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19 Best Things to Do in Morioka: See, Eat, and Shop Your Way Through Iwate's Capital City

19 Best Things to Do in Morioka: See, Eat, and Shop Your Way Through Iwate's Capital City

Date published: 17 March 2024

Named the #2 must-visit destination in 2023 by the New York Times, Morioka has quickly become a hotspot for tourists. Located in northern Japan, just a 2.5-hour JR Tohoku Shinkansen ride from Tokyo, Morioka City offers an off-the-beaten-path experience brimming with Japan's hidden gems.

From its rich history and delicious local cuisine to impressive museums and picturesque townscapes set against stunning mountains and natural scenery, Morioka ensures a plethora of awe-inspiring attractions. This guide provides the best sights, activities, shopping, dining, and unique experiences to fully appreciate the majestic wonders of Morioka.

(Main image: PIXTA)

Table of Contents
  1. Enjoy Morioka's Historical and Cultural Heritage
  2. Food: Indulge on Moriokas's local specialties
  3. Seasonal Activities in Morioka
  4. Enjoy Shopping in Morioka
  5. Explore Morioka with a tour guide
  6. Fun side trips from Morioka

Enjoy Morioka's Historical and Cultural Heritage

Morioka Castle Ruins Park (Iwate Park)

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Morioka (盛岡), the capital of Iwate Prefecture, serves as a vital center for the region's socio-economic activities and transportation. Its significance is rooted in history, tracing back to the era of the Nambu clan, a powerful samurai family that ruled the area for over 700 years. The legacy of this samurai heritage still lingers, with echoes of the past found throughout the Morioka Castle Ruins Park.

Once, a magnificent three-story castle, a symbol of the Nambu clan's dominion, dominated the heart of the park, overseeing the ancient samurai town. Although the castle's architecture was dismantled in the early 19th century, its majestic stone walls stand resilient, narrating the tale of its historical grandeur. However, the allure of Morioka Castle Ruins Park isn't just its historical significance. The park dazzles with stunning scenery throughout the year, adorned in the vibrant colors of seasonal blooms. A major draw for visitors is the cherry blossoms that flourish from late April to early May, wrapping the historical remnants in romantic pastel hues—a truly mesmerizing sight.

The park is a favored spot for Hanami (flower viewing), perfect for those looking to picnic under the splendid cherry blossoms. At night, the area transforms as paper lanterns light up, creating a magical atmosphere that's bound to captivate. But cherry blossoms aren't the only floral attractions; from the wisteria and hydrangeas of summer to the colorful gradients of maple and ginkgo leaves in autumn, and the serene snowscapes of winter, Morioka Castle Ruins Park offers an endless array of breathtaking vistas year-round.

  • Morioka Castle Ruins Park
    盛岡城跡公園 (岩手公園)
    • Address 1-37 Uchimaru, Morioka, Iwate 020-0023
    • Website: http://www.moriokashiroato.jp/

Rock-Breaking Cherry Tree (Ishiwarizakura)

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

If your trip to Morioka coincides with cherry blossom season, besides the Morioka Castle Ruins Park, you must also visit the city's renowned Rock-splitting cherry tree, affectionately known as Ishiwairzakura. Situated right next to the Morioka Courthouse, the Ishiwarizakura stands as a stunning testament to nature's resilience, being over 380 years old. True to its name, this remarkable 10-meter tree has emerged from a crack in a massive granite rock. Its extraordinary growth from such a peculiar place gives it a striking appearance that draws crowds every year, eager to witness this natural spectacle. Recognized as a Natural Treasure of Japan, the Ishiwarizakura offers a unique cherry blossom viewing opportunity that shouldn't be missed. Make sure to stop by and marvel at this breathtaking natural wonder!

  • Ishiwarizakura (The Rock-Splitting Cherry Tree)
    • Address 9-1 Uchimaru, Morioka, Iwate 020-8520

Morioka History and Culture Museum

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

After soaking in the beauty of the Morioka Castle Ruins Park, delve deeper into the city's rich history by visiting the Morioka History and Culture Museum, conveniently situated next to the park. This museum is a treasure trove of information on Morioka's past and cultural legacy. On the ground floor, you're greeted with displays showcasing Morioka's major festivals like the Chagu Chagu Umako Horse Festival, Morioka Sansa Odori, and the Aki Matsuri Dashi. You'll come face to face with many of the vibrant displays actually used in these festivals, providing a taste of the festivities even if you're not visiting during the events themselves. Seasonal events are hosted throughout the year, and if you're lucky, kids might get the chance to steer an actual Morioka Dashi or preview the Sansa Odori dance before the festival starts!

Venturing to the second floor, you'll find yourself in a realm of historical treasures. This level is packed with exhibitions shedding light on Morioka's samurai past and its journey towards modernization. With historical documents, artifacts, and visual aids like theaters and miniature models of historical townscapes, the museum offers an in-depth look at Morioka's ancient heritage.

Not to be overlooked, the museum's architecture itself is a sight to behold. Designed by the world-famous architect Kiyonori Kikutake, the building's unique structure adds an artistic flair to your historical exploration. At this museum, you not only get to brush up on your Morioka history but also appreciate some architectural artistry.

  • Morioka History and Culture Museum
    • Address 1-50 Uchimaru, Morioka, Iwate 020-0023
    • Website: http://www.morireki.jp

Morioka Hachimangu Shrine

Morioka Hachimangu in the background of Tomoshibi Alley (Photo: PIXTA)
Morioka Hachimangu in the background of Tomoshibi Alley (Photo: PIXTA)

Constructed in the 17th Century by the local feudal lord, Shigenobu Nambu, Morioka Hachimangu stands as Iwate's largest Shinto shrine, deeply cherished by the community since ancient times. The shrine venerates Hamutake no mikoto (Emperor Ojin), a deity associated with prosperity in agriculture, commerce, and education, promising a life filled with ample food, clothing, and shelter. Morioka Hachimangu is celebrated as a sacred power spot, deeply revered by many for its blessings on success and well-being.

The shrine is also the heart of one of Morioka's celebrated events: the Morioka Aki Matsuri (Morioka Spring Festival). During the festival, a grand Omikoshi (portable shrine) procession weaves through the neighborhood, creating a vibrant and festive atmosphere for the community to unite and express their love for their hometown. Although the original Morioka Hachimangu structures were lost to a natural disaster in 1884, the beautifully reconstructed red torii gate and the lavish main hall stand today as awe-inspiring symbols of resilience and devotion. Visiting Morioka Hachimangu offers a unique glimpse into the spiritual heritage of Morioka, making it a must-see for those seeking to connect with the city's sacred roots.

  • Morioka Hachimangu Shrine
    • Address 13-1 Hachimancho, Morioka, Iwate 020-0872
    • Website: https://morioka8man.jp

Iwate Museum of Art

(Photo: LIVE JAPAN Spot #lj0011469)
(Photo: LIVE JAPAN Spot #lj0011469)

Morioka isn't just steeped in history and culture; it's also a nurturing ground for a myriad of talented artists whose works inspire contemplation. At the heart of Morioka City lies the Iwate Museum of Art, showcasing an impressive array of contemporary visual arts. This includes sculptures, paintings, and crafts by celebrated local artists like Tetsugoro Yorozu, Shunsuke Matsumoto, and Yatsutake Funakoshi. One standout piece, Yatsutake Funakoshi's sculpture titled "Hara-no-jo" (Hara Castle), poignantly captures the vanity and despair of Christian soldiers during the Matsubara-no ran (Turmoil of Matsunbara), vividly bringing Morioka's Edo period history to life.

But the museum offers more than just a visual feast; its special exhibitions and workshops attract a wide audience. These workshops, designed for a variety of age groups and interests, range from painting sessions for children to craft activities for young adults, creating perfect opportunities for families to engage with and enjoy art together.

Food: Indulge on Moriokas's local specialties

Binge on the best Soba, Wanko Soba

(For illustrative purposes. Photo: PIXTA)
(For illustrative purposes. Photo: PIXTA)

If you're a noodle aficionado, you simply can't skip Morioka's famed local noodles, affectionately referred to as the "3 Best Noodles of Morioka": Wanko Soba, Morioka Jajamen, and Morioka Reimen. Among these, Wanko Soba boasts the richest history, tracing back over 400 years. It's a unique dining experience where traditional soba noodles are served in small, all-you-can-eat portions. This serving style ensures that guests can savor freshly boiled noodles to their heart's delight at a great value. Roughly 10-15 of these small servings equal one regular bowl, but don't be surprised if you find yourself going for much more, especially as the waiters cheer you on to keep adding more to your bowl. Just remember, if you're full, put a lid on your bowl, or else the noodles will keep coming!

And for those who love a good challenge, some places even host Wanko Soba eating competitions. So, if you've got a hearty appetite, why not try setting a new record? For an unforgettable Wanko Soba experience, head to Chokurian, a beloved spot among local soba enthusiasts since 1884.

  • Chokurian
    • Address 1-12-13, Nakanohashidori, Morioka-shi, Iwate, 020-0871
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Morioka Station (Tazawako Line / Tohoku Main Line / Yamada Line)
      12 minutes by bus
    • Phone Number 019-624-0441

Chow down on the local Jajamen Noodle

(For illustrative purposes. Photo: PIXTA)
(For illustrative purposes. Photo: PIXTA)

While it may not have the long history of Wanko Soba, another mouthwatering local noodle dish you won't want to miss in Morioka is Morioka Jajamen. This unique hot noodle dish is inspired by the Chinese jajamen but adapted to Iwate's local style. Similar to its original counterpart, Morioka Jajamen consists of freshly boiled wheat noodles, but it's generously topped with niku-miso (a savory paste made from miso and minced meat), cucumber, and spring onions. Give it a good mix, and you're in for a treat—a bowl bursting with sweet and savory flavors that are utterly delicious (Umai).

For an added twist, feel free to season it with condiments like vinegar, grated ginger, garlic, and Chinese chili oil to tailor it to your taste. The distinct finish to Morioka Jajamen sets it apart from the original Chinese version. When you're nearly done, leave a mouthful of noodles, crack an egg over it, then mix in some additional soup and niku-miso. That first sip will introduce your taste buds to a blend of flavors that create an unforgettable culinary experience.

For the quintessential Morioka Jajamen experience, make your way to Kojan Odori Store, a gem among locals and a well-kept secret for authentic flavor.

Enjoy Iwate Beef and Iwate Shorthorn beef

(For illustrative purposes. Photo: PIXTA)
(For illustrative purposes. Photo: PIXTA)

When you're in Japan, indulging in Wagyu Beef is a must for many. Known for its exquisite marbling that melts in your mouth, this gastronomic delight is synonymous with premium Wagyu beef. What might be less known, however, is that Iwate Prefecture boasts some of the highest quality Wagyu beef in Japan. Iwate beef refers to the Kuroge Wagyu (Japanese Black) raised throughout the prefecture. Among these, Maezawa beef stands out—a premium Wagyu limited to cattle from the Maezawa region in the southern part of Iwate. Tasting this branded Wagyu, you'll be captivated by the divine flavors that envelop your palate instantly.

However, if the idea of rich marbling doesn't appeal to you, Iwate offers an alternative: Tanzaku beef (Shorthorn beef). This leaner option allows you to appreciate the texture of the meat more, with more red meat and less fat. Whether you're in the mood to indulge in luxurious marbles or prefer a leaner cut, Iwate beef has something for every preference.

For a truly memorable Wagyu experience in Iwate, make your way to Steak Teppan Ryori Wakana. There, you can treat yourself to a special course meal prepared Teppan-yaki style, showcasing the best of Iwate's Wagyu.

Enjoy premium sake at the Asabiraki Sake Brewery

(For illustrative purposes. Photo: PIXTA)
(For illustrative purposes. Photo: PIXTA)

Iwate's beautiful natural environment, complete with pristine waters, makes it an ideal place for producing some of the finest sake in the world. This prefecture has been renowned for its premium sake since the Edo period, famously associated with the "Nanbu Toji" – one of Japan's "Three Great Toji (Brewmasters)." Thanks to this illustrious legacy, Iwate is home to some of the top sake breweries in Japan.

In Morioka, you'll find Asabiraki Sake Brewery, one of Iwate's most distinguished sake distilleries and a repeated gold medal winner in prestigious sake competitions. At Asabiraki, you have the opportunity to purchase the highest quality Daiginjo, freshly poured from the distillery. Beyond their exquisite sake, they offer a variety of sake-associated goods, like baked cakes infused with sake, ensuring there's something for everyone to enjoy, whether you're a sake enthusiast or not.

For those curious about what sets Asabiraki Sake Brewery apart, booking a tour offers a behind-the-scenes look into their secrets of crafting high-quality sake. It's a unique chance to dive deep into the world of sake production and experience the rich flavors of Iwate's prestigious sake firsthand.

  • Asabiraki Corporation
    • Address 10-34 Daijijicho, Morioka, Iwate 020-0828
    • Website: http://www.asabiraki-net.jp/osake/english/index.html

Enjoy a beer at the Baeren Brewery

(For illustrative purposes. Photo: PIXTA)
(For illustrative purposes. Photo: PIXTA)

Looking for more reasons to say "Kampai" in Iwate? You're in luck! Beyond its renowned sake, Iwate is also a hotspot for premium craft beer production. Nestled in the Kamiyama region's forest, just a stone's throw from Morioka, you'll discover Baeren Brewery. This brewery prides itself on producing superb classic beers using vintage equipment and traditional methods inspired by southern Germany. For beer enthusiasts who appreciate the rich flavors of premium malt, Baeren's traditional European brewing techniques are sure to impress.

You're welcome to head straight to the tap to taste their fresh brew of the day. However, if you're interested in a deeper dive, book a brewery tour to see the unique equipment in action and learn about their brewing process. In the brewery's store, you can pick up popular classics like their CLASSIC, Schwarz, and Alt, or even snag some limited-edition seasonal beers.

And if you can't make it to the brewery in the Kamiyama region, there's no need to worry! Baeren Brewery runs four restaurants and pubs across Morioka, ensuring you won't miss out on enjoying their finely crafted beers. Notably, SAIEN Microbrewery offers a unique experience with an actual brewery inside the restaurant, allowing you to relish the taste of fresh premium beer without leaving the city's convenience.

Seasonal Activities in Morioka

Enjoy Morioka Sansa Odori

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Do you love to dance? If you're a dance enthusiast, the Morioka Sansa Odori Festival is your stage! This celebrated summer festival in Iwate is known for its captivating rhythms of Japanese drums and traditional dances. The Sansa Odori's roots trace back to the 17th Century, believed to be a joyful celebration marking the defeat of rampaging demons by the deity of Mitsuishi Shrine, "Mitsuishi-kami."

From August 1 to August 4, the streets of Morioka City come alive with over 30,000 dancers and taiko drummers, creating an unforgettable spectacle. A must-see highlight is the "Miss Sansa Odori," where female dancers, adorned in breathtaking kimonos, lead the parade with intricate dance choreographies. And the best part? As the parade comes to a close, the audience gets invited to join the "Wa-odori," turning the event into an inclusive dance party.

For a festival experience unlike any other, immerse yourself in the vibrant celebration at Morioka's Sansa Odori Festival.

See the Morioka Fireworks Festival (Early August)

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Besides the vibrant summer festivals, another quintessential aspect of Japanese summer you simply can't overlook is the traditional fireworks displays. These spectacular events, often linked with the Bon festival tradition—a time to honor the spirits of the deceased—light up the night skies with mesmerizing colors and sounds. For those eager to experience this in Iwate, the Morioka Fireworks Festival is the place to be. Held early in August along the banks of the Kitakami River near the Tonan Ohashi Bridge, the festival features around 10,000 brilliant fireworks that illuminate Morioka's night skies, accompanied by resounding booms that you can feel pulsating through you.

A wide array of fireworks will captivate spectators throughout the evening, but the showstopper is undoubtedly the Shakudama, a 30cm wide fireworks shell whose launch creates a breathtaking spectacle in the sky. This dynamic display stands as the pinnacle of the event, ensuring an unforgettable highlight to your summer evening.

Enjoy Shopping in Morioka

Go shopping in Sakanacho

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Have you ever encountered the term Shotengai? It's a concept that dates back to the medieval samurai era, referring to a bustling alley brimming with a variety of shops catering to the daily needs of locals. Although modern mega shopping centers have started to take over their traditional roles, the nostalgic charm of Shotengai continues to attract visitors.

Sakanacho is a prime example of a Shotengai where the people of Morioka go for their everyday shopping. Esteemed as a key shopping hub since the Edo period, Sakanacho retains its significance with over 80 shops stretched along a 365-meter-long shopping arcade. Whether you're on the hunt for local seafood, vegetables, fruits, souvenirs, or daily necessities, Sakanacho offers an abundance of options. So, if you're looking for the perfect Omiyage (souvenir) to bring back home, chances are, you'll find it in Sakanacho!

Additionally, the arcade hosts a variety of fun events throughout the year, making it an ideal spot for family outings. If you're traveling with children, checking out these events could add a memorable touch to your family's adventure.

  • Sakanacho
    • Address 6-6-12 Sakanacho, Morioka, Iwate 020-0878
    • Website: https://www.sakanacho.com

See the city from MALIOS

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

For a relaxed spot to visit amid your bustling sightseeing schedule, don't miss MALIOS, a cherished landmark of Morioka and one of the tallest buildings in northern Tohoku. Situated right next to the western exit of Morioka station, MALIOS is a versatile commercial complex featuring a variety of facilities, including shops, restaurants, cafes, and convention meeting rooms. The highlight of the building is the observatory room on the 20th floor, offering a stunning panoramic view of the city and even a bird's eye view of Iwate's iconic mountain ranges. At the observation deck, you can occasionally find local exhibitions, providing a perfect chance to enjoy some local art while indulging in the breathtaking views of the city and its natural surroundings.

    • Address 2 Chome-9-1 Moriokaekinishidori, Morioka, Iwate 020-0045
    • Website: https://www.malios.co.jp/sp_english/

Explore Morioka with a tour guide

Take a full-day tour conducted by a government-licensed guide

(Photo: Viator)
(Photo: Viator)

Locals truly know their neighborhood the best, so for a genuine Morioka experience, why not let a professional take care of the planning? The Morioka Full-Day Private Tour, conducted by a government-licensed guide, provides a customized journey through Morioka. Spend around 6 hours visiting top attractions such as Morioka Hachimangu, Morioka Castle ruins, Morioka Handi-Works Square, and Hoonji Temple, all while your guide personalizes the day based on your interests. Navigating a foreign country, especially in the rural areas of Japan, can be challenging. To fully enjoy Morioka without any hassles, it's a good idea to consider seeking advice from an expert.

Demolition show, sushi making, classic cafe tour

(Photo: Viator)
(Photo: Viator)

Kick off your Morioka adventure right at the water square in front of Morioka Station, where the friendly Chef Yuichi Suzuki will be waiting to say hello! Together, you'll hop over to Fish Restaurant Suzutoku, just a quick 20-minute drive away. And guess what? There’s a chance to pop into a historic café on the way, a place that Kenji Miyazawa himself used to visit.

Once you arrive at Suzutoku, get ready for a show as a skilled fisherman demonstrates how to expertly prepare fish right before your eyes. But it’s not all just watching – you’ll get to roll up your sleeves and try your hand at using a Japanese knife to prep smaller fish like horse mackerel. The best part? You’ll be making your own sushi. Yep, you heard that right!

And if you’re feeling extra fancy, there are some cool add-ons you can choose from. Indulge in a delicious sushi lunch or dinner whipped up by Chef Suzuki himself, savor the highest quality and finest salted sea urchins (available from June to August), have a go at roasting seasonal veggies, and enjoy some local sake and whiskey. How’s that for a day to remember?

Morioka Town Walking Tour with Meal

(Photo: Viator)
(Photo: Viator)

Alternatively, if you're in the mood for something a bit more low-key but still want to soak up all Morioka has to offer, how about a shorter walking tour led by a local guide?

This easy-going adventure lasts about 2 and a half hours and takes you through the heart of Morioka City. You'll stroll through Odori (Morioka's very own "Wall Street"), wander around the Morioka Castle Ruins, admire the Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building, explore Gozaku STORE, and meander along the Nakatsugawa Walking Trail. And what's a tour without some food? You'll wrap it up with some delicious Wanko Soba at Azumaya.

But wait, there’s more! Along the way, your guide will point out the perfect spots to snap those Instagram-worthy shots of Mt. Iwate. Plus, if you’re visiting at the right time, they’ll take you to the best spots to catch the cherry blossoms in April or the stunning autumn colors in October. So, for a fun, efficient, and stress-free way to explore Morioka, consider signing up for this walking tour with a local expert!

Check out (or join) Kitakami River Rubber Boat Race

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Surprisingly, Morioka is somewhat of a hidden gem when it comes to being a water city. Within its bounds, numerous streams, originating from the Kitakami River, weave through the city. Leveraging this aquatic bounty, Morioka hosts the Kitakami River Rubber Boat Race every year on the 4th Sunday of July. This event sees participants hitting the water in rubber boats for a spirited race down the river.

Open to everyone, the race attracts over 500 teams annually, making it Japan's largest rubber boat competition. The adventure starts at Minami Ohashi, where participants are then shuttled to Shijuushida Dam to begin their waterborne journey. The race concludes at Kaiun Bashi, challenging participants to navigate the stream's flow efficiently.

Worry not if you arrive without a boat; rentals are available, ensuring everyone has a chance to join in the fun! Just note that you need to apply ahead via the official website listed below.

・When: Late July
・Start point: Shijushida Dam; Finish point: Kaiunbashi Bridge
・Website: https://www.kawakudari-morioka.jp/

Fun side trips from Morioka

Head out to Koiwai Farm

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Nestled in Shizukuishi, just a 15-minute drive from the Morioka IC, Koiwai Farm is a sprawling agricultural haven, spreading across 3000 hectares. The heart of the action is Makiba Park, where a wealth of family-friendly activities awaits. From sheep and sheepdog shows to pony rides, hands-on butter-making sessions, and craft workshops, there's something for everyone. Plus, the park is dotted with eateries showcasing the freshest dairy products straight from the farm. Don't miss out on Sanroku-kan for their special BBQ and fresh omelette rice, or head to Koiwai Farm Kitchen for some of the best soft serves and pizza around!

But Koiwai Farm is more than just farmland; it also encompasses vast stretches of pristine forest, home to significant cultural heritage sites like the "Kamimaru Cowshed," a historic cowshed dating back to the early 1900s. The farm offers various guided tours, from leisurely walks to comprehensive bus tours that cover every corner of the estate.

Each season brings its unique charm to the farm. Among these, the Lone Cherry Tree stands out, offering a breathtaking scene of cherry blossoms and freely roaming cows against the stunning backdrop of Mt. Iwate—an iconic view exclusive to Koiwai Park. When winter arrives, the farm transforms into a magical landscape with glittering lights and snow activities like snowshoe trekking, snow slides, and snowball fights, attracting visitors seeking winter fun.

  • Koiwai Farm
    • Address 36-1 Maruyachi, Shizukuishi Town, Iwate District, Iwate Prefecture, 020-0507
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Morioka Station (Tazawako Line / Tohoku Main Line / Yamada Line)
      30 minutes by bus
    • Phone Number 019-692-4321

Written by:

Hiroko Ariga

Hiroko Ariga

Hiroko, a Japanese national raised in Sydney, Australia, is a graduate of Sophia University with a degree in Literature and holds an MBA from the University of Newcastle, Australia. Initially working for a global institution, she transitioned to freelance writing after the birth of her son. In addition to LIVE JAPAN, she is a contributor to Tokyo Weekender Magazine. A Registered National Government Licensed Guide Interpreter, she actively collaborates with the Kanagawa government, designing tours around Hayama and Miura Peninsula and is recognized as an official Kanagawa guide. Besides being a devoted mother, Hiroko is a Kimono teacher passionate about Ikebana and Japanese History.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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