Abandoned Houses

Last week we had an opportunity to visit the town of Onomichi along the Inland sea about two hours from Hiroshima. It’s famous for Onomichi ramen noodles, but we were also interested in the retro look of the town. What we discovered was beyond what we ever hoped to find!

Onnomichi Ramen noodles!

Onomichi Ramen noodles!

We enjoyed the ramen at Beccha Ramen just behind the station area. (ベッチャーらーめん)Walking from the station towards the mountains with the sea at out back, we crossed the railroad tracks and entered an area of narrow winding streets with so many old shops and interesting signs. Our destination was the Sangenya Apartments, an old tenement that is gradually being refurbished and used to house shops and a cafe.

Curio Shop in Sangenya Apartments

Curio Shop in Sangenya Apartments

Each unit in the apartment building is a shop run by a different individual. There was an art gallery, a curio and collectible shop and an open space for outdoor relaxation. Finally we had a cold drink and icy cheesecake at the cafe, sitting on chairs recycled from the 1940s.

Rustic Cafe at Sangenya

Rustic Cafe at Sangenya (56 cafe)

There we met some of the young people involved in this Onomichi Abandoned House Reclamation Project. To see people in their 20s and 30s excited about preserving and using structures and objects from the early Showa period was thrilling for me.

Ayako at Sangenya Cafe told us about the guest house!

Ayako at Sangenya Cafe
told us about the guest house!

At the cafe, Ayako suggested we see Gaudi House and even offered to walk us there. This house is  called “Gaudi house” because, like the Sacrada Familia in Spain, it is continually being added to over the years! Precariously perched on a hillside, the narrow house juts up into the sky with it’s many layers of roof tiles going in different angles!

"Gaudi" House in Onomichi

“Gaudi” House in Onomichi

Ayako also recommended that, if we ended up sticking around all day, we could stay at the guest house, Anago no Nedoko (literally “Sleeping place for an eel”). For just 2500 yen a night, we could sleep there , take showers,  use the communal kitchen and have a free coffee coupon for the cafe in the front.

Guest hOuse , Anago no Nedokoro

Guest House , Anago no Nedoko

Located in the shotengai old shopping arcade, this guest house is built in an old machiya, a long house with a very narrow storefront bordering on the street. The front part is a cafe called Akubi Cafe. it is decorated with old schoolroom fixtures and gives you the feel of the 1940’s.

Communal room at Anago no Nedokoro guest house

Communal room at Anago no Nedokoro guest house

Anago no Nedoko welcomes cyclists, allowing them to take showers, rest and park their bicycles safely even if they opt not to stay overnight! We had no reservations but were lucky enough to get a private room for just 2850 yen per person. There is a dormitory-style room for men and for women who don’t mind sharing or who want to stay as a group.

Manger at the guest hose was really nice to us!

Manager at the guest hose was really nice to us!

The manager was really nice and even concerned about me going up the steep stairs. It was really a good choice to stay there!

On the way to Shiga Naoya's former home

On the way to Shiga Naoya’s former home

Hills and sea view typical of Onomichi

Hills and sea view typical of Onomichi

Onomichi has been home to many famous writers. We visited the room where Fumiko Hayashi lived during her college years and also climbed up to see the house of Shiga Naoya on the hillside above the town. The view from here to the sea is beautiful. He wrote about his experiences in this house in his book, Anya Koro.

A room rented to writer Fumiko Hayashi while she attended a girls' school in Onomichi

A room rented to writer Fumiko Hayashi while she attended a girls’ school in Onomichi

Fumiko Hayashi, writer

Fumiko Hayashi, writer

I also recommend walking in the old arcade as there are many old shops. This one was a public bath that is now a cafe. many of the shops are closed on Thursday.

Originally a public bath, now a cafe

Originally a public bath, now a cafe

Another foodie place in the arcade

Another foodie place in the arcade

I think I need to go back again as I missed the chance to take a bath in the Meiji era sento ( public bath ) Kotobuki-Yu. (寿湯 0848-23-2155)Also I want to visit the Senkoji temple on the hills above the city.  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3477.htmlWe truly felt as if we’d taken a time machine back to the early Showa era. I was really glad to see that the buildings are not being thoroughly remodeled but only being made safe to use. The rustic feel, the weight of many years remains in the heavy wooden beams and in old glass panes, rusting signs or stepping stones worn smooth by many feet.

Onomichi is said to be known for all the cats and we definitely saw many lovely cats napping here and there, rubbing against our leg  or just being adorable. The city is kind of an open feline refuge to these cats that are considered an asset to the town.

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For more information about the reclamation project, go to http://www.onomichisaisei.com  It may be only in Japanese?? On Facebook, they provide both Japanese and English you can find our about tours with an architect as a guide. See www.facebook.com/onomichisaisei

People everywhere were so helpful to us, from Kanako at the pharmacy who gave us directions and nice maps to the manager at “Mexico” coffee specialty shop. All day long I felt as if people went out of their way to be good to us. Is this because the pace of life is more relaxed in this old-fashioned town? 

Onomichi is a great place for a day trip, to enjoy ramen, climb up to the temple or see the old wooden structures. I definitely recommend this for those who like an “off-the -beaten-path” experience!

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Kanako Miyamoto at Sugihara Drugs helps us out!

Buying Coffee beans at "Mexico"

Buying Coffee beans at “Mexico”

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