, not only in Japan but world wide. Some of her writings are available in the Seattle Public Library. Anyway, Hayashi came from a broken family and the Okano family disapproved of the match. So I did not become her grand niece. But the fact that she and great uncle Gunichi were lovers is all over the internet. And Onomichi has erected a statue of its favorite daughter.
And this is citrus fruit country! Lemons, oranges, and grapefruit for sale everywhere! In other words, this is like the Mediterranean area with plenty of water.
All that said, some of you may be wondering why we chose to visit Onomichi. One of the islands off Onomichi, Innoshima, is where my father's family comes from. And my dad, born in Anacortes, was sent--at about age 9--to live with family in Innoshima. He and his sister, my aunt Niki, lived there for approximately 10 years before returning to America, sometime in the 1930's. We believe dad's first cousin, if he is still alive, lives in Innoshima.
In any event, it was unseasonably warm while we were there--in the mid to high 80's everyday. Early our first and only full day there we decided to go up the big hill. The city has set up a temple walk along the hill, there is a castle at one end and a large temple at another. We didn't have time to get to the castle, but thought that the temple and the observatory above it would make a good morning destination.
You have to be a mountain goat to live here. The hills of Seattle are NOTHING compared to the hills of Onomichi. There's a cable car but we decided to walk up and take the cable car back down.
It took us about 90 minutes to walk up the hill. The cable car ride down took less than 5.
Some artist has placed hundreds of stones painted like cats all over the city. There is also a cat museum--it really appears to be a lady's collection of thousands of depictions of cats.
We met an elderly gentleman who spoke good English at the hotel. He lives in Onomichi and invited us to dinner. Actually, he said a "salon" with dinner. "Salon"? Without thinking very hard, we accepted. Then we started wondering whether we should have. What were we getting ourselves into?
It turned out to be a fascinating evening. Matsuura san and his companion, Fumiko san, put on a real spread--chirashi sushi (sushi rice with all the goodies sprinkled on top), maki sushi (the nori seaweed wrapped sushi rolls), braised fish, tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork cutlets), macaroni salad, spinach with chikuwa (a cylinder shaped fish cake), tofu and nappa soup, and sweet potatoes. Better yet was the conversation. They had invited 3 other people: an English woman whose mother had recently given her the detailed diary her grandfather had kept while he had been in a POW camp in Onomichi during WWII; an elderly Japanese man who had traveled in the US and spoke excellent English; and a younger Japanese woman who also spoke excellent English. The latter two were interested in translating the diary of the British woman's grandfather into Japanese. Matsuura san and Naoko san agreed to use their Innoshima connections to see if they could help me find our Okano relatives on Innoshima.
We were unable to go to Innoshima before we had to leave for Hiroshima. But the distances are small enough and the train fare reasonable enough that we hope to go to Innoshima on a day trip out of Hiroshima before we have to leave for Tokyo on June 5.