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HISTORY & CULTURE HISTORY & CULTURE HISTORY & CULTURE

Iwate’s regionally diverse history and culture

Iwate Prefecture, ruled as separate northern and southern domains by samurai families until the 1870s, has distinct historic and cultural heritage in each region. Beginning with the shrines, temples and gardens of the 9th to the 12th century that are now world heritage sites, there is a world to discover of traditional entertainment and crafts in each district.

A World Heritage Site that reflects Japan’s unique religiosity

Iwate Prefecture has two World Heritage Sites. One is Hiraizumi, featuring temples, gardens and historic remains sites from the 9th to the 12th century.

Based on a unique cosmology developed from the combination of Buddhism imported from India and Japanese nature worship, the Hiraizumi complex was a vision of a pure and peaceful world. Visitors find calm in the temples and gardens created in a quiet environment in harmony with nature, mountains and forest.

The Hashino iron mining and smelting site in a mountain clearing

The other World Heritage Site, the Hashino iron mining and smelting site, was built in the 1850s and is the historic ruins of the oldest western-style ironmaking blast furnace in Japan. The site represents the modernization of Japanese iron production. Some 30km from Kamaishi Station into the mountains, you suddenly come across ruins that closely resemble a stone circle. This is in the middle of a beautiful mountain forest, so this makes a lovely walk.

Thousand-year-old local performing arts

Iwate Prefecture is an unprecedented treasure chest of local arts and entertainment. In each district, a number of folk dances have been passed down for around a thousand years – dances with the aim of praying for good crops or fishing hauls, safety or to comfort the spirits of the ancestors. With their unique masks and dress, prepare to be impressed by the mystery and otherworldliness of the dance.

The annual Sanriku International Arts Festival has been held since 2014, bringing together traditional performance groups from around Asia and Iwate in particular for cultural exchange that overcomes the language barrier through dance.

Tales of spiritual beings

In Tono, there are countless stories told about gods, ghosts and unearthly creatures called “Yokai”, monsters of the sort found in the Studio Ghibli classic Spirited Away. One such spirit-like being is called the Zashiki-warashi, which takes the form of a child and brings good fortune to the house it lives in. There is rumor of a lodging in Ninohe where you can meet an actual zashiki-warashi.

One of Japan’s most famous children’s authors was born in Iwate

Hanamaki is the home town of famous Japanese children’s author Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933). Through his various works including “Night on the Galactic Railroad”, which have something in common with those written by global masters like Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll, he always evoked ideal worlds of pure beauty.

Hanamaki City has brought his worlds to life in visible form, including the Miyazaki Kenji Dowa Mura gallery where you will lose yourself in a fairy tale world, a museum and more.

Traditional crafts that continue to evolve at the hand of the artisans

Iwate boasts a variety of traditional crafts passed down through the generations. Crafted individually by artisans, there is glossy lacquerware whose taste deepens every time you use it, and tending to inspire a simple and quiet moment of reflection; and beautifully dignified Nambu ironware teapots said to soften the texture of boiled water in the mouth. Each are the product of generations of tradition, but evolving in their design to suit today’s lifestyles. Why not take some of these wares home as a souvenir?

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