When people talk about traveling to Japan, they usually talk about one of the Big Three cities – Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka. But there’s so much more to the country. Now, at least one Japanese city is getting the love it deserves from international media.
The New York Times recently published its list of the 52 Places to Go in 2023. London made the top spot. However, in second place is what may at first be a seemingly unlikely candidate: Morioka in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture.
Iwate Prefecture lies in the north of Japan’s central island, Honshu. It’s Japan’s second largest prefecture by area, second only to Hokkaido. Morioka is reachable in about 2 hours and 15 minutes from Tokyo via the Hayabusa line of the Shinkansen.
Coffee shops, wanko soba, and a marathon
So what’s the allure of Morioka?
According to a recent story on Japan’s TBS News Dig, one draw is the area’s coffee shops. Morioka has a large share of privately-run coffee shops with local charm. One such shop is Nagasawa Coffee, whose owner, Nagasawa Ichihiro, says he’s “thrilled” that more people from outside Japan are discovering Morioka’s charm.
Another big attraction is wanko soba (わんこそば). A tradition of serving specific to Morioka and Hanamaki, wanko soba is served in single-serving portions and then continuously refilled until the customer is full.
Morioka is home to many wanko soba shops – some of them shinise, or long-running shops passed down a family over generations. The site Jalan recommends several wanko soba shops including Chokurian, a 134-year-old establishment where guests can gaze into a beautiful garden while they eat.
Visitors also praise Morioka for its natural beauty and its historic architecture. One popular sightseeing spot is the Iwate Bank Building, constructed in 1911 during Japan’s Meiji Era. There’s also the Hachiman Shrine, which dates all the way back to 1062.
Morioka is also host to an annual run, the Iwate Morioka City Marathon, which the city has suspended for the past three years due to the pandemic. The event will resume this year on October 2023 – and officials are crossing their fingers that the New York Times shout-out will make it a banner year.
What to read next
52 Places to Go in 2023. New York Times (paywalled)
【解説】盛岡が世界2番目!?NYタイムズ紙「行くべき場所」“わんこそば”だけではありません！｜TBS NEWS DIG
盛岡シティマラソン、今年は１０月２２日… NYタイムズ効果期待. Yomiuri Shimbun