Morioka is the capital city of Iwate prefecture, in Japan's Tohoku region, and is one of the north's most pleasant towns, especially in the summer when temperatures are lower than areas to the south and west.
Morioka is on the confluence of three rivers, and riverside walks and relaxing parks combine with traditional shopping streets and a lively night life scene to make Morioka a must-see on any visit to the Tohoku region.
Morioka is famous for its Sandaimen or "three great noodles" and also for the early-August Morioka Sansa Odori dance festival.
A short walk east of Morioka JR Station is Iwate Park - AKA Morioka Castle Park - the site of the now ruined Morioka Castle, which was the seat of the Nambu clan during the Edo Period.
Morioka Castle was completed in 1633 but all that remains after the battles of the Meiji Restoration in 1868 are the impressive granite walls and the pretty grounds of the castle park, whose cherry trees blossom in spring.
Morioka Castle Park contains the Sakurayama Shrine, and to the north is the Rock-Splitting Cherry Tree, (Ishiwara Sakura), an ancient tree in front of the Morioka District Court which has sprouted through a crack in a large granite boulder.
Heading east over the Nakatsugawa River is the Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building, which dates from 1911 and is now a tourist attraction, with a section that is free to enter, and a museum-like space showcasing its history which costs 300 yen (10am-5pm, last entry 4.30pm, closed Tuesday). Another historic bank, very nearby, is the Morioka Shinkin Bank designed by architect Kasai Manji who, along with his senior partner, Kingo Tatsuno, designed the Bank of Japan in Tokyo and Tokyo Station.
Turn north to the Konyacho district, where there is a row of old Meiji era wooden buildings, dating from 1813. Called the Gozaku (茣蓙九), they sell local crafts, including the famed Nambu Tekki iron kettles, dyed cotton textiles and senbei rice crackers. The wooden Konyacho Fire Watchtower (Konyacho Banya) is a local landmark, being a fire watchtower built in 1891, converted to a fire station in 1913. Further north again is the 17th century Kami-no-hashi Bridge famous for its "giboshi" (i.e., onion-shaped) post decorations, of which few examples now remain in Japan. Not that big a draw in themselves, and the bridge itself is very plain and ordinary, but a nice walk over the river if you have time.
The Iwate Prefectural Museum is an art museum, striking in its modern design, and has paintings by local artists including Matsumoto Shunsuke, Yorozu Tetsugoro and Funatoshi Yasutake. The museum is 2km west of JR Morioka Station and can be walked to in 15 minutes from the station's West Exit, or accessed by the Seinan Loop 200 bus from the East Exit. Hours: 9.30am-6pm (last entry 5.30pm), closed Mondays (except when Monday is a public holiday, when it opens, but is closed the next day). Tel. 019 658 1711.
For history buffs, the Hara Kei Memorial Museum (Tel: 019 636 1192) is dedicated to Japan's first popular elected Prime Minister and is across from his picturesque wooden birthplace. Again take a local bus or taxi from JR Morioka Station.
Shopping in Morioka
Morioka's main shopping areas are Zaimokucho just north of Morioka Station over the Kitakamigawa River for traditional arts and crafts. Kitano Minzoku Ichiba is a popular and colorful fruit and vegetable market.
For more modern shopping opportunities walk Odori, Morioka's main drag and its cross street, Central Street.
Morioka's major festival is the Morioka Sansa Odori Matsuri, a huge dance parade through the streets of the city that happens over the first four days of August. The festival features thousands of taiko drummers, flautists and colorfully attired dancers chanting a call for good luck: Sakkura choiwa yasse!.
Two notable Morioka festivals are associated with Morioka Hachimangu Shrine in the Yawatacho district.
The Chagu Chagu Umakko Festival takes place on the second Saturday of June, celebrating horse-breeding in the area, when a 100 decorated horses are paraded through town, the sound of their bells having been officially designated a "Japanese soundscape" and the festival procession an Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
Morioka Hachimangu Shrine's Hachimangu Festival, from September 14-16, is distinctive for its traditional archers on horseback, or yabusame, showing their bow-and-arrow prowess.
The Morioka Fireworks Festival happens in early August near the Tonan Ohashi Bridge over the Kitakami River. More than 100,000 people flock to this fireworks extravaganza that consists of over 10,000 fireworks.
Nightlife & Eating Out in Morioka
Morioka is famous for its Three Great Noodles, or Sandaimen, they being reimen, a cold, spicy noodle dish with particularly chewy noodles, that actually originated in one of the city's Korean restaurants in the 1950s; jajamen derives from the Chinese zhajiangmian: udon-like noodles with a meat-miso sauce, cucumber, and green onion; and wanko soba, which is basically a small bottomless bowl of soba noodles, refilled as soon as the diner has finished them off - and sometimes eaten in the form of a contest between the diner and the wait staff in a number of restaurants around town.
Most of Morioka's dining and nightlife scene is in the Saien district, a little over half a kilometer east of Morioka Station, over the Kitakami River. Here you will also find a decent-sized Chinatown.
Morioka Tourist Information Center (Tel: 019 604 3305) is on the second floor of Plaza Odette and the Northern Tohoku Information Center (Tel: 019 625 2090) is on the second floor of the main station.
Morioka New City Hotel is superbly central and convenient, right next to Morioka Station, with clean, comfortable functional rooms, all with private bathroom facilities, strong, free Wi-Fi, and a good, free breakfast. 24-hour front desk. Great rates.
Hotel Royal Morioka is in the heart of Morioka's playground, the Saien district, just east of the station. Clean, bigger-than-average rooms, a cocktail bar onsite, and a Starbucks in the lobby. Guest bathrooms complete with a bath.
Hotel Metropolitan Morioka New Wing combines ideal location, accommodation comfort, and affordibility in a handsomely decorated hotel that is clean, spacious and very guest-friendly. A short walk from Morioka Station; good value.
Morioka Access - Getting to Morioka
Morioka is on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line from Tokyo and Ueno Station. The journey from Tokyo to Morioka is 2 hours, 30 minutes. The Akita Shinkansen runs to Akita (90 mins) via Tazawa-ko and Kakunodate.
There are highway buses from Morioka Station overnight to Tokyo (7 hours, 30 mins) and during the day to Sendai (2 hours, 30 mins), Aomori (3 hours) and Hirosaki (2 hours, 30 mins). There is a loop bus departing from Morioka Station 100 yen for a single journey and 300 yen for a day pass. The loop bus is convenient for many of Morioka's sights. The Tohoku Expressway from Hiraizumi and Mizusawa runs north to Morioka.
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