Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Morioka’s Must-Visit Spot: Morioka-jō Castle Site Park

Morioka-jō Castle Site Park (盛岡城跡公園), not far from Morioka Station, is one of Japan’s top 100 city parks. Renovated from Morioka Castle ruins in 1906, it is a convenient spot in the city center to adore cherry blossoms, fall foliage, and snow scenery. The park is an ideal place in the city center to experience both the natural scenery and historical significance.

In addition to the vegetation, you will also see monuments with Japanese poems engraved in Morioka-jō Castle Site Park. They are the poems of famous Japanese poets Ishikawa Takuboku (石川啄木) and Miyazawa Kenji (宮沢賢治). Both were born and raised in Iwate Prefecture.

© 岩手県観光協会

The castle, completed in 1633 by the first Morioka Domain’s lord, Nanbu Nobunao (南部信直), was once called Kozukata Castle (不来方城). Although the castle buildings were destroyed during the Meiji Restoration, the granite stone walls made of stacked granite remain. Seeing the walls in the park, one can easily imagine the magnificent appearance of the base of the Morioka Domain (盛岡藩).

Refer to HERE for Morioka-jō Castle Site Park’s map.

Refer to our article on Mitsuishi Shrine if you want to know why Morioka was called Kozukata.

Morioka-jō Castle Site Park’s Four Seasons

With around 250 cherry blossoms planted, the Morioka Cherry Blossom Festival (盛岡さくらまつり) is held at Morioka-jō Castle Site Park from around mid-April to Golden Week. Even at night, the park is still lively, with people adorning the flowers illuminated by traditional lanterns.

© 岩手県観光協会
© 岩手県観光協会

Before the cherry blossoms start to bloom, around 100 plum blossoms can be adorned from late March to early April. In summer, parts of the park are colored by wisteria in May and hydrangeas in July. From late October to mid-November, you can enjoy the vivid autumn colors in the park.

Tip: While in Japanese, refer to the Morioka-jō Castle Site Park Map (2nd page) that marks the cherry and plum blossoms and the fall foliage. The hydrangeas are close to the Tsurugaike Pond (鶴ヶ池).

© 岩手県観光協会

In February, when the castle ruins are blanketed by snow, the Morioka Snow Festival (もりおか雪あかり) is held, where the warm light of candles and pure white snow create a fantastical world.

Even without the candles, the snowy landscape combined with the historical castle stone walls create a captivating atmosphere.

Note Morioka Snow Festival is replaced by Morioka Illumination Bright (もりおかイルミネーションブライト) from 2022.

How to Get to Morioka-jō Castle Site Park

  • It is a 15-minute walk from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅). You can also take the Loop Bus Dendenmushi from the station and get off at Moriokajō-ato Kōen (盛岡城跡公園).

Morioka History and Culture Museum (もりおか歴史文化館)

The Morioka History and Culture Museum is one of the facilities in Morioka-jō Castle Site Park. The museum, which opened in 2011 after expanding the old Iwate Prefectural Library, allows visitors to learn about the city’s history and culture. It is also the place to go to quickly understand the grand festivals held in the city. One of which is even in the Guinness Book of Records!

On the ground floor of the Morioka History and Culture Museum, short films, panels, and items related to Morioka’s Three Biggest Festivals are exhibited. You will be amzaed by the 9-meter-tall festival float and the splendedly decorated Chagu Chagu Umakko horses (チャグチャグ馬コ) displayed here!

© 岩手県観光協会

Even if you aren’t interested in old items, visit Castle Town Emaki Theater (城下町絵巻シアター). The short film of the procession of feudal lords and the bustling castle town on the giant 8-meter-long screen is a must-see in the museum.

Tip: The Morioka History and Culture Museum has a town information center that provides the latest tourist information.

On the second floor, the exhibits together will paint a good picture of the Morioka Domain in the Edo period, including the castle and the castle town. Items and treasures related to the Nanbu clan, who ruled the Morioka Domain, can also be found. For example, the samurai armor and the beautiful Kimono worn at the time are displayed. There is even an old cannon!

Morioka History and Culture Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Morioka History and Culture Museum is open from:
    • 9 am to 7 pm from April to October
    • 9 am to 6 pm from November to March
  • The museum is closed on the 3rd Tuesday of each month, the 31st of December, and the 1st of January.
    • If Tuesday is a public holiday, it will close the next business day.
  • The admission fee to enter the 2nd floor is:
    • 300 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for senior high school students
    • 100 yen for elementary and junior high school students
  • The closest bus stop to the museum is Kenchō Shiyakusho-mae (県庁・市役所前). From Morioka Station, it is around a 20-minute walk.

Tip: If you have a valid Dendenmushi One-Day Free Pass, show it for a discount on Morioka History and Culture Museum’s admission fee.

Sakurayama Shrine (櫻山神社)

© photo-ac.com

As Morioka Castle-jō Site Park was the base of the Nambu clan, it makes sense to have a shrine erected for the feudal lords who greatly contributed to the domain’s development. For the domain’s first lord, the Sakurayama Shrine was built by Morioka Domain’s 8th lord in 1749. Then, the spirit of the 3rd lord, the 11th lord, and the Nambu clan’s founder were also enshrined here. The locals call it Sakurayama-san (櫻山さん).

It is believed that the castle park receives sacred power from Mt. Iwate. Thus, by worshipping the gods enshrined here, you will receive blessings for stability in life, money, and fame.

Sakurayama Shrine’s Eboshi-iwa Rock (烏帽子岩) and the Turtle, Chōju Kamenosuke (長寿亀之助)

In particular, there is a 7-meter-tall rock called Eboshi-iwa to the right of Sakurayama Shrine’s worship hall. It is a huge rock that has the power to make those it touches healthy.

The Eboshi-iwa first appeared during the construction of Morioka Castle. Seeing its appearance as a good omen, it has been treated as Morioka’s guardian rock (お守り石). When disasters and epidemics happen, rituals to pray for the citizen’s health and safety are held in front of the rock.

© photo-ac.com

While we tourists can’t perform any rituals in front of Eboshi-iwa, we can try to find a little stone that looks like it. It is said that finding such a stone and carrying it with you will prevent you from getting sick! Even if you can’t find the Eboshi-iwa-shaped stone, you can still pray to Eboshi-iwa. It will give you confidence and courage to face the obstacles if your life.

Eboshi is the hat that court nobles in Japan used to wear. The rock is named Eboshi because it looks like it.

At Sakurayama Shrine’s purification fountain, there is a turtle statue called Chōju Kamenosuke. It is said that if you scrub his shell with a scrubbing brush, your lifespan will be extended. One scrub will extend your lifespan for three years, two for six years, and three for ten years!

Festivals at Sakurayama Shrine

From the 25th to the 27th of May, visit Sakurayama Shrine for the shrine’s annual festival. Events such as a parade of warriors and traditional performing arts performances will be on in these three days.

In winter, on the 26th of January from 1 pm, the Donto Festival takes place. It is an event to burn the talismans, amulets, and New Year’s pine decorations from the past year and pray for everyone’s good health and prosperity in the new year. From 5:30 pm on the same day, the Naked Pilgrimage (Hadakamairi, 裸詣り) is held. The possession of men wearing white headbands and costumes made from straw with lightly chilli-spiced paper in their mouth arrives at Sakurayama Shrine. It is another ritual to pray for a prosperous year.

Sakurayama Shrine is also a hot spot for food stalls during other festivals held in Morioka, especially the Sansa Festival at the beginning of August.

Tip: Refer to our Morioka’s Top Festivals article for other grand festivals in the city!

How to Get to Sakurayama Shrine

  • Sakurayama Shrine’s shrine office is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
  • The closest bus stop to Sakurayama Shrine is Kenchō Shiyakusho-mae (県庁・市役所前). From Morioka Station, it is around a 20-minute walk.

Discover the Must-Visit Attractions in Morioka

Azumaya Honten Morioka Iwate Japan
Click the photo for travel ideas in Morioka!

When you hear of Morioka, Wanko Soba and Morioka cold noodles are probably the two first things that come to mind. But the city isn’t just about food. It also has many cultural attractions, hot springs, nature and more!

So refer to our Morioka article for ideas about where to stop by when visiting Iwate Prefecture’s capital city!