Morioka in Iwate Prefecture is one of the main transportation hubs in the Tōhoku region. Whether you want to get to Aomori in the north or Kakunodate in the west, the city can be a good base to explore the famous destinations in the surrounding prefectures. Speaking of Morioka, Wanko Soba (わんこそば) and Morioka cold noodles (盛岡冷麺) are probably the two most common things that come to one’s mind. But the city isn’t just about food. Morioka also has many cultural properties, hot springs, nature and more!
Table of Contents
- How to Travel Between the Attractions in Morioka
- Morioka’s Profile
- What Are the Top Festivals in Morioka
- The Best Cafés in Morioka
- The Must-Visit Temples and Shrines in Morioka
- Morioka’s Top Cherry Blossom Spots
- The Top Museums and Historical Spots in Morioka
- Where to Visit in Morioka to Enjoy Nature
- East side of JR Morioka Station
- Kōgensha (光原社)
- Fukuda Pan (福田パン)
- Kenji Shimizu (賢治清水)
- Kokeshi Dolls Goyōsha (もりおかこけしの五葉社)
- Morioka-jō Castle Site Park (盛岡城跡公園)
- LaLa Iwate Morioka (らら・いわて 盛岡店)
- Baigetsudō (梅月堂)
- Plaza Odette (盛岡市観光文化交流センター「プラザおでって」)
- Azumaya Honten Wanko Soba Restaurant (東家本店)
- West side of JR Morioka Station
☛ Daiwa Roynet Hotel Morioka Ekimae is a good base to stay for exploring Morioka. It is conveniently located close to Morioka Station.
☛ If you plan to explore Morioka and the Tōhoku region, consider getting the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku Area) or the JR Tohoku-South Hokkaido Rail Pass.
Explore Morioka With a Guided Tour
If you prefer a guide to introduce you to the charms of Morioka, how about joining one of the below tours?
- Morioka Half-Day Private Tour with Government-Licensed Guide
- Morioka Town Half Day Walking Shared Tour
- Morioka Full-Day Private Tour with Government-Licensed Guide
How to Travel Between the Attractions in Morioka
The cheapest way to get to the next attraction in Morioka that isn’t close to JR Morioka Station is by taking the city’s loop bus, Dendenmushi (でんでんむし). The bus service that departs at Morioka Station every 15 minutes has a clockwise and an anti-clockwise course.
The cost per ride is 120 yen. If you plan to ride the bus three times or more, get a 1-Day Free Pass. It only costs 350 yen. Showing the bus pass will also give you a discount on admission fees at certain attractions in the city!
Refer to HERE for Dendenmushi’s route map.
Bicycle Rental at Morioka
Renting a bicycle is another economical way to explore Morioka. There are a couple of spots where you can rent a bicycle from. Refer to the city’s official website HERE and translate it to English using Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.
You can also consider using HELLO CYCLING, Japan’s bicycle-sharing service. While their Official Website is in Japanese only, their app available in Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play has an English language setting.
Morioka is the biggest city in Iwate Prefecture. Surrounding by various mountains, the appearance of magnificent mountains can be seen from the city center. In fact, around 70% of Morioka is covered by forest!
Because its average temperature is low, Morioka’s cherry blossom season is usually a month behind Tokyo’s. So, if you can’t make it to Japan in late March, visit Morioka between late April and the beginning of May!
Wanko Soba (わんこそば), Morioka Reimen (盛岡冷麺), and Morioka Jajamen (盛岡じゃじゃ麺) are the three best-known noodle dishes in Morioka. While the soup and broth used in restaurants are most likely non-vegetarian, you could still enjoy the gourmet food by bringing your sauce!
Morioka was originally called Kozukata (不来方), so Morioka Castle was known as the Kozukata Castle in the early Edo period. Because the name means the direction where the demons won’t return, Morioka Domain’s lord didn’t like the name as it is associated with demons. Thus, he gave the city a different name, “a Thriving and Prosperous Hill (盛り上がり栄える岡)”, with “Mori” meaning thriving and “Oka” meaning hill.
If the name is not auspicious, it is avoided.
What Is Wanko Soba?
It is a different way to eat soba noodles. Instead of a bowl of noodle soup, noodles are served in one-mouth-full portion.
Once your bowl is empty, another bowl is provided by the staff, and you will hear them saying “Hai, Janjan! (はい、じゃんじゃん！ (or はい、どんどん。))” each time. It means, “Here is more; eat up!”. The entire dining session is an entertainment show!
The more you eat, the more empty bowls are stacked up on the table. By the time you are full, you will be surprised by the number of empty bowls around you!
The Origin of Wanko Soba
There are various theories about the origin of Wanko Soba, and our favorite one is providing guests with the best hospitality.
In the past, the land in the northern part of Iwate Prefecture was poor and could hardly grow many crops. With a strong vitality, buckwheat was one of the grains that could be harvested. So during auspicious occasions, such as weddings, soba noodles were offered to the guests.
To serve the noodles to a large crowd, a large amount of noodles need to be cooked at once. However, this was a hard task as the heat used was weak and because of the lack of large pots. So the locals divided the cooked noodles into small portions. As the guests enjoy the first batch, the second batch of noodles are cooked.
What Is Morioka Reimen?
Morioka Reimen, or Morioka cold noodles, was first introduced in 1954 by a Korean Yan Yonchoru (青木輝人), who opened a noodle restaurant in Morioka.
The noodles he served combined Hamheung cold noodles (咸興冷麺) and Pyongyang cold noodles (平壌冷麺). The resulting half-transparent noodle is the origin of Morioka Reimen.
The noodle made from wheat flour is really chewy but has a smooth texture that makes it easy to swallow. Like the Korean Raengmyon (cold noodles), Morioka Reimen is served in a cold soup, which makes the noodles extra chewy. As the soup is usually cooked from beef and chicken bones, it isn’t vegetarian.
Nambu Ironware (南部鉄器)
Nambu Ironware is Iwate Prefecture’s most representative traditional craft. The benefits of using Nambu ironware include that the water boiled with it doesn’t cool down easily. And because the ironware releases irons into the liquid it holds, the water becomes softer and smoother to drink and can help prevent anemia!
As the origin of the Nambu Ironware, many shops in the city sell it. If you are unsure which one to visit, refer to our Best Spots to Visit for Nambu Ironware in Morioka article. The quality of their products is exceptional, and their products are highly valued across the world. One of them even allows you to visit a Nambu Ironware workshop!
The Top Festivals in Morioka
As a city with a long history, there are a couple of representative festivals that you could consider joining. During the festivals, the city is packed with visitors to witness the grand events that are unique to the city. Yatai stalls selling every kind of festival food you could hope for also fill the approach of the shrines that hold them.
For more information, refer to our article on What Are Morioka’s Top Festivals!
Morioka’s Top Cherry Blossom Spots
Adoring Japan’s cherry blossom is one of the main reasons that people around the world visit Japan. So if you plan to visit Morioka in early spring, there are a couple of spots in the city where you will be amazed by the beauty of Japan’s national flower. Some of them are well-known, whereas others are hidden!
For more information, refer to our article on Morioka’s Top Cherry Blossom Spots!
The Best Cafés in Morioka
Morioka in Iwate Prefecture is best known for the Wanko soba and the Nambu ironware. While some might be unaware, besides the soba noodle restaurants, the city also has a large number of cafés. Because each offers a different dining experience, we have handpicked the best ones for you!
So refer to our article on The Best Cafés in Morioka!
The Must-Visit Temples and Shrines in Morioka
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!
For more information, refer to our Must-Visit Temples and Shrines in Morioka article!
The Top Museums and Historical Spots in Morioka
Since Morioka is a city with a long history, museums and historical spots are scattered in the big city. If you are unsure which one to visit, check out the ones in our Top Museums and Historical Spots in Morioka article.
We hand-picked the ones that foreign tourists usually appreciate for you to be able to narrow down further the few that you would want to put onto your itinerary!
Where to Visit in Morioka to Enjoy Nature
Morioka isn’t just about Wanko soba, Morioka cold noodles, and Nambu Ironware. The old city also has picturesque natural destinations for stunning sceneries and to adore gorgeous flowers and fall foliage. One of the lakes in Morioka is even famed to be Japan’s most beautiful artificial lake! A couple of them also allow you to enjoy hiking and water activities!
For more information, refer to our article on The Best Destinations to Enjoy Nature in Morioka!
Close to Morioka Station, Kōgensha is buried in Morioka’s busy commercial district. The former publisher is now a photogenic complex consisting of shops selling craftworks, clothing, and accessories and a cafe. It is one of the best spots for a break from exploring the city.
For more information, refer to our article on Kōgensha!
Fukuda Pan (福田パン)
Apart from the noodle dishes, there is a bread shop that is also quite well-known. The shop specializes in putting various types of spreads between the hot dog bun-like bread. In addition to the typical flavors, such as peanut butter or yakisoba, uncommon flavors are also available for those who feel adventurous. Because you can choose two spreads and fillings from more than 50 options, the number of flavors available at Fukuda Pan is endless!
Fukuda Pan was opened in 1948. As it is open from 7 am until it sells out, it is a nice spot to start your day with. If you aren’t in a hurry, enjoy the bread in its dine-in space. Just note there might already be a queue at 7 am!
The fluffy bun used at Fukuda Pan is made in the bakery’s factory each morning. That is right. The bakery’s bread is so loved by the locals that it has become Iwate Prefecture’s local specialty. In addition to the main store in Morioka’s city center, it also has a couple more bakeries in Iwate. Apparently the factory needs to make around 10,000 buns each day!
The Recommended Fillings and Spread at Fukuda Pan
If you are unsure about which two flavors to order, the best-seller is butter and red bean paste (あんバター). Matcha and red bean paste (まっ茶あん) is another popular sweet-flavored choice. If you plan to have it for lunch, the Original Vegetable (オリジナル野菜) that includes cheese, cabbage, tomato, and more can be a good choice. Remember to ask the staff to exclude mayonnaise if you don’t eat eggs. The lotus root and Shimeji mushroom (れんこんしめじ) with spicy butter is another recommended flavor.
Note there are two ways that Fukuda Pan can make your sweet bread. One is the chosen flavors are spread on each side of the bread, so when the bread is combined, the flavors are mixed. The other method is to apply each flavor on each side of the bread so the flavors aren’t mixed. Please let the staff know which one you prefer.
☛ If you don’t plan to eat the buns straightaway. Heat it up if you can. It will be more delicious!
☛ For the sweet flavors, you can pay extra to increase the amount of the spread in your bread.
☛ If you plan to visit Fukuda Pan on a weekday, the bakery is less busy between 9 am and noon.
Fukuda Pan’s Business Hours and Access Information
- Fukuda Pan is open from 7 am to 4 pm from Wednesday to Monday.
- The bakery is a 15-minute walk from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅).
Kenji Shimizu Water Fountain (賢治清水)
If your water bottle is empty, visit the square close to Morioka-jō Castle Site Park. Kenji Shimizu is a water fountain where the locals source fresh water. Because the water source is the same as the well used by Miyazawa Kenji (宮沢賢治) when he was a student, the fountain was named after the great poet. The actual well he used is preserved and located in a car park close to Kenji Shimizu.
The spring’s quality has been tested, giving you peace of mind to drink it. The fountain is also maintained regularly. If you are still worried, bring it back and boil it with the kettle in your hotel room.
Miyazawa Kenji was a famous novelist and poet in the early 20th century.
- Kenji Shimizu is a 20-minute walk from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅).
- If you plan to take Dendenmushi, get off at Moriokajō-ato Kōen (盛岡城跡公園). The water fountain is then a 5-minute walk.
Kokeshi Dolls Goyōsha (もりおかこけしの五葉社)
The Kokeshi dolls are a nice souvenir to bring back from Japan for your family and friends. While these wooden dolls with no arms or legs are simple, they are cute and are a nice home decor. In Morioka, Kokeshi Goyōsha is the place to visit for the Kokeshi dolls. The workshop opened in 1937 specializes in making the dolls and other small wooden toys and utensils.
Stepping into the wood-scented workshop, it is scattered with a lot of wood and dolls that are work-in-progress. Not only can you see the dolls being made by the skillful artist, but it is also possible to give them a try.
Kokeshi Dolls Goyōsha’s Business Hours and Access Information
- Goyōsha is open from 10 am to 5 pm.
- The workshop is a 20-minute walk from Morioka Station (盛岡駅).
- You can also take a bus and get off at Tatesakabashi (館坂橋).
Morioka-jō Castle Site Park (盛岡城跡公園)
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!
LaLa Iwate Morioka (らら・いわて 盛岡店)
Lala Iwate Morioka is a convenient spot in the city center for last-minute souvenir shopping. From traditional crafts such as Nambu ironware to food and alcohol, a wide selection of specialty products from the city and other areas of Iwate Prefecture are gathered here!
While the store isn’t big, it is packed with Iwate’s local specialties, saving you the time to travel across the vast prefecture to buy the souvenir you are after. Furthermore, if you prefer not to purchase the local snacks in boxes, come to LaLa Iwate Morioka. You can purchase them separately! Tirol‘s amazing cheesecakes are also sold here!
The store also has a small rest space for tourists to take a break.
LaLa Iwate Morioka’s Business Hours and Access Information
- LaLa Iwate Morioka is open daily from 10 am to 6:30 pm except the 2nd Wednesday of the month.
- The shop is a 15-minute walk from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅). If you plan to take a bus, get off at Kenchō Shiyakusho-mae (県庁・市役所前).
For traditional confectionery, Baigetsudō is the best place to stop by. The traditional sweets maker that opened in 1912 is particular about making sweets without preservatives and additives. Unlike many confectionery shops, Baigetsudō has a rather ordinary shopfront. The freshly made traditional sweets, such as Dango, are placed in the showcase without being wrapped. Don’t assume the rice cakes are lower quality than those in the fancy stores. In fact, the sweets made from flat black beans (黒平豆) here are recognized as Morioka’s Delicious Sweets Ambassador (盛岡の美味いもんアンバサダー)!
The must-try at Baigetsudō is Ocha mochi (お茶もち). It is Morioka’s local specialty. The flattened mochi skewers are brushed with sweetened soy sauce with walnut oil added. The taste is just different than the usual Dango rice cakes that can be found across Japan.
Baigetsudō’s Business Hours and Access Information
- Baigetsudō is open from 9 am to 6 pm or until sold out from Monday to Saturday.
- It is a 5-minute walk from the bus stop, Kenchō Shiyakusho-mae (県庁市役所前).
Tip: Arrive early. The sweets can be sold out at 4 pm.
Plaza Odette (盛岡市観光文化交流センター「プラザおでって」)
Odette (おでって) means “Please come” in the Morioka dialect. This is why the city’s tourism and cultural exchange center was named Odette. The complex has an English-speaking tourist information center on the 2nd floor and provides a rental bicycle service, making it the best spot to visit before you start exploring Morioka. Various cultural event tickets are also sold at the Morioka Tourist Information Center.
- Bicycle rental at Plaza Odette is available from 8 am to 7 pm when the plaza is open.
- If the 2nd Tuesday is a public holiday, the service is unavailable on the next business day.
- The service won’t be available if the weather condition isn’t suitable for cycling.
- The cost of bicycle rental is
- 400 yen for an hour
- 600 yen for 4 hours
- 1,200 yen per day
- A deposit of 1,000 yen is required, which will be returned to you when you return the bicycle.
Besides the tourism-related services, Plaza Odette also has a farmers market. On the 6th floor, there is a small museum called Morioka Tegami-Kan (盛岡てがみ館). Valuable materials such as letters, manuscripts of books, and diaries of historical figures related to Morioka are on display.
Tip: Free small lockers are available. But they won’t be able to fit a suitcase.
Plaza Odette’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- Plaza Odette is open from 9 am to 9:30 pm.
- The tourist information corner is open from 9 am to 8 pm.
- The plaza is closed on the 2nd Tuesday of each month and from the 29th of December to the 3rd of January.
- Plaza Odette is around 2km from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅). If you plan to take a bus, get off at Morioka Bus Center (盛岡バスセンター).
If you are after some traditional items to bring home, visit Gozaku. The store inside a traditional wooden townhouse has many household items made from natural materials, such as straw sandals and bamboo crafts (竹細工). Sandwiched by modern buildings, the shop opened in 1813 is one of the couple Japanese-style private houses in Morioka’s city center.
While it isn’t fancy, it has been supporting the living of Morioka’s citizens since the Edo period.
Most of the handicrafts are sourced within Iwate Prefecture, so if you want to support the local economy, Gozaku is the perfect spot to do so. Furthermore, Gozaku’s courtyard is opened as a gallery space, giving you another reason to visit this little store that survived the testing of time.
At the back of the store, the clear stream of Nakatsu River (中津川) is flowing. Walking along the riverside, you can see the back of the Gozaku. Focusing on the river and the traditional house’s roof and mud wall, it is as if you have traveled back in time to the Edo period.
Gozaku’s Business Hours and Access Information
- Gozaku is open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm from Monday to Saturday.
- 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).
Azumaya Honten (東家本店)
Morioka is most famous for Wanko soba. And the best place to enjoy a Wanko soba session is Azumaya Honten. For more information about this fun session, refer to our Azumaya Honten article!
Important: We haven’t found a Wanko soba restaurant in Morioka that offers vegan dipping sauce. Please bring your sauce if you are strict with your veggie/vegetarian diet.
The Attractions in the Natayachō Area
Natayachō (鉈屋町) at the side of Kitakami River (北上川) was an area in Morioka that once flourished as a key point for shipping. Because of the high-quality natural water source from Daijiji Temple (大慈寺) and Gidaji Temple (祇陀寺), many sake breweries, tofu shops, soba noodles makers, and cafes surround the neighborhood. Besides the commercial facilities, you will also learn how the locals have shared the precious water source together since centuries ago!
For more information, refer to our Natayachō Area article!
Mikoda Morning Market (神子田朝市)
Mikoda Morning Market is a must-visit for those who love strolling around the local markets. The morning market filled with freshly harvested fruits and vegetables is known as Morioka’s kitchen. The price of the fresh produce here is unbeatable. Food stalls, coffee carts, and handicraft stalls are also a part of Mikoda Morning Market!
A traditional sweet you can try is Kirisensho (きりせんしょ). Inside the rice cake is sweet walnut sauce. The freshly made sweets are so popular that there are usually long lines! Hittsumi (ひっつみ) is another must-try Iwate Prefecture’s local specialty. The most popular food stall selling Hittsumi is Dekunobou (木偶の坊). A queue is usually formed when the sky is still dark. But note the flat noodle dish’s broth contains meat.
It is open from 5 am to 8:30 am from Tuesday to Sunday, so get up early if you are interested! Note the market is open on Monday if it is a public holiday between May and December.
Tip: The 5th of May is the best day to visit Mikoda Morning Market. It is when rice cakes are thrown to the crowd! But note it is also the most crowded day.
How to Get to Mikoda Morning Market
- Mikoda Morning Market is open from 5 am to around 8 am. In winter, the opening and closing time is delayed by around 30 minutes.
- Note stalls may start closing around 7 am.
- If you are there at 5 am, most stalls may still be preparing to open.
- Mikoda Morning Market is a 15-minute drive from JR Morioka Station (盛岡駅).
- You can also take a taxi from JR Sembokucho Station (仙北町駅). The market is a 7-minute drive or a 25-minute walk from there.
Malios Observatory (マリオス展望室)
To overlook Morioka’s cityscape, visit Malios at JR Morioka Station’s west exit. The 20th floor of the city’s landmark has an observatory area that gives you a 360-degree clear view of the surroundings. On a clear day, Mt. Iwate’s magnificence can be adorned from Malios Observatory. As the observatory is usually closed at 6 pm, visit it during the daytime!
On New Year’s Day, Malios Observatory is open from 6 am to 9 am for visitors to watch the first sunrise of the year from the observation deck.
- Malios Observatory is open from 9 am to 6 pm.
Tip: Malios Observatory’s opening hours are extended when Morioka Fireworks Festival (盛岡花火の祭典) and Funekko Nagashi (舟っこ流し) are held in August.
Morioka Handi-Works Square (盛岡手づくり村)
If you love handicrafts and want to see how they are made, visit Morioka Handi-Works Square. It is a spot where you can observe the craftsmanship up close and even give it a go!
For more information, refer to our Morioka Handi-Works Square article!
Tsunagi Onsen (つなぎ温泉)
Tsunagi Onsen is a small hot spring town on Gosho Lake’s southeast shore. The onsen is sulfur base, so some might dislike the smell, but it is effective in promoting blood circulation and metabolism. In addition, the spring also contains metasilicic acid, a natural moisturizing ingredient that is good for your skin.
The town’s history can be traced back to the mid-1000s when Minamoto no Yoriyoshi (源頼義) was sent by the imperial court to suppress Abe no Sadato (阿部貞任), who rebelled against the imperial court. The venue where Yoriyoshi chose to set the main stronghold is close to today’s Tsunagi Onsen. He soon found out the hot spring source that helped his horse’s wound heal, so he tied his horse to a rock close by and indulged in the onsen himself. The hot spring town is thus named “Tsunagi” as it means tether.
If you are interested in seeing the rock that Yoriyoshi tied his horse to, you can! The stone that is called Tsunagi-ishi is preserved.
While the hot spring town doesn’t have many leisure facilities like most onsen towns in Japan, it is a good base to visit Morioka Handi-Works Square and Lake Gosho Park. If you can’t spend a night at Tsunagi Onsen, you can enjoy the free foot spa. The tourist information center (つなぎ温泉観光案内所) is just near the bus stop, Tsunagi Onsen (つなぎ温泉). Visit it if you need a sightseeing map or need any advice!
- Tsunagi Hot Spring Information Center is open from 9 am to 6 pm from Thursday to Tuesday.
- It is closed on the 1st, 3rd, and the 5th Sunday.
Discover Ichinoseki: A City to Enjoy Breathtaking Landscape and the Unique Rice Cake Cuisine
Ichinoseki (一関市) is the southmost city in Iwate Prefecture. Having a wealth of beautiful natural landscapes, it is a perfect destination for a weekend getaway from the big city’s hustle and bustle. If you are a foodie, Ichinoseki should also be of your interest. The city has a unique mochi culture. This means you will have your first mochi set menu for lunch!
For more information, refer to our article on Ichinoseki!