The town of Tōno is set in a bowl of low mountains in the heart of one of Japan’s poorest regions, surrounded by the flat Tōno valley. The people of Tōno and the farmers of the valley take pride in their living legacy of farming and folk traditions, embodied by the district’s magariya – large, L-shaped farmhouses – and a number of museums devoted to the old ways. But the area is perhaps most famous for its wealth of folk tales, known as Tōno Monogatari; there are references to these legends throughout the valley, alongside ancient shrines, rock carvings and traces of primitive cults, which help give Tōno its slightly mysterious undercurrent.
To make the most of the Tōno valley you really need your own transport – head to Tōno to hire cars or bikes. There are also some local buses that run from outside the station, but the only really useful routes are those heading northeast to Denshō-en and Furusato-mura.
If you plan to spend the day cycling around the valley, you can stock up on picnic supplies at the Topia shopping mall, a block from the station. The ground floor of the mall has a well-stocked supermarket as well as a small farmers’ market selling very fresh and cheap fruit and vegetables, complete with biographical notes and photographs of the farmers (and their families) who brought the produce to market.