Known as the ‘Picture Book Village’, the pretty town Kenbuchi spreads southern part of the Nayoro Basin in Northern Hokkaido.
When the editor-in-chief of Tokyo’s picture book publisher visited this town in 1988, he saw a rural landscape similar to Europe and preached the need for a picture book original art museum, which had little yet in Japan.
Far away from the famous sightseeing spots, Kenbuchi is beautiful and calm place like the world of picture book.
About 40 minutes by rapid train on the JR Soya Line from Asahikawa, I got off at Kenbuchi Station (剣淵駅) under the refreshing blue sky. The time is noon, so I first go to the small shokudo (dining hall) inside the Ekimae Ryokan (駅前旅館) in front of the station.
“Irasshaimase (welcome). Nanmei-sama-desuka (How many people)?”
The name of ryokan means ‘Japanese inn’, but this place has a reputation for ramen served in the dining hall, so I wanted to visit it once. By the way, it seems that accommodation is not currently being operated. The shokudo was crowded and there were no seats in the dining hall, so the staff guided me to the Japanese-style room on the second floor, which was once a ryokan. From the room, I saw the station square. Such a shokudo is very rare in Hokkaido.
After waiting for about 30 minutes, ramen has been carried from the dining hall. Asahikawa-style soy sauce flavored ramen has a rich taste of fish and meat. Otherwise, ’Ramen and Curry set’ (ラーメン&カレーセット) seems to be popular.
Clockwise from top: Kenbuchi Station; Station Square; Kenbuchi Picture Book Library & Museum; Ramen at the Ekimae Ryokan
After lunch, I walked for about 10 minutes to Kenbuchi Picture Book Library & Museum (剣淵町絵本の館), known as the Ehon-no-yakata. This library has about 50,000 Japanese and overseas picture books. I take off my shoes and enter the museum. Very homely atmosphere.
When I visited the library, ‘Kenbuchi Picture Book Grand Prize‘ (けんぶち絵本の里大賞) was being held in the exhibition hall A (1 August to 30 September each year). From among 250 or more of the grand prize candidates, I chose five favorite works (the work numbers are written next to the picture books) and voted. I soak in the world of picture books and forget the time passing. I can’t stop when I start reading!
In the library, I read a variety of picture books that I don’t usually read. Among them, ‘When You Were Born’ (あなたがうまれたとき), by Kusaka Minako and Yokosuka Kaori, is highly recommended by the library staff. You will surely find wonderful picture books here. If you have any favorite picture books, why not make a list and order them from online stores or bookstores?
There is also a cafe in the hall, which offers good coffee and snacks.
Clockwise from top: Bike rentals; Chobo-no-oka bus stop; Patchwork Hill; Chobo-no-oka
If you have time, rent a free bicycle (available from May to October) at the Picture Book Library & Museum, and enjoy cycling around the town with the location map of the movie ‘Jin Jin’ (じんじん).
After cycling about 6 kilometers from the town center and climbing up a hill from Minami-Kenbuchi Park (南剣淵公園), the site of a former elementary school, I reached at the Chobo-no-Oka bus stop (眺望の丘バス停) overlooking a rural landscape reminiscent of a corner of Europe. The bus stop was not real, it was set up for filming.
Another attraction is an interesting location called the Patchwork Hill (パッチーワークの丘). It was hard to find a place here and I got lost several times. Finally I found a good viewpoint surrounded by the rolling hill. The landscape here is exactly like the world of picture books. It was a good impression that there were no signs on the roadside.
● Normally, local and rapid trains stop at Kenbuchi Station every 1-2 hours. You can easily day trip from Asahikawa or visit there by the Japan Rail Pass or Hokkaido Rail Pass.
● Rental bikes (rent-a-cycle) in Kenbuchi are generally available from May to October. You can rent bikes at Kenbuchi Tourist Association (only on weekdays), the Picture Book Library & Museum, Michi-no-eki Ehon-no-Sato Kenbuchi on Route 40, Kenbuchi Onsen Lakeside Sakuraoka or Pipa Alpaca Farm.