Morioka: Most Walkable City in Tohoku (Shinkansen Diary Series)

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As you traverse through Tohoku towards Hokkaido on the Shinkansen, you'll have to pass through Morioka, the capital city of Iwate.  This city was of great importance during Japan's Industrial revolution in the Meiji era, and the influence of that period on the architecture and layout of the city is still evident today.  Part of the charm of Morioka's layout is its walkability--some of the best sites Morioka has to offer are within a 20-minute walking radius of the station.  If you have the chance to stop, this city offers much to justify a multi-day sojourn, but if you can spare even a 1/2 day, there are some spectacular sites to see and places to visit that are within walking distance of the train station.  Here are five things to look for on your quick walking tour of Morioka:

Shopping Arcade

Morioka certainly is not the only town in Japan to boast a shotengai, or shopping arcade, but Morioka's shotengai is certainly among the most charming and interesting.  The arcade is pristine and offers many restaurants, cafes, and shops--each with its own little bit of character to offer.  Even the clinic pictured showcased Testuwan Atomu (Atom Boy) for good measure.


While cruising through the shopping arcade, you'll want to try one of Morioka's three signature noodle dishes: reimen, wankosoba, and jajamen.  Wankosoba deserves its own separate article because it is more of an experience than just a cuisine, but if you want unique style and flavor for a noodle dish in Japan, look no further than Morioka jajamen.  Simply, jajamen consists of noodles topped with cucumber and a fried soy and bean paste sauce.  Based on the Chinese "Zhiajiangmian," Jajamen has evolved with Japanese influence, using wide buckwheat or udon noodles instead of traditional Chinese men, employing Japanese vegetables like local cucumbers and onions, and adds different kinds of meat to the sauce.  The product is something unique and delicious to try when you're in Morioka.

Rock-Breaking Cherry Tree

About a block away from the shopping arcade is the Iwate Prefectural office, which has a very unique national treasure in front of the building: the Ishiwarizakura, or Rock-Breaking Cherry Tree.  Declared a national treasure in 1923, this cherry tree has become a symbol of resilience and strength for the city of Morioka.

Morioka Castle Ruins (and Sakurayama Shrine)

Also near the shopping arcade are the Morioka Castle Ruins.  The name can be misleading, as there is not much more than a few walls and bridges left.  However, what the ruins lack in man-made substance, they make up for in natural beauty.  The ruins now essentially comprise a large park in the middle of Morioka city, and when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, it may be one of the best hanami locations in all of Japan.  Even when they are not, the park is a beautiful place for a stroll, and one of the most photogenic spots in the city.  The Sakurayama Shrine that is on the castle grounds, with its massive boulder teetering above the shrine's honden (see the picture above), also makes for a worthwhile stop along the way!

Meiji-era architecture

Finally, Morioka offers a step back into Meiji-era Japan with western, turn-of-the century architecture.  Just across the river from the Morioka Castle Ruins is the Bank of Iwate Nanokashi, which stands out with its beautiful white and red brick.  Less than a block away from there is the Morioka Takuboku and Kenji Seishukan Museum.  There are a number of other buildings representing early 20th century Japan, but you should definitely include these two in your trip to Morioka!
So there you have it: the things to include for a 1/2 day trip to Morioka as you stop along your Shinkansen journey.  Certainly, you can extend the trip out to more than a half day--Morioka and the greater Iwate Prefecture have a lot to offer travelers--but if you're tight on time (like most travelers are), this is a great detour to take in order to maximize your Tohoku experience!

Mike B