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Iwate Travel Guide - World Heritage Sites, Nature, And Local Food

Iwate Travel Guide - World Heritage Sites, Nature, And Local Food

Iwate 2019.06.11 Bookmark

Iwate is best known for the World Heritage Sites of Chusonji Temple and Motsuji Temple. It also boats stunning nature such as the Geibikei and Genbikei gorges. This article covers everything needed for a great trip to Iwate, with suggested activities and travel tips.

Translated by Ken

Written by ピーター・ディー

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Iwate - Stunning Views, World Heritage Sites, and a Rich Local Culture


Iwate Prefecture is situated in the Tohoku region in northern Japan. Iwate is the second largest prefecture in Japan and is surrounded by nature, with the Ou Mountains to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east.

The prefecture has lavish structures remaining from the Fujiwara Clan who ruled the Tohoku region during the 12th century. The famous Japanese folklorist, Kunio Yanagita, wrote folk tales while in Iwate.

Iwate is also the birthplace of the world-renowned children's author, Kenji Miyazawa, who referred to the nature-abundant prefecture with the name of his utopia, Ihatov.

This article will introduce places to go, activities to do, and how to get around Iwate.

15 Things to Do in Iwate

This article introduces the four major areas in Iwate Prefecture and recommended places and activities in each.

Area 1: Hiraizumi and Ichinoseki

Situated in the south, this area, particularly Hiraizumi, has numerous ruins and temples registered as World Heritage Sites. On top of that, the Natural Monuments of Genbikei Gorge and Geibikei Gorge are designated as two of Japan's One Hundred Most Beautiful Landscapes.

1. Chusonji Temple - Take in the Breathtaking Konjikido Hall

Chusonji Temple

photo by Pixta
Chusonji Temple became an official World Heritage Site in 2011. Among the many buildings on the temple grounds, Konjikido, also referred to as the Golden Hall, is especially famous for its striking beauty.

Embellished with gold flakes over its entire structure, Konjikido was constructed by the Fujiwara Clan in the 12th century. It is thought to depict the Buddhist Pure Land Paradise (*).

An outer structure called Oido shields Konjikido from the elements. The temple is a twenty-minute walk from JR Hiraizumi Station and a ten-minute ride on the Runrun tour bus.

*In Buddhism, the Pure Land Paradise is a world of the afterlife in which buddhas live free of suffering.

Chusonji Temple
Address: Iwate, Nishiiwai, Hiraizumi, Koromonoseki 202 Google Map
Hours: 8:30 - 17:00 (closes at 16:30 from November 4 through February), open year-round
Website: http://www.chusonji.or.jp/en/

2. Motsuji Temple - See a Stunning Buddhist Garden

Motsuji Temple
Motsuji Temple

photo by Pixta
A ten-minute walk from JR Hiraizumi Station or a three-minute ride on the bus will lead travelers to Motsuji Temple, another World Heritage Site. One of the highlights of the temple is its Pure Land Garden, created in the 12th century as a representation of the Pure Land Paradise.

The Fujiwara Festival is held every May and November to commemorate the prosperity of the Fujiwaras. There you will see people dressed in traditional Heian Period-garments. If you visit the garden in June, you will be greeted by iris flowers in full bloom.

Motsuji Temple
Address: Iwate, Nishiiwai, Hiraizumi, Osawa 58 Google Map
Hours: 9:00 - 16:00, open year-round
Website: http://www.motsuji.or.jp/en/

3. Geibikei Gorge - Sail Down a River and Admire Towering Cliffs

Geibikei Gorge

photo by Pixta

Geibikei Gorge

Picture courtesy of Geibi Tourism Center
Geibikei Gorge is a thirty-five-minute bus ride from either JR Hiraizumi Station or JR Ichinoseki Station. Surrounded by cliffs as tall as one hundred meters, this gorge runs two kilometers and is stunning in all seasons.

The boat tour is a great way to take in the scenery. It is ninety minutes long and costs 1,600 yen (with tax) per adult.

Geibikei Gorge
Address: Iwate, Ichinoseki, Nagasaka Higashiyama Machi 467 Google Map
Website: http://www.geibikei.co.jp/en/index.html (Boat tour: http://www.geibikei.co.jp/funakudari/ (Japanese))

4. Genbikei Gorge - Gorgeous Water and Unusual Rocks

Genbikei Gorge
Genbikei Gorge

photo by Pixta
Genbikei Gorge is a stunning gorge with oddly-shaped rocks, a waterfall, and an emerald green-colored current.

Visit the riverside cabin for a one-of-a-kind experience. To place an order, put cash and an order sheet in a basket and send it on a rope to the opposite bank. The basket will be sent back with tea and dango. This is known as kakko dango (also called flying dango) in Japanese. Genbikei Gorge is twenty minutes by bus from JR Ichinoseki Station.

Genbikei Gorge
Address: Iwate, Ichinoseki, Genbi Takinoue 263 Google Map
Website: https://www.ichitabi.jp/spot/data.php?no=8 (Japanese)

5. Yugendo Cave - Peer Down at an Underground Lake

Yugendo Cave)

photo by Pixta
The Yugendo Cave is a five-minute bus ride from JR Geibikei Station and another five minutes on foot. Step inside this limestone cave and you will find stalactites from 300 million years ago, stalagmites sprouting out of the cave floor, and an emerald-hued lake. It is truly a sight to behold.

Yugendo Cave
Address: Iwate, Ichinoseki, Higashiyama Nagasaka, Higashimotomachi 154-1 Google Map
Hours: 8:30 - 18:00 (closes at 17:00 between October and November, 9:00 - 16:00 between December and March)
Website: http://yuugendo.sakura.ne.jp/ (Japanese)

6. Savor Local Mochi

Ichinoseki mochi

photo by Pixta
A staple of Ichinoseki is mochi (*1). Try traditional flavors like red bean paste, soy sauce, or walnut. You can try samples these delicious snacks at a sake (*2) brewery Sekino-Ichi, located ten minutes on foot from JR Ichinoseki Station.

*1 Mochi: Japanese rice cake.
*2 Sake: Japanese alcohol made from rice.

Brewery Sekino-Ichi
Address: Iwate, Ichinoseki, Tamura 5-42 Google Map
Hours: 11:00 - 14:00, 17:00 - 21:00
Fixed Holidays: Irregular (Closed on Tuesdays between January and March)
Website: https://sekinoichi.co.jp/cuisine/ (Japanese)

Access to Ichinoseki from Tokyo

You can travel from Tokyo to Ichinoseki via Shinkansen.

The Tohoku Shinkansen lines Hayabusa and Yamabiko do not require transfers. Their ride durations and fares are listed below.

Hayabusa: Approx. one hour and fifty-four minutes. One-way fare for regular designated seating is 13,230 yen (times and pricing may vary).

Yamabiko: Approx. two hours and thirty-four minutes. One-way fare for regular designated seating is 12,820 yen (times and pricing may vary).

Area 2: Morioka


Located in northwest Iwate Prefecture, Morioka used to be a prosperous castle town during the Edo Period. Today, many prefectural government offices are headquarted here.

When traveling, you will find many historic sites in Morioka, from shrines and temples to the Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building.

7. Red Brick Building - Marvel at an Impressive Structure

Red Brick Building

photo by Pixta
Bank of Iwate Red Brick Building was constructed in 1911 and has a long history. The building was made by Kingo Tatsuno, a skilled architect who had previously worked on Tokyo Station and the Bank of Japan's main building. The Red Brick Building remained in operation until 2012, when it was then converted into a museum.

The bank is a ten-minute bus ride from JR Morioka Station. Make sure to get off at Morioka Bus Center Nanak-Mae.

Bank of Iwate, Red Brick Building
Address: Iwate, Morioka, Nakanohashi 1-2-20 Google Map
Hours: 10:00 - 17:00
Fixed Holidays: Tuesdays, December 29 to January 3
Website: https://www.iwagin-akarengakan.jp/ (Japanese)

8. Morioka Hachimangu Shrine - Ward Off Bad Spirits

Morioka Hachimangu Shrine
Morioka Hachimangu Shrine

photo by Pixta
The structures at Morioka Hachimangu Shrine contain intricate architecutural and colorful details, with its inner shrine coated with vermilion urushi (*1). Offer a prayer at the shrine and receive a yaku-fuji hyotan(*2). It is said that if you blow into it and hang it within the shrine grounds, you will keep bad luck trapped within the hyotan. The shrine is a fifteen-minute bus ride from JR Morioka Station.

*1 Urushi: Sap taken from the Japanese lacquer tree.
*2 Yaku-fuji hyotan: Yaku-fuji is the custom of trapping (fuji) bad luck (yaku). Hyotan is a Japanese gourd.

Morioka Hachimangu Shrine
Address: 13-1 Hachiman, Morioka, Iwate Google Map
Website: http://morioka8man.jp/db10/ (Japanese)

Access to Morioka from Tokyo

Morioka, Iwate

photo by Pixta
You can travel from Tokyo to Morioka via Shinkansen.

The Tohoku Shinkansen lines Hayabusa and Yamabiko do not require transfers. Their ride duration and fares are listed below.

Hayabusa: Approx. two hours and thirteen minutes. One-way fare for regular designated seating is 14,230 yen (times and pricing may vary).

Yamabiko: Approx. three hours and eighteen minutes. One-way fare for regular designated seating is 14,230 yen (times and pricing may vary).

Area 3: Hanamaki

Located in southwest Iwate Prefecture, Hanamaki is famous for its onsen, or natural hot springs. Hanamaki is also the hometown of children's book author, Kenji Miyazawa. Riding the steam-powered locomotive SL Gingatrain is a great way to take in the scenery in the area.

9. Wanko Soba - A Hanamaki Staple

Wanko soba

photo by Pixta

Wanko soba(*) is a unique way of eating soba said to have started in Hanamaki. Small servings of soba are plated in little bowls and are refilled one after another as you eat.

When you are full, close the lid of your bowl to signal to the waiter you are done. You can enjoy wanko soba at Yabuya Hanamaki, a recommended restaurant.

*Wanko soba: Buckwheat noodles served in small bowls.

Yabuya Hanamaki
Address: Iwate, Hanamaki, Futsupari 7-17 Google Map
Hours: 11:00 - 15:00, 17:00 - 20:00,
Fixed Holidays: Mondays (Tuesday if the Monday falls on a national holiday)
Website: https://yabuya.jp/ (Japanese)

10. Soak in Hot Springs at Hanamaki Onsen Village

Hanamaki Onsen Village

photo by Pixta
The Hanamaki Onsen Village is a popular hot spring resort area. You can enjoy the hot springs for the day, or stay overnight at one of the many inns and hotels here. During your stay, you can also visit areas from Kenji Miyazawa's childhood, including his childhood home and the Miyazawa Kenji Museum.

To get to Hanamaki Onsen Village, either take a bus from JR Hanamaki Station or ride the free shuttle from JR Shinhanamaki Station. Both will take about twenty to thirty minutes.

Hanamaki Onsen Village
Address: Iwate, Hanamaki, Yumoto 1-125 Google Map (Hanamaki Onsen Hotel Koyokan)
Website: https://www.hanamakionsen.co.jp/en/

11. Hanamaki Onsen Rose Park - View a Colorful Display of Roses

Hanamaki Onsen Rose Park

photo by Pixta
Hanamaki Onsen Rose Park is a beautiful rose garden attached to the hotels of Hanamaki Onsen. The garden has an area of 16,530 square meters and is home to over 450 species and 6,000 strains of roses. We recommend visiting between late May and early July, when the roses are in full bloom.

Hanamaki Onsen Rose Park
Address: 1-125 Yumoto, Hanamaki, Iwate Google Map
Hours: 8:00 - 17:00 (Hours vary by season. Check website for details.)
Website: https://www.hanamakionsen.co.jp/rose/ (Japanese)

12. Board the SL Ginga Train

SL Ginga

photo by Pixta
"Night on the Galactic Railroad" by Kenji Miyazawa is a classic children's story which many grew up with. The story is about a lonely boy named Giovanni and his friend Campanella who go on an adventure aboard the Galactic Railroad.

The train was inspired by the JR Kamaishi Line, which runs between Hanamaki Station and Kamaishi Station, and the locomotive SL Ginga was subsequently modeled after the Galactic Railroad. The SL Ginga crosses the famous Megane Bridge (introduced later), and the train even has a planetarium inside.

SL Ginga
Website: http://www.jr-morioka.com/noccha/train/slginga/ (Japanese)

Access to Hanamaki from Morioka

Morioka to Hanamaki

photo by Pixta
When traveling from Morioka to Hanamaki, we recommend taking the JR Tohoku Main Line (bound for Ichinoseki, Morioka). The train requires no transfers, takes about thirty-seven minutes, and costs 670 yen.

Area 4: Tono


Located in eastern Iwate, Tono is known for its folk tales. The folklorist Kunio Yanagita assembled local folklore from the area in his book "Legends of Tono." We recommend visiting the Kappabuchi Pool.

13. Kappabuchi Pond - Explore Japanese Folklore

Kappabuchi Pond
Kappabuchi Pond

photo by Pixta
Located an hour train ride and a five-minute walk from JR Hanamaki Station, Kappabuchi Pool is the setting for Kunio Yanagita's "Legends of Tono." The area was home to kappas (*), and on the banks is a small shrine dedicated to them.

*Kappa: A Japanese mythological creature said to live near bodies of water. It looks like a child and is fully green. It can be recognized by the plate on top of its head.

Address: Iwate, Tono, Tsuchibuchi, Tsuchibuchi Google Map
Website: https://tonojikan.jp/Several_languages/english/english.html

14. Megane Bridge - Visit a Romantic Spot

Megane Bridge

photo by Pixta
Miyamorigawakyoryo Bridge, also known as Megane Bridge (*), is an arch bridge with a beautiful nighttime illumination. It is designated as a Lovers' Sanctuary, ideal for marriage proposals, by organizations in Japan.

The bridge is lit up every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from after sunset to 22:00. The illuminated bridge gives off a fantastical appearance. It is a ten-minute walk from Miyamori Station, which is a thirty-minutes via train from JR Shinhanamaki Station.

*Megane: Japanese word for glasses

Megane Bridge
Address: Iwate, Miyamori, Shimomiyamori 30-37-1 Google Map
Website: https://tonojikan.jp/kanko/meganebashi.php (Japanese)

15. Tono Furusato Village - Experience Farm Life

Tono Furusato Village

photo by Pixta
Tono Furusato Village, around a 20-minute drive from JR Tono Station, is a recreation of an old Japanese farm village. You can take part in workshops for kusaki-zome, a traditional dying method in Tono, and making take-tombo, a traditional bamboo toy.

Tono Furusato Village
Address: Iwate, Tono, Tsukimoshi, Kamitsuki moshi 5-89-1 Google Map
Hours: 9:00 - 17:00 (closes at 16:00 between November and February), open year-round
Website: http://www.tono-furusato.jp/en/index.html

Access to Tono from Morioka

Tono from Morioka

photo by Pixta
You can either ride the Shinkansen or take a normal train from Morioka to Tono. You may need to make transfers, so make sure to double check the train schedule before you travel.

Using the Shinkansen
Morioka (Yamabiko, bound for Tokyo, unreserved seating) → Shinhanamaki (JR Kamaishi Line, bound for Kamaishi) → Tono

Duration: Approx. one hour
Total fare: 2,180 yen

Without Using the Shinkansen
Morioka (JR Tohoku Main Line, Rapid Hamayuri, bound for Kamaishi) → Tono

Duration: Approx. one hour twenty-one minutes
Total fare: 1,490 yen

*Depending on the time, the rapid line may require you to transfer to JR Kamaishi Line (to Kamaishi) at Hanamaki. The local line takes about two hours.

Enjoy Travel in Iwate

Iwate Prefecture is an ideal destination in Japan with its many World Heritage Sites and spectacular nature. You can also savor the unique food culture in Iwate with wanko soba noodles and mochi cookies of all types.

If you are planing on visiting during fall or the cherry blossom season, remember to make reservations as soon as possible.

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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