By Jade Bonus
As much as we adore our beloved Aomori-ken, sometimes the feet get itchy. Sure, sometimes it’s tinea (and there are creams for that, thankfully), but other times it’s the old wanderlust coming around again, the darling old slapper, and there is no choice but to get out of Dodge, at least for a weekend. Close but far enough away to make you feel like you are travelling is our neighbour Iwate-ken’s Morioka.
What to do
Morioka is a flat out gorgeous city with a palpable sense of history. Compact enough to get around easily by foot or bike, nature is also close at hand with the Kitakami Mountain range that dwarfs the city just a short distance away. As such, Morioka is the perfect weekend getaway for us Aomori locals and has a metric shit-tonne of attractions to make the (actually rather short) trek worthwhile.
As I am a rather lazy traveller, I’ll leave the many attractions to the guidebooks (or the very handy English language map you can get at Morioka station’s tourist information centre at the train station) and discuss the things that I am willing to leave home for – parks, cafes, record stores, and pretty, pretty men*.
Whatever the season, Iwate Park is a must see. Sure, I was there a couple weeks back in autumn, which made taking pretty pictures much akin to shooting fish in a barrel.
Pictured: fish shot in a barrel
The grounds themselves are worth the trek alone. There are apparently the ruins of Morioka castle somewhere in here, although I couldn’t find them; regardless, the many stairs make not only a brilliant thigh workout, but as your reward you get a stunning view of Morioka city at the apex – amazing. There is also a gorgeous shrine here, so please feel free to leave a votive tablet and make a wish as you exit past the moat that is filled to the brim with rather adorable koi.
Once you have spent a little time talking to the fish (it doesn’t make you weird at all), cross the road to the small row of shops facing the park. Make your first stop Neat Records. Brimming with the vinyl that you expect and overflowing with a lot that you don’t (mint condition 1960s Japanese surf rock singles were my highlight here), Neat Records is worth a browse, especially if you don’t know what you are looking for. As an added bonus, on the day I first visited (there were second and thirds naturally), the hot dude behind the counter was playing a live Yes record over the sound system, a sure sign that not only are the staff hot (always important), but they know their stuff – a serious must for any record store. Speaking of record stores, if you are a jazz lover, head to Discnote at the Moss building a bit closer towards the station – trust me, you will love it.
A little further up from Neat Records is a very nifty American vintage store – obviously I didn’t have the presence of mind to write down the name – but don’t worry, you will find it. I picked up a Motley Crue badge here that was one of the highlights of my trip (shout at the devil motherlickers), so be sure to have a browse.
With your new (old) records and vintage badges in tow, you will seriously have both a thirst and need of a caffeine fix well and truly on. Sidle around the back of Neat Records, and you will find a maze of small restaurants and cafes to while away the next while. It doesn’t really matter where you choose to get your drip on here as all of the small cafes scored their decor courtesy of 1982 and play either the Beatles’ Rubber Soul or Revolver on the stereo – always a winning combination, and I have a serious heart on for both.
If you want to get your culture rather than your caffeine on, Iwate Museum of Art is about a kilometre and half walk from the back end of the train station. A stunning building and a collection that primarily features paining from Japanese artists. While painting is not usually my cup of tea, the museum trip was certainly worth the amble out of the city. Oh, and an added highlight at the museum was a van out front selling actual coffee – like the real stuff with a sippy lid and everything…amazing. Once you are done there, head across the overpass (that is like, real lawn) and stop for a minute to get the best view of Morioka the city has to offer. Keep going and you will hit the children’s’ museum on the other side. As I don’t have children and can’t get a discount ticket, I didn’t go in, but if you do and can, have a look.
Morioka is a main stop on the Tohoku line, so hop a Shinkansen from Shin-Aomori, Hachinohe or Shichinohe-Towada.
There are also bus services from major cities in Aomori-ken.
Where to stay
I stayed at R&B which is right near the station and paid under 4000 yen a night with breakfast, but I am sure there is even cheaper (or more expensive if that is your bag) out there. Hit up Rakuten Travel and find your best option.
What to eat
Wankosoba (stop laughing Brits and Aussies) which is more a competition than a meal – your helpful hotel peeps can point you to the nearest place. If you can’t find wankosoba or the thought of competitively eating until you vomit does not appeal, you can have just about any permutation of soba in Morioka, and it’ll still be awesome.
* There are quite a few hosts here, which probably isn’t a thrill to you big city Aomori-ken types, but for a girl in Towada-shi, it’s welcome and much needed eye candy.
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