The third prefecture I went to was Iwate. I stayed in a ryokan, Aishinkan, 20minutes away from Morioka, the capital of Iwate. I love staying at ryokan because you cannot experience this in Singapore. I love the tatami room, having multicourse dinner on board and the hot springs. The whole point for me is the whole different culture of the room and the multi course dinner and not so much about the onsen really. I was really looking forward to this stay!
At Morioka Station, I found soft cream made with Koiwai Farm Milk. This milk is from Koiwai Farm from Iwate Prefecture and is known to be better than usual milk (I suppose, since the name is big) and used in a variety of products for consumers like coffee, ice cream etc. There’s information about the consumer products using Koiwai Farm Milk on their website.
I always make it a point to try unique soft cream flavours everywhere I go in Japan and this one was nice!
It would be ideal if I could have it at the farm itself, which is open to visitors and not far away from Morioka, but due to time constraint I couldn’t. Aside from getting the soft cream onsite, there are other activities like sheep-dog show, wool spinning, even star gazing that visitors can participate in! I love farm visits because you can’t find that in Singapore. English information can be found here. It would be more convenient if you have private transport in my opinion.
Well, at least Koiwai Milk Soft Cream is available at the station for ¥310!
My accommodation for Iwate was at Aishinkan, located about 20 minutes away from Morioka Station at Tsunagi Onsen area. The ryokan is away from the city and is located near the mountains. I got there via free shuttle by the ryokan from Morioka station. The room was spacious, in good condition and there’s nothing I dislike about it!
First thing to do was to check out the hot springs. Winter was approaching and it’s nice to soak in the outdoor hot spring to feel the temperature difference!
Female changing room
Outdoor hot spring
Thankfully it wasn’t crowded and I could enjoy my time alone.
After soaking enough, I went back to my room to have some tea. Tea essentials are provided and they included some tea snacks too to go along.
I changed into the yukata provided because this adds to the ‘ryokan feel’. It was also more comfortable wearing the yukata around the ryokan premises.
Upon checking in they asked me what time I wanted to have dinner. I booked the earliest 6pm because I was really hungry! You can expect them to set your futon bed while you are having your dinner.
I was so happy to see a spread when I entered the dining room.
Yam balls to be added to the soup if you wish.
Sweet potato ice cream
Ice cream was all you can eat self-service style and that’s great because I had multiple servings of this. The sweet potato ice cream was simply delicious. I enjoyed my dinner and the standard was good, though not the best of course. It surpassed my expectations because this ryokan is considered to be really inexpensive for ryokan standards.
After my sumptuous dinner, I decided to try out the massage service. When you are on a holiday you should enjoy such services.
The price is also inexpensive compared to Singapore and this was the best decision ever because the massage was very good. The masseuse got the right areas and used just enough pressure for me; I didn’t even have to prompt her to change anything! I wish I had gone for 60mins instead of just 45mins. Felt totally relaxed after this.
By 11pm, I was hungry again. Their in house noodle bar operates until 12am so here I am having supper.
I ordered the soba which was good! Very springy, exceeding my expectations of a random noodle bar like this.
The ramen was just decent.
For breakfast, again I was looking out for local specialties. Was happy to see onsen tamago because this area of Iwate, the Tsunagi onsen area, has hot springs and I expected to find good onsen tamago.
Banana juice? They also served Koiwai farm milk at the buffet spread.
I had the onsen tamago, Kowai farm milk, curry rice, lots of tomatoes, pineapples and Romanesco, a relative of broccoli.
Digressing, I totally did not expect to see Romanesco! It looks just like a hybrid between broccoli and cauliflower grown to a beautiful conical shape. I thought this was more of an Italian vegetable.
Before leaving the ryokan altogether I took a look at what was around the Tsunagi onsen area.
Beautiful waters and mountains.
Lovely view of Mount Iwate. The top of the mountain already looks snowy.
I was here at the end of Autumn and most of the leaves were already dried up and fallen.
Photo credits toつなぎ温泉観光協会 (Tsunagi Onsen Tourism Board).
Just 2 weeks on and this is what Tsunagi onsen area looks like! All covered with snow.
Soon it was time to leave. I took the free shuttle service back to Morioka to board my Hayabusa Shinkansen.
I was very pleased with this ryokan. Normally ryokans tend to cost more than normal hotels but this ryokan was actually considered inexpensive. It costs S$190 for a room of 2pax or S$310 for a room of 4pax (Japanese style rooms can fit a whole family) if you book on Japanican and this includes breakfast and dinner. Transport is provided for free even. Not forgetting that the top notch massage service for a reasonable price.
I don’t know of other places with such affordable (expect to pay S$200 – S$300 per pax) and decent ryokans so I do recommend trying this ryokan in Iwate Prefecture if you’re looking for a ryokan experience in Japan but tight on budget.
I wish I had more time to check out Morioka because the surroundings of the station looked nice!
I had some time before my train departed so I took the chance to buy some stuff back. This station had a lot of shops and even a department store attached to it with a gourmet food hall below.
These are the Big 3 noodles, an icon of Morioka:
1. jya jya men (similar to Chinese Zha Jiang noodles)
2. reimen (similar to Korean noodles)
3. wanko soba (similar to typical Japanese soba but eaten in several bowls of small portion, usually served all you can eat style).
There are many shops surrounding the station and within the station serving these noodles. I even shortlisted one shop to try the reimen by looking at reviews on Tabelog, but didn’t have the chance to go. If anyone gets to go to Morioka, do try it and tell me! It’s called Seiroukaku, 盛楼閣.
Otherwise, you could buy home some cooking kits to enjoy it back home.
I did not get to try the Morioka Big 3 noodles, because I was going to have my lunch on board the train. To make up for it, I bought some soba home.
Interesting Tohoku exclusive snacks spotted. I so wish I bought the Gyutan and Zunda Glico Pretz which I saw at some point during the trip home.
Here’s one of the highlights of my day – the Gran Class cabin on the Hayabusa train!
This is said to be like business class on airlines and is the most exclusive class on all Shinkansen lines. This was not included in the JR East Pass of course, and it cost ¥15100 from Morioka to Tokyo station.
Lone travellers can sit alone. Unlike the usual 2 – 3 configuration on the other cabins, the Gran class is 2 -1, so imagine how much more space you get. The Gran Class is on the last cabin, cabin 10, of the train.
The seats were very comfortable. Recline is limited but I like how the bottom of the seat flips up so I can have my legs horizontal!
My outfit almost entirely from Topshop. Check out my Animal Print Fuzzy Cardigan!
Service is provided on board and unlike the regular and Green Class, everything on the menu is free for Gran Class passengers. This is why I scheduled my ride to coincide with lunch.
The service was very attentive and polite. You can order as much as you want in fact.
The snacks and sweets were surprisingly good too. The savoury snacks were very crispy and the sweet one was Aomori Apple Cake. I like how they serve local specialties. The Cidre mentioned was Aomori Apple Cidre!
My Japanese bento and sake. The bento was better than the Ekiben I bought the other day at Sendai.
Amenities like slippers, eye masks and blankets are provided on request. I asked for a blanket and enjoyed the rest of my ride in comfort.
Before I knew it, I was at Tokyo station and this marks the end of my Tohoku trip!
The Gran Class is a good experience and there’s no better way to end my trip than with a good train ride.
If you ever visit Tohoku and want a good experience do try this because it’s exclusive to the Tohoku Shinkansen Line.
Here are my proud purchases from Tohoku!
Shopping from Tohoku was better than expected! I bought way more than intended and my luggage was full to the brim.
Sendai: Skirts from GU (¥790, ¥1290, ¥1490 – I can’t believe how good the quality is for such prices!), products from DHC and HABA in S-PAL Sendai Station, Avance eyelash serum from Matsumoto Kiyoshi (Japanese drugstore), kinako and wasabi powder from Sakurano department store supermarket.
Aomori: Aomori apple curry from A-Factory, Aomori apples (kindly given by restaurants I dined at)
Hachinohe: Squid ink apple cake from Hashokku Centre, raspberry kit kat (this is extinct EVERYWHERE but I found it in a small provision shop, selling at only ¥216. They had only 3 left and I grabbed them all)
Hirosaki: Apple cider vinegar from Apple Park, Glico Pocky (the winter limited edition chocolate one was VERY NICE), Lotte Toppo (Japan made Lotte is way better than Korean/ Thai made Lotte Toppo/ Peppero in Singapore) from Matsumoto Kiyoshi, kinako and mochiko from ¥100 shop in department store next to the station
I chose this soba because it isn’t the dry kind!
It was delicious! I wish I bought more home. Oh well, I’m sure there’s next time!