Ichinoseki / IwateBeautiful Countryside Steeped in History and Tradition: Ichinoseki in Iwate Prefecture

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Located at the southernmost tip of Iwate Prefecture in Japan’s Tohoku region, Ichinoseki is a treasure trove of beautiful nature, delicious food and fascinating culture. Besides serving as a gateway to the famous World Heritage Site of Hiraizumi, the city maintains traditions developed centuries ago which still flourish in areas, such as iron crafts, Japanese paper, and cuisine. It may be a world away from urban Tokyo, but the two-hour journey by Shinkansen makes Ichinoseki remarkably accessible.

Try Mochi, Ichinoseki's Local Specialty

Within walking distance from Ichinoseki Station, Sansaikan Fujisei is a great place to try mochi with unique toppings.

Glutinous rice known as mochi is common in Japanese cuisine, but generally consumed in regular meals only on special occasions such as the New Year’s holidays. However, Ichinoski’s mochi culture extends back to over 400 years, when the regional leader mandated that it be offered to deities twice every month. Mochi has since became a staple of the dining table in Ichinoseki, with over 300 variations of toppings available.

Grated radish (in the middle of the tray) is used to refresh your palate.

Close by Ichinoseki Station, restaurant Sansaikan Fujisei offers a special mochi set meal featuring eight different toppings, all of which are made with local ingredients and free of additives. Since mochi can be quite filling, the servings are bite-sized portions with toppings including red bean paste, zunda bean paste, walnuts, sesame seeds, sardines, fermented soybeans called natto, ginger, and shrimp, as well as a side bowl of ozoni (mochi soup).

Enjoy a Serene Cruise Through a Dramatic Gorge

A single boatman uses a pole to push through the gorge.

One of the highlights in Ichinoseki is the scenic Geibikei Gorge, where 100-meter-high cliff walls guide the gentle current of the Satetsu River. Here, embark on a traditional wooden boat and enjoy a leisurely cruise up and down the river. The open-decked vessel is propelled by a single boatman who uses a long wooden pole to push off from the river bottom.

Enjoy the soundtrack of nature on this tranquil cruise.

The sound of water lapping the hull competes with nature’s background music of twittering birds and rushing waterfalls, as you watch ducks and fish swimming alongside in the clear waters. The cliff walls also make for good acoustics, so you’ll be treated to the pilot’s rendition of a traditional Japanese’s boatman’s shanty known as “Geibi Oiwake.”

Learn How to Make Japanese Paper and Create Your Own Souvenir

Add colors and threads to turn your paper into a work of art.

Just a short walk from the Geibikei cruise boarding area is the Kamisuki Kan, a shop dedicated to Japanese paper, or washi. Handmade paper supplies and crafts are available for purchase, but even better is the opportunity to make your own washi right there on the spot!

The washi artisan is happy to point out the plants from which the paper is derived.

At one point in Ichinoseki’s history, nearly 200 washi craftsmen made paper for use in everything from calligraphy to shoji doors. Now there are only three, but one of them based here will guide you through the simple process of straining pulp to create the paper foundation. Then, you’ll have the option of adding colors, threads, and even flower petals and plant leaves to decorate your creation.

Relax at a Rural Guesthouse

Matakitai features a warm and cozy ambience.

Guesthouse Matakitai is just one train stop away from Ichinoseki Station. Step through the entrance here and you’ve reached a home away from home. This is both because Matakitai is a 50-year-old typical Japanese country residence, retaining much of its original furnishings and layout, as well as the warm hospitality of the guesthouse staff.

The best part of waking up… is a lovely Japanese garden right outside your room.

Inside, the lack of actual guest rooms may seem surprising, for occupying the bulk of the home’s floor space is a large central room lined with tatami mats. But at night, sliding doors known as fusuma partition off the space, and soft futons are provided for bedding. After waking up the next morning, peer through the hallway windows to find a lovely little Japanese garden sitting just outside.

Cruise the Country Roads and Sightsee by Go-Kart

Why rent a car when you can ride a go-kart to Ichinoseki’s scenic spots?

With no shortage of scenic country roads and relatively less traffic outside of the city’s central area, a go-kart makes for a thrilling way to get around Ichinoseki! In Japan, these 50 cc gasoline-powered karts are legal on public roads and easy to operate, though drivers do need a valid international or Japanese driver’s license.

Stone torii gates mark the entrance to the shrine grounds.

There’s no need to worry about directions either as you’ll follow your guide to beautiful spots off the beaten track, such as Moukusa Shrine on Mt. Kannon. Park your go-kart and step into history as you navigate a forest path leading up to this ancient shrine that dates back to the eighth century and is rumored to mark the birthplace of Japanese sword making.

Enjoy a panoramic view of Ichinoseki City from this spot on Mt. Kannon.

Just a short stroll away from the shrine is a large rocky outcrop known as Daibuiwa. From atop these boulders, catch a spectacular panoramic view of Ichinoseki City and neighboring Hiraizumi. You’ll even spot Shinkansen trains coming and going below as they ply the track between Ichinoseki Station and more northerly routes.

Pick Fresh Fruit from a Home Orchard

Special paper covers protect these grape bunches.

Fruit picking is a popular pastime across Japan, but at Mr. Ishi’s orchard and garden, you’ll not only get to select your own fresh fruit, but learn firsthand about it too. Rather than running a commercial operation, Mr. Ishi grows fruit (and vegetables) more as a personal hobby, and he’s happy to share about different varieties and cultivation methods.

Mr. Ishi cuts up some fresh corn from his garden.

Japanese famers are very attentive to their produce, and Ishi is no exception, wrapping fruit such as grapes and Asian pears in special paper covers that protect against rain and wind damage. After strolling around the orchard and sampling the seasonal bounty, Ishi and his wife invite guests inside their home for a chance to relax and chat. You may even find yourself served a generous helping of Mrs. Ishi’s home-cooking featuring home-grown vegetables or a fruit compote!

Access information

Getting to Ichinoseki:

Ichinoseki is approximately 2 hours from Tokyo or 20 minutes from neighboring Sendai via Shinkansen bullet train.

Article provided by: JTB Communication Design, Inc.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change. Unless stated otherwise, prices do not include tax.
*Unauthorized reproduction of material in this article is strictly prohibited.

About “Countryside Stays“

If you’re looking for a new way to experience Japan, sign up for a farm-stay experience through the Countryside Stays Japan program and participate in traditional rural-lifestyle activities in recommended countryside locations.

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