Tono City in Iwate prefecture, Japan is not on the itinerary of most foreign tourists as it is a bit out of the way. But if you love horses or folk stories, the small city is a must-see. If you happen to be around the area during the cherry blossom season, then you can’t miss Kitakami Tenshochi Park. This is easily one of the best hanami spots in the country!
Tono is a garden city laid in a basin that is surrounded by the Kitakami Range in the central part of Iwate. The three notable mountains of the Kitakami Range are Mt. Hayachine-san, Mt. Rokkoushi-san, and Mt. Ishigami-san. Together they are called Tono’s Three Mountains. The center of Tono is situated near the upper reaches of the Sarugaishi-gawa river. This is a tributary of the Kitakami-gawa river, at the western end of the Tono Basin.
Tono has been associated with the breeding of horses for hundreds of years and has bloomed as a trading point between the central regions and the coast. Tono is also the land of old folk stories. There are a number of folk tales in Tono that have been told from generation to generation.
The most loved tale of the locals is that of the Kappa, an imaginary, peculiar-looking creature with a mischievous character that lives in water and has a dish on its head. You will see statues of Kappa all over the town including the one in front of Tono Station and another in the pond of the square near the railway station. Tono’s old folk tales, including Kappa stories and old customs, are introduced at Tono Mukashi-banashi Mura (Old Tales Village) and the Tono City Museum.
Kitakami Tenshochi Park
By far one of the best places in the whole of Japan to see the cherry blossoms in spring is the Kitakami Tenschochi Park. The park is a 45-minute drive from Tono city, and therefore a great place to visit if you happen to be in Tono around mid-April. Tenshochi, a municipal park in Kitakami, is located by the Kitakami River and renowned as one of the Three Best Cherry-Viewing Spots in Michinoku, along with Hirosaki in Aomori and Kakunodate in Akita.
In 1990, it was also selected as one of the 100 Best Cherry-Viewing Spots by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association. There are about 10,000 cherry trees and 100,000 azaleas in the 29,300-m² park. Starting at the Sangobashi Bridge, there is a promenade along the river lined with someiyoshino cherry trees that are over 80 years old.
The Yamazakura and kasumizakura cherry trees on the surrounding hills come into bloom a little after the someiyoshino. The Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival is held annually from April to May. In addition to cherry blossoms, you can enjoy an excursion boat ride or a carriage ride. And the view of colorful koinobori, or carp streamers, fluttering in the wind over the Kitakami River is quinessentially Japanese. At night, the promenade of cherry trees is lit up.
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