Tōno, Iwate

Tōno (遠野市, Tōno-shi) is a city in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. As of 1 January 2020, the city had an estimated population of 26,378, and a population density of 31.6 persons per km2 in 10,759 households.[1] The total area of the city is 825.97 square kilometres (318.91 sq mi).[2] Tōno is known as "The City of Folklore" for its rural nature, its preservation of traditional culture and especially for the collection of folktales, Tōno Monogatari, written by Kunio Yanagita in 1910.


Tōno City
Tōno City
Flag of Tōno
Official seal of Tōno
Location of Tōno in Iwate Prefecture
Location of Tōno
Tōno is located in Japan
Coordinates: 39°19′40.4″N 141°32′0.1″E / 39.327889°N 141.533361°E / 39.327889; 141.533361Coordinates: 39°19′40.4″N 141°32′0.1″E / 39.327889°N 141.533361°E / 39.327889; 141.533361
 • MayorToshiaki Honda
 • Total825.97 km2 (318.91 sq mi)
 (January 1, 2020)
 • Total26,110
 • Density32/km2 (82/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+9 (Japan Standard Time)
- TreeSpreading Yew
- FlowerYamayuri
- BirdCopper pheasant
Phone number0198-62-2111
Address8-12 Higashidate-chō, Tōno-shi 028-0592
WebsiteOfficial website
Tōno City Hall
Thatched roof in Tono Furusato Village, a sightseeing spot in Tōno


Tōno is located in central Iwate Prefecture, in the floodplain of the Sarugaishi River, surrounded by a ring of mountains. Mount Hayachine sits at the northernmost point of the city where Hanamaki, Kawai and Tōno meet. At 1,914 meters it is also the city's highest point. Mt. Rokkoushi, (1,294 meters) dominates the landscape to the east and Mt. Ishigami (1,038 meters) is the highest mountain in the west. Together these peaks form Tōno's "big three" mountains. The highest points in southern Tōno are Mt. Sadato (884 meters) on the border of Sumida and Mt. Tane (871 meters) on the borders of Sumita and Ōshū.

Accordingly, to legend, in the past the hills in Miyamori blocked the Sarugaishi River creating a large lake in the Tōno area. Miyamori itself is characterized by a series of valleys to the west of Mt. Ishigami that flow west into the Sarugaishi River just below the Tase Dam.

Neighboring municipalitiesEdit


Tōno has a humid climate (Köppen Cfa) characterized by mild summers and cold winters. The average annual temperature in Tōno is 9.6 °C. The average annual rainfall is 1388 mm with September as the wettest month and February as the driest month. The temperatures are highest on average in August, at around 22.6 °C, and lowest in January, at around -2.2 °C.[3]

Climate data for Tōno
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 1.5
Average low °C (°F) −7.3
Average precipitation mm (inches) 46.8
Average snowfall cm (inches) 105
Mean monthly sunshine hours 94.8 108.6 134.6 164.5 172.5 142.0 129.3 140.2 108.4 124.5 107.8 88.5 1,515.7
Source: Japan Meteorological Agency


Per Japanese census data,[4] the population of Tōno peaked in around the year 1960 and has declined steadily over the past 60 years. It is now less than it was a century ago. Per official data from Tōno city hall, 37.6% of the population is over the age of 65.[1]

Historical population
1920 31,621—    
1930 34,169+8.1%
1940 35,517+3.9%
1950 45,068+26.9%
1960 46,281+2.7%
1970 40,768−11.9%
1980 37,382−8.3%
1990 34,926−6.6%
2000 33,108−5.2%
2010 29,338−11.4%


Tono Furusato-mura in Tōno

The area of present-day Tōno was part of ancient Mutsu Province, and has been settled since at least the Jōmon period. Pottery fragments can still be found in farmers' fields and other places. Later the area was inhabited by the Emishi and many place names are based on the Ainu language. In the Early Nine-Years War lasting from 1051 to 1063, Minamoto no Yoshiie fought running battles with Abe no Sadato throughout the area. There are references to this in "Tōno Monogatari" and arrowheads still turn up from time to time.Later the Hiraizumi Fujiwara controlled Tōno which was a prized area for horse breeding, farming and hunting.

During the Sengoku period, the area was dominated by various samurai clans before coming under the control of the Nambu clan during the Edo period, who ruled Morioka Domain under the Tokugawa shogunate. The Nambu built Nabekura Castle in what is now known as Nabekura Park in downtown Tōno as a defence against the powerful Date clan of Sendai Domain to then south, and assigned to Nanbu Naoyoshi, formerly castellan of Ne Castle near Hachinohe in 1627. This formed an unofficial subsidiary 12,500 koku domain of Morioka Domain, which lasted until the Meiji restoration.

With the Meiji period establishment of the modern municipalities system, the town of Tōno was established on April 1, 1889 within Nishihei District of Iwate Prefecture. In 1896, Nishihei and Minamihei districts were merged to form Kamihei District. During the Meiji period, Tōno developed a silk and cotton weaving industry dependent on Morioka. The silk industry was destroyed by intensely cold weather during the winter of 1905–06. The residents of Tōno were reduced to eating wild roots by the famine of this period and many died or moved away.[5]

The city of Tōno was officially founded on December 1, 1954 by the merger of the former town of Tōno with the seven villages of Ayaori, Otomo, Tsukimoushi, Matsuzaki, Tsuchibuchi, Aozasa and Kamigo.[5]

On October 1, 2005, the village of Miyamori (from Kamihei District) was merged into Tōno to bring the city to its present boundaries.[6]


Tōno has a mayor-council form of government with a directly elected mayor and a unicameral city legislature of eighteen members.[7] Tōno contributes one seat to the Iwate Prefectural legislature. In terms of national politics, the city is part of Iwate 3rd district of the lower house of the Diet of Japan.


There are two senior high schools in Tōno, under the purview of Iwate's Prefectural Board of Education. Iwate Prefectural Tōno Senior High School offers an academic curriculum, while Iwate Prefectural Tōno Ryokuhō Senior High School is vocational.[8]

The Tōno city board of education operates three junior high schools: Tōno, Tōno-Higashi, and Tōno-Nishi, and 11 elementary schools: Aozasa, Ayaori, Kamigō, Masuzawa, Miyamori, Otomo, Tassobe, Tōno, Tōno North, Tsuchibuchi, and Tsukimoushi.[9]



  East Japan Railway Company (JR East) - Kamaishi Line


Mt. Hayachine as seen from Mt. Takashimizu in November 2009

Local attractionsEdit


The city has a number of sightseeing spots, such as Kappabuchi, a pool where the mythical creatures called kappa are said to live. Tōno Furusato Village preserves several magariya, or L-shaped houses, from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Chiba Family House is another large magariya that is preserved in Tōno as a museum.

Tōno's food includes Genghis Khan or barbecued lamb and hittsumi or wheat dumplings as well as horse meat. The Miyamori part of Tōno is known for its wasabi production and a local brewery makes a wasabi beer.

Festivals include the Tōno Folktales Festival in early February, in which local storytellers recite stories from the Tōno Monogatari. The Tōno Tanabata Festival is held in early August and features a parade of dancers through the city center. In mid-September is the Tōno Festival which also features a parade and yabusame or horseback archery.


  • Tōno Furusato Village - is collection of magariya type houses from the 18th and 19th centuries that have been relocated to this site. There are seasonal events and entertainments provided during peak vacation times. There is also a restaurant, gift shop, library and museum of natural history.
  • Chiba Family Nanbu Magariya - is a large 200-year-old farmhouse which is still occupied but open for tourists as well.
  • Denshoen - is a group of buildings including the Kikuchi Family Magariya and the Sasaki Kizen Memorial Museum. The Oshirado Hall enshrines 1,000 Oshira-sama deities.
  • Tōno Castle Town Materials Museum - is dedicated to preserving artifacts from the Nanbu clan when Tōno was a prosperous castle town. There are kimono, netsuke, swords and so forth on display.
  • Fukusen-ji Temple - is a Shingon Buddhist temple housing the largest wooden Kannon statue in Japan. The grounds of the temple are quite extensive and have many buildings including a five-story pagoda.
  • Tōno Kura no Michi Gallery - is a collection of old "kura" or storehouses that have been made into an art gallery, gift shop and toy museum.
  • Kappabuchi - is a pool behind Joken-ji Temple which is said to be the home of many "kappa" or mythical water sprites.
  • Denderano - is a hut far from any houses where the elderly were brought to die in ages past, for they were seen by their children as no longer productive. The landscape where the huts were is called Dendera Field.[10]
  • 500 Buddhist Disciples - are a group of carvings on granite rocks done by a priest of Daiji-ji Temple to commemorate the victims of a famine.
  • Arakawa-kōgen Farm - an Important Cultural Landscape[11]


  • Tōno Folktales Festival - in early February - in which storytellers recite tales from Tōno Monogatari.
  • Tōno Machiya Doll Festival - from late February through early March - in which traditional dolls are displayed in shops and museums throughout the city.
  • Tōno Cherry Blossom Festival - in early May - in which the cherries bloom and everyone parties under the blossoms.
  • Tōno Horsepower Tournament - on the 4th Sunday in June - in which draft animals compete in pulling heavy loads.
  • Manuke-bushi Festival - in early August - is a humorous dance held on the streets of Tōno.
  • Tōno Tanabata Festival - in early August - is a dance and parade that starts in front of the station and goes through the city.
  • Tōno Fireworks Festival - on August 15 - is fireworks.
  • Tōno Festival - in mid-September - is another dance and parade through the city streets celebrating the harvest.
  • Tōno Dobekko Festival - every weekend from late November to early March - is a chance to drink moonshine legally.


A kappa sculpture in front of JR Tōno Station

Tōno is known throughout Japan as the cradle of Tōno Monogatari (Tales of Tōno)[citation needed], written in 1910 by Kunio Yanagita, who gathered folk tales of the area. This book is now considered one of the greatest studies of Japanese folklore[citation needed], and inspired the 1982 movie of the same name.

Several of these tales involve the Kappa, mischievous water sprites. A legendary location in Tōno is the Kappa-buchi, a water stream where kappas are said to live.

The mascot of the city, Karin-chan, is a cute kappa holding a bellflower. She is usually depicted walking in front of a magariya.

National Historic SitesEdit

International relationsEdit

Tōno is also twinned with three Japanese cities:

From 1990 to 2010, the high schools of Tōno and the Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences (CSAS) in Chattanooga, Tennessee were paired by School Partners Abroad to establish an exchange program. Near the end of every Japanese school year (in March), a delegation of Tōno high-school students visited Chattanooga, and reciprocally, a delegation from CSAS visited Tōno every summer. The city of Tōno embraced this exchange and organized a delegation of junior high school students to visit CSAS and the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA) a few weeks before the high school students. After many delegations between the two cities, Chattanooga and Tono became sister cities on September 15, 2017.

Notable people from TōnoEdit


  1. ^ a b Tōno City official statistics
  2. ^ 詳細データ 岩手県遠野市. 市町村の姿 グラフと統計でみる農林水産業 (in Japanese). Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. 2016. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  3. ^ Tōno climate data
  4. ^ Tōno population statistics
  5. ^ a b Suzuki, Kyusuke (1993). 遠野市の歴史. (岩手県市町村地域史シリーズ (10)) (in Japanese). 熊谷印刷出版部. ISBN 4877201491.
  6. ^ Iwate Prefecture official site: List of Mergers of Cities, Towns and Villages (in Japanese)
  7. ^ Tono city official home page: Listing of city council members(in Japanese)
  8. ^ Iwate Prefectural Board of Education listing of high schools(in Japanese)
  9. ^ Tono city official home page: List of elementary and junior high schools (in Japanese)
  10. ^ "The Films of Abraham Ravett: Horse/Kappa/House". Hampshire College. 2009. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  11. ^ "Database of Registered National Cultural Properties". Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  12. ^ "International Exchange". List of Affiliation Partners within Prefectures. Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR). Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  13. ^ https://chattanoogasistercities.org/tono-japan
  14. ^ Tono Culture Research Centre(in Japanese)
  15. ^ "List of Members". House of Councillors. Archived from the original on 25 January 2013. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  16. ^ Wakan, Naomi, Interview with Lensey Namioka, papertigers.org, archived from the original on 2014-11-23, retrieved 2015-01-24.
  17. ^ Kizen Sasaki birthplace memorial museum(in Japanese)

External linksEdit