Sometimes the best way to get around rural Japan to see what a particular area has to offer is by rental car. Renting a car in Japan is quite easy providing you bring with you an international driver’s license from your country. The process of obtaining one of these varies from country to country but generally it is considered fairly hassle free and doesn’t cost much either. Typically international licenses are good to use for a whole year, but again that depends on the rules and regulations of your country. If you happen to have a Japanese license that will of course also do the trick for renting a car in Japan!
Iwate, in the Tohoku region of Japan is one of those places that visitors can benefit hugely from by having a car and thus being mobile, not restricted by the constraints of sparse public transport and timetables. In this article we have put together a simple itinerary that can be easily covered in a single day using your freshly rented set of wheels! We will use Morioka City as our starting point as it is well connected to the rest of Japan via the Shinkansen Bullet Train, and it has a good selection of car rental places right by the main train station.
We start the day with a fairly simple hike to a stunningly beautiful waterfall somewhat hidden from the path that leads you to it. First you will need to navigate to Fudo-no-taki Falls, which is roughly one hour north of Morioka. When you arrive you will find a small car park and a dirt road that leads you through a number of red and granite-colored torii gates, these are in fact the gates to a small shrine that is situated just above the waterfall called Sakuramatsu Shrine. The walk to the shrine and then the falls takes a little under twenty minutes and affords some beautiful photo opportunities along the way. Once you reach the falls you will see a red bridge that crosses a river below, you can take this bridge and loop round back to the car park, or you can return the way you came. In total you will want to give yourself at least an hour here regardless of which route back you take. The path to the falls is uneven at times and fairly snowy during the winter so sensible footwear is recommended.
The Gates to Sakuramatsu Shrine
Fudo-no-taki Falls and the Red Bridge
Once you are back at the car and have worked up an appetite, it’s time to start thinking about lunch. You now want to head north again, approximately 5km towards Arayashimmachi train station, across the road from which is Kojimaya Motomiya Malt Brewery and Miso Jaya Miso Restaurant. Both places occupy the same plot of land, the former is small factory that grows and prepares malt for a variety of foods and alcoholic drinks - visitors are welcome to look around and learn about the process. The latter is a small restaurant that serves a number of Japanese dishes, all using locally produced miso. They also have a small shop selling a wide range of goods also made from local miso. This is an excellent opportunity to try a variety of fresh produce from the area, and the dishes available are incredibly good! Although there isn’t a vegetarian menu as such, they have vegetarian-friendly options.
Inside the Koji Motomiya Malt Brewery
Miso Jaya Restaurant and Shop
Miso Soup at Miso Jaya
With a full stomach and a nice selection of miso-based products purchased as gifts for your friends and family back home, it’s now time to head into the mountains; you will be making your way south towards Mt. Iwate, specifically to the Towada Hachimantai National Park Hachimantai Area for a spot of Geothermal Dyeing!
“What’s Geothermal Dyeing?” is what I imagine most of you are thinking now, good question! Geothermal Dyeing is a unique method of dyeing cloth using geothermal steam as it rises from the ground - this is the only place in the world that practices this method of dyeing, potentially making it a once in a lifetime experience!
Emi Suzuki runs the dyeing workshop with her mother and her brother from a small wooden building surrounded by thick forest and a beautiful lake. Visitors learn how to complete the process from start to finish, allowing them to make a very unique memento to take home and remember Iwate by. Some of the items that are made at the workshop include scarves, handkerchiefs and bags. The workshop is run at a comfortable pace with English instructions printed on an easy-to-understand sheet of paper.
Emi and her Mother Demonstrate Dyeing Techniques
Emi’s Mother Demonstrates Dyeing Techniques
Picturesque Lake by the Geothermal Dyeing Workshop in Hachimantai
Our final destination today is just minutes down the road at Matsukawa Onsen. It’s time to unwind and relax in a hot-spring onsen bath while taking in the spectacular views of the surrounding Hachimantai. This onsen bathhouse has been in operation for over 250 years, making it a firm favorite for those who visit the area frequently.
Matsukawa Onsen also offer overnight lodging, so if you’re happy staying put and making the most of the Hachimantai area you can book a room for the night! If not, the drive back to Morioka City will take you roughly fifty minutes.
The Outdoor Bath at Matsukawa Onsen
Taking it easy at Matsukawa Onsen
Overnight Stays at Matsukawa Onsen
Koji Motomiya Website (Japanese only):
Geocolor Geothermal Dyeing (Japanese only):
Matsukawa Onsen Kyounso Website (Japanese only):
Supported by Hachimantai DMO Inc.