My visit to Karumai - The Haikyuu Town
I've been meaning to write this for a while but the end of Haikyuu has finally given me the motivation to get it done. Sorry for the lack of details in some places as I've forgotten some stuff, but I'll edit it later if I think of anything I've missed! (Feel free to ask questions if you have any)
So in January 2020 I visited the town of Karumai ( 軽米町) in Japan. This is the town where Haruichi Furudate, the creator of Haikyuu, grew up, and the town many of the Haikyuu settings were based on. Because I visited in winter some of the sites were less recognisable than visiting in summer, but they're fun to look at all the same! And because of a huge snowfall that weekend I wasn't able to get to some of the outer areas, but I walked through the town to see all the main sites.
I can't go further than this without thanking the amazing person who runs a welcome center in the town which is absolutely full of Haikyuu merch. If anyone is planning a trip, you can DM him on twitter before going and he will open it up for you if he's free. He has pages of messages from visitors where you can write or draw something and even gave me the Haikyuu gifts above!! The map shows all the sites in town that feature in the manga/anime, the left is a mask with Haikyuu picture on the packaging, and the right is a shiny Kageyama card (he asked who my favourite character was) that he gave me as a good luck charm for safe travel (he was surprised at how far I has travelled). He speaks a fair amount of English, and had a translator on his phone that he used any time he didn't know how to say what he wanted to say, so don't worry about communication issues, either! He was absolutely wonderful, and apparently on the less snowstormy days he even drives visitors out to the out-of-town areas sometimes (the weather really decided to come down on me that week, apparently it was a record snowfall if I understood the news report right). This should definitely be your first stop if you're visiting!
I debated whether to include this next bit because I wouldn't want anyone to expect the same level of generosity he showed that day but I really have to because holy cow; he has a collection of items that he offers people to choose a gift from, and when I said Kageyama was my favourite he lamented not having any Kageyama left in the gift section and ended up giving me a whole-ass Kageyama figure!! (How do I make sobbing emojis on a google site?) He had two with different ball-colours and insisted I take one home with me as a souvenir, I think it's the best gift I've ever received.
He lives on my bookshelf now. Eventually my BNHA figures will go up with him, but I haven't gotten around to it yet, so right now (and since I got back in Feb) it's just him.
I'm gonna pause here briefly to talk about transport as well. When I was researching how to visit I only found one post about visiting, and their transport method was to go via train and bus from/via Sendai/Ninohe. This is not!! The quickest!! Route!! I looked it up and it was gonna take way too long for my purposes, and there were no hotels near Ninohe station that took online reservations (that I could find) to cut the trip down.
However, in my research, I found a bus that goes from Hon-Hachinohe Station directly there for a low price in around an hour which was MUCH better. I got a hotel right beside the station, only to discover... It basically didn't go on weekends.
Now I realise this is because people aren't commuting on the weekend so they have no need for it, which is fair, except I only realised it the day before my trip. Taking the times they had, I only would have had 1.5 hours in the town. What I ended up doing was taking a taxi there (expensive and I felt bad for the driver, but my hotel organised it for me which made it easier to arrange) and staying for about 4-5 hours, then taking the bus back.
So my advice for anyone planning a trip (because who knows, maybe someone will find this blog while researching their own trip) is to go on a weekday from Hon-Hachinohe (a short train ride from the Hachinohe Shinkansen Station) so you'll have plenty of choice of bus schedule. The Karumai bus stop is almost directly outside the Welcome Center!
The bus trip is a little scary if you're not used to the kind of roads they have in small Japanese towns, very narrow and windy, and in the winter, very slippery.
A sharp slope into the forest right outside my bus window? Don't mind if I do!
Anyway, the point being that Karumai is a small town that is pretty far from main attractions, with no train station etc, but that just makes it all the more charming I guess! It's definitely worth the trip for any Haikyuu fan, as long as you're prepared to communicate in Japanese (or with charades?) for the vast majority. It also felt good to put some tourism money into their stores, buying lunch and merch etc while I was there.
Speaking of stores...
There are a couple of notable stores in the town which I'll get to in a minute, but one thing I found super neat was that many of the stores had merch, especially posters/scrolls, in their store windows. I'm not sure if this is done to entice people in, or if it's just pride for the series create by one of their people and based on their town, but either way it was a really neat touch. Some of them (most notably the bookstore and noodle store) also sell merch inside, so go spend some money!
I'm not going to detail my visits to every single store, but I will talk about my visit to the noodle store, Hattouya, owned and operated by the Furudate family themselves.
Other than the owners, this noodle store is a must-visit because they have books full of original artwork for the series that you are free to browse through while you're there.
When I walked in, I stopped to look at a set-up of merch etc they had out, and the lady at the counter came over to ask if I was a Haikyuu fan. When I said yes, she handed me the folders of artwork to look through, and changed the store music to the Haikyuu theme song which is just... the most adorable touch ever.
They even had some cute little packages with a couple of packets of noodles and sauce wrapped together with Haikyuu tape around them (pictured below). They were ridiculously cheap, so I bought two, and let me tell you these noodles were amazing. I would go back there just to buy more noodles if it wasn't so far away.
Quick side note, my mind doesn't want to tell me how much of this experience was communicated in English vs Japanese vs Charades so please don't blame me if you struggle to communicate while buying your noodles. Over time I tend to forget what I was speaking.
Because it was the beginning of the year, they also gave me a calendar with different noodles for each month which is kind of hilarious and seems like something Todoroki Shouto would have, and they had a basket of Haikyuu goods that they told me to choose a gift from (of course I chose my best boy).
The lady working also told me that the little thank you card was drawn by Furudate-sensei (although actually for the first time out of 3-4 in the visit she said "Haruichi" and then corrected herself which made me smile. I don't know what their exact relationship is, but presumably they're family, the internet seems to think she's his mother?).
The last thing I did before heading back to the hotel was have a late lunch at the cafeteria (this is how jisho tells me to translate it but I guess it's kind of like a diner?) where they again have a guestbook for visiting Haikyuu fans, and they also do a specialty Haikyuu ramen which I did not get because it takes a while to prepare and I had a bus to catch in about 30 minutes time. Instead I got Katsudon and it was amazing!
Alright, now the bit you've all been waiting for, the photos! It was winter when I visited, so some of the places were less recognisable, but they were definitely not impossible. I didn't get to everywhere, for instance I didn't know how close was too close to school grounds so I didn't risk that bit, and as I said above, some were just too out-of-the-way without a car.
This was, in my head, the most recognisable location, being where it all kicked off and where our boys met, but looking at it beside anime screenshots it's not nearly as similar as I expected? Thus I've used the manga instead because it's far, far closer.
Above: I apologise for the blurry qualirty of this one, I couldn't get close enough to take it without using zoom and didn't realise how badly it turned out. The snowfall drowned out the steps they're on in the series.
To the right and below is a zoomed out version of the area. I couldn't find a screenshot of the further-back version even though I could have sworn there was one in the show, so I'll just have to update this if I come across it. You can see the steps a little better in this one though!
Sendai City Gymnasium is, as you'd expect, in Sendai not Karumai, but it seemed silly to not include it. You can peek through the windows to see the weird sun thing, but a lot of people were around so I felt weird trying to take photos through the windows like a stalker. Sometimes you can go inside when it's open, but being New Year it was not open for me. It has also been renamed.
And finally: Is that Tokyo Tower?!
In conclusion, Karumai is a very small town but it's gorgeous and the people are so amazingly friendly, I highly recommend that if you're in Japan, you take the trip there to see it. If you're anywhere in the Tohoku region it's not too difficult to take ~2 nights in Hachinohe to do it - and you should be in the Tohoku region because they have some absolutely gorgeous places to see, and Sendai is perhaps my favourite city in Japan so please visit Sendai too!
If you want to see more of my travel photos (and other random usually-anime-related photos, check out my instagram page!