Tono in Iwate prefecture
Japan,  Travel,  Travel Chronicles: Summer 2023

Getting to Tōno in Iwate Prefecture

This is day 7 of my Travel Chronicles: Summer 2023 series, working in Tokyo as a teen travel counselor during my first month (out of 3 months) in Asia. Check out the previous day’s blog post Pompompurin Cafe in Tokyo Review! Today, we left Tokyo and headed to Tōno in Iwate Prefecture.

These past few days I had been passing on breakfast and opting in for extra sleep due to the long and tiring days we been having. Today, we had an early lobby meet-up time and a long commute to Tōno in Iwate Prefecture, so I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t be hungry during the trip and woke up the earliest I had woken up in a while and headed to breakfast by 7am! (which is not even that early haha) Hotel Sunroute’s breakfast voucher allows for many different types of breakfast, and so I headed to get a traditional Japanese breakfast. I usually prefer salmon, but the mackerel was surprisingly good, and the small dishes it came with were a great addition to the meal.

Hotel Sunroute's breakfast mackerel
Hotel Sunroute’s breakfast mackerel

After eating the filling breakfast, we got our belongings and said our goodbyes to the hotel as we got ready to leave the busy city of Tokyo. We headed to Tokyo Station, one of the largest train stations in Japan with many trains and shinkansens (bullet trains) making a stop here. We hopped onto the Tohoku Shinkansen that heads north passing through cities like Fukushima and Sendai. Did you know that Shinkansens can go up to 320 km an hour mph, and that it is so punctual that the average delay time is less then a minute? Seeing the scenery change from the busy city of Tokyo to the greener quiet Japanese countryside was a relaxing one. Everyone also seemed to be drained from the previous days and were all taking well deserved naps. 

Japanese countryside view from the Tohoku shinkansen

This is my first time in ITōno in Iwate Prefecture and I was really excited to see what these next few days were going to bring us. 3 hours and 5 mins later, we arrived at Shin-Hanamaki for our transfer to the local Kamaishi Line Hamayuri train, which only comes every 2 hours or so. There was only one small platform with greenery surrounding us, and the air felt fresh and crisp. We were the only foreigners on the platforms and we did have a few looks since everyone else was older Japanese people. 

Kamaishi Line Hamayuri train at Shin-Hanamaki
Kamaishi Line Hamayuri train at Shin-Hanamaki

We finally arrived at Tono, after being on the Kamaishi Line Hamayuri train for about 50 minutes at around 1pm. The whole journey took around 4 hours and 15 minutes from Tokyo. As we got out of the train station, we were greeted by a pond filled with mythical creatures, kappas from Japanese folklore in front of the station.

Kappas are usually described as having a humanoid appearance with greenish-blue skin, webbed hands and feet, a dish-like depression on their heads that holds water (which is the source of their power), and a beak-like mouth. Kappas are a popular subject in Japanese folklore, literature, and popular culture, and have appeared in various forms in literature, movies, anime, and video games, often as quirky and comical characters.

Kappas are well-known in Japan’s Tono region of Iwate Prefecture due to the area’s rich folklore and cultural traditions. Tono is often called the “Kappa Kingdom” (Kappa no Kuni) because it is strongly associated with kappa legends and stories. Tono embraces its association with kappas and has erected kappa statues and monuments throughout the town. Tono also hosts various kappa-related festivals and events throughout the year.

Kappas at a pond at Tōno in Iwate Prefecture
Kappas at a pond in front of Tōno station

Tono is in the northeastern reaches of Japan’s Honshu Island and is a hidden gem perfect for those searching for authentic cultural experiences and natural scenery. Tono’s charisma lies in its pristine landscapes, where lush forests, rolling hills, and crystal-clear rivers form a backdrop of pure serenity. Visitors can step back in time as they explore traditional thatched-roof farmhouses that bring the spirit of rural Japan.

A store in Tōno in Iwate Prefecture
A local store

The area around Tono station was very small and quiet with not that many restaurant options. We ate at this very cozy and local restaurant, CocoKana. The interior felt so cozy, as if it was someone’s home with many bookselves and posters all over the walls. The restaurant already had our dishes prepared, a Tono speciality dumpling soup, Hittsumi a traditional Tono dish made from hand-rolled, flat wheat noodles served in a savory soy-based broth, fried potatoes, karaage, rice, eggs, cucumber and a cute dessert plate that had an adorable kappa on it.

Tono specialty meal at Tono in Iwate Prefecture
Tono specialty meal at Tono in Iwate Prefecture

We then found out that this restaurant served ice cream and we all shot up to get a cone. One of my all-time favorite ice cream flavors is green tea and I was in luck since they had it!

Green tea ice cream in Japan
You can never go wrong with green tea ice cream

We then checked into our Tono accommodation at Suikoen Ryokan, about a 20 minute drive from the Tōno train station, and away from civilization. A ryokan is a kind of old-fashioned Japanese hotel, instead of beds, you sleep on tatamis with futons. It was such a nice and beautiful place with huge rooms, a big backyard, hot springs and saunas. The tatamis in the rooms even had kappas on them! After checking in, I took a long walk in their beautiful garden and became one with nature. A pond, pavilion, a water-powered mill with many different paths to walk, and an area in the back where the rest of Tōno and the mountains can be seen. It felt as if time had stopped and it was really breathtaking.

Suikoen Ryokan in Tono, Iwate backyard garden
Suikoen Ryokan’s backyard garden
Suikoen Ryokan in Tono, Iwate backyard garden Tōno in Iwate Prefecture
View at the back of the garden

Dinner was provided at the hotel and was a very traditional Japanese dinner with the main dish being a fish on a stick. Even for me, the visual of this fish with its skin on was quite intimidating, and everyone else thought the same as well. Other than that, there were so many different side dishes that made for an amazing meal.

Traditional Japanese dinner
Traditional Japanese dinner

As the sun was saying farewell to us for the day, it gave us the most beautiful sunset that I had ever seen. The sky turned red and the clouds reflected the light perfectly giving the whole sky a pink tint. After admiring the views, we ended the night with a fireworks party with everyone. Japan allows the use of small hand fireworks in big open public spaces, and is a common summertime pass time. Whenever Im in Japan during the summer, I always try to find a way to set aside some time to do some fireworks.

Sunset in Tono, Iwate prefecture Tōno in Iwate Prefecture
Sunset in Tono, Iwate prefecture

Follow my Travel Chronicles: Summer 2023 stories as I post my daily documentation of my 53 days on the road! I hope that this can inspire others who want to do something similar!

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