A to Wa of Japan: Week 10

It’s time for A to Wa of Japan again! Last week’s post was about things beginning with く (ku) and we looked at Kurashiki (倉敷). This week we are looking at things beginning with け (ke). A big thank you to everyone who joined in with suggestions this week:

lovelycomplex22 suggested kekkonshiki (結婚式 / wedding ceremony); shiotadesu suggested kegani (ケガニ / horesehair crab), Kenroku-en (兼六園 / a garden in Kanazawa), and kekkonshiki;  Japan Australia suggested kendama (けん玉 / a traditional Japanese toy), keiba (競馬 / horse racing), and Kentucky (ケンタッキー / KFC, which is very popular in Japan, especially around Christmas); Zooming Japan suggested kendo (剣道 / a martial art) and kendama; Jay Dee suggested keshiki bonsai (modern landscape bonsai), keisatsu (警察 / police), Keio Corporation (京王電鉄株式会社 / the company which runs the Keio train lines in Tokyo) and Keio University (慶應義塾大学); UK Seikatsu suggested Kenshiro (ケンシロウ / the main character from Fist of the North Star (北斗の拳), a manga/anime), Kesennuma-shi (気仙沼市 / a city in Miyagi Prefecture), keiba, keirin (競輪 / a type of bicycle race); and Haruko-chan suggested keitai (携帯 / mobile phone), kekkon (結婚 / marriage), kenshin (from Rurouni Kenshin (るろうに剣心 -明治剣客浪漫譚), an anime).

With the anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami coming up on Monday, I have decided to make this a Tohoku themed post and write about…

Kesennuma (気仙沼)

Map of Japan showing Kesennuma

Map of Japan showing Kesennuma

(Image: Wikipedia)

Kesennuma is a city in Miyagi Prefecture, in the Tohoku region of Japan (northeastern Honshu). The city borders Hirota Bay, Kesennuma Bay, and the Pacific Ocean, and also includes the island of Oshima. The city was Japan’s busiest port for processing bonito and swordfish, with fishing and associated industries accounting for 85% of jobs. I say ‘was’ because Kesennuma was badly hit by the 11th March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and large parts of the city were destroyed. After the tsunami, fuel which had spilled from the town’s fishing fleet caught fire and burned for four days. I still remember seeing images of Kesennuma in the news at the time, not knowing exactly where it was, but realising that it had been at least partially destroyed. If you feel the need to see what happened to Kesennuma, there’s a video which was shot in Kesennuma at the time of the tsunami on the Telegraph website. Personally, I can’t keep watching those waves.

At least 983 people died and 446 are missing in Kesennuma (figures as of October 2011), and the damage to the city is practically unmeasurable, but from what I can gather the city is doing a remarkable job at rebuilding and recovering. Since I haven’t visited Kesennuma and didn’t know much about it before writing this post, I’ve had to rely heavily on what I can find on the Internet. There’s disappointingly little tourist information about the area (another reason I would love to go to Tohoku and do some research myself!), but I managed to come across this absolutely wonderful Facebook page: KESENNUMA – BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE.


A lot of the information and images below have come from the KESENNUMA – BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE Facebook page, and I just hope they won’t mind me borrowing so much as it’s for a good cause. I hope people reading this post will consider Kesennuma if they’re planning a trip to Tohoku.

So, what does Kesennuma have to offer?

Kesennuma Port - by Kazuomi Ito

Kesennuma Port – by Kazuomi Ito

Well, Kesennuma is a port city, and I absolutely love port cities! There’s something captivating about the bustle of the city and the idea of trade on the high seas, and just look at that gorgeous image above. Of course, being so close to the sea was a problem for Kesennuma two years ago when the tsunami struck, but trade is picking up again now and businesses are rebuilding. In January this year the Asahi Shimbun reported that Louis Vuitton had given financial help to Kesennuma in order to revive oyster farming businesses.

The generosity stemmed from the bonds formed between Japanese and French fish farmers, and the fact that Miyagi oysters once saved the French oyster industry from a crisis.

“There was never any way we could have rebuilt on our own,” says Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, a 69-year-old representative of Mizuyama Oyster Farm in the Nishimone area of Kesennuma. The tsunami swept away all but a few of the 50 or so homes in Nishimone. Mizuyama Oyster Farm’s processing plant, machinery, eight boats and 70 rafts of oysters in the midst of being harvested were destroyed by the waves, causing more than 200 million yen ($2.2 million) in damage.

Hatakeyama talked with many organizations about assistance, but the proposal he chose was the one put forward by Louis Vuitton. One reason Louis Vuitton wanted to help was because of Hatakeyama’s work with Mori wa Umi no Koibito, a nonprofit organization that plants deciduous trees in forests that provide nutrients that flow to the ocean. Louis Vuitton is also involved in protecting forests. “Our brand supports cherishing local traditions as well as passing on the intangibles, not just objects and money, to the next generation,” Yves Carcelle, the former chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton, said on Nov. 11 during his first visit to Kesennuma. “I want to continue providing various kinds of assistance in many places so we can progress and see the future.” Another reason for Louis Vuitton’s help is that Japan is one of the company’s oldest and largest markets in the world. (Asahi Shimbun, 26th January 2013)

Workers at the rebuilt oyster processing plant pose with Yves Carcelle, Louis Vuitton's former Chairman and CEO, fifth from left. (Makiko Takahashi)

Workers at the rebuilt oyster processing plant pose with Yves Carcelle, Louis Vuitton’s former Chairman and CEO, fifth from left. (Makiko Takahashi)

Kesennuma also has beautiful beaches, but they’re not just beautiful. Apparently they can also sing! On two of Kesennuma’s beaches – Kukunakihama and Oshima Island – you can apparently hear the golden sand chirping beneath your feet as you walk along. “The almost musical sound happens when grains of quartz rub against each other, and beaches that do it are rare; most contain impurities that silence the song.”

Kukunakihama - by Kazuomi Ito

Kukunakihama – by Kazuomi Ito

Japan, the land of kawaii, has 865 characters or mascots which represent different areas of the country. Kesennuma has its own mascot called Hoya Boya:

Hoya Boya

Hoya Boya

Hoya Boya entered the Yuru Characters Grand Prix 2012 (a contest to pick the best character) (see the official site in Japanese) and came 26th. He was 1st out of the Tohoku region. I’m not quite sure what he’s meant to be, but he’s very cute!

All over Japan, all year through, there are festivals. When I was scrolling through Facebook, one of Kessenuma’s festivals particularly caught my eye – the Minato Matsuri (Port Festival), which is a two-day event in August.

Minato Matsuri: “Kaijyo Unzura” boat delivered dynamic taiko reverberations while cruising the bay

Minato Matsuri: ‘Kaijyo Unzura’ boat delivered dynamic taiko reverberations while cruising the bay. (Kesennuma City Public Relations)

The festival was cancelled in 2011, but took place in 2012 and looked spectacular. There’s a great article about the festival here on Facebook, which the above image comes from. The Minato Matsuri includes boat parades, taiko drumming, music, fireworks and fresh seafood, which just sounds wonderful. I’d love to be there to experience it!

Cheered on by the onigame, a high-spirited team in white, the drummers boomed their intricate rhythms on three tiers of drums – small ones on the bottom row, larger in the middle, and atop them all, the great, deep-throated drum that takes two strong drummers to play. And cutting through the thunder of the drums like bright flashes of lightning came the melodic song of the bamboo flute, an essential counterpoint in the ancient taiko tradition.


If all of that isn’t enough to get you excited about kesennuma, how about some fresh seafood? Despite the disaster, fishing businesses are recovering, and I can only imagine the sushi and sashimi in Kesennuma would be delicious.

Kesennuma, a leading fishing town in Japan, is famous for landing tuna, bonito, and Pacific saury and for producing the largest catches of shark fin in the world. As the first city in Japan to adopt a slow food declaration, Kesennuma is committed to promoting a unique and attractive community sustained by local foods. (JNTO)

Fish in Kesennuma

Fish in Kesennuma

(Image: JNTO)

Kesennuma is a unique tourist destination and deserves to make it onto more Japan travel itineraries in my opinion, especially for people interested in touring around northeastern Japan. The journey from Tokyo to Kesennuma takes about 4 hours by a combination of shinkansen (bullet train) and local train, with a change at Ichinoseki. If you’re planning a trip in Tohoku, I’d recommend getting a JR East Pass for train travel in the area. The pass is available for foreign tourists travelling in Japan (unfortunately you can’t buy one if you are a resident in Japan), and you can really cut down on your travel costs by using one.Readers – have any of you been to Kesennuma? I’d love to know about your trip!


Next week we’ll start with こ (ko), so please leave a comment below suggesting a topic for things beginning with こ. Topics can be anything, as long as they are connected to Japan – food, places, people, characters, whatever you want to hear about! Just remember that the words you suggest must be Japanese (for example, you can’t suggest ‘Korea’ for ‘ko’, because ‘Korea’ in Japanese is ‘Kankoku’, but you could suggest ‘Korilakkuma’, Rilakkuma’s little female friend.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions!  (*^_^)v

12 thoughts on “A to Wa of Japan: Week 10

  1. Very timely with the anniversary fast approaching. Kesennuma is a place I’ve yet to visit in Japan, but looks like a beautiful place to visit. A few suggestions for next week are Koma (spinning top), Kotatsu, Kobe, and Kochi-jo.


  2. I think it’s great you chose to write about Kesennuma! Perfect timing for the anniversary of the tsunami / earthquake! 😦

    Suggestions for “Ko”:
    Kojima (in Okayama Prefecture, great few of the Seto Inland Sea), Koto harp, Kokura (in Kitakyushu)


  3. Very appropriate for this week.
    Ko is easier than ke. I suggest koshien, kokoriko (coq au rico/comedians), Kofu (Capital of Yamanashi), Kochi, Kobukuroya (pop group), cosplay, Costco, kome (rice).


  4. It was really wonderful choice for memorial week!

    The word start with こ
    Koinobori(鯉のぼり, こいのぼり/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koinobori), Kokeshi(こけし/ Japanese traditional wooden doll), Kotatsu(こたつ/ a low, wooden table frame covered by a Futon), Koto(琴/ Japanese traditional strings instrument), Konaki-jijii(子泣き爺 / one of famous Japanese Youkai character from famous manga/anime GEGEGE NO KITARO), Koma(独楽 / Japanese traditional toy, especially play around new year), Kome(米 / Rice), Gojira(ゴジラ / NOT GOZILLA, famous monster from Japanese movie)


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