Japanese Prefectures – Iwate 岩手

Iwate – Temples, history and a lovely beach

Welcome to the third installment of “Japanese Prefectures”. Last month we told you more about Aomori, today the Iwate prefecture will be our chosen prefecture. Iwate is mostly known as the home of the famous World Heritage Site of Hiraizumi, a collection of Buddhist temples of the Pure Land school. The main industry revolves around communication and semiconductors and the Iwate blueberries are to die for. This prefecture was hit by the 2011 Touhoku Disaster and was badly damaged with costs ranging to ¥371.5 billion or €2.9 billion.

Iwate

A beautiful view of Iwate.

Geography

Iwate is the easternmost prefecture of Honshu, the main island of Japan, and is bordered by the Aomori prefecture in the north, the Akita prefecture in the west and the Miyagi prefecture in the south. The only body of water on its border is the Pacific Ocean in the west. The border with the Akita prefecture is mostly defined by the Ou mountains. This mountain range still contains active volcanoes and Mount Iwate dwarfs most of them with its 2,038 meters. The much older Kitami Mountains run through the middle of the prefecture and haven’t been active for a long time. In between these mountain ranges flows the Kitakami River. Its fertile basin is where most of the large cities, industrial parks and farms are located. Besides these defining geographical elements, Iwate is mostly covered by forests and has a fair amount of warm water resources. During the past, the prefecture was mostly used for the mining of gold, iron, coal and sulfur but this has stopped. The famous cities are its capital, Moroika, with the Moroika Castle, Oshu City with its Fujiwara themed park and Kitakami City with beautiful old cherry trees.

A nice map of the Iwate prefecture.

A nice map of the Iwate prefecture.

What now is known as the Iwate prefecture used to be part of the home of the Emishi people, a group of people who are believed to be the descendants of the Jōmon people. Thanks to the Emishi it took the Japanese government, or Yamato, quite some time to occupy any part of what would become Iwate. It was one of the last provinces that was conquered. Because they couldn’t be conquered by the normal means of warfare and occupation, the Yamato had to try other ways to take the region. With the help of trade, the Emishi became dependent on the Yamato for valuable goods and after a covert operation to burn the crops and kidnap the Emishi women and children, the original people of the region surrendered. The leaders that survived the years of battles were taken to the Emperor and beheaded. As a result of this violent act, the Emishi people were enraged and kept battling the Yamato for twenty or more years until finally the Emishi were defeated. Until 1876 it was known as the Mutsu Province but during the Meiji Restoration the Iwate prefecture was created.

The Emishi.

The Emishi.

Must-see locations

Iwate has so many places that must be visited and things to do that it is impossible to mention all of them in this article. That is why we decided to pick the most important for you.

The most famous location is Iwate in the World Heritage Site of Hiraizumi. As said before, this is a collection of five Buddhist Pure Land sites from the late eleventh and twelfth century. Four of these sites are temples and the fifth site is Mount Kinkeisan, a summit used for sutra burials. The most famous temples are the Chūson-ji and the Mōtsū-ji. Both were founded by the Fujiwara Clan, a clan who ruled most of Northern Japan during the twelfth century. Chūson-ji is famous for its Kojiki-dō, or Golden Hall, that contains the mummified remains of leaders of the Northern Fujiwara Clan. It is a wooden building completely covered with gold leaf. Mōtsū-ji is the location of two ancient temples ruins. This beautiful temple complex used to have 50 pagodas and 500 monasteries at the height of its glory but all was burned in 1226 and was never rebuilt. The new temple was created during the eighteenth century and is located in a Pure Land garden containing both ruins and the new temple.

The beautiful Golden Hall of Chūson-ji.

The beautiful Golden Hall of Chūson-ji.

The next must-see location is the Esashi Fujiwara no Sato or the Fujiwara Heritage Park located in Oshu City. As mentioned above, the Fujiwara clan was the ruler of most of Northern Japan during the twelfth century. This theme park is built as a typical city during that time. Many buildings in this 20 hectare park are reconstructions of the buildings you would have seen during the twelfth century. It’s a true paradise for people who are interested in Japan’s history. You can even enjoy the food that was typical during the rule of the Fujiwara clan. A walk around the park takes about two hours and is certainly worth it.

The view in Esashi Fujiwara no Sato.

The view in Esashi Fujiwara no Sato.

With more than 10,000 cherry trees planted along the Kitakami River, the Tenshochi Park in Kitakami City is definitely worth the visit. It is even among the top three cherry blossom spots in the Touhoku region. The trees form a two kilometer long flowery tunnel for two weeks in late April and can be seen during a nice walk or by taking one of the many sightseeing boats that float past the beautiful trees. During the walk you can eat amazing food or participate in festival events. So if you are in the Iwate prefecture during the last weeks of April, make sure to visit this amazing park and see the beautiful cherry trees in bloom.

The amazing tunnel of flowers.

The amazing tunnel of flowers.

The last location in this list is the Jodogahama Beach, or the Pure Land Beach, at Miyako City along the Sanriku Coast. The scenic beauty of this place combines sharp, white rocks with green pines and an amazingly blue sea. The landscape was named after the Pure Land, the Buddhist paradise, thanks to its beautiful scenic value and once you see the view, it’s quite logical that this beach is ranked among the 100 Best beaches of Japan.

The lovely Jodogahama Beach.

The lovely Jodogahama Beach.

How to get there?

Iwate is very easy to reach. You can get there by plane, train, bus, boat or car. The Hanamaki Airport can be reached from Osaka and Sapporo. Because of the two high-speed shinkansen and seven local lines, going by train is also a good option. Iwate also has quite some ports so if you want to go there by boat, go ahead. It might take some time but the view might be worth it.

How to get around in Iwate.

How to get around in Iwate.

This was our short intro to Iwate. We hope that we have showed you the different reasons to visit this lovely place. If you want to know more about traveling to Iwate, leave a comment, send us a mail or please visit this site.

We will be back with another Japanese prefecture in April when we will tell you more about Miyagi.

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