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A Folktale, a Japanese Inn, and Dondo Hare!

Natsumi in Dondo Hare!

If you like a gentle romance and you would like to learn a little about what it would be like to stay in a traditional Japanese inn, then the NHK morning drama Dondo Hare may well be for you!

Iwate and Folktales

Dondo Hare is set in the northern Japanese prefecture of Iwate, which is well-known for its magical folktales. Even the region's name has its own folktale: a large stone cracked into three when it landed near Mount Iwate, and a violent demon came to live nearby, frustrating the villagers of Morioka with all sorts of wickedness. The villagers prayed to their god to rid them of the demon, and so the god tried to trap the demon within the three stones. But the demon cried and the god felt sorry for him. He released the demon on provision that the demon pressed his handprint into the three stones and never came near Morioka again. Allegedly you can see the handprint on the stones when it rains, and you can see the kanji for ‘hand’ (te) in the region’s name: 岩手.


The Story

The story of Dondo Hare is centred around a young woman called Natsumi, who is the daughter of a pastry chef in Yokohama. She falls in love with a young man called Kagami Masaki, who is the grandson of a respected and well-loved okami (head proprietress) at the beautiful traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) called Kagamiya in Morioka. It looks out onto beautiful Mount Iwate.

When Masaki and Natsumi visit Kagamiya for the auspicious 77th birthday of his grandmother Katsuno, their lives take a different path as they seek to fulfill Katsuno's request that they inherit and manage the beautiful old inn.

Masaki's grandmother Katsuno and the okami furoshiki!

Masaki’s mother was destined to inherit the position of okami, but her life was shortened by the heavy responsibility and training that is required in order to become proprietress. Masaki wants to honour his beloved grandmother when she requests that the inn is put into his hands, but he does not want the burden to fall to Natsumi. Natsumi, however, falls in love with the ryokan, and is determined to fulfill Katsuno's dream.


Zashiki warashi

Katsuno's vision of Natsumi as the zashiki warashi!

Central to the audience’s understanding that Natsumi belongs to the role of ryokan okami, is the extraordinary vision that Katsuno has on the day that Natsumi visits Kagamiya with Masaki for the very first time. Natsumi offers to help put away some of the party equipment into the inn’s storehouse, and as Katsuno passes she glances into the shadowy room and playfully believes that she sees Natsumi in the guise of a zashiki warashi, who are believed to inhabit such places.

A zashiki warashi is a little ghostly household guardian of a great family’s fortune. Only members of the house are able to see these little spirits. Without a zashiki warashi a family’s fortunes can fall, which is why we see the Kagami family in a position of flux and mixed fortunes when we first meet them. The succeeding branch of the family have plans to alter the beauty of this traditional inn, something that troubles Katsuno and her grandson Masaki.

Katsuno sees the guardian spirit!

Natsumi’s storyline has fun with the notion that she is like a zashiki warashi. She dresses in the recognisable red kimono that echoes the red robes that the little child spirit traditionally wears. Zashiki warashi are renowned for mischief, such as leaving tiny ashy footprints across a fireplace, and Natsumi makes mistake after mistake during her first weeks of training in the inn, exasperating many who work alongside her. Her good heart causes her to break the strict rules time and time again, and she is forever being reprimanded.

But zashiki warashi are known to have a wonderful bond with old people and children too, and this is what is pronounced in Natsumi’s loving character. It is her special bond with Masaki’s grandmother, and her warm kindness to children in her care that makes her a convincing rightful heir to the role of okami at Kagamiya.

Beautiful Kagamiya!

Some traditional Japanese inns in Morioka have been connected to apparent sightings of zashiki warashi, and the benevolent little spirit has been believed to bring success and happiness to guests – just like Natsumi!

This morning drama is from 2007. Japanese morning drama are excellent for improving listening skills if you’re learning Japanese!


Iwate Prefecture and 3.11

Iwate is a prefecture in Tohoku, a region that was drastically affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011. Yukki actually volunteered at a supplementary school in Otsuchi, a small fishing village in Iwate. The support school is run by a national education non-profit organization called Katariba. Otsuchi's closest city is Morioka and Yukki recalls visiting Morioka a few times too!

Pictures Yukki took at Otsuchi Collabo School, a supplementary school for local youths For more information on the amazing work that Katariba does, check out their website from here! If you have the opportunity to visit Otsuchi, we highly recommend stopping by there school to say hello to the friendly staff there :)


We hope you've enjoyed reading this article! For similar reviews on popular Japanese TV shows, why not check our previous blog on Ama-chan and Hanako to An from here!

Thank you for reading,

Cathy and Yukki




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