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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.

Residences

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.

Chiba Residence

Closed for major renovation works from April 2016 until spring 2025!
The Chiba Residence (Chiba-ke) is a large, 200 year old farmhouse, resting on a hill overlooking a valley. An excellent example of a Nambu Magariya farmhouse, it was the residence of a wealthy and influential family. The grounds include the farmhouse and surrounding stables and storehouses, which at their peak supported 25 people and 20 horses. During the 10 year long renovation works, the residence is closed to tourists.

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.

Furusato Village

Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Admission ends at 16:00 (or 15:30 from November to February)
Closed: No closing days
Admission: 540 yen (hands-on activities extra, some require reservations)
The Tono Furusato Village (Tono Furusato Mura) is Tono's largest and best preserved folk village. It recreates a traditional farming village including thatched-roofed farmhouses, storehouses, watermills and fields, and is often used as a shooting location for TV dramas and movies. Visitors can also try hands-on activities such as farming, or straw and bamboo handicrafts.

Denshoen

Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Closed: No closing days
Admission: 320 yen
Denshoen is a small folk village comprised of about a dozen traditional farmhouses, warehouses, a Sasaki Kisen museum and other buildings including the farmhouse where Sasaki Kisen collected the Tono oral traditions. Visitors can also learn about the traditional lifestyle of the local farmers and participate in activities such as storytelling, making straw craft and weaving.

Takamuro Suikoen Park

Hours: 10:00 to 16:00 (park), 10:00 to 21:00 (hot spring, admission until 20:00)
Closed: 4th Monday of every month (or the next day if Monday is a holiday)
Admission: 320 yen (separate 540 yen admission for the hot spring)
Part of the Tono City Waterworks, Takamuro Suikoen Park is a small folk village built around a large pond. It includes a traditional farmhouse, warehouses and other buildings displaying various tools and farm implements. Visitors can try hands-on activities such as fishing and cooking. Next door is a separate public hot spring facility.

Museums

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.

Tono Municipal Museum

Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Closed: Mondays (Nov to Mar except holidays), last day of the month (except April), New Year holidays, Nov 24-30 and Jan 28-31 (see official calendar)
Admission: 300 yen
English: None
This excellent museum teaches about Tono City and its rich folk culture, with exhibitions about local folklore and the work of Yanagita Kunio. The museum goes into depth about the various folktales and legendary creatures of the region and includes a video explaining the much loved kappa. The museum is also devoted to other aspects of Tono culture and its history.

Tono Monogatarikan Museum

Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Closed: No closing days (except a few days in February for maintenance)
Admission: 500 yen (also includes entry to the Jokamachi Museum)
English: None
Built in a converted sake brewery just a few steps from the municipal museum at the center of town, the Tono Monogatarikan Museum uses movies, sculptures, illustrations, live readings and displays featuring moving lights and shadows to bring the local folklore from Yanagita Kunio's "The Legends of Tono" to life. The museum also includes Yangita's original house, which he had moved from Tokyo to Tono.

Tono Jokamachi Museum

Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Closed: December 29 to January 3
Admission: 500 yen (also includes entry to the Monogatarikan Museum)
English: None
During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Tono was a castle town of the local Nambu Clan, and its location at the crossroads between the mountains and the sea saw it prosper as a center of trade. This tiny, one-room museum a few steps away from the Monogatarikan in the middle of modern Tono City introduces this history with displays of weapons, armor, tools and other artifacts from the period.

Folklore and Religious Sites

Kappabuchi Pond

Hours: Always open
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free
The Kappabuchi Pond is a small pool which lies along a stream passing behind Jokanji Temple. It is believed that Kappa water spirits make their home in the tranquil waters, and you might come across local folklorist there fishing for them using cucumbers as bait. Next to the pond is a small shrine dedicated to kappa, where women pray for an abundance of breast milk for their children.

Fukusenji Temple

Hours: 8:00 to 17:00
Closed: January to March
Admission: 300 yen
Fukusenji Temple is a large temple complex in northeastern Tono. Fukusenji belongs to the Shingon Sect of Japanese Buddhism, and consists of several large halls and a five story pagoda spread out along a forested mountain slope. However, its main feature is its 17 meter high wooden statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy.

Gohyaku Rakan

Hours: Always open
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free
The Gohyaku Rakan are a series of moss covered relief carvings depicting Buddhist disciples (rakan). They were created over 200 years ago as a means of pacifying the spirits of the thousands of villagers who died in widespread famines that hit the area. About 380 of the original 500 images survive and can be seen carved into the stones along a stream bed in the mountains southwest of the town center.

Tsuzukiishi Stone

Hours: Always open
Closed: No closing days
Admission: Free
The Tsuzukiishi Stone is a massive boulder set atop two smaller stones forming a pedestal. The stone is said to have been set up 1000 years ago by the warrior monk Benkei, who is known for his legendary strength. The stone can be reached in a 10-15 minute uphill hike through the forest from a small parking lot along the road.

Access

How to get to Tono

Tono lies along the JR Kamaishi Line between Hanamaki and Kamaishi. From Shin-Hanamaki Station (3 hours, about 13,000 yen by JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo), take the train to Tono (45-60 minutes, 760 yen one way, departures every 1-2 hours). The trip is covered by the Japan Rail Pass, JR East Tohoku Area Pass and JR East South Hokkaido Pass.

How to get around Tono

Tono Station and the museums are located around the walkable town center, but the rest of the attractions are quite spread out around the town's outskirts. The Chiba Residence, for example, stands about eight kilometers west of Tono Station, while the Furusato Village is located a similar distance north of the town center.

A network of buses connects the town center with most of the attractions; however, connections tend to be rather infrequent and inconvenient. Targeted at Japanese travelers, half-day and full-day guided sightseeing bus tours are operated on weekends from late April to early November.

Rental bicycles can be a pleasant option for exploring Tono although the terrain around the town is quite hilly. Bicycles are available at multiple rental outlets in front of the station. Prices start from around 500 yen for two hours. Rental bicycles may not be available from December to March at some outlets.

Alternatively, it is easy to explore Tono by rental car. Rental outlets can be found around Kitakami Station (3 hours, about 13,000 yen by JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo). It takes under an hour to drive between Kitakami and Tono, using the toll-free Kamaishi Expressway.

Hours & Fees

A combination ticket (Shinai Kanko Kyotsuken) is available for 1170 yen and covers entry to your choice of five out of the following eight sites:

  • Chiba Residence
  • Denshoen
  • Tono Furusato Village
  • Takamuro Suikoen Park (not including bath house)
  • Tono Municipal Museum
  • Tono Monogatarikan and Jokamachi museums (counted as a single entry)
  • Fukusenji Temple
  • Tono Doll Museum
The ticket can be purchased at any of the sites covered by the pass.

Page last updated: July 23, 2016