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Southeastern Iwate

A trip to see “Japanese life” in harmony with nature

About this Itinerary

From Tono, land of legends passed down the generations, to Kamaishi, a city still rebuilding from disaster. Here is a model overnight itinerary to experience the wholesome, simple life of Japanese living with nature – and to hear a lot of stories along the way.

DAY 2
Kamaishi is all smiles

A rail tour complete with an unreal planetarium

On day two, board the steam train at Tono and head for the coast. On summer weekends, JR-East runs the SL Ginga service, a mystical steam train that tours the stars of the galaxy in Kenji Miyazawa’s famous children’s story, Night of the Galactic Railroad. The SL Ginga sets off from Hanamaki, the hometown of Miyazawa, Japan’s leading children’s author, stopping at Tono on the way to Kamaishi. The train ride immerses the passenger in the tale, taking passengers on a whole different kind of trip.

The cabins feature vividly colored stained glass, a gallery and in the head coach, an actual planetarium that shows the full night sky. Once you are absorbed into the mysterious world of the galactic railway, arrival at the destination comes all too soon. Regular trains also run from Tono to Kamaishi when the SL Ginga is not in service.

Enjoy fresh produce at the farmhouse of a hospitable pair

After about an hour on the Ginga steam train, change for the local train at Rikuchu-Ohashi Station and get off at Dosen Station. From there it is a 10-minute walk to a farmhouse restaurant. Here is not just a farm or garden, it is also a venue for all kinds of sharing: there is a restaurant offering a healthy, veggie-centric menu, farm work experience for foreign travelers, cooking pizza in a real pizza oven and more.

As one of the areas hit hardest by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster, local residents of Kamaishi continue to rebuild their livelihoods. The couple that runs this farmhouse restaurant gifted part of their land to the community to create a park for rest and recreation. As a farmhouse hosting foreign and domestic tourists, they are designated Airbnb superhosts. The vegetables grown with devotion by this hospitable couple will please your palate and warm your soul.

Slip into a hidden local izakaya

From Dosen to Kamaishi takes around 15 minutes on the JR line. There were many closures on Oyafuko-dori, a street near Kamaishi Station that used to hum with bars and restaurants, in the wake of the tsunami. The owners have come together to form a recovery association in an effort to revive the strip.

On Oyafuko-dori is an izakaya that specializes in fresh local seafood. The sashimi, seaweed dishes and special kushiyaki (food fried on a stick) dipping sauce are the perfect match for the local sake.

The cheerful, laid-back okami grew up by the sea and is one of the most famous mamasans (lady owners) of the area. After 36 years in business, her regular customers are like family. Many arrive straight from work, gathering at the bar where discussion of the day’s events and topics heats up fast. This is an izakaya with heart, and the encounters you have here will make your trip a memorable one.

Sea views from a ryokan that lived to smile again

In Kamaishi, spend the night at an inn with beautiful sea views. Fifteen minutes by taxi from Oyafuko-dori, you will arrive at the ryokan, which is right on Nebama Beach. While the beach suffered heavy damage in 2011, the original pine forest scenery is growing back. This ryokan was also damaged, but the lady owner reopened its doors just 10 months later.

The smiling okami welcomes guests with Sanriku seafood and mountain vegetables that complement sake beautifully, and a relaxing bath with sea views. Some rooms offer a view of the quiet sun rise out of the sea in the morning.

“No matter how perilous the road, if you are going in the right direction, you will definitely be closer to happiness than when you started.” Even with customers, she is happy to share her experiences, lessons and love for Kamaishi. This is an establishment that has survived. It offers not just a comfortable night but also lessons in cherishing life.

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