We did not go to Fukushima Prefecture, where the nuclear disaster took place, and we only saw vague signs that the tsunami had been through, such as: a dark water line at the ferry terminal by Matsushima Bay, cars piled up at a junk yard that we passed while on our tour bus traveling outside of Sendai, cracks in the walls of an old sake brewery, tarp around a Buddhist temple under repair. We did not see devastated homes or downed power lines. We even went apple picking on the grounds of the “Appleland Hotel” in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture and did not see fallen trees. Besides apple-picking, below are some activities we enjoyed that would be a delight for families.
Fishing For Kappa
In the city of Tono, Iwate Prefecture (www.japan-iwate.info), at a stream that runs just behind Jokenji temple, we spied excited children fishing for “Kappa.” Kneeling at the stream, they grasp a long wooden rod that dangles with bait, the creature’s favorite delicacy, a cucumber! The Tono tourism association actually grants an official “kappa catching license”! The jovial, Mr. Unman Haruo, is a “licensed fisherman” and a folklore historian, who can explain the evolution of this mythical creature, from web-footed water monster to cute child-sized god protecting mothers and children, to a turtle-like cartoon character with a water-filled “cap” on his head.
From the river we traveled to a farm at the base of Mt. Iwate. Here, we met with chattery Planning Manager, Mr. Gerry Hatayama, who exuberantly toured us around the 3,000-hectare Koiwai Ranch (www.travel-around-japan.com/k22-02-koiwai-farm.html). Founded in 1891, it is today the largest private farm in Japan producing eggs, milk and dairy products. Children can interact with farm animals - even milk cows, ride a horse tramway, watch a sheep round-up, and check-out the factory workers making fresh ice-cream. Samples, including black sesame and salted milk cream are available, of course.
Checking out a Children’s Museum
Another day, like children, we found ourselves riding a tramway past famous bronze sculptures at Akita Furusato Village (www.akitafurusatomura.co.jp) in Yokote City, Akita Prefecture. The complex showcases a planetarium, the Akita Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, and most proudly, an interactive children’s museum famous for its “trick art.” Included are famous works with unusual perspectives, as well as mirrors, misshapen floors and ceilings, etc. called “Wonderland”, where brave souls - the younger the better - can slide down an enormous indoor, three-story slide.
I have been to living history museums from Bethpage, New York to Williamsburg, Virginia, but here in Semboku, Akita prefecture, we toured a real, authentic samurai house with an actual samurai descendent and current house resident. My son would have been thrilled to meet Mr. Noanobu Ishiguro, a “real samurai” in his early 30’s, who toured us in English, through his historical home. This was well worth the little extra admission at the door - collected by his elderly father, as it goes toward their time and efforts to preserve their home and keep it open to the public.
Our trip to the Tohoku Region of Japan was arranged by JTB Tohoku: www.jtb.co.jp/jtbtohoku
Additional information in the US can be had via the Japan National Tourism Organization: 212-757-5640 or 213-623-1952, www.japantravelinfo.com