Nestled in the mountains covering Iwate Prefecture from the Kitakami Basin over to the Pacific Coast, Tono is a former centre of trade and a land of folktales passed down through generations to this day. This is evident from the moment you exit the station and are greeted by the statues of the legendary “kappa”, the unofficial mascot of the city and the main character of the city’s most popular folktales. The city centre is charming, easily explorable, and the starting point to discover Tono’s history and culture.
A short walk away from the train station is the Tono City Museum, Japan’s first ethnic museum. The museum is the perfect place to get an introduction on Tono’s culture and more specifically on “Tono Monogatari” or the Legend of Tono, the main reason to visit the city. Through various exhibitions, the tales of this mysterious land are presented as a hint of what is to come while exploring beyond Tono’s urban side.
Although the folktales in Tono seem to be endless, they centre around three main stories. The most popular is that of the kappa, a mischievous cucumber-loving creature who are said to live in streams and rivers. A visit to the Kappa Buchi pond is one of the stops along the Legends of the Tono Road course, and should not be missed. Other creatures that are part of the town’s folktales are the “Oshirasama”, a pair of wooden dolls worshipped as the god of silk, and the “zashiki warashi”, a child-like creature known to bring good fortune to the local families.
Beyond the folktale symbols spread around town, the city’s history can be explored and re-lived through the Tono Furusato Village and the Denshoen Garden. The Furusato Village offers visitors a chance to witness what life was like in Tono during the time of the samurai through several thatched roof farmhouses and hands-on workshops. The Denshoen Garden is another recommended stop along the Legends of Tono Road course. The Denshoen is home to the former Kikuchi Residence and the Oshirado Hall where 1,000 Oshirasama deities are enshrined.
The best way to get the most out of a visit to Tono is on a bicycle, which can be rented soon after stepping off the train at the Tono Sightseeing Information Centre. Once on two wheels and with a map in hand, ride away and let your imagination wander through the endless fields and into the Legends of Tono. Do not leave without getting a taste of the succulent Genghis Khan, the city’s favourite lamb dish.