Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Top Museums and Historical Spots in Morioka

The capital of Iwate Prefecture, Morioka, has a long history. As expected, museums and historical spots are scattered in the big city. If you are unsure which one to visit, check out the ones below. We hand-picked the ones that foreign tourists usually appreciate for you to be able to narrow down the few that you would want to include in your itinerary!

Morioka’s Top Museums and Historical Spots to Visit

Nanshōsō (南昌荘)

© 一般社団法人東北観光推進機構

Nanshōsō is a gorgeous complex completed in 1885. Apparently, the building’s design referenced the Katsura Imperial Palace in Kyoto. The raised floor provides a better angle to view the gorgeous garden. Since its completion, the owner of the property has changed several times, and thus the appearance has too.

While it was privately owned, when it was Morioka’s mayor’s property, it was where the reception was held when the Japanese Prime Minister of the time and the Korean Crown Prince visited Morioka in 1909.

After World War II, Nanshōsō was once the dormitory of the U.S. Army. This is why the floor of the grand hall, Nanshō no Ma (南昌の間), is covered by timber instead of the tatami mats. More recently, the non-profit organization IWATE COOP (いわて生活協同組合) purchased the residence in 1987. Nanshōsō was then opened to the general public in 2000.

Nowadays, it is a relaxing place where you can enjoy the scenery of the four seasons of a Japanese garden, which is why many people visit it every year. Because of what it offers, it was chosen as a TV drama and movie shooting location in the 2000s.

If you have time, enjoy a cup of matcha green tea or coffee and a traditional confectionery at Nanshō no Ma. The seats lined the veranda have the perfect setting to chill!

© 一般社団法人東北観光推進機構
© 一般社団法人東北観光推進機構

As you can imagine, the garden is the most beautiful during the fall foliage season. When the lighting is right, the beautiful garden view is reflected on the polished floor. During the Dolls Festival season, from late February to the beginning of March, gorgeous traditional dolls will be on display.

Nanshōsō’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Nanshōsō is open from 10 am to 5 pm from Wednesday to Sunday.
    • From December to March, it opens early at 4 pm.
    • It closes from the 26th of December to the 10th of January.
  • The admission fee is:
    • 300 yen for adults
    • 150 for elementary to junior high school students
  • Nanshōsō is a 20-minute walk from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅) or a 5-minute walk from the bus stop, Shimonohashi-chō下(の橋町).

Morioka-jō Castle Site Park (盛岡城跡公園)

© 岩手県観光協会

Morioka-jō Castle Site Park, 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.

For more information, refer to our Morioka-jō Castle Site Park article!

Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building (岩手銀行赤レンガ館)

If you love Tokyo Station’s Renaissance architectural style, stop by the Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building. The building that was also designed by Tatsuno Kingo (辰野金吾) was completed in 1911. It is the only building designed by him left in the Tōhoku region. The magnificent brick building is worth checking both inside and out. You can even compare this building with Tokyo Station!

© 岩手県観光協会

After the bank moved out of this eye-catching building in 2012, the building was reopened to the public as a historic landmark in 2016.

The museum facility is divided into two parts: the free Iwate Bank Zone (岩手銀行ゾーン) and the Morioka Bank Zone (盛岡銀行ゾーン), which requires an admission fee to enter. Whether to pay the admission fee depends on whether you are interested in seeing the bank’s directors’ office and vault. Because these facilities aren’t usually accessible, checking them out can be a good experience!

Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building (岩手銀行赤レンガ館)

  • Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building is open from 10 am to 5 pm from Wednesday to Monday.
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm.
    • It is closed from the 29th of December to the 3rd of January.
  • The admission fee is:
    • 300 yen for adults
    • 100 yen for elementary and junior high school students
  • If you take Dendenbushi-gō, get off at Morioka Bus Center (盛岡バスセンター). For the local bus services, get off at Nakanohashi-dori Icchome (中ノ橋通1丁目).

Konyacho Banya (紺屋町番屋)

Konyacho Banya is another historical landmark in Morioka. The fire brigade house was built in 1891 and renovated in 1913. This is why the house bears a Western-style appearance. In 1977, it was designated as a preserved building in Morioka. Nowadays, it is a perfect spot to visit for handicraft boutique stores!

The hexagon watch tower is the symbol of Konyacho Banya. The architectural feature might seem unnatural to you, but it was necessary to protect the township from a major fire hazard. Traditionally, the houses in Japan were made of timber and were built closely in the town center. So the fire could quickly spread across the town if it wasn’t put out immediately. The watchtower was thus an essential infrastructure.

The building’s second floor is a workshop for woven fabrics, embroidery, and brooches. The works of pottery, papercraft, and cocoon craftsmen living in Iwate Prefecture are also displayed for sale on the same floor.

At the back of Konyacho Banya is a café. The space is smartly designed so the interior isn’t just stylish but also has some elements from the past. Although the menu is simple, a cup of nicely brewed coffee with a piece of baked cake is enough for some relaxing moments. It also has red bean soup and shaved ice if you are after something more Japanese.

If you are a ceramic lover, you will appreciate the coffee cups and saucers used at Konyacho Banya’s café. While they aren’t for sale here, you can likely find one at Kōgensha.

Konyacho’s Little Profile

Morioka has been a transportation hub since centuries ago. Located on the Ōshū Kaidō (one of the five official routes of the Edo period), Koyachō’s neighborhood thrived as a main street in Morioka where merchants gathered.

Konyachō was where many dye shops (染め物屋) were located. In addition to Konyachō, the area also has Kajichō (鍛冶町), Kamichō (紙町), and a few more neighborhoods, where blacksmiths, paper products, and other types of crafts businesses gathered.

Konyacho Banya’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Konyacho Banya is open from 10 am to 5 pm from Tuesday to Sunday.
    • The last order at the café is at 4:30 pm.
  • If you plan to take a bus, get off at Morioka Bus Center (盛岡バスセンター).

Ichinokura House (一ノ倉邸)

Like Nanshōsō, Ichinokura House is a former private house with a gorgeous garden now open to the public. The site is approximately 8,600 square meters, and it is most famous for the lotus flowers in the pond that bloom from early July to early August.

© 一般社団法人東北観光推進機構

The wooden traditional-style residence is another highlight of Ichinokura House. Built by Abe Hiroshi (阿部浩), the governor of Tokyo, in the early 20th century, the simple but elegant residence was constructed using the highest construction standards and technology. Most of the furniture and items in the house belonged to Abe Hiroshi. Together, they give you a good idea of the lifestyle of those with a high social status at the time. Even the grand piano’s leg decoration is gorgeous!

Chūsonji Hasu Lotus (中尊寺ハス)

The lotus flowers at Ichinokura House are called Chūsonji Hasu (中尊寺ハス). The reason that the temple’s name is used for the flower’s name is because the seeds of the flowers were from one of the buckets placed in Konjikidō Golden Hall (金色堂). The buckets aren’t just your typical wooden bucket. They are the buckets holding the heads of the lord of the Fujiwara clan. From the bucket holding Fujiwara no Yasuhira’s (藤原泰衡) head, around 80 lotus seeds were found in 1950. The lotus grown for the seeds is thus called Chūsonji Hasu.

Because the Abetatechō (安倍館町) has a deep connection with the Fujiwara clan, after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami (東日本大震災), some Chūsonji Hasu were transplanted to Ichinokura House to pray for the afterlives of those who passed away in the earthquake.

Autumn and Dolls Festival at Ichinokura House

Ichinokura House is also a gorgeous autumn foliage spot. With 12 different maple trees planted across the vast garden, the complex is vividly colored from late October to mid-November.

From the early February to the 3rd of March, an event called Hina Asobu (ひな遊ぶ) is held. Around 200 traditional Hina Dolls from the Edo period to the early 21st century are exhibited in the house.

Important: Ichinokura House isn’t equipped with a heater. Wearing warm clothes is recommended.

Ichinokura House’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Ichinokura House is open from 10 am to 6 pm from Wednesday to Sunday.
    • It is closed from the 10th to the 20th of August and the 25th of December to the 15th of January.
  • Access is free!
  • From JR Morioka Station, take the bus services bound for Iwate Prefectural University (岩手県立大学) and get off at Abetate (安倍館).

Iwate Prefectural Museum (岩手県立博物館)

For those who are interested in Morioka’s long history, visit the Iwate Prefectural Museum. Opened to commemorate Iwate Prefecture’s 100th anniversary as a prefecture, there are high-quality exhibits on the geology, archeology, history, folklore, and native plants and animals of Iwate Prefecture as a whole.

© 岩手県観光協会

There are even old magazines and old-school-related items on display! Not only does the museum have indoor exhibition space, but it also has a botanical garden for native plants and a rock garden! If you like dinosaurs, you will be amazed by the gigantic dinosaur skeleton.

Designated Important National Cultural Property buildings such as Magariya (曲り屋) and Sugoya (直屋) were also relocated to the museum’s grounds to form parts of its exhibits. Samurai swords are also on display.

If you are wondering what Magariya is, refer to our Morioka Handi-Works Square article.

On Iwate Prefectural Museum’s second floor, there is an interactive space. Tools and toys from the good old days are placed here for you to play around with. Clothes and costumes are also available for you to try on. It is one of the few places in Japan where you can put samurai armor on!

As Iwate Prefectural Museum is located on a hill close to Nanbu Katafuji Lake (南部片富士湖), you can also adore the beautiful Mt. Iwate and Mt. Himekami (姫神山) on a clear day from the premises. You can also trek to Shijūshida Dam (四十四田ダム) after visiting the museum.

Iwate Prefectural Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Iwate Prefectural Museum is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm from Tuesday to Sunday.
    • The last admission is at 4 pm.
    • If Monday is a public holiday, it will close on the next business day.
    • It is also closed from the 29th of December to the 3rd of March.
  • The admission cost is:
    • 330 yen for adults
    • 150 yen for university students
    • Free otherwise
  • The museum is a 3-minute walk from the bus stop, Iwateken Kenritsu Hakubutsukan (岩手県立博物館).
  • You can also rent an electric-assisted bicycle to get to the museum.

Tip: It is free to enter the Iwate Prefectural Museum on the 18th of May (International Museum Day) and the 3rd of November (Culture Day in Japan).

Iwate Museum of Art (岩手県立美術館)

Proceeding west from Morioka Station, the Iwate Museum of Art is one of the few museums in the Morioka Central Park (盛岡市中央公園) across the Shizukuishi River (雫石川).

The museum, which opened in 2001, is a transcendental artwork itself. No matter which season or from what angle, a photo of the concrete structure taken inside or outside of the building is a painting.

Most of the collections in the museum were by artists from the early to late 20th century from Iwate Prefecture. Within the over 3,000 pieces of artwork the museum holds, works by artists around the world can also be found. Besides Western paintings, sculptures are also a part of the exhibits.

© 岩手県観光協会
© 岩手県観光協会

Special exhibitions with different themes are held throughout the year, and concerts are held here from time to time, too.

If you understand Japanese, join the 30-minute Collection Talk (コレクショントーク) held at 11:30 am on the 2nd and the 4th Saturday of each month. The guide will explain the artworks exhibited in the permanent exhibition hall to the participants. Twice a month, a tour is also held in the special exhibition room. Sometimes, the tour is held by the artist who made the artwork!

Although in Japanese, there is also a free Art Cinema held each month. Films and movies related to the special exhibition or the world of art are aired. Sometimes, a classic movie is chosen to share with the visitors.

Iwate Museum of Art’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • Iwate Museum of Art is open from 9:30 am to 6 pm from Tuesday to Sunday.
    • The last admission is at 5:30 pm.
    • If Monday is a public holiday, it will close on the next business day.
    • It is closed from the 29th of December to the 3rd of January.
  • The admission fee is 450 yen for adults and 340 yen for students.
  • Iwate Museum of Art is a 20-minute walk from Morioka Station (盛岡駅).
    • You can also take Dendenmushi-gō and get off at Kenritsu Mijukukan-mae (県立美術館前).

Shiwa Castle Ancient Park (志波城古代公園)

Japanese castles doesn’t always look like Osaka Castle. Before the 10th century, they had a simpler structure. So if you are interested in seeing a castle from before the samurais ruled the country, visit Shiwa Castle Ancient Park. The castle’s outer wall was discovered during an excavation in 1970. The castle ruins were designated a National Historic Site in 1984, and the castle structures were restored in the 1990s.

© 岩手県観光協会

In the early 9th century, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (坂上田村麻呂) was sent by the imperial court to subjugate the people in Northeastern Japan who resisted the rule of the court. Shiwa Castle Ancient Park, completed in 803, was one of the government offices built for the region’s governance.

However, the castle was only used for 8 years. Due to the Shizukuishi River’s flooding, the government function of Shiwa Castle was moved to Tokutan Castle (徳丹城) in today’s Shiwa District.

What to See at Shiwa Castle Ancient Park

While only a part of the castle was completed, the 11-meter-tall outer south gate, the 252-meter-long outer wall and turret, the government offices, and the military barracks are restored on the vast site. The Shiwa Castle Ancient Park Information Center (志波城古代公園案内所) at the entrance is the place to stop by first when you get there. It is a museum-type facility where you can deepen your understanding of Shiba Castle and the ancient history of the Northeastern region. Excavated items from the site are also displayed.

The official building isn’t just restored. Dioramas are placed inside the building to create a solemn atmosphere. Short films are also played to enhance your understanding of the castle.

You will also notice three pit dwellings (竪穴建物) close to the gate. They were soldiers’ houses. Apparently, there were around 1,000 to 2,000 such dwellings 1,200 years ago inside the castle wall!

☛ Ask the staff to show you around the park. They are the ones who have the key to all the buildings that may be locked.
☛ Shiwa Castle Ancient Park is also a cherry blossom spot in Morioka.

Although the explanation of the exhibits are in Japanese, the short films will give you a rough idea of the lifestyle back then and Shiwa Castle.

Shiwa Castle Ancient Park’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Shiwa Castle Ancient Park’s information center and toilet facilities are open from 9 am to 5 pm.
    • The park is closed from the 29th of December to the 3rd of January.
  • From Morioka Station, take a bus and get off at Iioka Jumonji (飯岡十文字). The park is then a 10-minute walk. Some services also stop at Shiwajoh kodaikōen-mae (志波城古代公園前).