5 Reasons To Visit Tono In Iwate Prefecture, Japan's "Old-Charm City" | CoolJapan

Located in the middle of Iwate Prefecture and surrounded by mountains, the landlocked city of Tono is home to just over 26,000 people. But despite its relatively small size, Tono has more than its fair share of attractions, including folk villages from the 19th century and museums depicting the local folklore.

In fact, one of the first published collections of Japanese folk tales was titled “Legends of Tono”. The tome, compiled by Japanese scholar Kunio Yanagita, was packed with stories of local spirits, animals and supernatural creatures from this mystical town. 

Tono is home to many traditional performing arts, including the Deer Dance, depicted in the photo.

Tono is home to many traditional performing arts, including the Deer Dance which is said to be the dance of the souls of deers. Photo credit: Iwate Tourism Association

We’ve put together a list of five things to do in Tono once it is safe to travel again. Just a tip: for an extra memorable trip, you can get to Tono on the SL Ginga, an old steam locomotive that runs between Hanamaki and Kamaishi.

A photo of a steam train In Tono Japan

The steam train journey between Hanamaki and Kamaishi was made popular by Hanamaki-born novelist Kenji Miyazawa and his fantasy novel Night on the Galactic Railroad. Photo credit: Iwate Tourism Association

Try to spot a kappa at the Kappabuchi

Kappas are mythical amphibious creatures with webbed feet and a turtle-like carapace on their backs. They are often found in ponds and rivers and are known for being mischievous — and sometimes even malicious. Some believe that the legend of the kappa was invented to warn children of the dangers of swimming unsupervised as kappa have been said to drag people underwater.


Kappabuchi is a scenic pond located just behind the Jokenji Temple.

These days, however, kappa have become more of a tourist attraction than a cautionary tale for young children. Kappabuchi, a scenic pond located just behind the Jokenji Temple, is a popular spot where tourists try to catch a glimpse of the elusive green creatures.

Go back in time at the Tono Furusato Village

Tono Furusato Village

Tono Furusato Village offers you a glimpse of daily life back in the Edo era.

Tono is one of the few places in Japan where the traditional ways of living, religion and culture are still part of everyday life. The city is also famous for keeping its history alive through cultural spots such as the Tono Furusato Village, a full-scale re-creation of a traditional rural village. In this open-air museum, you’ll find L-shaped Nanbu “Magariya” farmhouses that date back to the Edo era as well as water wheels and vegetable fields.

Discover local folklore at the Tono City Museum

Tono City Museum Interior

The interactive exhibits at Tono City Museum enable visitors to learn more about local folklore.

First opened in 1980, this museum is an excellent resource to find out more about the folktales that Tono is famous for. Kunio Yanagita’s Legends of Tono is featured prominently here, with the museum using a mix of animated films, interactive exhibits and performance art to bring these local stories to life.

Feast on jingisukan (barbecued lamb) at Genghis Khan Anbe


Barbecued lamb is a must-try local speciality in Tono.

After a day of exploring the city, settle down for a stomach-and-soul-nourishing meal of jingisukan. This restaurant, which has been serving the popular barbecued lamb dish since the 1950s, is conveniently located a short 10-minute walk from the Tono station. Here, they serve thick, juicy Australian lamb cuts with a special dipping sauce.

Guzzle local craft beer at Tono Brewing Taproom

Although Japan imports the majority of its hops for its domestic beer production from other countries such as Germany, a small percentage of hops is still sourced from within the country. And of that small section, Tono accounts for about 20 per cent of the country’s production. This is why you’ll find plenty of interesting craft beer brewers packed within this small area, with Tono Brewing Taproom probably being the most notable. Some must-try beers include Five Wits, a refreshing IPA inspired by the works of Shakespeare, as well as the whiskey coffee stout which is made with coffee beans soaked in whiskey from Tono’s sister city of Chattanooga, Tennessee.