I climb the steps three by three, stepping around snoring kitties here and there. I make short work of the low wall barring the way, steal through the garden of an abandoned house, and stop dead in my tracks. Sugoi! Amazing! Splendid view of the bay, a totally iconic site.
Tomonoura is a small fishing port near the middle of Seto Inland Sea, with a history dating back to the 13th century. At the intersection of several tidal currents, this port was ideally placed to reach the open sea. Ships docked there in great numbers and contributed to the town’s prosperity. The structure of the medieval port, still visible today, meant that ships could load or unload at any turn of the tide. This benefited the town centre, which flourished thanks to its local products and dynamic community spirit.
The port has conserved this atmosphere very well. The town centre is laid out as a small labyrinth of narrow streets flanked by old wooden buildings. They house little shops, saké makers, restaurants and minshuku (family-run B&Bs). As cute as you could wish, the streets of Tomonoura are richly decorated with small objects, plants and flowers. The curious will take away some homeishu, a shochu liqueur that blends sixteen different types of herb, claimed to prolong your life … as long as drunk in moderation? In Tomonoura you’ll also find many dishes based on sea bream, like a delicious ramen (noodle soup).
Coming back to the incredible view mentioned above, I hear the whole story at a local hostelry. This abandoned house happens to be where Hayao Miyazaki lived for several months, in a voluntary hermitage far from Studio Ghibli, in search of inspiration. While here, he drew the first sketches for the animated fantasy film Gake no ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff)! I’m tempting you to seek it out, but if you find it, guard it jealously. Like an emerald, precious and fragile.