Last week’s post was about kamishibai (かみしばい/ 紙芝居), so this week I need to start with い (i). I decided to write about…
Iwate (いわて/ 岩手)
Iwate Prefecture (Iwate-ken / 岩手県) is located in the Tohoku region of Honshu (the main island of Japan), and the capital city is Morioka (Morioka-shi / 盛岡市). I’ve never been there but, as part of my Tohoku Plan, I would like to.
I can’t really write a post about Iwate without mentioning that it was, of course, one of the places affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The prefecture’s fishing industry was severely damaged by the disaster, which affected 108 out of the 111 ports and wiped out nearly all of the prefecture’s fish processing centres (Japan Times). Now, like the rest of Tohoku, Iwate is recovering and tourists are very much welcome.
One of the main places I would like to visit in Iwate Prefecture is the town Hiraizumi (Hiraizumi-cho / 平泉町). Once upon a time, Hiraizumi rivalled Kyoto, but now it has slipped off most tourists’ radars. However, last year Hiraizumi was designated a World Heritage Site, so hopefully that will help to bring the tourists back.
Hiraizumi has a number of notable attractions, including Konjiki-do (Golden Hall) (above) within Chusonji (temple) (中尊寺), and Motsuji (temple) (毛越寺), famous for its Jodo (Pure Land) garden grounds (below). Other temples, such as Byodoin in Kyoto, also have famous Jodo gardens, but the garden in Motsuji really does sound like some kind of heaven. In the centre of the garden there is a large pond , and in the centre of the pond there is an island with sandy banks and aesthetically pleasing rocks and stones.
The Historic Monuments and Sites of Hiraizumi also include the site of Kanjizaiō-in (観自在王院跡), the site of Muryōkō-in (無量光院跡) and Kinkeizan (金鶏山).
Like everywhere in Japan, Iwate Prefecture has its fair share of festivals. One festival which has caught my eye is the Morioka Sansa Odori Festival in Morioka City. This festival, held from 1st to 4th August, is one of the most popular festivals in Tohoku. Over 10,000 taiko drummers and dancers parade through the city, which sounds absolutely amazing! All of the participants wear colourful costumes and dance as they play drums and flutes, calling out “sakkora choiwa yasse”, which is a call to bring in good luck.
As for food, Iwate Prefecture has oodles of noodles. There are three main noodle dishes in Iwate: wanko-soba (famously eaten as a noodle eating contest), Morioka Reimen (originally from Korea), and Morioka Jajamen (developed from a Chinese noodle dish called “jia jiang mein”).
Another local dish is called hittsumi. In 2007 it was designated as one of the “100 Local Dishes of Japan”. To make hittsumi, “dough made of flour and water is flattened and pulled off into small pieces, which are cooked in soy sauce broth with chicken, carrot, mushrooms, green onion, burdock root, etc. In most areas, the soup is chicken-based, though other ingredients such as dried sardines and canned mackerels are also used in some areas. It is usually served in winter. If you want to make hittsumi from scratch, a special hittsumi flour made by a local company is available; you can also buy fresh or dry pre-made hittsumi.” (Iwate Prefecture Tourism Portal Site)
If, like me, you have a sweet tooth, you’ll be glad to hear that the people of Iwate have a bit of a thing for mochi. “There is a unique “mochi culture” in southern Iwate, where mochi is eaten at various special events. There are even “mochi songs” which are sung while pounding mochi. There are over 300 variations, such as zunda mochi with green soybean paste, ebi mochi with shrimp, and fusube mochi with chili peppers. In the Ichinoseki area, there was a special full-course mochi menu called Mochi Honzen, served at weddings and funerals. Today, mochi shops and restaurants in Ichinoseki and Hiraizumi have joined to form “Ichinoseki-Hiraizumi Mochi Road” to promote the mochi culture, offering traditional menus as well as new recipes.” (Iwate Prefecture Tourism Portal Site) Now that sounds like a road I want to travel!
And if you need something to wash all of that down, there are 27 sake breweries in Iwate!
One reason I am particularly keen to visit Iwate is that it is a place which the famous haiku poet Matsuo Basho visited. He wrote about Iwate in the journey described in Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道) (The Narrow Road to the Deep North or The Narrow Road to the Interior), and Hiraizumi particularly inspired him. In the past, when I have trodden in Basho’s footsteps, I have been able to glimpse that same inspiration, and I can only hope that I would find myself equally inspired by a trip to Iwate.
Iwate Prefecture Tourism Portal Site – a really excellent tourist info site!
Chusonji (temple) (中尊寺) – official website, in English
Motsuji (temple) (毛越寺) – official website, in English
Iwate (いわて) ends with て (te), so next week I will be looking for a noun beginning with “te”. If you have any suggestions, please leave them below! And, don’t forget, no words ending in ん! (^_^)v