A Day in Morioka City, Iwate – Mystery and Magic Turtles
Morioka City is the capital of Iwate prefecture, one of the three Northern Tohoku prefectures. The city is inland near the border of Akita prefecture and surrounded by tall mountains. Although Morioka is not a hotspot tourist destination; however, there are many interesting places in and around the city.
Iwate Park, also known as Morioka-jyouato Park, was built on the ruins of the former Morioka Castle. The park, ten minutes from Morioka station by bus, is surrounded by large stone walls of the former castle, and has beautiful cherry blossoms and maple trees. This makes the park beautiful to visit in either spring or fall. There is also a large shrine in the park, the Sakurayama Shrine, with a huge enshrined boulder.
Another minor feature of the shrine was a turtle washing area. There is a statue of a turtle, and if you wash the turtle’s shell once it's supposed to extend your life by ten years. I washed the shell three times.
After spending a morning in the park, I went with a friend to a ramen restaurant. There’s a type of chilled noodle in Morioka that includes a different fruit depending on the season. I went in summer, which meant my noodles came with a watermelon slice. I’m not used to sweet noodles, but I did enjoy the pairing.
After lunch we went to the Demon Hand Shrine. The name of Iwate prefecture (literally rock hand) comes from the legend related to this shrine. Long ago, there were demons wreaking havoc in the villages, so the villagers prayed to the gods for help. The gods bound the demons to rocks and made them swear to leave and never return. As a sign of their pact, the demons left their handprints on the rocks to which they had been bound. On the rocks at the shrine today there are rusted chains, but I couldn’t find any actual hand prints.
After visiting the Demon Hand Shrine, I went to the Kyu-Nanbu-shi Villa Garden, a historic Japanese garden in the city. There is a large lotus-koi pond and many maple and cherry trees. The park was established by the Nabu family, the lords of Morioka Castle, after the Meiji Restoration.
Near the villa garden, one can stop by the Houonji Buddhist Temple. In the temple there are five hundred statues of Buddhist figures, the Go-hyaku rakan (五百羅漢). The word "rakan" is a Buddhist term referring to a Buddhist priest who has achieved enlightenment, and the statues at Houonji Temple honor five-hundred such priests and monks.
Before heading home on the Komachi Shinkansen line, I stopped to get gelato at Matsubokkuri (松ぼっくり), a famous gelato shop north of Morioka City. There are many unique flavors of gelato like tomato, cheese, and yogurt along with more established flavors like blueberry, rum raisin, and ocean sherbet.
Morioka City is like a hidden gem hidden in Tohoku. The city almost reminded me of places in Tokyo like Jiyugaoka. There was a liveliness to the people that was refreshing given the current climate. If given the chance I’d definitely go back and spend a few more days visiting the temples, parks, and restaurants of that town.