Morioka (·ª) is the capital city of Iwate Prefecture, 2.5 hours by shinkansen north of Tokyo. Surrounded by mountains on three sides and blessed with multiple rivers, Morioka is an attractive city and a convenient transportation hub, but lacks a major sightseeing spot. The city is well known for its various styles of noodles, though, and does offer a handful of minor sites of interest.
The "Three Great Noodles of Morioka" are Wanko Soba, Reimen and Jajamen. These noodle dishes can be enjoyed at specialized restaurants and general establishments offering local dishes:
Eating Wanko Soba is an experience in itself. Each serving contains roughly a mouthful of soba noodles, and the server will constantly keep topping up your empty bowl with more noodles until you indicate that you have had enough. The first bowl is eaten plain to taste the flavor, and toppings can be added from the second bowl. The average for women is about 30-40 bowls, while men average about 50-60 bowls. Several restaurants across the city specialize in Wanko Soba.
Morioka Reimen, as it is more popularly known outside of Morioka, was originally a Korean noodle dish. It is said to be the creation of a North Korean resident of Morioka who wanted to recreate the cold noodles he had as a child. The noodles are made of potato starch and flour, giving it a slightly glassy sheen. The broth is chilled and the dish has toppings like sliced meat, kimchi, a slice of fruit (usually pear, apple or watermelon), half a hard boiled egg, and cucumbers. Reimen can be found at most grilled meat (yakiniku) restaurants.
Jajamen has its origins in Chinese Zhajiangmian, but has since evolved to suit the locals' taste buds. Jajamen noodles, a variant of udon, are served dry with a scoop of meat miso, a handful of sliced green onions and sliced cucumbers, with ginger on the side. Mix the miso and noodles evenly before adding vinegar, chili oil or garlic to taste. After finishing the noodles, it is common to crack a raw egg into your plate and ask for "chitantan" - an egg soup made with the remaining meat miso on the plate, raw egg and hot water. Jajamen is not expensive and can be found at specialized Jajamen restaurants.
One of the main tourist attractions in the city is Morioka Castle Ruins Park, the grounds where Morioka Castle once stood. The castle was demolished in 1874 and left to waste. However, in 1906 the site was cleaned up and renamed Iwate Park. It is a popular recreation area for the locals and a popular cherry blossom spot.
All that remains of Morioka Castle today are some stone walls, but the keep, turrets and other structures have disappeared. About two hundred cherry trees are now planted across the park which are usually in bloom around late April to early May. Furthermore, there are about a hundred plum trees. Also found on the park grounds are the Morioka History and Culture Museum and a small shrine.
A short walk away from the castle park stands the unique Rock-breaking Cherry Tree (Ishiwarizakura), an approximately 400 year old tree growing out of a granite boulder on the premises of the Morioka Courthouse.
Iwate Kenpoku, JR Tohoku Bus and Kokusai Kogyo operate overnight highway buses between multiple locations in Tokyo and Morioka Station. The one way ride takes about eight hours and costs between 4500 and 9000 yen one way. Online reservations can be made through Japan Bus Online.
How to get around Morioka
The most convenient means for tourists to get around Morioka is the Dendenmushi Loop Bus which circles around downtown Morioka in both directions and serves the castle ruins park among other stops. Buses operate every ten minutes. The fare is 100 yen per ride or 300 yen for a 1-day pass.
Morioka is relatively flat and makes for easy walking around the city. The castle ruins park is about 15 minutes on foot from the station through the main shopping arcade. Rental bicycles are another way of exploring Morioka. There are a few rental outlets in the city with rental fees starting at around 200 yen for the first hour and additional 100 yen for subsequent 30 minutes with a cap of 1000 yen for five hours or more.