Go your own way
The local people say that Iwate is a place where you forge your own path. Take their advice and enjoy this re-emerging—and rewarding—destination.
Emerald-clad mountains, fertile farmland and rural villages characterize much of Iwate prefecture located in the northeastern corner of remote Tohoku, but it’s the dynamic and dramatic coastline that remains its defining feature. From the sheer cliffs of Kitayamazaki to the heavenly waters of Jodogahama all the way down to the ‘miracle’ surviving pine tree at Takata-matsubara, to travel Iwate’s coast is to witness the force of nature and how it has powerfully shaped the region.
Facing the Pacific Ocean, Iwate suffered badly in the March 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami; five years on and cities are still being rebuilt in the areas that were worst hit. But there are real signs of hope, with the reconstruction of the Sanriku Fukko National Park and the creation of a long-distance nature trail, the Michinoku Coastal Trail, which will stretch 700km from Kabushima in Aomori to Soma in Fukushima along the Sanriku coastline.
You’ll need a car to get the most out of exploring Iwate. From Honshu travel up the coast, stopping further inland at Hiraizumi, Iwate’s most important historical attraction, worth a visit for the beautiful golden hall at Chuson-ji. Farther north, Tono valley is a picturesque rural town that is famous as the center of Japanese folklore.
Stay overnight to experience one of the many farm or home stays on offer, listening to the tales of shape-shifting animals and impish water spirits. Tono’s most beloved character is the Kappa—a kind of mischievous frog with a plate on his head that you might recognize as the mascot of chain sushi-go-round restaurant, Kappa Zushi.
Morioka is the prefectural capital where you can try and beat the record by eating more than 500 servings of the local specialty, wanko-soba; tiny bowls of noodles in a simple broth that are served one after the other. Work it off with a rewarding hike up Mount Iwate, a majestic volcano that serves as Morioka’s postcard-perfect backdrop and provides an unbeatable panorama of the region.