Our 7th day in Japan happened to be Halloween, and so for a real treat we not only had an 150 mile road trip to complete but left the hotel at 5am! The reason for staying in Miyako is that one of the most famous features of the Sanriku coast is here, Jodogahama beach. We were only a 10 minute drive away from Jodogahama so we could get there before sunrise to watch the show. Again nature tried to thwart our plans, recent typhoons had caused landslides which buried the road down to the beach car park. We ended up abandoning the car, rather naughtily, at Jodogahama Hotel and walking through the thick woods in the dark down to the beach. It was worth it.
Jodogahama is so famous because the sea around the rock formation is so calm that it is a popular spot for swimming in the summer months. However the 2011 tsunami caused extensive damage to the tourist structures of Jodogahama, which had just been rebuilt when we visited. The jagged rocks jut up into the ocean, pine tipped and eerie white in the early morning glow. We spent over an hour down there moving up and down the beach snapping photos and enjoying the sunrise. I really recommend waking up early to witness it!
After sunrise we popped back to our hotel to enjoy the complimentary breakfast before heading off on our 150 mile adventure back to Ichinoseki. Our next destination took us in the opposite direction, we headed north to Ryusendo cave, a limestone cave filled with bright blue water. The recent typhoon had also impacted the caves, usually the water is clear and blue, but the day we visited we were informed the waters had been made cloudy by the rain water. The caves are one of the most extensive limestone caves in Japan and a lot of them are still unexplored.
It was pretty cold and damp inside the caves, and difficult to get through at times. The cave ceiling was dripping almost everywhere, there were corrugated plastic sheets along a number of the walkways, but we got quite wet anyway. I wouldn’t recommend visiting if you have any mobility difficulties, there are a number of steep stair cases, and in some places you need to crouch to be able to fit! The cave was beautiful though, the water is all an eerie blue, and even though it was cloudy it was still stunning. The water is also incredibly deep, which makes it a little scary when standing above the water on a slippery platform!
Even though the caves were beautiful I thought that the land around the caves was more so. The water which floods through the cave and leave down a small tree lined valley. From the caves you can walk alongside the river down the gorge. There was some flooding which meant some areas weren’t accessibly but the colour of the water was stunning!
We next drove south to the folk lore village of Tono. One of the most famous books of folklore the “Legends of Tono” was written about the region by Yanagita Kunio alongside Sasaki Kizen. It was one of the first collections of folklore tales recorded in Japan! Before we explored the region it was time for lunch, and we were going for something I was particularly looking forward to: ジンギスカン (Genghis Khan!). I had seen a restaurant in Tono serving this meal on YouTube (Thanks to Sharla) and so we headed there. Genghis Khan is lamb yakiniku, the story goes that this is what the Japanese believe he would eat, and so the name was set. It is unusual to come across lamb in Japan, and it was a real treat!
One of Tono’s most popular folklore tales involve the Kappa. Kappa are yokai which live in water, they have a human form but with webbed feet and hands. On their heads they have a dish shape, surrounded by hair. Legend says that if the dish on their head dries out they will die! If you want to attract a kappa they love cucumbers. You can see a number of kappa bridges and statues around Tono.
We visited Denshoen in Tono city, a collection of historic Magariya houses. It is said you can experience ancient Japan with all of your senses here, as traditional food is served. One unexpected aspect of Denshoen was a shrine housed on the property. It was the absolute weirdest shrine I have ever seen!
The walls were lined with wooden women and horse heads, with very long necks, covered in squares of material with wishes written on them. The shrine is dedicated to two gods, one a women and one a horse. Their story is the weirdest part though. The woman lived with her father and their horse, the woman was with the horse “as a husband” (gross), when her father found out he hung the horse to death. When the woman found out she ran to the horses body and cried. Her father was so cross he chopped the horses head off! The woman was so upset that she flew up to heaven with the horses head, and they are now gods…
We couldn’t decide what to do next in Tono so my husband had a look on Google maps and we headed to Homonsan Fukusen Temple, a local Buddhist temple. There was an enormous car park, which was completely empty, so it must be popular at other times of the year/day. A long path lead to the temple, which was flanked by orange and red momiji trees (maple/acer). The grounds were vast and stunning, with a real Japanese feel to the plants and paths. It was really beautiful to walk around as the sun set.
It was time to head back to Ichinoseki to return the hire car before our time ran out! It was a long, dark, windy drive back as we didn’t use the toll road (an error perhaps) but we eventually got back to the city, returned the car, and headed out to get some dinner.