Hokkaido #3: Ezo Red Fox (キタキツネ)

Hokkaido’s third postcard features the “Ezo Red Fox” or the Kita Kitsune in Japanese. These beautiful red-colored foxes are found throughout Hokkaido and Russia’s Southern Kurile Islands. Not a lot is known about them in English, but people interested can view them in their native wild habitat throughout Hokkaido, in zoos like Sapporo Zoo, or in a “Fox Village” of which there are two in Japan (that I know of).

The more famous Zao Fox Village is actually in Miyagi Prefecture, and features a number of different kinds of foxes, but there’s also the Kitakitsune Village in Hokkaido.

Foxes are one of my favorite animals, ever since I saw one in my local city my first month or so after moving here. I was therefore so happy to see not one but two during my visit to Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido!

Looking for food

More food searching on the side of the road

I didn’t have the chance to visit the fox village, but a quick search on youtube shows a lot of super cute videos. My next visit to Hokkaido I’ll definitely try to see one again!

Miyagi #4: Kokeshi Dolls (こけし)

Kokeshi are wooden, painted dolls originally from the Zao onsen area of Miyagi Prefecture, but spread to several other onsen towns in the area, and on to the rest of Japan around the Edo Period. Their faces have changed and modernized through time, and now you can find many forms and styles of these dolls sold all over the country. However the original style of head and body is still produced in Miyagi today.

There are 5 onsen towns in Miyagi generally considered as the main producers, each with a slightly different shape and style: Togatta (probably the original), Naruko, Yajiro, Sakunami, and Hijori. This postcard appears most like the Naruko style, which most commonly features bangs and 2 pigtails of hair on the head, as well as reds and yellows on the body. The yellow became popular from around the middle of the Taisho period.

You can visit the Japan Kokeshi Museum in Naruko Onsen, Miyagi Prefecture, to see craftsman making the dolls, try painting your own, and of course, buy the dolls themselves. There’s also an All-Japan Kokeshi contest, a Kokeshi Shrine, and a Kokeshi Festival as well. This year marks the 57th Contest, held in Shiroishi, Miyagi on May 3~5. The festival is February through mid-March at the aforementioned Kokeshi Museum.

And of course, these dolls in different styles can be bought all over Japan. When I was a child, I had a Naruko Kokeshi, and the head does indeed squeak!

Edit 2015.11.13: I drove by these giant kokeshi dolls in Sakunami Onsen and took some quick pictures even though I didn’t have time to stop at the actual onsen. What a nice welcome!

Postcards and dolls

Sakunami Onsen entrance

Tohoku Sandai Matsuri Part 3: Miyagi #2 – Tanabata Matsuri (七夕まつり)

The final major festival of the Tohoku Region’s Sandai Matsuri is held in Sendai, Miyagi. If you missed it, I posted Aomori here.

Tanabata is usually called the “Star Festival” in English, although it is also called “Seventh Night”. Usually in Japan it is celebrated in July, but Tohoku follows the lunar calendar and therefore celebrates Tanabata in August instead. Actually, all three Sandai festivals are Tanabata celebrations, but Sendai’s is the most obvious. Tanabata celebrates the one day of the year where two lovers can meet across the milky way. It is a fun and interesting event where people write wishes on strips of paper and tie them to bamboo. You can read more about it on wikipedia’s page here.

Sendai’s Tanabata festival is the grandest in Japan. Not only is the sheer number of decorations awe-inspiring (there are thousands throughout Sendai), but the level of detail for each is hard to imagine without seeing one in person. We went to this festival last, and I thought it would be boring compared to the others… there are no dances or parades or anything like that. But instead, I found that walking through the forest of decorations was calming. Seeing each individual decoration and in groups was really nice, especially up close. It ended up comparing to the other two despite my expectations!

Sign welcoming visitors to the Matsuri area

Large decorations were everywhere

Walking through them was like walking through a colorful forest!

Each was proudly hand crafted by local stores and businesses

And the level of detail is truly amazing for each.

The Tanabata Matsuri is held August 6th to 8th in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.

So those are the Tohoku Sandai Matsuri. There are other prefectural summer festivals also depicted on Gotochi cards from the Tohoku region, but I think this post is long enough! If you ever have a chance to see these amazing festivals, you will not regret it!