Watching the pirate ship pull up to the dock below our balcony at Ochi Kochi — a chic ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in Tomonoura — we could already feel the tidal ebb and flow of the port town embracing us.
However, instead of cutlass-wielding swashbucklers swaggering ashore, tourists stroll on and off brandishing cameras, gingerly stepping between the vessel’s built-in gangway and the dock. The ship, a striking ferryboat styled as a recreation of the vessel used by 19th century anti-shogun revolutionary Sakamoto Ryoma when he visited Tomonoura, provides just one of countless glimpses into the rich history of the area.
Soon our “gorgeous lunch” will arrive, as they say in Japanese. Ochi Kochi will happily serve you in their restaurant SOU, offering ocean views from every seat or, in classic ryokan style, bring your meal straight to the dining table in your room. We’ve opted of the latter this time around, but in the meantime the scenery from our comfortable deck chairs provides a feast all its own.
Since ancient times, the beauty of Tomonoura has furnished imagery for creative works by artists in all genres — from 8th century verses in Japan’s oldest collection of poems, the Man’yoshu; to the lively and mysterious melodies of Michio Miyagi’s Haru no Umi; to the colorful setting of Hayao Miyazaki’s animation Ponyo; to the real-life set of Marvel Comics’ blockbuster film The Wolverine (as it turns out, Hugh Jackman loved his stay at Ochi Kochi, by the way).
As soon as we entered Ochi Kochi, we knew we were in for something special. The front of the building looks like an old, unassuming Japanese house, but once you walk through the door and reception area, you find yourself traversing a long, wooden pathway which stretches through a garden — immediately giving you the sense that you’ve found a secret retreat.
And once you step into your room, you’ll know you’ve struck relaxation gold.
With 13 rooms and 4 suites — all featuring balconies and open-air cypress hot spring bathtubs facing the sea — Ochi Kochi provides an exquisite way to enjoy the natural beauty of this unique corner of Hiroshima Prefecture. And if you’re interested in sharing a hot spring bath with family, Ochi Kochi offers not one, but two large, ocean-facing, open air baths available in 45 minute stints by reservation.
An onsite spa and spacious seaside terrace offer yet further ways to relax, but honestly just gazing out at the lovely ocean view should do the trick.
Rising from the sea directly across from Ochi Kochi lies Bentenjima, an island with a shrine dedicated to Benzaiten — one of Shinto’s seven gods of good fortune, and patron deity of artists, seafarers, and fishermen. Every year in May, Tomonoura’s sea bream fishing festival culminates in a spectacular fireworks display over Bentenjima in thanks for the year’s abundant catches.
With rooms, balconies — and aforementioned cypress bathtubs — perfectly positioned to view the the pyrotechnics, Ochi Kochi receives so many room requests for May that they eventually had to switch to a lottery system to keep their guests from rioting.
At last lunchtime arrives, and food begins flowing onto the table in our room. And we instantly find ourselves at a loss as to what to admire more — the arresting visuals, or marvelous flavors of the dishes before us.
With eggs from cage-free chickens, traditional raw miso, and rice bearing a 5-star rating (and this in a country where samurai used to get paid in rice barrels), the fare served up at Ochi Kochi reaches beyond the delectable to the divine. And best of all, the portions each deliver enough to satisfy, but never so much as to overwhelm — perfect, considering how many different culinary creations accompany each feast.
Bellies full and palates satisfied, we arise from the table, ready to explore the beautiful port town of Tomonoura with its iconic lighthouse and mountaintop temple overlooking the sea. Or maybe we’ll try stepping aboard that pirate ship for a cruise around the islands.
Either way, one thing’s for sure — wherever we ebb off to, we’ll flow right back here before long, intent on soaking up more of that special relaxation so abundant at ryokan Ochi Kochi.
Photographs by Peter Chordas & Ochikochi Text by Peter Chordas