During your stay at Morioka, there are a couple of temples and shrines that we highly recommend you visit, even if you are an atheist or already have your fill of the Japanese shrines and temples. While they are all religious facilities, what makes them interesting and unique aren’t the gods enshrined, but the unusual objects placed in the precinct. One of them is even where Iwate Prefecture‘s name originated!
Table of Contents
- Sakurayama Shrine (櫻山神社)
- Mitsuishi Shrine (三ツ石神社)
- Daisenji Temple (大泉寺)
- Hōonji Temple (報恩寺)
- Morioka Hachimangū Shrine (盛岡八幡宮)
- Morioka Tenmangū Shrine (盛岡天満宮)
Sakurayama Shrine (櫻山神社)
Sakurayama Shrine is a must-visit spot in Morioka-jō Castle Site Park. The 7-meter-tall rock is what makes Sakurayama Shrine famous. Putting whether the rock has the power to make those it touches healthy aside, it is something that you would want to see up close!
You will also find a cute turtle at the shrine’s purification fountain!
For more information, refer to our article on Sakurayama Shrine!
Proceeding north from Morioka-jō Castle Site Park, you will reach an area lined with temples and shrines. The Teramachi-dōri Street is the older part of Morioka to feel the city’s long history. Within the temples and shrines lie Morioka’s history and myths that shape the city we know today.
Of more than 20 temples, Mitsuishi Shrine, Daisenji Temple, and Hōonji Temple are the most interesting and are worth your time.
Mitsuishi Shrine (三ツ石神社)
Mitsuishi Shrine behind the Tōkenji Temple (東顕寺) is where Iwate Prefecture‘s name was derived. You will find the demon’s handprint (鬼の手) on three giant 6-meter-tall granites. “Iwa” means rock, and “te” means hand, so the handprints on a rock were shortened to Iwate.
The god enshrined here is called Mitsuiwa-sawa (三ツ岩様), who defeated the demon who was rampaging the area. The handprint on the rock symbolizes the demon’s promise to the god that he would never do something bad and return to the region again.
The Sansa Festival (さんさ踊り) in August is said to have originated as a dance to express happiness and gratitude to Mitsuiwa-sama. Moreover, the city’s old name, Kozukata (不来方), also originates from this legend. It means that the city is in the direction that demons would never return (二度と来ない方向).
Even now, moss “avoids” growing on the handprint, so you can still see what looks like a handprint. Note that unfortunately, the handprint is weathered, so it is difficult to see a clear imprint of it nowadays.
Tip: The handprint becomes clearer after rain.
Other Things About Mitsuishi Shrine
While the exact date of Mitsuishi Shrine’s establishment is unknown, it is Morioka’s oldest shrine. In 1599, when the Nambu clan moved to the area, their ancestors were enshrined at this shrine.
In addition to Mitsuishi-sama, there are another three gods enshrined here. So it is a shrine where the locals pray for prosperity, health, and relationships.
Tip: If you want Mitsuishi Shrin’s Goshuin, please visit Sakurayama Shrine‘s shrine office.
How to Get to Mitsuishi Shrine (三ツ石神社)
- Take a bus from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅) and get off at either Honchōdōri Ichi-chōme (本町通一丁目) or Daisenji-guchi (大泉口). The shrine is then a 5-minute walk.
Daisenji Temple (大泉寺)
Daisenji is another interesting temple on Teramachi-dōri street. The Pureland sect temple was restored between 1818 and 1829. While the temple’s light green roof is certainly unique, it isn’t the reason that attracts most visitors. Many visit the temple for a beautiful young lady’s grave close to the temple’s Sanmon Gate. The lady named Okan (おかん) is known for her chastity.
The Story of Okan
Because of her beauty and kind personality, many men still pursued Okan even after she was married. One day, she realized one of the guys who fell for her was plotting to murder her husband in order to get her. After much thought, she disguised herself as her husband and was killed by the man.
When the man realized the person he killed was Okan, he deeply regretted what he did and changed his heart. He buried Okan at Daisenji and became a monk with Okan’s husband. Memorial services were held by the two men who once loved her.
Okan’s Grave Stone
Obviously, tourists nowadays don’t visit a temple for a story. What makes the grave at Daisenji special is the sound it makes when being knocked. Despite it being made of granite, it produces a slight for making a faint metallic sound when knocked!
When you get to her grave, you might notice several dents on the gravestone. One of the dents should have a stone placed on it. While there is no proof, the dents are probably formed by the knockings of the visitors.
How to Get to Daisenji Temple
- Take the loop bus, Dendenmushi-gō, from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅) and get off at Honchōdōri Ichi-chōme (本町通一丁目). The temple is then a 3-minute walk.
- If you take a local bus and get off at Daisenji-guchi (大泉口). The temple is then a 1-minute walk.
Hōonji Temple (報恩寺)
When the Gautama Buddha was alive, he had many disciples. The number is as many as 500, and they are known as the Five Hundred Disciples (五百羅漢) together. Because each of them has learnt directly from the Gautama Buddha and was on the way to enlightenment, they were worshipped and enshrined in Buddhist temples.
One of the temples in the world where you can meet the Five Hundred Disciples is Hōonji. The 500 wooden Rakan statues were completed between 1731 and 1735 by nine sculptors of Buddhist images. Although one of them is missing, it is still astonishing to see so many statues in one place. And surprisingly, they have different facial expressions and body language.
Hōonji was erected in 1394 as a Sōtō sect (曹洞宗) temple in Aomori’s Sannohe (三戸) to pray for the ancestors of the Nanbu clan. When the family moved to Morioka, the temple was relocated together.
The temple’s Sanmon Gate is magnificent. The two-story building was completed in 1978 and has various delicate carvings applied throughout. The worship area on the second floor has a Kannon Bodhisattva and deities enshrined.
Hōonji is also one of the few spots in Morioka where you can see a building from Morioka Castle. Although the castle was dismantled in the Meiji Restoration, one of the castle’s gates was relocated to Hōonji as its Chūmon Gate (中門).
Hōonji’s Rakan-dō Hall
From the Sanmon Gate, walking towards the main worship hall, there is a Rakan-dō Hall on the left. The building, completed in 1735 and renovated between 1850 and 1851, is where the 499 Rakan (Disciple) statues are enshrined. As their facial and body language is expressive and even humorous, you can almost hear a conversation between the disciples or what they are thinking!
Moreover, it is said that one of the disciples would look like you. The clothes they wear aren’t restricted to one country. So how about finding the one that resembles you the most? Some even find one disciple who looks like Marco Polo!
Lastly, remember to look up at the ceiling for the lively dragon painting!
In Buddhism, a Rakan is a status name given to a person who has attained enlightenment through ascetic practices. In today’s terms, it is a similar idea to a degree given to a student after he has finished all the studies required.
Hōonji Temple’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information
- Hōonji is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
- The admission fee is:
- 300 yen for adults
- 100 yen for elementary school students.
- From JR Morioka Station, take a bus and get off at Kitayama (北山). The temple is then a 5-minute walk.
- If you take the Loop Bus Dendenmushi-gō, the temple is a 12-minute walk from the bus stop, Honchōdōri Ichi-chōme (本町通一丁目).
Morioka Hachimangū Shrine (盛岡八幡宮)
Proceeding east of Morioka-jō Castle Site Park, the ground beyond the giant vermilion-painted torii gate is Morioka Hachimangū Shrine’s precinct. It is a less-known spot to foreign tourists, but a shrine you won’t want to miss out on.
Because Morioka Hachimangū Shrine is very spacious and located on a slightly high ground, you can oversee Morioka’s cityscape from here. With rich vegetation on its ground, the shrine shows a different face depending on which season you visit it. You might even spot a Japanese Serow walking in the precinct!
For more information, refer to our Morioka Hachimangū article!
Morioka Tenmangū Shrine (盛岡天満宮)
The Komainu lion dogs are commonly found in the shrines and temples in Japan. Because most of them look relatively the same, you probably won’t pay much attention to them when passing by. However, check out the pair of Komainu dogs at Morioka Tenmangū Shrine. Their facial expression will surely make you laugh (´▽｀*).
Morioka Tenmangū is a shrine for Sugawara no Michizane (菅原道真), a god of learning. So originally, most pilgrims were students. But since the Komainu dogs became famous, it has become a popular tourist spot.
For more information about Sugawara no Michizane, refer to our article on Dazaifu Tenmangū.
The Unusual Things at Morioka Tenmangū
The statues were offered to commemorate the 1000th anniversary. The reason for making their faces human-like is unknown, but they have surely brought more visitors to the shrine.
Another unique thing about the Komainu dogs at Morioka Tenmangū is their base. Each of them has a short poem written by Ishikawa Takuboku (石川啄木) carved. The shrine was a place that the famous poet visited during his routine walks. The statues also appeared in one of his novels.
If you find the Komainu statues cute, the shrine office sells a small version of the dogs’ figures. And they are made from Morioka’s specialty, Nanbu ironware!
In addition to the Komainu dogs, the faces of other guardian animal statues are also amusing that you won’t find in other shrines in Japan.
Moreover, there is a plum tree right after passing through the torii gate that you might want to check out. Like the Ishiwarizakura cherry tree close to Morioka-jō Castle Site Park, the Ishiwari-ume tree (石割梅) grows from a granite crack. As Sugawara no Michizane loved plum blossoms, this might be the reason that the plum grew from the crack!
Moreover, it is said that ages ago, countless coins were found in the stone’s crack that it used to be called Zeniwaki-ishi (銭湧石).
Morioka Tenmangū Shrine’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- Morioka Tenmangū’s shrine office is open from 10 am to 3 pm.
- The shrine is a 7-minute walk from the bus stop, Tenmangū-mae (天満宮前).
Note there are a set of staircases to climb to get to the shrine.