Onomichi’s Lantern Festival (Onomichi Akari Matsuri) makes for a perfect way to see this jewel of a small city and its historic temple district. Some 30,000 paper lanterns light the way along a path which carries you past some of the town’s best sights, laid out (according to the website) along the principles of Feng Shui.
Wedged between the island-studded Seto Inland Sea and the steep, forested hills rising from the coast, the little town of Onomichi is one of Hiroshima Prefecture’s genuine treasures. The fact that most of it can be seen in a day makes it a perfect day trip for visitors to the area, or a stopover for those passing through.
A port town, a tourist destination, a temple center; Onomichi has been all of these for most of its history. Envoy ships left here for China in ancient times, and goods from across Japan flowed in and out of the port with the regularity of the tides. Because of the trade, the town was wealthy from its earliest period, and many of the merchants repaid their good fortune by erecting temples on the hillsides. Today, the enjoyable temple walk leads visitors past 25 temples, belonging to a variety of Buddhist sects.
Onomichi’s nickname is the “Town on the Slope,” and you’ll see why immediately. Most of the older portion of the town clings to the face of a steep slope rising from the harbor. Many of the streets here obviously predate the automobile, and the narrow, tree-shaded lanes that wind among the old houses and temples are a paradise for walkers. Part of the fun is the sense of getting lost in the maze of steep alleys and pathways, some of them cobbled, but always being able to spot the harbor below or a landmark temple.
If that sounds too strenuous, there’s also a ropeway which will carry you to Senkoji Park at the top of the hill in about three minutes. The view from the ropeway is fantastic, and it takes you right over the rooftops of several temples, making it feel as if you’re flying up the hill. From the top, you can stroll back downhill through the park, which has thousands of cherry trees, and the “Literary Path,” which offers stunning views of the Inland Sea and stones carved with passages from some of Japan’s most famous authors. You’ll clamber down past Senkoji Temple, and the weathered pagoda of Tenneiji Temple before eventually tumbling back out onto the streets below.
As the sun sets, the Lantern Festival begins. Onomichi’s Lantern Festival is meant, among other things, to invoke the lights once set blazing on the town’s foreshore to guide ships in and out of the harbor. Intensely atmospheric, one of the highlights of the festival are the treasures brought out by some of the temples for viewing, normally hidden carefully away. Elsewhere, live music is performed, and of course, there’s lots to eat. In addition to everything else mentioned above, this is a great town for food.
Location: Throughout downtown Onomichi, but principally centered on the Onomichi Sanzan Route.
Time: Saturday, October 13. 18:00 to 21:00. Postponed until Sunday, October 14 in the event of rain.
Access: At the moment, the best access is by train. The JR Sanyo Shinkansen “Kodama” will get you to Shin-Onomichi Station in about 40 minutes. The fare is 1490 yen. From Shin-Onomichi, a ten minute taxi ride will take you to the waterfront. There are also local trains, running about 90 minutes from Hiroshima Station to Onomichi Station, right on the waterfront.
However, due to recent floods, local service is suspended as of the time of writing; October 2018
Website: (Japanese) http://www.onomichi-matsuri.jp/akari-matsuri/