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Northwestern Iwate

Morioka / Hachimantai

Sophisticated city meets mountain wilderness

The central hub of Iwate is a blend of urbanism and nature

The Morioka/Hachimantai area in the northwest of Iwate Prefecture is the central hub of Iwate, radiating out from the East-Japan Railway Company (JR-East) Morioka Station, a stop on the the Tohoku Shinkansen line. Around Morioka Station are bars, restaurants, clothing stores and variety shops, with the convenience of a large number of 24-hour shops and hotels.

Meanwhile, within an hour’s drive of Morioka Station is the natural wonder of Mt. Iwate, its symmetrical ridgelines the symbol of Iwate, Hachimantai and more. This is the place to enjoy the varied faces of the four mountain seasons, be it hiking through wildflowers in spring and summer, driving through the stunning autumn foliage or skiing on soft powder snow in winter.

Mt. Iwate, which is also called “Iwate-Fuji” after Japan’s tallest peak for its beautiful form

Breathe some of the fresh air on the trail to the summit of Mt. Hachimantai (1614m), a one-hour walk

The foliage changes color around Hachimantai in late September and early October. Enjoy a drive or hike in a sea of orange

Otherworldly: skiing the light powder snow amid the grandeur of the mountains

In mid-April, the road to the summit of Mt. Hachimantai reopens after the winter closure. Driving through a snow canyon created by walls of snow reaching as high as 8 meters is a unique experience

A 30 minute drive from Morioka Station takes you to Koiwai Farm where tourists are superbly catered for

Morioka, a city that prospered around the central castle of a samurai clan

Morioka at its heart is built on the banks of the gently flowing Kitakami River, a city that developed around the castle that housed the Nambu clan, the samurai who controlled a large region for centuries up to the 19th century. It prospered as it concentrated political, economic and commercial functions. The 17th century castle is long gone, but the elaborate masonry of the base remains, preserved within the lush, green Morioka Castle Ruins Park as a recreational facility for residents.

Another historic structure in downtown Morioka not to be missed is the Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building completed in 1911. The design is similar to that of Tokyo Station, because it was the same architect responsible. The building reflects an era of the end of the samurai and modernization in the late 19th and early 20th century with a unique style different from straight Western or Asian designs. His dignified exteriors and beautiful interiors featuring great attention to detail in decorated ceilings and stairways with handrails have a nostalgic atmosphere.

The environs of JR Morioka Station, with Mt. Iwate behind

Cherry blossoms in Morioka Castle Ruins Park

Fiery autumn foliage in Morioka Castle Ruins Park

Refreshing creekside greenery in Morioka Castle Ruins Park, summer

The Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building was previously the headquarters of the bank

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See & Do

Hachimantai, about an hour’s drive from Morioka Station, is the perfect spot for an outing in nature at any time of the year. Of note is the view from the summit of Mt. Hachimantai on a fine day, offering a majestic panorama of the surrounding mountains including Mt. Iwate (confirm before leaving that the road to the summit is open, as it does close in the snowy winter season). Breathe the fresh air and feel refreshed.

Hachimantai/Appi Kogen

A hike to enjoy the mirror-like reflections of the scenery in the marshes and seasonal wildflowers

Koiwai Farm

Partake in a sheep show, horse-riding, a lamb meat barbecue, and ice cream made from fresh milk

Strolling in Morioka

Sights include the heavily-wooded Morioka Castle Ruins Park and the Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building, a Japanese-style Western edifice from the early 20th century

Eat & Drink

There are over 1,500 bars and restaurants in Morioka, from classic Iwate offerings like traditional Japanese, ramen noodles, Japanese-style barbecue, izakaya and wanko soba to exquisitely prepared French, Italian and variety of other cuisines. They are always bustling with local customers. Some restaurants serve vegetables procured directly from Iwate farmers or uncommon cuts of beef.

Wanko soba

Unique Iwate culture of serving soba noodles by mouthful-sized bowl, which are then stacked up in competition with fellow diners

Alleyway izakaya

A backstreet Japanese izakaya, one block off the surreal-looking street leading up to Morioka Hachiman Shrine bathed in the glow of the street lamps

Yakitori

A fusion of Japanese-style chicken on a stick (yakitori), Spanish and Italian. Suitable for those who prefer to avoid pork and beef

Shopping

Head to one of Iwate’s regional specialty stores to find an Iwate food or craft souvenir. About 30 minutes’ drive from Morioka Station is Morioka Handi-Works Square, where you can try your hand at a craft under the instruction of a master – wood products, pottery, dyed products and more. Something made with your hands will prove the best memento of your trip.

Specialty souvenir shop

A souvenir shop offering foods, alcoholic beverages, local beers and crafts from every corner of Iwate

Morioka Handi-Works Square

Try your hand at pottery, dyeing or woodwork under the tutelage of an artistan

Home decorating

A Morioka interior shop selling original items applying traditional craft techniques to modern designs

Stay & Relax

The hot springs near Morioka are all close to ski resorts and leisure facilities, which can be enjoyed together. The nearest hot spring by car from Morioka Station is Ousyuku Hot Springs, about 40 minutes away. At Matsukawa Hot Springs, where milky and turquoise waters mix, enjoy an eccentric range of outdoor hot springs depending on the lodging. Many of the inns around Appi Kogen Hot Springs, meanwhile, lure guests with big hot baths and new facilities such as sauna.

Ousyuku Hot Springs

An onsen with over 450 years of history. From hotels to small Japanese inns, around 20 accommodations line the valley

Matsukawa Hot Springs

This secluded mountain onsen was discovered in the 18th century

Appi Kogen Hot Springs

A resort zone with all the leisure facilities you need from ski fields to golf courses and tennis courts

COLUMN

A street market bustling with locals

Zaimokucho Night Market has quite a history, having started in 1974. Ten minutes’ walk from Morioka Station, the shopping street of Zaimokucho stretches around 400m along the Kitakami River bank. Over 100 shops and stands line the street. Fresh fruit and vegetables, local beer and sake, and wine by the cup is for sale. The food stalls are out and the market bustles with local residents out to drink and dine. The market is held every Saturday from April to November, between 3pm and 6pm.

Encounter spirits at Kintaichi Hot Springs

An hour and a half’s drive north of Morioka Station are the Kintaichi Hot Springs, near the edge of Aomori Prefecture. The region was under feudal control until the 19th century and many samurai warriors would visit these historic hot springs, discovered in the 17th century, to cure their ailments and heal their injuries. There is one famous lodge where it is said you may encounter a Zashiki-warashi (a type of ghost in Japanese legend) that brings good luck. Warashi means “child” in old Japanese.

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