City Explorations: A Day in Morioka

The Morioka-Hachimantai region, Iwate Prefecture, is filled with interesting sightseeing spots, fantastic ski resorts, beautiful hiking trails, unique historic sites, and more. Many tourists transit through Morioka Station, but the city itself is definitely worth a visit – especially if you have an interest in architecture.

There are two reasonable and easy ways to get around town, rent a bicycle or travel by bus. The city is compact, mostly flat, and the sightseeing spots are quite close to one another.

Although mostly destroyed in 1874, the ruins of Morioka Castle are now part of a beautiful park. About 200 cherry trees have been planted near ancient stone walls, they usually bloom in late April to early May.

Also within the park is the Sakurayama Jinja, a shrine whose deity protected the local Nambu clan. Within the grounds is a giant sacred stone said to resemble an eboshi, a type of formal hat worn by nobility during the Heian Era.

To learn more about the castle, the shrine, and the rest of the city, stop by the Morioka History and Culture Museum, which sits beside Sakurayama Jinja. Large, colorful exhibits on the city’s festivals may entice you to return.

Cross the Nakatsu River and ‘experience’ lunch at Azumaya, which is famous for serving ‘wanko soba’. The soba is served only one mouthful at a time. There is a long story to why it is served this way, but it is now quite popular (for men, especially) to see how many bowls you can eat at one sitting.

The restaurant itself is housed in a beautiful historic building and there are more nearby. Take some time to wander the neighborhood – both the Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building and former Dai Kujo Bank (now the Takuboku & Kenji Museum) can be explored by visitors.

Later in the afternoon, stop for tea or coffee at Nanshosou, a beautiful home built in 1885 by a local, ‘mining king’. The house is architecturally quite beautiful and it has a lovely garden that is beautiful year-round. One of the best time to visit is in February when antique hina dolls are displayed for March 3rd’s ‘Girl’s Day’.

If you still have time, visit the Morioka Machiya Monogatari Museum. This complex consists of four former buildings of the Iwategawa Sake Brewery. They have been renovated and now contain an information center, multiple museum spaces, resting spots, a cafe, an event space, and a large souvenir shop selling items and food products handmade by local artisans.

The neighborhood around the museum is a tera-machi, or temple town. In the past, it was a significant location where three arterial highways came together as the entrance to Morioka’s castle town. Perhaps you should consider staying another day in order to explore this district. In addition to a number of small, attractive temples, there is a sake brewery with on-site restaurant, and sixteen impressive stone jizo statues that stand watch over children as they play.

For more information on the Morioka-Hachimantai region, click here.

Getting there: Morioka is about 2 1/2 hours north of Tokyo by shinkansen. All of these sightseeing spots are a short distance (by bicycle, bus, or taxi) from Morioka Station.

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