Birthday Trip to Tomonoura and Sensui Island – Encounter with Nature, Food, Good Old Japan

Categories Travel Blog

To celebrate my twenty-something birthday, my boyfriend took me to an amazing short trip.

Since I reached my late twenties I usually wish if my birthday never comes, simply because I don’t want to be older, but this year our plan for this trip made me look forward to my birthday so much.

He came up with this idea when he heard that there was a beautiful Japanese style hotel with hot springs in a place called Tomonoura.

Tomonoura is a small seaside town in Fukuyama city, which is located in East Hiroshima prefecture. It was the first time to go there for both of us.

Tomonoura is known as that it has a story related to Ryoma Sakamoto, one of the most popular reformer with charisma in Japanese history. He lived in late Edo period.

When Ryoma was travelling near Tomonoura by a ship named Irohamaru, which is owned by feudal domain of Ozu, the ship was accidentally hit by Meikomaru, a ship from feudal domain of Kishu – and unfortunately Irohamaru sunk in the sea.  In order to negotiate for restitution with Meikomaru’s side, Ryoma stayed at Tomonoura for a while. Irohamaru had been lying on the bottom of the sea of Tomonoura until 1980s.

Tomonoura is also known that there is a small iland named Sensui island.

This name Sensui means “hermit is intoxicated”, which should be extremely rare, and this island was named as that because it is so beautiful that even hermits can feel intoxicated by the beauty.

When I heard about it I was skeptical, thinking like “Ah it should be something people are saying just to invite as many tourists as possible and not the fact…”

and the very first second we arrived at Tomonoura, this view proved I was completely wrong.

Stunning view from Tomonoura. You can see Sensui island behind Benten island. (Photo by Risa)

The very first destination of this trip was Sensui island. To get there you can take a ship called “Heisei Irohamaru”,  which is a modern version of recreation of Ryoma’s Irohamaru.

Heisei is the name of current era in Japan.

Heisei Irohamaru coming back to the dock. This is the modern recreation of Irohamaru, Ryoma Sakamoto was travelling by. (Photo by Risa)

How cool does it look?

Just seeing the ship coming back to the dock made me so excited. I felt like an adventure is about start.

In the next second our excitement grew even more – we looked back to the other side and found the hotel “Migiwa Tei Ochikochi” – the reason we came to Tomonoura – right in front of the sea Heisei Irohamaru was travelling!

Sometimes not checking a map carefully beforehand can bring you a happy surprise.

Found Migiwatei Ochikochi , Japanese style hotel with hot springs, right next to the sea! Couldn’t believe that I could stay here. (Photo by Risa)

The moment we arrived at Tomonoura, I already knew this trip was going to perfect.

Then we took Heisei Irohamaru to the island. I loved everything about the ship – the way it looks, how beautiful the view from it, the breeze I was feeling while travelling – but it ended so much  earlier than I imagined. We got to Sensui island within 5 minutes! If I could, I’d absolutely love to spend a little more time on the tiny ship.

Look at the deep but clear blue  color of the ocean…

Got off Irohamaru and surprised by the clear blue color of the ocean of Sensui island. (Photo by Risa)

The sea was so beautiful that we even forgot it was in the middle of winter and wanted to jump in. Didn’t know sea in Japan could look this vivid blue.

After we left the dock, we passed between a Japanese inn and a tiny Japanese style cafe, and arrived at a beach.

The view of Tanoura, a beach in Sensui island. Allegedly the sand of this beach can release electromagnetic waves that accumulated inside your body, if you walk on it with barefoot. (Photo by Risa)

It is called Tanoura beach, and allegedly if you walk on the beach with your barefoot, the sand can release electromagnetic waves accumulated in your body. If it wasn’t freezing cold, I really wanted to try…

Then we found a boardwalk starting from where the beach ends. 

You can walk towards (almost) the other side of the island following this boardwalk, and you can enjoy the stunning sea on your right side and bumpy and colorful rock faces on your left side along the way.

The boardwalk is clean and neat, so it should be really easy for anyone to walk until the end.

The boardwalk in Sensui island. You can enjoy seeing the sea on your right side, and rock faces on your left side. (Photo by Risa)
Look how beautiful the water is! I almost forgot that it was still winter and wanted to jump in. (Photo by Risa)

We walked really slowly so that we don’t miss any details of the beautiful nature around. If you look carefully and mindfully, you will notice the view is constantly changing. We took enough time to see and feel anything and everything we saw – the light of the sun, reflections from the surface of the sea,  waves, scent, how different each rock looks and feels.

While I was walking, I felt as if I was swallowed by the nature, but at the same time, as if the power of the nature was soaking into my body and my mind… It was an unfamiliar, but nice feeling. It was like the whole power of the nature was helping me to release the stress and fatigue accumulated in me by busy daily life.

I was gradually filled with that soft, kind, but strong magic power of the island.

Then suddenly this view caught my eyes.

You can find rocks, sand, mud from completely different ages existing side to side in Sensui island. (Photo by Risa)

The one on the right side with many small rocks must be something artificially made recently, but behind that, can you see there are three rock walls with completely different colors and textures, and there are also rocks and sand beneath the big tree?

Allegedly Sensui island used to be the area where was volcanically active long, long time ago, and we still can see the sand, mud, and rocks piled up at that time.

And since some moves and slides of the earth happened and changed the structure of the ground, now we can see geological layers from different ages coexisting side by side.

You may also find small openings at the bottoms of the walls, which looks like entrances of caves.

This part has been gradually growing because the ground is always slightly moving. Learning this was a great reminder for me that the planet earth is alive.

There are informative descriptions written on sign boards at each especially important places to help you to know more about the island.

Speaking of rocks in Sensui island, there’s one place you don’t want to miss – Goshiki Iwa. 

Goshiki means five colors and Iwa means rock. Goshiki Iwa is literally a bunch of rocks has five colors, and Sensui island is the only place you can find it in Japan.

It is written in Veda, a very old sacred texts of Hindu and Brahmin, that if you find Goshiki Iwa, you will open the door of eternal happiness.

Goshiki Iwa, rock faces with five colors. Sensui island is the only place in Japan you can see this type of rocks. I wish I was a better photographer… (Photo by Risa)

We kept on walking, and finally found another beach named Hikoura, at the end of the boardwalk.

Hikoura, the second beach we found in Sensui island. (Photo by Risa)

I need to come back here in summer! 

Then we walked up towards the hill, and arrived at an observatory.

I wish if I were a better photographer, but even this photo could give you some idea how pretty and rewarding the view was to me.

View from Karasunokuchi observatory. (Photo by Risa)

Then we walked down the hill, traveled back along the boardwalk, and finally we got on Irohamaru and head back to Tomonoura.

We took as much time as we could to see this wonderful island, so we could even see sunset from the ship. Taking this photo, I thought this is my favorite time to see the sky – every time I see the mixture of blue, pink and orange colors in the sky, it moves me, and makes me feel happy and grateful about my life.

View from Irohamaru, on the way back to Tomonoura. (Photo by Risa)

After we arrived at Tomonoura, we finally checked in the main destination of this trip – the hotel, Migiwatei Ochikochi.

The balcony of our room was right in front of the sea we just crossed coming back from the island.

View from our balcony… in Migiwatei Ochikochi. (Photo by Risa)
We could even see Irohamaru coming back to the dock, from the balcony. Elegant. (Photo by Risa)

It was getting darker and darker, but we could still see Irohamaru travelling from our balcony. The latest service is a lot later than I expected, and it’s 9:30pm. 

The ship looked even more elegant in night time.

Our room had an open-air bath which means we could see the view even from the tub! It was such a rewarding and relaxing experience.

Then we had the best dinner ever at the restaurant of the hotel.

This is when you know you’re gonna have the best dinner ever. (Photo by Risa)
The most beautiful appetizer I’ve ever seen. Oyster and vegetables with carrot gelee was my favorite. (Photo by Risa)
Sashimi with haiku… The way they served everything was so considerate and sophisticated. (Photo by Risa)
Small hot pot with shrimp, sea bream, shellfish, and vegetables. (Photo by Risa)
Fried oyster… one of my favorite food. The salt set below the shell looks like real snow… amazing. (Photo by Risa)
Japanese-arranged roast beef dressed with thick starchy sauce… dream. (Photo by Risa)
Tai Meshi, rice with sea bream cooked by a stone rice cooker. I was too happy and nearly cried. (Photo by Risa)
Fruit tomato and apple compote for dessert. Sweet and healthy. (Photo by Risa)

My biggest regret is that I didn’t take a photo of the menu paper… If I did I could describe and explain the dinner more precisely and in details.

I could tell everything was slow cooked with full of love and kindness – every food was laid out beautifully,  each dish was eye pleasing in different ways, nothing had strong taste, very simple, but had depth. I felt like there were some layers of flavors in every bite, as if each dish has stories. I was lucky enough to have some rare vegetables I never had before.

The lady from the restaurant let us try a little of Houmei-shu, which is a traditional alcohol of Tomonoura. It has very unique but nice spicy taste. She told us that it tastes the best with ginger ale.

We couldn’t finish Tai Meshi (rice with sea bream) even though we loved it so much, so she made rice balls and let us take it to our room so that we can have it if we feel hungry late night. How cute and thoughtful is it?

Not just her but all the people who work there were very thoughtful, kind and elegant. Couldn’t believe that it was even possible that everyone can perform at almost same, and super high level. It was moving for me to see them, and gave me a good opportunity to look back and think about how I treat other people in my daily life. I’m sure they’re always making people they meet happy and comfortable.

The next day, it was a little raining. But even so, the view was gorgeous.

Woke up to this view… Having breakfast by seaside was such a rewarding experience.. (Photo by Risa)

We had breakfast in the restaurant, at the table right next to a window. I was so happy that I could enjoy delicious breakfast and the view at the same time.

Japanese style breakfast. My favorite was conger with thick starchy sauce, and porridge of rice and sea bream. “Silky Queen” rice made in Hiroshima was also really delicious. (Photo by Risa)

I don’t always eat much for breakfast, so I usually can’t finish breakfast at hotels I stay during my business trips, but this morning was an exception. I finished almost all of it. I was completely stuffed but feeling good. One good lesson; genuine good food doesn’t make you feel tired even if you eat a lot.

When we finished our breakfast and morning coffee, we realized that it already passed one hour! Time flies when we’re having fun.

It was the best breakfast I had in such a long time – I enjoyed eating, taking, and seeing the sea so much that one hour felt like 15 minutes. And I wish if I could enjoy morning time like this more often… because having that as a start of a day can turn any day into a great day.

The entrance of Migiwatei Ochikochi. Wish I could live here… (Photo by Risa)
Little garden in Migiwatei Ochikochi. The roof piles are one hundred years old. (Photo by Risa)
Had a wonderful, unforgettable, and relaxed time here… Good bye Migiwatei Ochikochi, hope to see you soon! (Photo by Risa)

Then we checked out, and took a walk around Tomonotra.

Took a walk around Tomonoura. I felt like I was time travelling to the old time in Japan. Unbelievable that this is a real town. Loved it. (Photo by Risa)

It’s not a movie set, it’s not a theme park, it is a real small town where people are actually living their lives.

It felt like I was time travelling to a good old days in Japan.

I was born and raised in this country, but in my mind I was thinking, “Wow, this is how Japan looks? So inspiring….” as if it was my first time to see this country. It was quiet, neat, and heartwarming town.

We could find so many stores of Houmei-shu we tried last night, here and there.

A cat named Kinako. (Photo by Risa)

After we climbed the stairs, we arrived at an observatory, where we could overlook whole Tomonoura and the sea, and even islands far, far away.

We climbed the stairs up to the observatory. (Photo by Risa)

We could see a lot of hawks there. It must feel so good to fly in the sky of Tomonoura.

A hawk flying in the sky of Tomonoura. (Photo by Risa)

Then we walked down to the Tomo Port.

There were many ships and boats, but still – unlike ports in urban cities – the water in the sea was clear blue.

Tomo port was really quiet and calm. The water was amazingly transparent. (Photo by Risa)
Cloudy sky and Tomo port. (Photo by Risa)

We found a lovely cafe named “Tomonoura @ Cafe” right next to the port.

I was already so full because of the amazing breakfast so didn’t stop by, but hopefully next time, I’d love to try a cup of coffee (maybe with some sweet treats) there. 

Lovely cafe named “Tomonoura @ cafe.” I will definitely stop by next time. (Photo by Risa)

The atmosphere Tomonoura and Sensui island have is so comforting, chilled, and soft, but at the same time I also felt it has the strong power that can blow away all the needless negativities people can’t get rid of by themselves.

When we left, I was feeling calm, relaxed, and happy, and my mind was clear – I could feel that I was fully charged and ready to work on important things (like writing this blog) as soon as I got back to my real life.

This area definitely became one of my favorite places to visit in Japan. I already can’t wait the next time I can come back, hopefully in summer.

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