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Tomonoura: The Iroha House Visit

I just visited the west Honshu town (Hiroshima Prefecture) of Tomonoura for the first time. The centuries-old fishing village is set in a circular-shaped harbor facing the Inland Sea. I had heard about the town a few years ago from a Thai-based, Canadian social anthropologist, who asked me to assist in gathering names for a campaign to save the beautiful harbor from the prefectural government’s plan to build a bridge in the middle of the historic scenic area. They were able to gather 15,000 e-mails from around the world, and, so far, have been able to hold back construction.

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The good news is that, in the process of gathering signatures for the bridge initiative, the local residents became activists in preserving this lovely little town.

I stayed in the newly restored, 150-year-old Iroha House that is run by the preservation enthusiasts group, now a non-profit organization. The restoration was made possible by a grant from American Express. The house, located less than a block from the harbor, has just four guest rooms. There is a café on the ground floor, open to the public. Watanabe-san, a young professional actor, is the chef and barista. The manager is a koto and shamisen teacher, and we were treated to an impromptu concert. The food was exceptionally good and was served on artist-made, contemporary-functional ceramics.

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Overlooking the harbor filled with working fishing boats, the old town area is made up of narrow alleyways. Many of the buildings have been renovated and are being used as shops and cafes. Miyazaki Hayou, the academy award-winner anime producer has taken a special interest in the town. He has not only based the location of his latest feature film, “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea”, on Tomonoura, but is responsible for designing the new Iroha House. The film is due to be released in the U.S. in August, 2009.

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While I was staying there, the heads of several dozen grassroots social and environmental organizations located throughout the Inland Sea area had come together for a conference of mutual support. A few of them were staying at Iroha House and I learned a lot about their various causes.

SLIDE SHOW OF IROHA HOUSE

SLIDE SHOW OF TOMONOURA TOWN