Located just three hours and 15 minutes from Tokyo Station via the JR Tohoku Shinkansen Line is the city of Tono. Known as The City of Folklore, Tono was made famous through a collection of folktales known as Tono Monogatari, penned by Kunio Yanagita in 1910.
There are a number of sightseeing spots worth visiting in Tono including the beautiful Fukusenji Temple and Tono Furusato Village where several L-shaped houses from the 18th and 19th century known as magariya have been preserved. But the place that draws most visitors is known as Kappabuchi, a pool where the mythical creatures called Kappa are said to reside. While the Kappas are found throughout Japan, Tono is widely considered as their hometown.
The Kappas are believed to be creatures who reside in rivers, lakes, ponds and other watery realms. It is said that they were created as warnings to keep children from drowning. Often portrayed with the body of a tortoise, an ape-like head, scaly limbs, webbed feet and hands, and about the size of a 6-10 year old child, the Kappas are said to attack horses, cattle and humans, dragging them into the water and draining their life force. The defining characteristic of the Kappas is the hollow cavity atop their heads. This saucer-like depression holds a strength-giving fluid. It is advised that if you chance upon a quarrelsome Kappa, remember to bow deeply. If the courteous Kappa bows in return, it will spill its strength-giving water, rendering it feeble and forcing it to return to its watery kingdom.
Throughout the town, you will see statues of Kappa including the one in front of Tono Station and another in the pond at the square near the railway station. Tono’s mascots are a modern mangaesque Kappa named Karin (a green male) and his wife, Kururin, who is pink.
In early February, the town holds the Tono Folktales Festival, during which time local storytellers recite tales from the Tono Monogatari, pretty much in the same manner these folk legends were passed down from generation to generation. In August, the Tono Tanabata Festival is held featuring a parade of dancers, and in mid-September there is the Tono Festival, which includes a parade and Yabusame Archers (archers on horseback.)
The town is also famous for genghis khan, a spicy grilled lamb dish and hittsumi (wheat dumplings). There is a local brewery that manufactures a wasabi beer as the Miyamori section of town is known for its wasabi production.
If you are curious about these mythical creatures and want to familiarize yourself with the famous folktales, a visit to Tono City is highly recommended. While there, be sure to sample some of the delicious dishes that are characteristic to the area and cap the day off with a nice cold glass of wasabi beer. When you return home, perhaps you can recite some of the tales from the Tono Monogatari to your family and friends.
Tono Tourism Association web page: http://www.tonojikan.jp/Several_languages/english/english.html