During the o-bon (Bon Festival that honors the spirits of one’s ancestor) season in August, Japanese people believed that their ancestors’ spirits visit them, meaning that there are many spirits hang out in this world of living. After the season is over, spirits go back to their world of the dead, according to the custom. However, there are places where spirits are present all year around. This month, we set our sights on Tono City and Hanamaki City in Iwate Prefecture that are believed to be the home of folklore and fantasies in Japan.
Located in the mid-western part of the prefecture, Tono City is considered to be a cradle for folktales. It is nestled deep within beautiful scenery, which many believe to be the hiding spots of the ancient spirits and monsters to this day. There are many folktales in which those strange and lovable creatures appear—those creatures are known to play harmless pranks and can sometimes be seen by guests who visit the house.
Make sure to visit the Kappa-Buchi Pool, believed to be the home of the mischievous kappa, one of the most famous supernatural creatures in Japan. Also recommended are Chiba no Magariya (a 200 years old farmhouse), Tono Furusato Village and Denshoen to explore the spirituality in the area. But just when you enter the idyllic countryside, it feels like you are about to have a spiritual experience where you encounter a fairy or monster.
Idyllic environment in Tono makes you feel that you have a spiritual connection to fairies and imaginary creatures hidden in the nature.
Hanamaki City, neighboring to Tono City, is notable for being the birthplace and home of Kenji Miyazawa, an author of children’s stories, fantasies and poems, including his globally recognizable works, Night on the Galactic Railroad and Ame ni mo Makezu. Kenji is not simply a writer, but also an agricultural scientist who envisioned IHATOV, a utopian world. The natural surroundings of Hanamaki City inspired him to create those works, which are known as one of the first fantasies in Japan—even before Hayao Miyazaki, living animation legend.
Immerse yourself in the Kenji universe at the Miyazawa Kenji Memorial Museum in Hanamaki.
The city itself is like a theme park embodying Kenji’s world, and even if you are not familiar not with Kenji’s works, you can enjoy its fantastic elements. They are best showcased in the Miyazawa Kenji Dowa Mura, where visitors can learn about and experience the world as Kenji portrayed it in his stories. Also, be sure to visit the Miyazawa Kenji Memorial Museum, which introduces all of Kenji’s accomplishments in literature, education, and agriculture. There are many shops and restaurants offering Kenji-related items, foods and souvenir. It would be wonderful to get comfortably lost in the spiritual world in Tono and Hanamaki.
Fantasies and Folklores Born in Hanamaki and Tono
Night on the Galactic Railroad (Milky Way Railroad, Night on the Milky Way Railway) by Kenji Miyazawa
This tale follows a boy named Giovanni and his friend, Campanella, while they travel by train on the Milky Way and meet unusual travelers who seemed to have crossed into the afterlife. After traveling for quite some time, Giovanni eventually finds himself lying on top of a hill only to find out that the train ride was just a dream.
Matasaburo of the Wind by Kenji Miyazawa
One windy day, a mysterious boy is transferred to an elementary school in a small village. Due to his attire and demeanor unusual to the village boys, the new student, Saburo Takeda, sticks out among his fellow classmates like a sore thumb. The children start to think that Saburo is “a wind sprite”. Chaos starts to stir in the village because of Saburo’s existence and behavior, but he leaves the village in the end, only leaving strange feelings in village boys’ mind.
The Restaurant of Many Orders by Kenji Miyazawa
Two arrogant hunters in Japan come across a restaurant deep inside the forest. Tired and hungry, they give into the restaurant’s tempting offer of food and relaxation, following the restaurant’s strange instructions to rub salt and cream on themselves. The hunters have become the ‘Hunted’, and they don’t realize this until they are almost cooked! Eventually, the two men return to Tokyo, with a permanent expression of fear on their faces.
Tono Monogatari by Kunio Yanagita
Tono Monogatari or Tale of Tono is a collection of folklores that originated from Tono City. The book includes stories with Kappa (water spirits told in children stories), kitsune (fox spirits that can shape shift), Zashiki Warashi (silly good luck spirits) and mountain men. These stories poetically depict unique parts of Tono’s culture.