The Biancissimo Guide to Iwate Prefecture's Food and Culture
About 35.5 million tourists are expected to come to Japan this year, and in 2020 with the Olympics coming up that number will reach close to 40 Million people. Big numbers for a small country and some might not want to meet another tourist on every step they take, and that is even partially true. However, most tourists follow the very same path to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, etc. These cities are beautiful, but they are crowded and explored already. There aren't many pictures you can take around these cities that someone hasn't taken before - everything is beautiful, but nothing is new under the sun.
It's time to explore all the other prefectures and cities, Japan has to offer. To meet new people, food and places that are real, authentic, and precious. Biancissimo will dedicate part of its journey to bring Japan closer to you, and the Iwate Prefecture is the very first project we're exploring.
For those who want to see more, get into the real Japan, and walk paths that not so many other Gaijins have walked before then Iwate prefecture is the very best spot.
Iwate is a really special prefecture that holds a strong, proud and hard-working population that went through a lot but came back stronger and full of hope. In 2011 the big earthquake and Tsunami hit the Japanese coastline, the Iwate prefecture was one of the prefectures of Japan that suffered the most. Many people lost their lives, friends and households.
In 2019 Iwate has recovered, is back on its feet and offers one of the most diverse and beautiful parts of Japan to explore. The people of Iwate kept their smiles and hopes, they've made this place into a one of a kind experience to meet the real Japan and an open and heartwarming prefecture.
Compared to other popular destinations in Japan such as cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, Iwata offers an entirely different experience and way to meet Japan and its culture. You are not making your way through one city, you are travelling through a prefecture with a lot of options, small towns with plenty of things to explore here. Iwate invites you to find your way than following a path alongside a thousand other tourists.
This guide, therefore, will help you to find places, faces to meet, restaurants to eat at, and the wild nature to search out and discover your version of Iwate. Take this guide and form your path. Rent a car, use the local transport or use a bike. Try to do something unexpected and something that might not be written down by ten travel blogs already. Iwate is a very big prefecture, and in the best case, you start your way from the centre to smaller cities down to the coastline.
From small towns to villages and some resting days near the beach- that's our plan.
You should all start in Morioka, a place and town perfect to use as your starting point. Only about 2 hours away from Tokyo this will be your first connection with the prefecture and the first spot on this Biancisismo guide:
Welcome to Iwate. Let’s start
The Three Great Noodles Of Morioka
Our journey starts in Morioka, and it starts with the three famous noodle dishes of Morioka. Japan is a noodle crazy country, and besides Ramen, there are many other dishes you should try and eat. Make sure not to miss these local specialities that you will find all over the town and across the Iwate prefecture. There are many places you can try them out, and some of them are unique:
Let's start with Jajamen. This dish noodle is originated from China but found a new home and many lovers in the Iwate Prefecture. It consists of Udon, a miso-minced-meat paste, onions, cucumber, grated ginger and pickled vegetables. On your table, you mix this dish with the many ingredients and sauces available in front of you and customize your sensation and dish. A unique twist and second life of this dish consist of the bowl of eggs right in front of you/available to order.
Right before you finish your meal and eat up your bowl, you have to crack open an egg directly into the bowl, mix it and then ask the staff for" Chi Tan Tan". The staff will now mix in hot broth into your bowl, and your noodle dish just turned into an egg soup. Again add the ingredients available on your table to spice things up if you want to.
As told before you will find this dish all over Iwate and Morioka, but if you want to see and feel the real deal go to Pairon. It's the birthplace of this dish in Iwate and it's a 100% lovely and very authentic spot. You feel strong old school vibes here and the wholesome smiles of the many many people that have eaten that dish before you in here.
Then there is Wanko Soba, a very popular and rather entertaining dish. It will cost you energy and give you a lot of calories if you do it right. This dish is basically an all-you-can-eat Soba challenge. A small bowl of these noodles on your table will get refilled every time you finish the bowl.
It is what it is. A soba challenge and you really should try it in many places around Iwate prefecture. One of the main places is called Kinkontei, and all they care about is to keep you eating lots of Soba.
The third Great Noodle of Morioka is called Reimen. A dish originated in North Korea and brought to Iwate in 1954. Usually served in Yakiniku Beer restaurants, this dish for fused with local flavours and now is available all over Morioka. Its a real exotic candidate in this noodle gang and might look a bit strange at first sight. The chewy semi-translucent noodles are made from wheat flour and starch and are served in a chilled spicy broth made from chicken and beef. You usually find pickled vegetables, Kimchi and a unique addition - a slice of watermelon - in this dish.
What might sound like a strange experiment is a pretty good and fresh dish. If you want to eat it, make sure to go to a Yakiniku place, so you can also have grilled beef on the table. The Pyon-Pyon-Sya restaurant close to Morioka station is pretty good and one of the best places to get it done. Or even better try Shokudoen, the originator of this dosh in Morioka!
The Geibikei Gorge is a special experience that draws in many Japanese visitors every year. While sitting in a boat that gets manoeuvred by a boatsman is using a pole instead of a paddle, you can see and feel the power on Iwate's beautiful nature. It is a real spectacle, and even though it is a tourist attraction, it is far away from a complete monetised touristy experience.
The Boatman will guide you through a beautiful canyon till you reach a big rock wall where you can throw some stones (you will see) and find your luck (you can try). It is a real highlight of Iwate that you can do it all over the year. From the Ceremony boats in late May to heated boats with a roof on top and food on the table. As I said before, you will see some other tourists here, but it's all quite chill and extraordinarily pleasing and very "Ghibli".
Don't forget to eat before or after your boat trip and in the best case, go to Geibikei and eat their Sukiyaki. A Japanese style fondue where you simmer thin sliced meat and vegetables in a pot on your table. You dip them into a yolk right after, and you will love it. Easy.
Fukuda Pan Morioka
Another specialty of Morioka is Fukuda Pan - a sandwich shop that offers many many variations and fillings for a pretty fluffy and tasty bun. Everyone in Morioka knows this place from their student and school time, and you will most likely find a line waiting in front of this shop at any time. The shop exists since 1948, and in recent years, it got more and more hyped with even opening up branches outside of Iwate.
Same as in an ice cream parlour, you can choose between different toppings between sweet and salty here. There are daily specials. There are ways to mix different toppings. There is a fried ham/bacon variation - this place is just lovely. Go there.
Time to slow down the time and your pace, time to go to the Chūson-Ji temple and see how Buddhism fused with Shinto-Ism in Japan. The World Heritage Site brings together a beautiful assembly of temples, and its highlight is the Konjiki-dō a hall covered in gold both in and outside featuring all different Budha statues and an altar with the remains of the first Fujiwara Lord Kiyohira.
Morioka Mikoda Morning Market
Back to Morioka and it's time to prove again that you are exploring an area that still is full of real and authentic experiences. The Morioka Mikoda Morning Market is one of these places where you can dive deep into a local atmosphere and see old farmers and old business.
Farmers from the whole area selling their goods here and early in the morning you will find some interesting faces and vibes. The entire market still is running solely on the purpose of supplying locals with fresh and affordable food, and there is no tourism business implemented at all. It's as real as it gets and on top of that you will find another local speciality here:
A soup consisting of different vegetables and sometimes meat - depending on the season and vegetable and thin dumplings/mochi-like dough layers that you most likely will never have tried or tasted before. Iwate is famous for its mochi dishes, and this soup is one of the many variations. It's super tasty, very pure, unique and special. A lot of nice words for a simple soup. But eating this bowl in this beautiful market will let you appreciate choosing Iwate over a crowded city a lot. Go to the market, suck in the Atmosphere, try some specialities and be happy.
Again, this guide takes you all around Iwate, and now we come to a place where Iwate's story gets very special. As mentioned in the intro of this article, Iwate and the northeastern coastline were hit heavily by the earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.
Through all this pain and suffering, the people of Iwate kept up their good spirit and positive attitude. Kamaishi is one of the places where you can feel and see this the most.
Shinkaen Honten Ramen
As a symbol for Kamaishi power and god will it's time to make a typical Biancissimo move: Eat something. Shinkaen Honten Ramen is very special for that, it first opened in 1951 this place is the major symbol of Kamaishi Ramen. With Taiwanese family ties, this ramen dynasty also serves a diverse selection of other plates for a very reasonable price.
Like so many other places this ramen restaurant got completely destroyed in 2011, you can still see the devastating impact of the Tsunami on pictures hanging on their walls. Like so many other places in Kamaishi, the crew and family did not give up and is now selling food and drinks again, as they did for generations. A truly inspiring place and a call to action for you to go into as many restaurants as possible along the coastline to appreciate and support the food and their hustle.
Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium
The other strong symbol is the Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium that you might come across if you visit Iwate for the Rugby World Cup. Built on the site of two destroyed schools, it now represents the recovery of the prefecture stronger than anything else.
Located between forests, mountains and nature you will find one of the most beautiful and impressive stadium you will have seen. Close to the Tsunami Memorial Hall this stadium brings back life and hopes into Iwate, and you won't find a place in the prefecture with more cheerful smiles.
The beauty of Iwate is heavily connected with the ocean and its life around it. This did not change after the Tsunami and never will. Therefore your way through this prefecture should at one point lead you to the coastline to spend your time the closest to nature and the ocean. Many small towns around the coast invite you to stay and explore, and Miyako is one of them. The beach around this town is one of the most beautiful scenic attractions to visit in Iwate.
At Jodogahama beach you can hang out and relax or take a Jodogahama Boat cruise to see Iwate from the ocean. As said before, make sure to spend some time close to the ocean and let your time and schedule slow down a bit. In the best case, you stay a couple of days around a city close to the ocean and forget about time, schedules, to do's and must-sees.
Japan can be very calming once you escape the pressure of seeing it all, eating it all and going where everybody goes. Slow down.
Tono Brewing Taproom
Another excellent example of how Iwate is full of inspiring stories is Tono Brewing. The small brewery is open since 2018, and they serve their beer made from local hops. The microbrewery is actually in the very same building where you will enjoy your beer and food. Run by a retired Engineer that found love to hops instead of slowing down his life into retirement, you will find real Iwate power and entrepreneurship here. Lovely people are doing lovely things, far away from the big business in Tokyo. Tono is a perfect place to have beer and food and talk to locals and beer and food. Lovely.
We keep on exploring the prefecture and adding another scenic attraction, and - as always - food to our map. Genbikei Gorge is a beautiful canyon that you have to travel a bit for. Located in southern Iwate, this gorge offers a two-kilometre walk and features a special dish situated between the two main brides: Flying Dango. Just watch this...
To make this place even more special, you will find a really old Venetian glass making factory close to the Gorge. The whole factory is stuck somewhere in the 70s and looks like an amusement park left behind from a Ghibli movie.
Something special for the special.
Let's talk about food and another specialty of Iwate: Maesawa beef. There is not just Wagyu beef that leads the ranks of Japanese beef charts. Maesawa beef is also super close to Wagyu quality and brings in some very unique flavours on a more healthy level. Iwate beef is very, very tender but still doesn't have the same fat levels of Wagyu. More red meat, less fatty, incredible taste.
You need to make sure to eat this special Iwate beef, and if you ever come close to the Genbikei Gorge, why not visit Ushinosato after that? A lovely restaurant in a small town that is specialised on this beef in many variations. Grilled, simmered, or in Beef Sushi form. It is a perfect humble place to eat this amazing meat.
Other Local Restaurants and food in Morioka
It's time to go back to Morioka and to eat. You know you should have understood the way Iwate works. Explore, travel, visit the ocean, and eat. To round up your trip, we collected some perfect spots for even more food. Oishi!
A long day needs a long night, and no other restaurant is a better place to start or to end this night as in an Izakaya. An Izakaya is a place where you can eat Japanese specialities, and drink alcohol. A simple set-up that will surprise you with incredibly tasty food and a hangover if you do it right. If you want to know more about the origins of this sensation, just read this Izakaya guide here.
We start our Izakaya journey at Wasabi. This Izakaya is hidden in a small alley down in Morioka and is specialised on Yakitori - different cuts of chicken grilled on a skewer. From chicken skin (Kawa), chicken wingtip (tebasaki), chicken and leek(torinegi), or chicken liver (Reba) - the world of Yakitori is diverse and incredibly tasty. Wasabi does justice to this world and adds all the essential classics to the mix and brings in its own charm with good sake and a very chilled atmosphere.
Make sure to order their gyoza as well, and just in case they want you to write down your orders on a piece of paper use this selection (reduce numbers for the number of people) or just tell them "Omakase" (they will bring you their best food). Easy!
Neuf du Pape
Why are we heading to a French restaurant you might ask yourself. Don't worry, Japan is a master of mastering foreign cuisine or mixing it with its own taste and flavours. Neuf du Pape does that extraordinary good and delivers you a one of a kind mix of French and Japanese gastro food.
Located above an old movie theatre in a big building full of restaurants Neuf du Pape adds a lot of cosiness into French food with a great selection of sake, beer and wine and incredible tender Tankaku wagyu.
Hinode Building Rooftop
From French food to Japanese BBQ, aka Jingisukan. Located on a lovely rooftop, this place represents an old school way of grilling meat in Japan. In the early 90s, these kind of rooftop bars were to be found everywhere around Japan, now they have become a relict of the past. It's hard to understand why this practice has become so outdated. Having a BBQ over the rooftops of Japan is probably one of the nicest ways to eat some meat, we can all agree on that. Luckily for you NAME is still here, and they serve you Jingisukan over the roofs of Morioka.
This style of BBQ let you do all the business by putting meat and vegetables on a grill right on your table. If you want, do it directly put all vegetables on the grill first and then place the meat on top, so it gets slowly steamed to the perfect level. All other ways work too though. So if you want to get it all on the grill asap, just go for it. I asked for togarashi and also add soy sauce into your bowl full of grilled meat and vegetables and you will be surprised how good this simple set up can taste. Since we mentioned hangover earlier in this article: There is an all you can drink option on the menu. Go for it.
Nanbuhan Nagaya Sakaba
Food and drinks are fine but why not add some entertainment to it. In Nanbuhan Nagaya Izakaya you will find a lot of local specialities from beef to fish and vegetables, a big selection of Sake and a small show at the end of the night that brings Morioka's yearly festival and its song to you every night. It's an old school Izakaya experience, with tatami seating in the small back cabins to sit in and seats right in front of the late-night singers. The food is good. The experience is even better.
Ramen Niboshiya Sinchan
To end a Bancissimo guide, we always need another bowl of Ramen. After introducing you to the three great noodles of Morioka and Kamaishi Ramen, it's time to eat some Niboshi Soba. This guide is full of unique food, so it's time for you also to eat a unique bowl of ramen. Niboshi ramen main flavour is based on a dried sardines broth that has a powerful and deep taste. It's a real speciality, and something you will not find outside of Japan that easily.
It is a hate or love affair and only for real connoisseurs of salty and maritime flavours. If you're into that then Ramen Niboshiya Sinchan is the right place for you. Located in the very same building where you find Neuf du Pape you will find this ramen shop, it is open till late at night. As I said before, there are many other restaurants in this building and as noted before this guide is also about letting you explore and discover on your own... So if you are not into this style of Ramen, look around and find your luck in the many options this building, town, and prefecture has to offer.
The End: Explore Iwate
Explore this prefecture, invest your time and energy to go somewhere in Japan not many people have been before and meet lovely and strong people, real vibes and, small town, and magnificent nature.
Iwate is your friend.