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Southeastern Iwate

Tono / Kamaishi

From folkloric Tono to homestay-friendly Kamaishi

Recommended for travelers hoping to delve deeper into Iwate

Tono is the inland hub of the southwestern area of Iwate, while Kamaishi is on the coast. Here you will admire the rustic premodern Japanese landscape of traditional houses, fields and lanes. Heading east from Tono, it is about an hour on the East Japan Railway Company (JR-East) Kamaishi Line to Kamaishi, hub of tourism in the south coastal region. Communities here continue to rebuild in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster.

The JR Kamaishi Line passes through the rustic scenery of Tono

A mountain village that gave birth to folklore

Nestled amid the wilds of Mt. Hayachine, the second-highest peak of Iwate Prefecture, is the village where the “father of Japanese native folkloristics”, Kunio Yanagita who published Tono Monogatari (“Tono folk legends”) in 1910, a collection of ancient tales he recorded passed down orally from generation to generation.

Appearing in the stories – 119 were collected in total – are a range of mysterious beings, ghosts, monsters and spirits such as kappa, the playful imps of the river, zashiki-warashi, the fairy children that bring good fortune and tengu, the demigod guardians of the forest.

Tono to this day is known as the “town of kappa”: legend has it that the beings may be encountered in the Kappa-buchi mountain stream. By keeping alive the ghosts, monsters and spirits that live in nature through their storytelling, the local residents have a lesson for us all that as much as we continue to modernize, we should not forget to hold a sense of wonder and gratitude toward the spirits and gods of the wild.

Kappa-buchi, playground of the kappa

By the Kappa-buchi stream stands a kappa statue. They are said to have green skins

Meet the strong-willed people rebuilding their communities

The Iwate coast, including Kamaishi, sustained heavy damage from the tsunami of March 2011. Seaside towns continue to recover, building new commercial facilities and opening new shopping streets that cluster local restaurants and shops in the same location. Do not miss out on meeting the locals in their communities, where you will gain full appreciation of their inner strength and warm smiles.

In Rikuzen-Takada, a city located at the very south end of the Iwate coast, 70,000 pines near the shore were swallowed up by the waves. Just one tree miraculously survived the onslaught and was left standing in place. The “miracle pine” eventually withered due to its age of 270 years, but a replica has been built in its place as a monument. Not only is it a symbol of hope for Tohoku, its presence also serves as a reminder of the disaster and communicates our awe and respect for nature to future generations.

Manager of a ryokan in Kamaishi

A couple who run a farmhouse restaurant in Kamaishi

Oyafuko-dori, the eating street near JR Kamaishi station

The Miracle Pine stands near the water’s edge

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See & Do

In Tono, a town that has kept its festivals, folk crafts and tales from a past deeper than recorded history, is a tourist facility that gives a glimpse of the way people live in harmony with nature. About an hour by train east of Tono is Kamaishi, tourist hub of the southern coastal region. Kannon Bodhisattva (Bosatsu), a female Buddhist saint, towers above the treeline at 48.5m, her dazzling white form a symbol of Kamaishi.

Densho-en Park

An attraction that recreates the lives of peasants around the 18th century. Visitors can try straw weaving, old-fashioned toy-making and more (bookings required)

SL Ginga

The steam train with the “galaxy” theme that runs between JR Hanamaki and Kamaishi stations from April to October (bookings required)

Kamaishi Daikannon Temple

About 20 minutes from Kamaishi Station by bus and foot. The location offers a panorama of the Pacific Ocean from the lookout, which is 120m above sea level

Eat & Drink

In Tono, where most people eat lamb – a rarity in Japan – there are a number of “Genghis Khan” lamb barbecue restaurants. In the entertainment precinct of Kamaishi, on the other hand, are to be found many Japanese-style izakaya where you can enjoy local sake and sashimi sliced from seafood freshly landed at the harbor.

Tono Genghis Khan

Lamb is so popular in Tono, every family has its own special pot to cook it

Seafood

In coastal towns like Kamaishi and Ofunato, local freshly-landed seafood is available year-round

Izakaya cuisine

The restaurant and bar street that opened in Kamaishi in 2017 as the city rebuilds its heavily damaged entertainment district. The street is lined with Japanese-style izakaya and traditional Japanese restaurants

Shopping

Tono has the widest range of doburoku varieties, the cloudy white Japanese sake brewed since the sixth century as an appeal to the gods for good rice harvests. Cities like Kamaishi and Ofunato have still not fully recovered from the tsunami that ravaged the coastal region in March 2011. Many new commercial centers offer restaurants, bars and souvenir shops under the same roof.

Michi-no-Eki (roadside rest area) Tono Kaze-no-oka

Stop here for doburoku and other local souvenirs, but have a meal or get some rest too. A tourist information desk is also on site

Sea Plaza Kamaishi

Situated next to JR Kamaishi Station, this is the place to buy local processed marine products like cans of seafood soup or fish that can be stored at room temperature

Kyassen Ofunato

A shopping precinct in Ofunato combining small shops, supermarket and restaurants. A popular souvenir here? Japanese-style sweets shaped like seagull eggs

Stay & Relax

Tono has a lot of reasonable lodgings where you can stay in a homely place for 4000 to 5000 yen. Kamaishi attracts a lot of business travelers, so there is a wide range of major hotel chains. Both towns have plenty of options for foreigners.

The inns of Tono

Ten minutes’ walk from JR Tono Station is a much-loved minshuku that is over 50 years old and famous for its irori (open hearth)

Kamaishi lodgings

From a hotel that prides itself on its ocean views to business hotels around the station to a Japanese ryokan complete with hot spring

Farmhouse stay

Kamaishi is the only city in Japan to have entered an alliance with Airbnb. Farmer-hosted B&Bs are the perfect option for those looking for an experience of real local life

COLUMN

The Rugby World Cup is coming to Kamaishi

Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup from September to November 2019. Two matches will be played in Kamaishi, known as a “rugby town”. There is high excitement among locals about developing future Kamaishi through rugby.

One of the most famous Japanese enka among Chinese-speakers

Japanese enka are ballads that emerged in the 1960s as a new form of popular music. Kitaguni no Haru (Springtime in the North; 1977) by Sen Masao, a singer from Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture, may be, without exaggeration, one of the most famous Japanese enka among Chinese-speakers. The song is about a young man who has gone to work in the big city, reminiscing about his hometown in northern Japan, and longing for his family and the woman he once loved. Its lyrics inspired a sense of nostalgia among the Japanese public, and it became a major hit in Japan. In the 1980s, this enka was translated into various dialects of Chinese and sung in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and other Chinese-speaking parts of the world.

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