Tokamachi is famous for soba and kimono. I found out recently that these two things share a connection. Apparently they both traditionally use funori (a seaweed product) as a binding agent. Mixed in with the soba flour it holds it all together and helps give soba noodles their familiar texture. For the kimono material, a single thread was too fragile to weave with, so several threads were rolled together with funori to hold them together. Once stronger they could then be woven into the beautiful kimono material for which Tokamachi was so well known. There is a great kimono festival in May every year that celebrates the arrival of spring.
No need to wait until spring to try the famous soba in Tokamachi as there is currently a great offer running until March 2016. Head to the Information Center in Tokamachi Station with your ID and collect a Soba Ticket. This contains two 500 yen vouchers that can be exchanged at 14 different soba restaurants in the area for a small plate of soba (or use both tickets at once for the combined value if you prefer.) There is also a service ticket that can buy a side dish which varies from place to place. For good measure there are a few discount tickets to local tourist attractions as well.
I hadn't heard about this offer until now but shot across to Tokamachi to check it out. Armed with my ticket I headed off to Kojimaya Nagomi Tei. The 500 yen voucher gets you an individual tray of soba with dipping sauce and another small dish to mix in. The choices were egg, nameko mushrooms or grated yam. I had the yam and it was delicious, especially with a dash of yuzu pepper mixed in. The restaurant is a beautiful place to eat, with high ceilings, wooden beams and a very traditional decor. I subsequently found out that I left my phone in the restaurant so will probably have to head over to Tokamachi again to retrieve it and use my other voucher. If I must!
It really is a free lunch. There is a small questionnaire to fill in if you wish, but other than that, no obligation. Tokamachi soba is rightly famous as well as tasty, and there is plenty to do around the town if you need to fill the rest of your day (or walk off your lunch.)
[There is also a soba tasting festival on October 31/November 1 2015 in Tokamachi with lots of different soba shops offering up their noodles for the public to compare.]