Onomichi has long been one of my own family’s favorite day-trip destinations in Hiroshima prefecture. Time after time, this little port city continues to charm, from the slightly down-at-heel shopping arcade stretching along much of the waterfront to the wonderful maze of narrow passages that wind up and down the hill above the port. Famous for its cluster of 25 picturesque old temples, and the setting for a number of beloved Japanese films, Onomichi is worth a visit any season of the year. But if you can time your trip to coincide with a festival, well so much the better! And the Onomichi Minato (Port) Festival is one of the town’s largest and liveliest events.
The Onomichi Minato Festival’s stated purpose is to celebrate the accomplishments of Kakuzaemon Hirayama, who in 1740 helped launch construction of the town’s modern harbor. On April 28 and 29, the Festival will celebrate its 75th year, and the planners appear to be pulling all the stops. A glance at the schedule of events over the festival’s two days shows food stalls (naturally, and in Onomichi you can expect better food than you’ll find at most festivals!), taiko drumming, a mikoshi procession from Misode Tenmangu Shrine, a flea market, a yacht illumination, boat and hot air balloon rides and the festival’s centerpiece, the “E-Jan Sansa Gari dance contest. In this last event, groups of dancers compete against one another along the main seafront road. The main contest lasts four hours, from afternoon into early evening on the festival’s opening day, with “Grand Prix” awards conferred as night begins to fall. Additional children’s dance contests, as well as a maritime parade and harbor cruises, will take place on the second day of the festival.
You can check the Festival’s website or Facebook page (listed below), but no matter what time you show up, there will be plenty to see and do. This is also a perfect festival to dip in and out of, combining it with an exploration of the rest of the town. Take the ropeway to the top of the hill and stroll back down along the “Literature Path” to the port past pagodas and temples, or step down an alleyway and duck into a cafe or shop for a short break. However you choose to “do” the festival, you’re sure to have a good time.
Dates: April 28 and 29, a weekend. Scheduled events from 9:00-21:00 on Saturday, and 9:00-17:00 on Sunday.
Location: Events throughout downtown Onomichi, but centered on the shopping arcade and waterfront road located a three minute walk east of Onomichi Station. For a more detailed map of individual events, see the map on the Festival website, listed below.
Access from Hiroshima City: Far and away the easiest way to reach Onomichi from Hiroshima is by the JR Sanyo Main Line, from Hiroshima Station. The ride is about one and a half hours through beautiful coastal and mountain scenery, and brings you almost right into the heart of the festival. Onomichi Station is just a brisk three-minute walk from the shopping arcade and waterfront.