Tono (遠野, Tōno) is a rural town in the hills of central Iwate Prefecture. The area is notable for its rustic landscapes and traditional farming culture. But Tono is best known as a repository of Japanese folklore due to its legends of spirits, animals and supernatural creatures. This rich oral tradition was passed down through generations of storytellers and eventually collected into a book by the pioneering folklorist Yanagita Kunio.
Yanagita Kunio came to the region during the early Meiji Period and collaborated with Tono native Sasaki Kizen to gather local stories and to publish them in "Legends of Tono" in 1910 as one of the first collections of Japanese folktales. The legends that they transcribed continue to be told today, and story telling performances in Japanese are regularly held at the folk villages, museums and some of the hotels around the town.
Statue of two kappa
One of the most widely known folk creatures of the region is the kappa, a mystical water sprite that resembles a small, humanoid turtle and is believed to lurk around rivers, lakes and ponds. Kappa serve as a reminder of the dangers of water, as they are said to be fond of eating children and cucumbers, but are also beloved, and statues and images of them can be found all around Tono.
The rural Tono region is known for its traditional, thatched roofed farmhouses, which are known as Nambu Magariya (Nambu Bent Houses) due to their characteristic L-shaped construction and prevalence around the Nambu Region (the historical area of northeastern Tohoku named after the local Nambu lords). Several of these homes have been preserved and relocated to the Tono's various folk villages.
There are three folk villages around Tono, comprised of traditional magariya farmhouses, storehouses and museums. They offer visitors a chance to learn about traditional rural life and try their hand at various activities.
In addition to the folk villages found in the outskirts of the town, Tono also offers a few museums around its town center. Several of these specifically focus on the local folklore.
Folklore and Religious Sites