Onomichi to Imabari & New Years in Tokushima- A Road trip off Japan’s Beaten Path

After spending the day exploring UNESCO’s Iwami Ginzan silver mine we piled back in the car and drove to Onomichi.  The plan was to drive across the famous Shimanami Kaido bridge.  Truth is the bridge is a series of 10 bridges and among them is the world’s longest series of suspension bridges, and the world’s second longest cable-stayed bridge.  Altogether they form nearly 60 km of expressway connecting 9 of the Geiyo Islands between Honshu and Shikoku.

Onomichi inspired Miyazaki’s Ponyo

Known as a city of culture with a bustling port and narrow streets, Onomichi helped inspire Studio Ghibli founder Hiyao Miyazaki to create the film Ponyo.  The hillside village goes straight up the sea and has a bustling port and plenty of fishermen.

There wasn’t really any plan once we got to Onomichi but after dinner we discovered a temple walk along the hillside of this seaside town.  Even though we planned to explore it in the morning before driving off I convinced everyone to see if we could snap a few night shots while the temples were illuminated.

I grabbed my tripod and wandered up the hill in the general direction of a temple.  It couldn’t be more than a 200 hundred meters above me and there were roads the whole way.  The illuminated rooftop of the pagoda I had in mind swam in and out of view as we worked our way upward among the houses.  Rounding a corner I was sure I would be able to see the temple, there weren’t any rooftops in the way but I couldn’t see the temple anymore either!

I called out to the others and we realized the lights must have been switched off.  Andrew and David resolved to head back down but I convinced Tobias to see what magic we could work with my tripod.  We weren’t able to make our way all the way up to the pagoda but still managed to snap an amazing shot with a shinto shrine.

We woke up early the next day to venture up the hill once more and catch a daytime view along the temple walk.  If we weren’t in a rush to get David back to Kochi before New Years Eve Onomichi would be a nice place to explore a little further but no one minded heading off to the Shimanami Kaido bridge!

 

 

Shimanami Kaido Bridge

The Shimanami Kaido bridge is often traversed by bicyclists and motorcylclists.  It would surely make a wonderful road trip and each of the 9 Geiyo Islands hold hidden treasures that we had to skip.  Many of the islands are covered in cherry trees so be sure to check them out during the spring cherry blossom season!

We stopped at a few viewpoints along the way and even passed a Japanese biker gang.  The drive went fast but was incredibly beautiful with scenic islets littering the horizon and a beautiful blue sea down below.  It felt more like fall with many trees still clinging to their colors despite the end of December looming near.

Imabari Castle

Imabari Castle is surrounded by a sea water moat which was historically used to neutralize arrows.  The castle is one of 3 “castles on the sea” and if you’re lucky you can get a beautiful refection on the northwestern corner.  Just outside the main keep but within the walls you’ll find a small shinto shrine resembling Fushimi Inari, a beautiful sculpture of Toda Takatora, the famous castle builder, and a small Japanese Garden.

Once across we took a lunch break in Imabari and explored the Imabari castle.  Since this was now the 4th castle of my trip I was mostly just excited to see a different angle.  We didn’t go inside because it was closed for New Years but I was perfectly fine with that.  If Imabari is your first or second Japanese castle then you should definitely explore it to the fullest but if you’ve seen a few than you’ll be happy strolling around the castle grounds like we did.

New Years Eve in Tokushima

Back on Shikoku, we left for Kochi City to drop off David.  With new years eve ahead of us he had to spend the holiday with his Japanese wife and family.  Andrew, Tobias and I continued onward to Tokushima.  Expecting a mellow New Years celebration we went to an Izakaya for a few beers and a bite to eat.  Andrew struck up a conversation with 2 local Japanese men who invited us to the new years countdown.

Suddenly we were in the streets following a crowd that kept getting larger.  As we neared a bridge it was clear that the gathering was going to blow away our expectations for a lowkey new years.  Hundreds of Japanese were crowding around a make-shift stage as a band jammed away.  Food trucks and party vendors lined the edges when someone pointed to a giant projection.

1 minute until 2017!  The countdown began and at 10 seconds left a mix of English and Japanese filled the air.  A local bounced up to me dressed in one of those crazy T-Rex suits and we screamed Happy New Year at the top of our lungs!  They taught me “akemashite omedetou” (Japanese for Happy New Year) and we danced along as confetti rained down while balloons soared upwards.

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded www.LiveTravelTeach.com as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

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