Hanamaki: Dining Out in Miyazawa Kenji’s Footsteps
Guideto JapanTravel Food and Drink
Yabuya Sōhonten: A Favorite Soba Shop of Miyazawa’s
Since its establishment in 1923, the Yabuya Sōhonten soba shop has made a specialty of wanko-soba, in which soba noodles are served in small dishes, each typically about the size of a single mouthful, with said dishes refilled until customers indicate that they have had enough. The spacious arrangement of traditional Japanese-style seating on the second floor, facilitating banquet-style events on the premises, was unusual for soba shops of the period. During his late twenties, when he taught at an agricultural high school, Miyazawa Kenji met and found a kindred spirit in the store’s founder when it was first opened for business. He frequented the place thereafter, bringing colleagues from work along to have soba there with him.
Miyazawa is said to have called Yabuya, with its distinctively classical Japanese-style décor, “Bush,” which is one rendering in English of the meaning of the Japanese word yabu. This episode of bilingual punning gives a further insight into Miyazawa’s erudition: he counted languages and linguistics among the areas of his expertise.
Miyazawa’s favorite dish was tempura-soba (soba with tempura on top) and a type of Japanese soda called “cider,” somewhat closer to carbonated lemonade than to the apple drink many Westerners might imagine. It is said that Miyazawa, talking happily with his colleagues while they all drank this “cider,” was more animated than other customers pouring alcoholic beverages for one another. This restaurant is highly recommended for visitors looking to experience Hanamaki in Miyazawa’s footsteps.
- Address: 7-17 Futsupari-chō, Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture
- Access: 10 minutes’ walk from JR Hanamaki Station
- Tel.: 0198-24-1011
- Web: https://yabuya.jp
- Hours: 11:00 am to 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, wanko-soba served until 7:30 pm
- Closed Mondays (Tuesdays when a given holiday falls on a Monday) and January 1
- Multilingual Information:
- Website: Automated translation available in English, Korean, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Italian, Spanish, and French
Saryō-kadan: Taking Tea with a Miyazawa-Designed Flowerbed in View
Although Miyazawa made landscaping and designing of flowerbeds a key part of his career, few examples of that handiwork survive intact to the present day. One flowerbed of Miyazawa’s that does survive is at Saryō-kadan, where even the bricks and other materials used in the landscaping are the same as they were when he initially landscaped the plot. The building and garden of this teahouse were originally a villa belonging to the Hashimoto family, second cousins to Miyazawa on his grandmother’s side. It is said that Miyazawa accordingly frequently visited this flowerbed that he himself had landscaped.
The Hashimoto family owned and operated Ōtsu Gofuku-ten, reputed to be the largest kimono fabric store in Iwate Prefecture at the time. When their manor house was built in 1927, it comprised a main house, the aforementioned villa, and an annex. No extravagance was spared on these structures, though only the villa has survived to the present. In addition to the rare old Japanese cedar used in the construction of the building, and the fanlights and decorative shōji screens that are emblematic of the refined skills of the artisans who built it, the flowerbed remains in the garden as it was originally created by Miyazawa. The owner and operator of Saryō-kadan reports that it was left to him by the previous owner, who declared that the villa and the flowerbed belonged to the people of Hanamaki, and that he wished them to be entrusted to someone who would treat them with appropriate care.
At the time of the owner’s demise, both the garden and the building had fallen into disrepair, with only one square meter of the flowerbed visible at all. Once weeding was undertaken in the garden, however, the long brickwork partitions that Miyazawa had laid down were uncovered. Ultimately, a flowerbed 9 meters in length was revealed, and while professional craftspeople were hired to repair the building, the interior and the garden were tended by the family of the aforementioned owner and operator. It reportedly took a year and a half of work before the place could be opened to the public.
Initially, the garden and the building were simply opened to the public, without additional amenities. Only later did the owner have the notion of visitors observing the flowerbed in comfort while drinking tea, which led to the establishment of Saryō-kadan. The traditional outer corridor of the house, from which Miyazawa himself observed the flowerbed, is now furnished with the reclining seats and low tables of a teahouse. Nowadays, visitors can have matcha (powdered green tea), coffee, or shiruko (a sweet porridge of boiled and crushed azuki beans served with rice-flour dumplings), while they study the flowerbed in an atmosphere bringing them that much closer to the works of the Hanamaki author and gardener.
- Address: 11-12 Kajōmachi, Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture
- Access: 13 minutes’ walk from JR Hanamaki Station
- Tel.: 080-2823-1048
- Hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
- Closed Thursdays
Yamaneko-ken: Straight Out of a Story
Located in the parking area of the Miyazawa Kenji Memorial Museum, Yamaneko-ken is a European-style restaurant built in a style reminiscent of the “Restaurant of Many Orders” (“Chūmon no ōi ryōriten”), one of Miyazawa’s most popular children’s stories. Step through the doorway, decorated with a line from the story that translates as “All are welcome, there is no standing on ceremony here,” and one passes through the gift shop, with its displays of souvenirs, to the restaurant. Be sure to look closely at the entrance to the restaurant proper to see the salt, cream, and perfume, all faithfully arranged as per the descriptions in the story.
While the protagonists of the story “Restaurant of Many Orders” never made it to their table, there is no cause for concern that patrons here will not be seated and thus be unable to place their orders. Booklets containing quizzes about Miyazawa and Yamaneko-ken, as well as information about sightseeing in Hanamaki, are placed at each table for the enjoyment of patrons and for reference on where to go after eating.
While such Western standards as spaghetti and beef stew are on the menu, patrons will want to keep an eye out for dishes made with locally-grown ingredients as well. Two such popular dishes are the Yamaneko suiton set, consisting of suiton (soup with flour dumplings) and yaki-onigiri (grilled rice ball) basted in a rich, specially made miso, and the Ihatov teishoku, combining suiton with braised pork and seasonal vegetable tempura. The hakkinton pork used in the latter dish is a Hanamaki specialty brand that derives its name from “The Pig of the Frandon Agricultural School,” a children’s short story by Miyazawa, in which pigs are likened to platinum (hakkin).
- Address: 3-161-33 Yasawa, Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture
- Access: Approx. three minutes from JR Shin-Hanamaki Station by Iwateken-kōtsū bus Tsuchisawa Line, then 10 minutes’ walk from the Miyazawa Kenji Kinenkan-guchi
- Tel.: 0198-31-2231
- Hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Meals served 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.
- Closed during New Year’s holidays.
Nearby Attraction: Rinpūsha
Located not far from JR Hanamaki Station, Rinpūsha is a shop and café owned and operated by the grandson of Miyazawa Seiroku, Kenji’s younger brother. The shop on the first floor offers an extensive array of personal articles, accessories, and other original merchandise based on the writer’s works. The second floor is an old-fashioned café, with the Oryza Roll-Cake being a popular menu item. Made with rice flour, and having a soft, puffy mouthfeel, its name derives from the fact that the scientific name for the rice plant is Oryza, as described in the Miyazawa children’s story “The Life of Gusukō Budori” (“Gusukō Budori no denki”). Another specially made dessert at the café is the Igirisu Kaigan baumkuchen, a traditional German layer cake also inspired by the works of Miyazawa, in this case, on the shape of the local riverbed phenomenon dubbed the “English Coast” by the author.
- Address: 1-3-4 Ōdōri, Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture
- Access: Three minutes’ walk from JR Hanamaki Station
- Tel.: 0198-22-7010
- Hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (last orders at 5:30 pm)
- Closed Thursdays
(Originally published in Japanese. Reporting and text by Shoepress. Banner photo: The mischievous sign of the Yamaneko-ken restaurant, with only a cat’s ears and tail visible. © Shoepress.)