TONO, Iwate — Koichi Saijo reports: Partway up a hill in Tono, Iwate Prefecture, is the majestic, amazing sight of a massive rock sitting atop smaller rocks that act as a pedestal.
“There’s a legend that the warrior monk Musashibo Benkei put this big rock on the pedestal,” said Takashi Kikuchi, 78, a sightseeing guide in Tono.
Kikuchi said this as we climbed up the mountain wearing bear bells. The boulder is 7.3 meters wide, 4.6 meters tall and 2.1 meters thick. When I looked up, it seemed so heavy I felt like I’d be squashed. It was quite strange to see this huge boulder delicately balanced on smaller rocks.
Locally called “Tsuzukiishi,” meaning connecting rocks, the boulder appears in books such as “Tono Monogatari” (The Legends of Tono) written by Kunio Yanagita, the father of Japan’s native folklore studies. In the region, there are legends about a tragic warlord named Minamoto no Yoshitsune who lived around the end of the Heian period (from 794 to the late 12th century). Many locals believed the rocks were set up by Benkei, Yoshitsune’s faithful retainer.
The upper and lower rocks are both granite. “A long time ago, after a huge rock slid down a slope and stopped on the pedestal rocks by accident, the surrounding earth and sand eroded and disappeared, which created this present form. Well, that story isn’t interesting for a village of folktales,” Kikuchi, a retired high school science teacher said wryly.
After climbing down the mountain, I drove by myself to a famous tourist spot, Kappabuchi Pool, a stream connected to legends of the mythical water-dwelling creatures known as kappa.
When a family group left the stream, I was the only one at the water’s edge in the dusk. A kappa’s face is generally described as being blue, but here in Tono it’s been said that a kappa with a red face played tricks on horses and people.
Tono was often hit by poor harvests during the Edo period (1603-1867). Villagers who suffered from famine are said to have let babies, who are often described as having a red face in Japanese, float down the river when they could not take care of them.
I remembered that Kikuchi told me such stories, and thought that people may have turned a cruel history stemming from poverty into a folktale as a means of relief. I looked into the dark surface of the water with a mixture of emotions.
Center for hops
Located in a basin, Tono is known as a major production center for hops, a raw ingredient in beer. I heard the area experiences drastic changes in temperature between daytime and nighttime in summer, which results in hops with a strong aroma and bitterness.
When I visited the Beer Experience Co. farm, an agricultural corporation established last year, I saw hop plants growing to a height of five meters.
I once drank a beer made by the Kamihei-shuzo brewery that uses hops from Tono. Using technology cultivated in sake brewing, the firm produces beer with moderate bitterness and an impressive clear aftertaste.
Tokyo-based Kirin Brewery Co. buys hops from Tono, so Kirin employee Ryuhei Asai, 38, concurrently serves as a vice president of Beer Experience, and now lives in Tono.
A decline in the number of hop farmers is also a major challenge for local communities. “There were 239 hop-producing farms in 1974, but the number is now down to 31,” Asai said. The decline is attributed to increasingly aged farmers.
Before Beer Experience was established, Asai and his colleagues worked on measures for the next generation of employees, calling out to young people in the Tokyo metropolitan area to take up hop farming … (read more)
Source: The Japan News