Morioka (盛岡) is the capital of Iwate Prefecture. It serves well as a stopover town on the way to either Akita or Hokkaido and there is enough to see and do for a day or two if you need somewhere to sleep or stock up on supplies. Morioka can also be used as base for day trips to Kakunodate or some of the other small towns in the area.
For a traveller, Morioka is perhaps not high on any itinerary and is best known as a major transport hub for Tohoku. From here, one can branch off on the Shinkansen towards Akita and some of the tourist towns on the Akita Shinkansen line.
Morioka is an ancient city; it has been inhabited since prehistoric times. You're not likely to see much of its history, however, as it presents itself as much like any Japanese city of its size.
Morioka is a major Shinkansen (bullet train) station on the Tohoku Shinkansen line. It is also a major transit station for regular trains.
The most frequent Shinkansen services from Tokyo to Morioka are the all reserved Komachi (こまち) and Hayate (はやて), which normally run coupled together as a single train. The ride takes 2½ hours at a cost of ¥13,840 each way, so you may want to consider purchasing a JR East Rail Pass or Japan Rail Pass beforehand.
Faster Hayabusa (はやぶさ) services make two daily round-trips between Morioka and both Tokyo and Aomori, complementing the other services. Fares for the Hayabusa are slightly higher (¥14,340 from Tokyo).
The Japan Rail Pass and JR East Rail Pass are valid for travel on the Hayate, Komachi and Hayabusa. On the other hand, rail passes will only cover the basic fare if you are willing to try out the premium first class seating on the Hayabusa called "GranClass". To use "GranClass" the limited express and GranClass fare has to be paid (¥14,640 from Tokyo). Without a rail pass, "GranClass" costs ¥22,830 between Tokyo and Morioka.
Morioka is a good option for a stopover if you are travelling by train to either Hakodate or Akita during peak times where it can sometimes be impossible to get a seat to your final destination. Depending on where you are going, you will be allocated a seat on either the Hayate or Komachi, which travel together as a joined train until Morioka where they split off to go to Shin-Hakodate and Akita respectively. If you are only travelling as far as Morioka you can be allocated a seat on either part of the joined train. It's then possible to spend the night in Morioka and get an early train in the morning to the place you want to go, or to jump on a local train if you're only going so far as an intermediate Shinkansen stop between Morioka and Akita or Shin-Hakodate, for example if you're going to Kakunodate.
An overnight bus service, the Rakuchin, runs twice nightly from Tokyo Station to Morioka (about 7½ hours, ¥7,850 one way). Other companies offer cheaper, less comfortable rides for as little as ¥5,000.
Morioka is a small enough city to walk around. The furthest you're likely to want to go is the Morioka Castle site which is about a 30-minute walk from the front of the train station over the steel arch bridge and through the central business district. You can otherwise get the bus to the castle site (below), but the walk through the city is quite pleasant, though can be slippery, snowy and just plain cold in winter and unpleasantly hot and humid in summer.
From the station, the easiest and safest way to into the city proper is to use the underground tunnels from the station which go underneath the bus station and the main road. This can be slightly confusing at first for people who cannot read Japanese signs and is not wheelchair accessible.
There is a wide and flat walking trail along the Kitakami river that makes for a pleasant walk or a good jogging spot with nice views of Mt Iwate. It's about a five minute walk from the front of the station, walking straight ahead to the steel arch bridge and then taking the stairs on either side of it down to the river.
There is a large and sometimes confusing bus centre at the front of the station. Watch where you're going here as buses come from all directions while you're trying to cross the short distance to the shops in front of the station. Sometimes there will be a security guard who will stop traffic for you to cross.
Iwateken Kotsu bus operates the Den-Den-Mushi Bus (でんでんむし, Japanese for 'snail', which seems a strange name for a bus; it's easy to spot with a picture of a multi-coloured snail on the side of each bus) which encircles the city central area starting from Morioka main station via castle park and Bus Center. The cost is ¥100 per ride, and run every 10 min both clockwise and anti-clockwise during daytime. For such a low price it is a good way to get your bearings if you're new to Morioka.
- 1 Morioka Castle (盛岡城), ☏ . Morioka Castle was built in the 16th century by Nanbu Nobunao, the first daimyo of the area. The castle was used as a residence during its heyday until it was dismantled during the Meiji Period. The area was converted into a park in 1906 and is known today as a popular place to see cherry blossoms in the spring. It is also very pretty in winter when the snow falls on the varied landscape and old castle walls, but it can be slippery and you can expect to trudge through thick snow. Free.
- 2 Morioka History and Culture Museum (もりおか歴史文化館). The museum features exhibits about the history of the city, particularly its days as a castle town, but also includes artifacts from early civilizations to modern times. There are also exhibits of the city's festivals, such as the Chaku Chagu Festival. ¥300.
- 3 Morioka Museum of Great Predecessors (盛岡市先人記念館), ☏ . A museum with rotating exhibits about people who have been influential in Morioka. ¥300.
- 4 Nansho-so (南昌荘).
- 5 Morioka City Science Center (盛岡市子ども科学館), ☏ . A children's museum with a educational science exhibits and a planetarium. Museum entrance is ¥200, Planetarium is ¥300..
- 6 Hoonji (報恩寺). Contains 500 rakan statues.
- 7 Oyakuen Garden (御薬園). The garden was constructed in the early Edo Period as an herb garden and was later converted into a garden for the local lord. It became a villa in 1908 until the buildings around the garden were turned into a museum. Today the garden is a popular spot to see autumn foliage.
- 8 Takuboku Shinkon House (啄木新婚の家). The Takuboku Shinkon House is the former residence of Takuboku Ishikawa, a famous local poet. He lived here as a newlywed with his wife albeit only for less than 3 weeks. Free.
- 9 Iwate Prefectural Art Museum (岩手県立美術館). 09:30-18:00.
- 10 Shiwa Castle (志波城, shiwa-jō). Reconstruction of an ancient jōsaku fort (城柵).
- 11 Former Nakamura Residence (旧中村家住宅).
- 12 Hara-kei Memorial Museum (原敬記念館), ☏ . 09:00-17:00. The former home of Takashi Hara which has been converted into a museum. Takashi Hara was a Morioka native who served as Prime Minister of Japan from 1918 to 1921. He is also known for being Japan's first Christian Prime Minister. The building contains documents and personal possessions. ¥200.
- 13 Fukazawa Kōko Nonoha Art Museum (深沢紅子野の花美術館, fukuzawa kōko nonoha no bijutsukan), ☏ . 10:00-18:00. A Morioka native, Fukazawa was a 20th-century painter of European-style art. ¥500.
- 14 Morioka Hachimangu (盛岡八幡宮).
- 15 Sixteen Arhats (十六羅漢).
- 16 Daijiji (大慈寺).
- Ishikawa Takuboku Memorial Museum (石川啄木記念館, ishikawa takuboku kinenkan). A famous tanka poet who was born here in the Tamayama district. The museum has information and displays about him and his poetry. ¥300.
- 17 Iwate University Museum and Botanical Garden (岩手大学ミュージアム, iwate daigaku myūjiamu), ☏ . 10:00-15:00. A museum established by the university with a nice botanical garden outside.
- 18 Morioka Zoo (盛岡市動物公園, morioka-shi dōbutsuen). The Morioka Zoo a great place to check out the animals in a peaceful surrounding. ¥500.
- 1 [dead link] Morioka City Ice Arena (盛岡市アイスアリーナ, morioka-shi aisu arīna), ☏ . An ice skating rink. You can come to watch hockey games and figure skating events. Check the website for event dates. Until 2015, it was the public skating rink of the city.
- 2 [dead link] Morioka skating rink (盛岡市アイスリンク, morioka-shi aisurinku). The public skating rink of the city, opened in 2015.
- Morioka Handcrafts Village (盛岡手づくり村 Morioka tezukuri-mura).
Festivals and events
Morioka has a number of popular festivals.
- Chagu Chagu Umakko (チャグチャグ馬コ). 2nd Saturday of June. A parade of 100 colorfully decorated horses.
- Sansa Odori (盛岡さんさ踊り). August 1–4. The much anticipated summer taiko (Japanese drum festival. Approximately 10,000 participating taiko players, flute players, and dancers parade down the main street, making this the largest taiko festival in the world and listed in the Guinness Book of Records, Odori. After the performance is finished, viewers can join in and dance in the street with the performers as a part of "Wa Daiko". A unique vibe, and absolutely free!
- Funekko Nagashi (舟っこ流し). August 16th.
- Hachiman Shrine Festival. September 14–16.
There are some good shops selling local souvenirs in the station. The station shopping centre also has an underground area with a number of restaurants, including a McDonald's if you're so inclined.
If you're in Morioka as a stopover destination and need to stock up on basics, there is a large supermarket, Jusco, by walking left on the main road in front of the station for about ten minutes, it's on the right just after you walk under the overpass. A large branch of Daiso, a national ¥100 shop chain, that sells cheap and basic and sometimes strange Japanese goods, can be found in the city centre. If you walk in a straight line from the station across the bridge and into the city you will find it on the right. There are also plenty of convenience stores in the area.
- Nambu Sembei (南部煎餅). Morioka's traditional wheat crackers.
- Nambu Ironware (南部鉄器, nanbu tekki).
- Chagu Chagu Umakko. Kids' toy horse.
There are a lot of restaurants in the underground shopping area of the station, though they can be quite expensive and not especially good. Other eating options are in the central business district area or in the area in front of the station.
- Morioka Reimen (盛岡冷麺). Spicy cold noodles severd with half a boiled egg, kim-chi and slide of either apple, watermelon or both.
- Wankosoba (わんこそば). Small servings of soba, served "all you can eat".
- Morioka Jajamen (盛岡じゃじゃ麺). Chinese-style noodles with miso.
Morioka is a small city, but it offers a number of good drinking options. The water in the area is clean and pure so there are a number of sake breweries. Japanese style 'Izakaya' bars are everywhere, and there are also some German style beer breweries which offer a variety of brews.
- Ootaru, Oodori (15 minutes walk from the station). Japanese-style eatery with Asahi on tap and ¥1,500 2½-hr nomihodai (all you can drink) deals. Try the Pizza.
As with most cities in Japan, karaoke is a good drinking option, especially if you have a large group. Most places are ¥1,000 an hour, including drinks. A good place is right off Odori on the forth floor across the street from Ootaru.
- Faces is a western-style and western-owned bar and club near the movie theaters on Eigakan Dori (movie theater street). Great place to meet other English speakers.
Budget travellers of the male variety will likely quickly have their attention drawn to a heavily advertised capsule hotel and sauna existing directly opposite the train station. The price can be extremely cheap, but be warned however that capsule patrons can expect a rapidly upward sliding price scale on repeat use of the sauna facilities, and you may well wish to use them a second time in the morning because the air conditioning intake for the sleeping capsules lies in the smoker's lounge.
An alternative lies in a relaxation cafe along the main street on the left hand side, 2F, about a 1 km from the station. Name begins with a Z~. Essentially this is a manga/internet cafe where the owner has thrown away all pretense of people reading manga and focussed on the essentials, napping, relaxing, sleeping, showering (small surcharge) and maybe checking the internet. Warm Balinese themed decor.
- 1 Toyoko Inn Morioka-eki Minami, Overlooking the river (3 minutes east of Morioka Station). A particularly nice Toyoko Inn. Opened in 2009 the odd numbered rooms overlook the river and from a high floor you get a nice sunrise. Toyoko Inns will provide a decent, but basic, Japanese style breakfast. Do not expect English to be spoken, but you will be able to get away with basic functions like checking in and out in English. Perfectly serviceable and clean hotel. ¥5,600; winter discounts available.
- 2 Route Inn Morioka, 〒020-0034 3-25, Moriokaekimaedori, Morioka-shi, Iwate (turn right on the main road outside the station and a few minutes walk, hotel is on the left). Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. A slightly more expensive, but better business hotel option compared to the two Toyoko Inns. Check-in at 13:00, rather than 16:00, a decent breakfast and there is a large communal bathing facility, something that should be enjoyed as often as possible while in Japan. ¥6000 - 7000.
|Routes through Morioka|
|Shin-Aomori ← Ninohe ← Iwate-Numakunai ←||N S||→ Shin-Hamamaki → Sendai|
|Akita ← Kakunodate ← Tazawa-ko ← Shizukuishi ←||N S||→ END → connects to Tōhoku line|
|Aomori ← Hachinohe ←||N S||→ Hanamaki → Sendai|
|Aomori ← Matsuo-Hachimantai ←||N S||→ Hanamaki → Sendai|