The temples and shrines of Onomichi that make up the area’s famed temple walk are indeed grand. So numerous and beautiful in structure and history are they that you might pass right by a small, overgrown path, only just barely denoted as being perhaps somehow special by the presence of a small collection of peculiar-looking cats. Venture into this narrow alleyway, and you will have stumbled upon Onomichi’s Neko no Hosomichi – Cat Alley.
Now, before your write this off as another street bursting with strays, be aware that this patch of land, once laden with crumbling housing with memories all but lost to time, was given a second life by a man who saw much potential in this hidden cove. Born and raised in France, Shunji Sonoyama, with his eye for design and superb ability, came to Japan and has since made a noteworthy impact in communities throughout the country through art installments and various community projects. Onomichi, being where he laid his roots – most likely because the town is already filled with famous vantage points for artists, filmmakers, and writers – is where you can see most of his work in action.
In Onomichi’s Cat Alley, his talents come together to form a living, active, yet very small district. Aforementioned abandoned houses have since been restored, and now house secret garden restaurants, cafes, bars, museums, and galleries. In actuality, Neko no Hosomichi is just one part of this district, a realization of Sonoyama’s dream town, a project and combination of art, people, and history he calls Ihatov.
Started in 1997, Sonoyama’s Ihatov and its Cat Alley can fill your day with delight. Every nook and cranny has something to discover, and every establishment has a story to tell. Hearing this area’s stories is made all the easier by its friendly proprietors, all happy to have a chat as you sip your herbal tea picked fresh from the surrounding gardens.
So, as you make your way through Onomichi’s temple walk, remember to make a slight detour to visit the faces and places of Ihatov and its Alley of Cats.