This small fishing port in Fukuyama City was indeed brought to my attention thanks to its role in the sixth X-Men movie but whilst searching for the locations of those scenes I saw an article saying that Tomonoura was where the Wolverine and Ponyo crossed paths. That was in June last year when I had no idea who or what Ponyo was!
Once I’d booked my ticket to Fukuyama for Golden Week the wheels were set in motion and I set about getting my hands on a copy of ‘Ponyo‘ (2008) which is sometimes also known as ‘Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea‘. I asked around a select few friends who are into animation and got lucky when my friend Ben quite literally delivered me the dvd of it as he just happened to move from my hometown to Tokyo at that time.
Having watched it, I think I even surprised myself as I was quite moved at times by the cute story (albeit a bit weird) of the fish-girl and the five-year-old boy from Oscar-winning animator and director Hayao Miyazaki who I’m ashamed to say I only knew about due to some tribute in ‘The Simpsons‘ (S25E10 – Married To The Blob) where Homer and a Japanese guy both drink habushu (snake rice wine) and then stumble home intoxicated, where Springfield turns into a wonderland based on some of his Studio Ghibli work.
Now it has to be noted that there are no exact filming location match-ups in Tomonoura for this port town was the inspiration and basis for Miyazaki’s story. He spent two months there in 2005 before production started on the movie and his experiences helped inspire and shape the animated town where Sōsuke lives. The house that it was modelled on is a private house on the cliff lying just beneath Ankokuji Temple which was founded during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333).
The place where Sōsuke finds Ponyo is the rocky beach situated near to the ferry pier and Enpuku-ji temple.
Sōsuke and his mothers commuter route takes them along the road seen below and his school is the building in the distance on the left. The exterior of the school even has a painted signboard featuring Ponyo on it.
Sōsuke and his mother are determined to get home on the stormy day despite the horrendous conditions and the danger involved. They pass an intersection similar to the one below which is basically just looking back the opposite way to the aforementioned commuting route.
The tunnel where Ponyo loses her human form is about 3km west and was too far away for me to reach within my time constraints sadly. However, Rila Fukushima did go there during a break in filming of ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013) in September 2012 and tweeted a picture of her in front of the tunnel where Ponyo reverts into a fish due to using too much magical power to help Sōsuke and others along the way.
Just before I left Tomonoura I passed the ferry terminal and noticed a boat was about to depart for Sensuijima so I thought I may as well take a (very) quick trip to the island which is just five minutes away and costs only ¥240 (return). The fences in the screenshot and photo’s below are very similar and both lead to similar shaped cabins with the reality one being the ferry passenger terminal.
The time I spent on Sensuijima was short to say the least as I had to take a ferry back 20 minutes later. I took a quick look round the island though which has a hotel, camp ground, observation decks, boardwalks, walking courses and some coloured cliffs covering the rugged coastline.
First port of call before all of those locales though should be the Tourist Information Centre which stocks a good selection of Ponyo merchandise. It is the penultimate stop on the bus route from Fukuyama station to Tomonoura and they can print you off a Ponyo map of the area for free though sadly not the one like above. Wolverine maps are also available.
As you walk around the main town there are other a fair few posters on shops and noticeboards showing how proud they are that Tomonoura was the inspiration for the town depicted in this visually stunning fairy tale.
How to get there: Take a bus from stop #5 on the south side of JR Fukuyama station. It takes approximately 25 minutes to reach the tourism information centre or you can get off a few minutes later at Tomokou bus stop; the final stop down the road from there.
Want more Japanese anime locations? Click here to see the Fukuyama locations faithfully depicted in ‘Kamichu!‘ (2005)
You can see The Wolverine locations in Tomonoura here