This week in Exploring Japan, we look at Iwate Prefecture, one of the prefectures severely damaged by the 2011 tsunami.
Iwate is in the Tohoku region on the eastern side, facing the Pacific Ocean. It’s one of the nearest prefectures to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. The population is 1,330,530. Morioka is the capital city. The 5 largest cities are:
- Morioka (300,740)
- Ichinoseki (128,571)
- Oshu (127,804)
- Hanamaki (102,455)
- Kitakami (93,142)
Iwate’s population has been dropping for many years, as people move away to the big cities. Many of the coastal cities and towns have been severely damaged or destroyed due to the tsunami. It’s safe to visit those areas now, but the cleanup and rebuilding continue. If you do visit the coastal regions, be sure to spend some money to help the local economy.
Morioka Castle in Morioka was one of those castles built without a main tower. Instead, a turret was built. However, all buildings were demolished during the Meiji Restoration, and nothing has been rebuilt. However, the stone walls made of white granite remain and Iwate Park occupies the castle grounds.
Things to see and do
I never really knew much about Iwate, other than the fact that Morioka is the sister city of Victoria, BC, where I went to university. But I understand that there’s some amazing skiing in Iwate.
Morioka has a great view of Mt. Iwate. But what is there to do? You could visit Morioka Zoo. There are a couple of festivals that seem quite interesting. The big one is Sansa Odori, which is the taiko drum festival in summer, and supposedly has 100,000 participants. Chagu Chagu Umakko is a parade with around 100 horses that are decorated. Iwate Museum of Art has some local art. Hoonji looks to be an interesting Zen Temple.
Hachimantai is a small city that is known for just one thing, All Season Resort APPI.
Hanamaki has some hot springs, and also the Kenji Miyazawa Museum. There are some festivals, such as Hanamaki Matsuri, which has many synchronized dances, including the dance of the deer (Shishi Odori).
Hiraizumi is probably the biggest attraction in Iwate. Several sites in this town became a World Heritage Site in 2011. It rivaled Kyoto in size at one time. Chusonji temple is famous for its Golden Hall. Motsuji temple is known for its Pure Land Garden. Kanjizaio-in Ato was a garden, but is now more of a park. Muryoko-in Ato used to be a temple, but only the pond remains. Yanaginogosho Iseki is the site of the former palace, though only the foundation and pond remain. The final World Heritage Site is Mt. Kinkeisan, where Buddhist sutras were once buried. There are other attractions, as well. Takkoku no Iwaya Bishamon-do is a cave temple that looks very interesting.
Ichinoseki has some interesting sights. There are a couple of gorges that look worth seeing, including Genbikei and Geibikei. Tsuriyama is a hill that is supposed to be beautiful when cherry trees are blooming. Haishiwa Shrine is at the top of a hill with huge trees and very long staircase. The Yuugendou caves also look quite interesting.
Iwaizumi, a small town, is famous for its caves. Ryusendo is one of the largest limestone caves in Japan. There’s also the Sugawatari Tankendo Cave and the Kumanohana Observatory.
Tono is a small city that’s famous for its folktales. The Folk Villages are traditionally built and have artisans making traditional crafts. The largest is Tono Furusato Village. There are a couple of museums, the Tono Municipal Museum and the Tono Castle Town Materials Museum. Fukusenji temple has a five storey pagoda that’s apparently quite beautiful. Jokenji temple has Kappabuchi, a pond that is said to be the home of kappa, which are mythical water creatures.
I would list some other cities or towns, but those that have been omitted were damaged so severely that the sites likely don’t exist anymore. If they do still exist or have been rebuilt or restarted, please leave a comment.
Wanko Soba is a popular dish that consists of a small portion of soba noodles and some condiments. It’s also popular to eat it as all-you-can-eat.
Have you been to Iwate? Did I miss anything? Leave your recommendations in the comments.