Morioka is the capital city of Iwate Prefecture, just two hours north of Tokyo. Surrounded by mountains on three sides and blessed with multiple rivers, Morioka is a city of natural scenery and very convenient to get to. The city is most famous for its noodles and ramen, so be sure to try some while you’re here. Meanwhile, here’s a list of things you can do when not slurping down some scrumptious ramen while exploring Morioka.
1. Rock-Breaking Cherry Tree
The Rock-Breaking (or Rock-Splitting) Cherry Tree is a 400-year-old cherry tree so named because it was found growing out of a crack in a granite boulder in front of Morioka’s district courthouse in Morioka. The tree is about 10m/32ft in height and was proclaimed a Natural Treasure of Japan in 1923. Come and be inspired by the amazing things a simple seed can do with its will to live, even break through the toughest of materials and surviving against the most improbable of conditions.
Rock-Breaking Cherry Tree
Address: Uchimaru, ９−, Morioka, 020-0023 Iwate Prefecture, Japan
2. Morioka Castle
Pretty much every major Japanese prefecture has its own castle, and Iwate has Morioka Castle. Morioka Castle is a hirayama-style Japanese castle constructed in 1611 and was the seat of the Nanbu Daimyo clan who ruled over Morioka Domain in Northern Japan. The castle is located atop a hill. A huge castle, there’s a red bridge spanning a moat that divides the castle in two. Each area is protected by a huge masugata style composite gate. The most distinguishing feature of the castle is a huge white granite wall, compared to other castles with earthen walls. Definitely an architectural marvel and scene of wonder and historical significance.
Address: Uchimaru, １−3 7, Morioka, 020-0023 Iwate Prefecture, Japan
3. Iwate Park
Morioka Castle resides in Iwate Park, or better known as Morioka Castle Ruins Park. Iwate Park is famed for its beautiful stone walls which are essentially treasures of the Tohoku region. Iwate Park is best visited in spring, and a prime location for viewing cherry blossoms as the pink petals fall to the ground, before they turn brown in the fall and create a crunchy landscape to stomp around in. In winter, the snow-covered scenery becomes reminiscent of an ink wash painting beckoning visitors into a fantasy world. Leading early modern Japanese poets Takuboku Ishikawa and Kenji Miyazawa loved the castle ruins, even inspiring them to write a number of poems about them, and monuments to both men exist as yet another attraction in this park.
Address: Uchimaru, １−３ 7, Morioka, 020-0023 Iwate Prefecture, Japan
4. Morioka Hachimangu
Morioka Hachimangu is a Shinto shrine best known for its annual festival on the second Saturday in June. During the festival, there is a famous horse parade with the sounds of bells as horses trot through the area. This event was selected by the Ministry of the Environment as one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan, so you can expect a truly enchanting feast for the ears! The shrine performs impressive feats of yabusame horse archery during its annual festival on September 15. Mark these dates down in your calendar to catch these truly unique cultural events before your very eyes!
Website: Morioka Hachimangu (in Japanese)
5. Iwate Museum of Art
For a taste of some modern cultural and artistic achievements, come check out the Iwate Museum of Art. Having opened in 2001, the museum has a permanent exhibition of works by local Iwate Prefecture artists including Tetsugoro Yorozu, Shunsuke Matsumoto and Yasutake Funakoshi, and from time to time it also does temporary exhibitions on both Japanese and international artists. A lovely tall building, you could get lost for a few hours just admiring the incredible works on display here.
Iwate Museum of Art
Website: Iwate Museum of Art
6. Sakurayama Shrine
The Sakurayama Shrine is a well-maintained shrine that requires visitors to purify both body and spirit. The shrine is over a hundred years old, and well loved by locals. The shrine’s highlight though, lies in its backyard. If you follow a small trail to the right of the shrine, you’ll find yourself walking through a garden with stone lanterns before coming to a massive rock draped with sacred rope. This rock holds the spirit of a god, and a symbol of protection for Morioka’s residents.
Website: Sakurayama Shrine (in Japanese)
7. Morioka History and Culture Museum
The perfect place to visit if you want the 411 on Morioka’s culture and history. Exhibiting items relating to Morioka’s history, you’ll find yourself wandering through and checking out festival paraphernalia as well as treasures of the Nanbu clan, the previous feudal lords of Morioka.
Morioka History and Culture Museum
Address: 1-50 Uchimaru, Morioka 020-0023, Iwate Prefecture, Japan
Website: Morioka History and Culture Museum
8. Hoonji Temple
Hoonji Temple is also known as the temple of 500 disciples. This is a particularly open temple and visitors are mostly free to roam around and even check out the monks’ living quarters when they’re not meditating. It’s a quiet area, so perhaps if you visit, you’ll be able to get a very personal guided tour and even find some inner peace within yourself while you’re here.
Address: Nasukawacho, ３１− 5, Morioka, 020-0016 Iwate Prefecture, Japan
9. Takamatsu Park
Takamatsu Park has frequently been described as one of Japan’s very best spots to view the cherry blossoms in spring. It’s a peaceful location, with plenty of people taking a jog or having a picnic, and tourists should consider coming here for a little space for mindfulness away from the city centre. Who knows, you might even be able to catch the reflection of Mt Iwate on a clear day in the pond, making for a perfect picture of tranquility!
Address: 1-26-1 Takamatsu, Morioka 020-0114, Iwate Prefecture, Japan
Asabiraki produces some of the country’s favorite sake, and if you visit Morioka you can even come to the brewing factory for a free tour and tasting! You’ll be hard pressed not to buy anything here because everything tastes so good, and we assure you that everything has top notch quality. Educate yourself first, have fun and have a drink later, it’s a foolproof way to enjoy yourself in Iwate!
Address: 10-34 Daijijicho, Morioka 020-0828, Iwate Prefecture, Japan
More than noodles
Whether you’re enjoying the mountain scenery or sipping some sake in Iwate, come here to soak up the culture in its festivals and temples, and know that this is truly a bastion of peace and tranquility. As the sakura petals fall and you munch on some noodles, there will undoubtedly be a sense of calm and serenity in the air as you tour Morioka.
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