Welcome to Hofu. Home sweet Hofu. Well, maybe not quite home, but this city of 117,000 citizens is big enough to keep one from going too crazy, yet small enough so that people still stare at you like they don’t have eyelids. It’s a typical small Japanese city: lots of cement, plenty of glittering pachinko and love hotel signs, cluttered car dealers, fast food joints, and badly planned suburban sprawl. It also features a Japanese Self Defense Force base and lots of noisy propeller planes buzzing the skies. But most of all, Hofu has AEON (formerly Saty), the department store by the station. On any given day, lots of suspicious, half-crazed people loiter around the station, making weird sounds and staring at foreigners. The city is nearly surrounded by mountains and rice fields: from Migita’s rocky slopes in the north to Ohira’s ropeway in the east and on the southern seaside an island mountain. The cemented Saba River cuts through the city from further inland toward Tokuji town (officially part of Yamaguchi City) and flows to the cemented Seto Sea. East of Hofu Station is a bustling “entertainment district” where the naughty and drunk feed their sinful habits, and where you may find yourself many a weekend. It can be hard to meet people your own age in Hofu—better than more rural locales of course, but everyone seems to be in high school or over forty or just dresses funny. But don’t worry—there are tons of young people. They’re just hiding. The most famous sight is Hofu Tenmangu Shrine, the goal for hoards of half-naked men in the Naked Man Festival in November—but much better and far more peaceful than this is the lonely and beautiful Amida Temple, halfway up Ohira Mountain. For locations ask at the info desk in Hofu Station. Some more gritty details can be found after the break.
Of course, you can always go to Hiroshima or Fukuoka by train, Shinkansen or bus (you can buy bus tickets next to the station), but there is shopping available in Hofu, too.
Your best bet for variety is AEON, although it is maybe not the cheapest. Cheaper is the new MaxValu in southern Hofu by the sports center, or BIG, about a 7-minute bike ride from the station. YouMe Town also has a grocery store on the first floor. Aruk has a few locations as well.
Hofu has all the regular fast food outlets: Nagasaki Chanmen (3), Yoshinoya beef bowls, Mos Burger, McDonald’s, Kinryu Ramen, CURRY HOUSE CoCo ICHIBANYA and other cheap places.
Hungry for dead cow? By the station with the flaming torches is Karubi Tairiku, a good yakiniku restaurant featuring a 500-yen salad bar. There is also Gyumaru and Gyukaku northwest of the station. The locals rave about Kotobuki.
A good smokey, rowdy izakaya is Murasaki, west of the station past the police box and a shoe store. The menu is good and prices reasonable. It can accommodate a fair-sized crowd of drunken foreigners.
Do you like Chinese? Make a reservation at the restaurant by Tenmangu. Some Chinese people work there and the atmosphere is cool. A cheaper, more Japanese alternative is in southern Hofu. Got a date? Tomato is a small place near the ramen shop, quaint and with a variety of dishes, Italian and Japanese all mixed together. Free ice cream/dessert for the ladies, I think.
How about Italian? There’s a place in Rursus (on the non-AEON side of the station) called Osteria Ancora, kinda pricey but delicious. Ryo’s (良’s) is another great place! Easily the best Italian food in Hofu… maybe in the world. As well, there is an expensive Italian joint called Roma near the entertainment district and an Italian man works there. And don’t forget the over-priced Pizza-La, awesome for those nights when you don’t wanna leave your house and just want delivery pizza.
Those hungry for some okonomiyaki can hop behind AEON to Tampopo. It’s cheap and the woman there is nice. There is a place called Konnichiwa across from the station which is good, too.
And lastly, don’t forget the food court in AEON.
Do you like cycling? If youdidn’t before, maybe living in Hofu will change your mind! Hofu is a very flat city, so it is easy to get just about anywhere. In addition to just cycling around the city, there is also a beautiful, 22km cycling path long the Saba River that you can follow. It’s not a difficult ride at all – very, very few inclines – and the views are completely worth it. It is a little easy to miss the signs that mark the trail and get lost, but if you follow the river you’ll eventually make it back to Hofu alive
There are a few fitness centers around. There is Hofu Sun Life, across from YouMe Town, where you can work out or rent the gym for group sports like volleyball. The big green-roof sports center in southern Hofu is a massive complex. Here you can do karate, judo, aikido, kendo, archery and other martial arts. There are baseball fields, running tracks, swimming pools, and a basketball arena.
Very far from the city center is a new premiere sports arena called Salt Arena. It is much larger and more fancy than Sun Life. It was the arena for all of the indoor sports during the 2011 National Athletic Meet, held here in Yamaguchi Prefecture for the first time in 47 years! Very convenient if you have a car, although a bit more expensive than Sun Life. The air conditioning easily makes the price difference meaningless.
Hey, It’s Japan, After All!
For you tourists out there, your first stop (and last?) will be to Hofu’s acclaimed Tenmangu Shrine, one of the three top Tenmangu shrines in Japan. The big veranda will give you a nice view of the city. The shrine maidens (“miko-san”) are really nice. If Hofu has an event, it is held at Tenmangu. The biggest two of these are the Half-Naked Man Festival (裸坊祭) and New Year’s. On Saturday in November thousands of men dressed in diapers and Band-Aids (okay, that’s what it looks like!) brave the autumn chill and thunder around the city, heaving portable shrines and stopping to slam back cups of sake. They converge on Tenmangu to throw their portables into the main shrine. If you are lucky you may see someone get hurt in the rush, but in recent years things have been more tame. It all depends on liquor intake and the presence of mafia members. As for New Year’s, you better get there at 11 pm to line up or you may not get to pray until 1 am! Thousands of young punks and freaks and normal folk crowd up the cold stone steps. Watch out for flying coins! Also recommended is the Setsubun Festival in February and the Dance Festival in early August. Out with the devil, in with good luck! If you are wondering what happened to the top of Tenmangu Mountain, if was burnt by a misplaced firework in 2001. Now that was exciting. There are a few other minor temples and shrines around Tenmangu, including one west with an eerie green statue of Kanmon. Next head east to Mori Garden for a quick look (not free, of course) at a Japanese garden with a pleasant pond and stone bridge. It is expensive to get into Mori Mansion, so it is probably not worth it.
Much further east, but do-able on a bicycle with gears—as you will be going uphill—is Amida Temple. This quiet complex is built on the side of Ohira Mountain. It is very quiet and peaceful, and boasts some nice scenery amongst the bamboo trees. You can walk around in the main building and look at the interesting picture stories on the ceiling and walls. As well, there are some Buddha statues and a big bell to gong. Come in autumn to see tree colors or in June to see the blooming hydrangea flowers during the Ajisai Festival. As well, if you prefer a more peaceful New Year’s, Amida Temple is a nice alternative to Tenmangu. A bus runs from Hofu Station to Amida Temple. Don’t miss the last one back.
There is a ropeway to the top of Ohira Mountain. It is very popular on New Year’s Eve. Show up at about 5 am and walk up the mountain with hoards of people to see—if you are lucky—the first sunrise of the new year, rising over the Seto Sea. Or the first clouds of the new year, lounging like lazy fat people over the Seto Sea. It is very cold waiting at the top, but fun. Any mountain climbers out there? Tackle the rocks of Migita-dake for a good workout. There are numerous trails, some rock carvings and a spooky temple. Migita is great, as it the small mountain on the other side of the road.
If you don’t like the disgusting pollution of Tonomi’s beaches, try the disgusting pollution of the beach on Mukou Island. At least there is some sand to run on and the pleasant sound of surf. The small beach is isolated on the far side of the jungle-like fishing island. Come at night for a good view of the stars. There is other stuff in Hofu like a rock garden with a harakiri room (samurai suicide room) and some old salt factory, but really that’s about it. You can discover the rest for yourself. So why not visit Hofu? If you come from a small village in Japan, you’ll love it! If you don’t, well, er, um, aw hell—you’ll love it, too! Maybe.
Contributors: Nathalie Ferare, Stephen Goobie, Christina Theodorou, Steffanie Young
Updated May 2014