Onomichi is a hidden treasure of Japan where the more time you spend in the city the more beauty and culture there is to discover. Travelers initially visit for the historic walk that links 25 temples throughout the city, but there is another attraction hidden away. This is the Neko no Hosomichi or Cat Alley.
In 1997 Shunji Sonoyama, a French artist, found inspiration in a few abandoned sloping streets winding their way through Onomichi. The area known as Ihatov is filled with quirky art galleries, garden cafes, sake bars and “fukuishi neko” (lucky stone cats). Shunji Sonoyama hand painted 108 of these stone cats each unique with different expressions. Visitors can find these feline statues on fences, in trees, on roofs and within the cafes. It is believed you will receive good fortune if you stroke their heads 3 times.
To locate Cat Alley head to the station for the Senko-ji cable car 15 minutes walk from Onomichi Station. Turn left as you reach the entrance of the Senkoji cable car ticket office and follow this path up the hill to the start of Cat Alley. A geometric cat painted on a local door is the first sign that you are in the right place.
A sake bar marks the first corner where you can turn left a find Maneki-neko Museum which houses a collection of over 3000 Maneki neko cats. On the first floor you will find the shop and the second floor houses the gallery. The symbolism behind these cats differs depending on which paw is raised a left paw raised will bring customers and invite people, the right welcomes money and good fortune.
Turning left as you exit the Museum brings you to the Onomichi Herb Garden Bouquet d’Arbres which has 100 kinds of herbs. This is the perfect spot for a cup of fresh herbal tea as a cafe is located in the garden.
La Chat is up the hill from the museum and houses handmade local clothes, bags and other cat related items. As you continue to wonder up the hill there are many friendly cats in the area that enjoy a pat and are well looked after by the locals. You will pass other garden cafes and bars before reaching the Tennei Temple a the end of the path. If you walk up a few of the stairs towards the shrine you will find a small clearing at the start of Senko-ji Park where many local cats sit outside to catch the morning sun.
I recommend finishing the tour by following the path up the hill to the top of Senko-ji mountain (15 minutes walk) for a photo at the Lover's Sanctuary by Yumi Katsura. Then take the Senko-ji cable car back down for an amazing view of this humble city, it is open from 9am - 5:15pm and the cost is ¥280.
Cat Alley connects the town, art, people and greenery into one unique experience that you will not forget.
Local trains run from Fukuyama to Onomichi on a regular basis and there are several accommodation options if you don't think you can fit everything in one day.