| MORIOKA, Japan
MORIOKA, Japan Jan 11 Once viewed as a backward
part of northeast Japan, so snowy it was known as "Japan's
Tibet," the city of Morioka and surrounding Iwate prefecture
came into their own 30 years ago, when the superfast Shinkansen
train began running up north.
Just 2.5 hours from Tokyo, Morioka and its laid-back
lifestyle, surrounded by mountains ideal for hiking in summer
and skiing in winter, makes a good weekend getaway for anyone
tired of the bustle of Tokyo.
Laced with rivers that in autumn are filled with spawning
salmon, the city has lots of narrow, twisting roads perfect for
strolling, with cafes and idiosyncratic restaurants - some
featuring just a single item. Looming over the city is the
conical Mt. Iwate (2,039 metres/6,686 feet).
Though Iwate was one of the areas hit hard by the 2011 quake
and tsunami, the devastation was confined to the coast two hours
east. Visitors can have the satisfaction of knowing the yen they
spend is helping with reconstruction.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help you make
the most of a 48-hour stay.
7 p.m. - Dinner options abound. Restaurants are concentrated
in the street running down to the Hachiman Shrine on the city's
eastern side, the center of town where Odori and Eigakan-dori
(Main Street and Movie Street, respectively) intersect, and the
Sakurayama area, a few narrow streets clustered together between
the Iwate Prefectural Government building and Sakurayama Shrine.
Try "Mass," in Sakurayama, a Japanese-style pub that
features locally produced, organic ingredients and some creative
twists on traditional foods. The sashimi, or raw fish, is fresh
and the assorted steamed vegetables simple but satisfying. A
wide array of sake is available, and the owner's ties to local
brewers mean some of the people who made the sake could be in
the restaurant. (019-651-1510)
People yearning for meat should try "Wasabi," a restaurant a
few blocks from Sakurayama that features juicy yakitori, grilled
chicken on skewers with vegetables. (019-623-1519)
10 p.m. - Morioka is not known for its wild nightlife but
there is a live music bar just across from the Sakurayama
Shrine, and a few karaoke pubs.
8 a.m. - Head for the hills! In the winter, that means
skiing. There are three downhill ski areas, each less than an
hour's drive away: Shizukuishi, Amihari and Iwate Kogen. Amihari
and Iwate Kogen are tucked into side slopes that rise to the
peak of Iwate-san, while Shizukuishi sprawls - at least for a
Japanese ski area - across two peaks overlooking a narrow valley
studded with rice farms.
which was the site of the 1993 World Alpine Ski Championships,
has several straight, very steep slopes, while Amihari, which is
favoured by local cognoscenti, especially telemark skiers,
blends steep slopes and crisp snow with long glides and sections
studded thickly with moguls. (www.qkamura.or.jp/iwate/)
For lunch, try Amihari Ramen, noodles in steaming broth with
slices of roast pork, at the restaurant below the slopes.
4 p.m. - After skiing, soak your cold, aching body in one of
several local onsen, or hot springs. Arine Sanso, at the foot of
the lowest Amihari lift, features a steaming outdoor bath where
you can gaze out over a snowy valley as the flakes drift down.
7 p.m. - After a long, wintry day, there's nothing like a
nabe - a stew of various meats, fish and vegetables cooked on a
tabletop burner, with diners dipping out what they want into
individual bowls as it is cooked. Though most restaurants in
Morioka provide nabe throughout the winter, some of the best
examples are found at Gochi, a few blocks from Sakurayama. Their
Mizutaki nabe features chicken simmered so long it slides off
the bones. Other standards include sashimi and what can almost
be called Japanese fusion food, blending elements of both
Japanese and Western cooking. A flask or two of hot sake from
the long list will warm you up even more. (019-626-2363)
9 a.m. - Stroll around Morioka, which remains a walkable
city centered around Iwate Park. Once the site of the castle of
the local feudal Nambu clan, the castle was razed after the clan
backed the wrong side in the final war that led to modern Japan.
Massive stone walls are all that remain, planted with cherry
trees, red maples and flowering perennials such as azaleas,
wisteria and hydrangeas.
Head either north or south from the park along the
Nakatsugawa River, criss-crossed by bridges. In autumn, salmon
make the long journey from the sea to mate and then to die,
flapping and splashing in the shallows. Winter brings the
arrival of swans.
10 a.m. - Narrow streets on the eastern side of the park
hold a number of interesting shops, including Japanese paper
shops, antiques stores and a bakery selling Nambu Sembei - crisp
round crackers studded with black sesame seeds or peanuts. There
are also a number of small, idiosyncratic coffee shops.
Noon - Iwate is known for soba (buckwheat) noodles, since in
the days before cold-resistant rice strains buckwheat grew much
better in the region. Oyone, just behind the government
building, features thick home-made noodles in either hot or cold
soups with a variety of toppings. Or gather a bunch of friends
and try Wanko soba, in which people compete against each other
to eat as many small bowls of soba as they can in a certain
period of time. A local chain called Azumaya is famous for this.
3 p.m. - Head north to Ho-onji, a temple with a huge
building holding some 500 wooden statues said to be disciples of
Buddha. Each one is said to have a different face.
Afterwards, meander back south. Along the way is a large
stone said to be the origin of the name Iwate, which means
"stone-hand" and refers to demons who left their handprints in a
stone as a pledge to not bother the locals again.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul