Morioka is a lesser known city in Japan, and to be honest it can get small after living here for a while. Nonetheless, there are plenty of historical sights which are still interesting to visit.
If you are a history buff then a place like this would definitely spark some interest. I, however am not a history buff, but there are still plenty of places to check out without knowing the history. If you are wondering what exactly there is to do or see around this city, let me tell you:
Morioka Castle Park: Ok, so there aren’t any samurais or ninjas strolling these grounds, but part of the castle still stands and if you get to stroll through it, just stop and think “Whoa, samurais used to roam here” and it`s almost the same thing. Probably the most well known site in Morioka, Morioka Castle Site Park still stands as a park for locals to casually stroll through, either solo with your thoughts or hand in hand with your lover. It’s a serene and peaceful scene and it can make you forget that you’re located in the middle of a city. While the actual castle no longer stands, the tall, stone walls do and they`re pretty cool to see.
500 Buddhist Disciples: I didn’t think this place would have such an impact on me as it did. I had befriended the front doorman of the Hoonji Temple, where it’s located, and actually avoided going into the room of the 500 Disciples because I figured it was just another praying site that I wouldn’t care much for. The Hoonji Temple was beautiful and I enjoyed having conversations with my new Japanese local friend. When he finally convinced me to go inside, I was stunned. Literally 499 statues stare at you as you walk in (the doorman explains why it’s 499, let him tell you! It goes along with the experience). It is very creepy, but I will admit that I did feel something different in the air that I can’t describe. It’s something you have to experience for yourself.
Wanko Soba Challenge: Soba noodles are handmade buckwheat noodles and are especially popular in the Tohoku region. What you will only find in the Tohoku region is Wanko Soba: An all-you-can-eat-soba challenge. How many bowls of soba can you eat? It’s a race between you and the server who stands beside you and fills your bowl with bite sized portions of soba while you slurp them up as fast as possible. Supposedly the average for women is 20-30 and for men is 50-60, but um, I got 97 (if only I had known I was so close to 100!) and one of my male friends got 157, so let’s see how well you do!
Eat Morioka reiman and jajamen: Besides wanko soba, Morioka is also well known for 2 other noodles: morioka reiman and jajamen. Reiman is a cold noodle soup and many people actually don’t prefer it, but I don’t discriminate between hot or cold. The dish is actually originally korean, but Morioka stole it and put their own Japanese twist on it. It comes with a piece of fruit inside, so don’t be surprised when you find watermelon floating in your soup. Jajaman isn’t a soup at first, but rather starts as a simple noodle dish. Served with some meaty miso paste on top, you mix it together with the noodles, but don’t finish it all! At the end, you crack a raw egg on top and the server takes your dish to pour some soup broth on top and that’s when you finish it. It’s quite delicious if I do say so myself.
Walk along the Nakatsugawa River: The Japanese may be hard working people, but they do also know how to spend some quiet time. Walking along the Nakatsugawa river is one of them. My first week in Japan I saw a lot of people, even ones in business suits, peacefully walking beside the river, gazing at the stream. It’s very calming, especially on a clear sunny day. If it’s fall then you can see the salmon migrating upstream to lay their eggs (actually it’s really heartbreaking to watch them struggle, but that’s nature’s work at hand if you’re interested).
Get a coffee from Vivi at Fukakusa: I`m no coffee connoisseur but I do enjoy my atmospheres. Fukakusa is probably the tiniest coffee shop you`ll ever walk into in Japan, or anywhere for that matter but it`s cozy: only-2-tables-available-cozy. Located right along the Nakatsugawa River you can sit by the window and watch as the water rushes by while sipping your coffee made by Vivi, the shop owner. She knows how to speak English and always enjoys getting to practice so don’t be shy and have a conversation over coffee with a stranger!
These of course are just a few of my own suggestions. There are other things to see like the Cherry Blossom Splitting tree, the Devil’s Handprint, and the Hachimangu Shrine so if you get a chance to check those out, definitely do. Morioka is a big little city with it’s own history, dialect, and relaxed environment. If you don’t want to be shoved into a train and lost in the seas of business people then Morioka is definitely a quiet environment worth checking out.