Onomichi, in eastern Hiroshima Prefecture, is perhaps most famous for Senkoji—a temple overlooking the city and the Seto Inland Sea—and for being one of the starting points of the Shimanami Kaido—a famous series of bridges and islands connecting Onomichi to Shikoku. These are both very worthy reasons to visit, and I expect you’ll have a great time if those places are where your journey through Hiroshima takes you.
Those, however, are not the reasons I went to Onomichi at the end of August 2021.It was here that, as best I could given the weather (which I will get to soon enough), I chose to take in and experience some of the other, just-as-enjoyable things that you can see and do in Onomichi.
I’ll be up-front: a good chunk of this trip involved food. So if you enjoy good food (especially ramen) and also want to catch a glimpse of Japan’s Showa-era past, I’d highly recommend you take some time during your trip to Hiroshima Prefecture to take a little journey like mine. I just hope the weather is better for you than it was for me.
Onomichi is quite easy to visit as a sightseer in Japan. If you are travelling from another part of Japan (or Hiroshima City), you can get to Shin-Onomichi station on the shinkansen (high-speed bullet train), though only the Kodama trains stop at Shin-Onomichi, so be aware of that if you choose to go by bullet train. Luckily, the Kodama trains are covered by the Japan Rail Pass, making it a very cost-effective way to get to Onomichi if that’s how you choose to go. From Shin-Onomichi Station, you’ll have to take a bus or taxi down to Onomichi Station, from which it is very easy to walk around the central city on foot. If you are already in Hiroshima City, you can also choose to take a local JR train from Hiroshima Station (the Sanyo Line), but you’ll have to transfer at least once before arriving at Onomichi Station. From Hiroshima, at most it will take you two hours to get there.
My wife and I were looking to take a one-night vacation, so we hopped on the train from Hiroshima Station in the morning. From Onomichi Station, we only had to walk for a couple of minutes to reach our hotel, Hotel Cycle, which was very conveniently located in one of the most-visited spots in the city: Onomichi U2.
Onomichi U2, from the outside, looks like a renovated warehouse…because it is. Onomichi U2 features a wide range of facilities, including a high-end bicycle shop, a goods shop (featuring local delicacies from the Seto Inland Sea region along with unique merchandise), a cafe, a bakery, a restaurant, and a hotel. If you choose to stay at Hotel Cycle, they have bicycle rentals available. This makes the hotel a great spot to begin your journey across the Shimanami Kaido if that is something you are thinking about doing.
Cycling the Shimanami Kaido was not, however, something my wife and I were thinking about doing, so we dropped off our suitcases at the hotel. In line with the name, Hotel Cycle is very much bicycle-themed, with the rooms even featuring decorations like bicycle handles acting as coat hangers. The interior of the rooms and hotel lobby, along with the overall interior of U2, is dark but stylish. It feels very modern and very not-Japanese, so if you are looking for somewhere more traditional this is not the place. Overall the interior architecture and lighting is rather striking and left a good impression on me. It’s the kind of place that, even if I don’t stay overnight in Onomichi the next time I go, I would be sure to visit again.
If you do choose to stay at Hotel Cycle, breakfast is included with the price of the room, which is pretty uncommon in Japan but very welcome. The breakfast was served in the restaurant in U2 and was hearty and delicious. I don’t usually find myself eating ratatouille and prosciutto salad in the morning, but it was served to me as part of this predetermined course breakfast and I was more than happy to enjoy it. It was a pretty fantastic start to my second day in Onomichi.
While I’m skipping ahead a little, we did eat dinner at the restaurant in Onomichi U2. The restaurant is a little upscale, so expect to spend a bit on your meal, but I didn’t feel the prices were unreasonable. The atmosphere in the restaurant is the same as the rest of U2, and the menu is Italian-ish. There was a course dinner option, but we opted instead for some pasta, carpaccio, and deep-fried anago (conger eel) with prosciutto. Everything was delicious and I would absolutely eat there again.
One of the great things about Japan is the abundance of covered shopping streets throughout the country. You’ll find them in cities all over, including in central Hiroshima City. More often than not, such as is the case in Hiroshima City, these covered shopping arcades are relics of the Showa Era of Japan that have had to rapidly modernize in order to stay relevant and in business. This most often takes the form of stylish modern boutiques, bakeries, shops, and so on— essentially taking Japan’s aging spaces and keeping them from decaying or becoming completely overshadowed by massive shopping malls and department stores.
Onomichi, too, has its own Hondori Shopping Street. But while other shopping arcades in Japan have completely modernized, Onomichi’s is still very much rooted in the past. If you want to take a stroll down a Showa-era arcade and, to some extent, feel like you are traveling back to the Showa Era, then you should check it out.
For my wife and I, one of the best parts of the shopping arcade was that it was covered. Usually, August in Japan is sunny and incredibly hot, with temperatures over thirty degrees celsius every day. I’ve grown used to these hot, humid, long summers over the past few years. But this past August was cooler than usual and very rainy, which we were not expecting. This meant that for basically all of our trip to Onomichi, we were getting rained on. We thought we’d be able to walk around Onomichi and see lots of different places, but instead, we were largely trapped inside the shopping arcade because it was one of the only places we wouldn’t get rained on.
So we ran through the rain to the shopping arcade from U2, which only took a couple of minutes on foot. The shopping arcade wasn’t too busy and so it felt pretty quiet. The buildings in the arcade are indeed quite old, and so suddenly I was transported to a time well before I was even born. And while some of the shops in the arcade are modernized and stylish boutiques, cafes, or bakeries, many of the shops look like they’ve been there for at least fifty years. There are shops that sell ceramic sculptures of cats, traditional Japanese lunch boxes (bento boxes), chopsticks, and more. The shopping arcade is actually, in my opinion, a really great place to find some Japanese souvenirs to take home with you. There may not be many specialty souvenir shops the way there are in places like Miyajima, but if you take the time to look through some of these old shops you’ll definitely find something unique to bring home with you.
We ended up at a small local sweet shop named Oyatsu to Yamaneko (おやつとやまねこ) for some Onomichi pudding. This is a local specialty that up until very recently I had no idea existed. Part of the store’s name, Yamaneko, means “mountain cat,” and so the little bottles the pudding comes in are decorated with an adorable cat motif.
In case you didn’t know, “pudding” in Japan is essentially a cold, flan-like custard dessert that usually has some kind of sauce on top. This shop has a variety of sauces that I had never seen before in Japan–we bought the cafe au lait and blueberry varieties.
I went to Onomichi expecting ramen to be the biggest highlight of my trip, but in a surprise twist the Onomichi pudding usurped ramen for me. The sauces on the pudding were so good and after finishing mine (and half of my wife’s) I was ready to pick up a few more puddings to take home with us. If you go to Onomichi, I seriously recommend you find your way to this shop and enjoy some pudding there.
I love ramen. I really, truly, genuinely love ramen (that’s a bit of a recurring theme throughout my travels around Hiroshima). So one of the main reasons I was very excited to visit Onomichi was to get the chance to try some Onomichi-style ramen in the city itself.
Onomichi ramen is famous in Hiroshima, with many shops outside of Onomichi itself selling Onomichi ramen. You can even find Onomichi ramen packaged in grocery stores so you can take it home, heat up the noodles and broth, and enjoy this style of ramen within minutes. The broth is soy sauce-based and uses both dashi (a Japanese fish stock) and pork fat to create a rich flavor. A clear sign you’re eating Onomichi ramen is being able to see soft pieces of pork fat floating in the broth as you’re eating it. If that sounds a little gross to you now, it won’t after you try Onomichi ramen for yourself.
Since Onomichi is the birthplace of this kind of ramen, there are a ton of different ramen shops around the city where you can try it. I didn’t have time to go to every single Onomichi ramen restaurant in the city, unfortunately, but because I stayed in town overnight I was able to go to two different and famous ramen shops— both of which were delicious.
On the first day, I went to Onomichi Ramen Ichibankan, which is located on Onomichi’s Kaigan Dori— a long street that starts around Onomichi and continues along the water for quite some time. Ichibankan was pretty full at lunchtime, even though it was a weekday and it was pouring rain outside. The decor inside feels rather retro, most likely because they haven’t updated the decor in years. These kinds of ramen shops are very much the classic American diners of Japan, so I’m glad they hardly change. They take you back to another time.
Ichibankan, like many other shops in the city, claims to be the originator of Onomichi ramen. The restaurant actually opened all the way back in the 1920s, but whether or not they did indeed create the Onomichi ramen we know today is up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is the flavor. I ordered one of their specials, which was full of huge chunks of pork (along with the pork fat in the broth) and kept me full until well past my normal dinnertime. It wasn’t even so expensive either, so I was quite happy with my experience there.
But my need for Onomichi ramen wasn’t quite quenched yet. And so when lunchtime rolled around the next day, I found myself standing at the entrance of yet another ramen shop on the Kaigan Dori: Onomichi Ramen Maruboshi. This restaurant is rather close to Ichibankan, but it was just as busy, if not busier, than Ichibankan (and it was still pouring rain). But like Ichibankan, Maruboshi’s decor is a little dated but what I’d now come to expect from classic Onomichi ramen shops in Onomichi itself. These shops don’t need to have stylish interiors to attract customers because the flavor of their ramen is more than enough to bring in the crowds.
If you are a video game fan, I would probably recommend Maruboshi over Ichibankan. To my surprise, there was a large poster for the video game Yakuza 6 in the shop, and after quickly googling I understood why. Sections of that game take place in Onomichi, and there is a ramen shop that you can visit in the game. That ramen shop was quite clearly modeled after Maruboshi, down to the placement of the pass where the chefs put up finished orders of ramen, the locations of the tables and chairs, and even the ramen ticket machine at the entrance. So if you’re someone who is a fan of the Yakuza video game series, definitely don’t skip Maruboshi.
Also, the ramen is absolutely delicious, so there’s that too. I especially loved the broth, as it was just packed full of flavor. So if you want a lot of food, I’d recommend going to Ichibankan. If you want pure, simple Onomichi ramen that tastes fantastic, I’d recommend Maruboshi.
Or you can be like me and go to both. That’s always an option too.
I wasn’t completely sure what to expect of my trip in Onomichi, especially when the weather turned sour and kept us under a roof of some kind or another almost one hundred percent of the time. Because of that, my wife and I couldn’t really experience some of the more traditional places in Onomichi. But that didn’t stop us from having a great time.
Onomichi U2 was a great place to stay and spend some time eating and relaxing, the Hondori shopping street offered this fun window into Japan long before I was born, and Onomichi ramen is fantastic. The Onomichi pudding, something I’d never heard of, was this huge surprise that made me want to come back and try the other different kinds available.
In short, Onomichi gave me a few great reasons to come back beyond just wanting to see places I wasn’t able to go to yet. If you find yourself in Hiroshima, Onomichi is definitely worth a visit— even if you’re not planning on visiting temples or cycling the Shimanami Kaido. I’m sure that my wife and I will find the time to take another trip there as soon as we can.
But next time, we’ll check the weather forecast first.