Morioka is the capital city of Iwate prefecture, up the north of Honshu. The wider region is often referred to as Tohoku. (The 2011 earthquake and tsunami impacted this region most dramatically, which is why it’s known as the Tohoku Earthquake.)
Morioka Castle was built between 1597 and 1633 on a small hill overlooking the Kitakami and Nakastu rivers, a great strategic position to control local comings and goings. It was all part of the power plays around the beginning of the Tokugawa era, and the Nanbu clan held sway here until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
The local information says the Castle was demolished in 1874, and the site turned into a park, which is, as you would now expect, beautifully laid out.
The views from the top on this autumn late afternoon, across the city towards the mountains, are sweetly calming. On a bustling work day there are few visitors, but you can look down and see the crowds going busily about their business.
I wonder whether or how or why or when or how often the local residents pause to wonder about this place in their midst. Do they come here at all, or do they just go around it to get to where they’re going?
Just as back home, we’re too busy to stop and wonder about the markers of our own history: how many people in Wellington, for example, have stopped at the pou marking Kupe’s first landing in Te Whanganui-a-Tara in the place we now call Seatoun, and which is more famous as the place the Wahine survivors came ashore? Stop and look and imagine.
The fact of the castle being demolished in 1874 piques my interest, especially because the park was only created in 1906, and gifted to the city by the Nanbu in 1933.
My assumption is that the Nanbu were involved in the resistance to the Restoration, and perhaps even in the short-lived nearby Republic of Ezo in 1869. But I can find nothing to confirm that. Just a silence.
There’s a lovely monument to a local poet, Takuboku Ishikawa, who died of tuberculosis in 1912 at the age of 26. Apparently he would wag school and come up to the park, and daydream, and write:
Lying on the grass of Kozukata’s palace staring up at the sky, the heart of being 15.
A short walk from the castle is what I am assured is the “famous” Rock-Splitting Cherry Tree.
It’s a cherry tree which started growing in a crack of a large boulder perhaps 400 years ago, and never stopped. It is indeed a rock-splitting cherry tree, now outside the prefecture’s Court building, which may or may not be a metaphor for something.
After a day in Morioka I picked up a rental car, getting ready to head for the Namibia-Canada match in Kamaishi on Sunday.
I learned to drive in a lime-green Ford Escort 1.6 Sports on the road between Hamilton and Raglan, putting it through its paces on tight blind bends along a crest of jagged hills, so 40 years later I’m excited by the opportunity to … drive a Nissan Note on an expressway in Japan.
It’s a perfectly adequate machine: four wheels and an engine, and it goes where and when I point it.
But it’s not Springsteen, is it? No-one’s going to write songs of adolescent angst and escaping capitalist oppression in a Nissan Note.
As a responsible representative of my place and my age, before I get on the Expressway I take it for a tootle and check the map app is working properly. I set it for the Baeren Brewery, because nothing says ‘responsible’ like picking up a rental car in a foreign country and heading straight for a brewery.
Actually, it’s because I’m a true Wellington hipster, with the horrible holiday beard to prove it, and Baeren Brewery is an authentic artisan brewery. They imported some old brewing equipment from Germany 15 years ago, and have been making a range of lovely drops ever since. I’d tried some the night before, and figured I’d pick up some more for my little road trip.
And very tasty they are, too, as I discovered later that night, after I’d finished driving a day in the not particularly tasting of anything Nissan Note.