In no time we reached day five of our New Year’s vacation. We spent the whole day in Morioka and had a lot of fun discovering the city.

We started the day at 7 to visit the Mikoda Morning Market. Because we were up until late the prior day, we arrived around 7:30 with an hour to spare before the market closed. While this time would have sufficed to enjoy the market fully, things took an unexpected turn.

While ordering some Japanese street food to satisfy our morning cravings, we were suddenly approached by a program director from a national TV station and interviewed about our experience in Morioka on the spot. I was surprised to find myself in front of the camera, especially so early in the day, but I (hopefully) spoke coherent Japanese for useful footage to result. I am looking forward to seeing the broadcast, and depending on the quality, I might even share it here.

Because of the lengthy interview — I initially thought the reporter would only ask a few questions — the market’s shops were already closing up for the day. However, we found a nearby shrine, Hachimangu shrine, and explored its spacious grounds. Because New Year has just passed, yatai (food stalls) and amazake booths sweetened up our time.

After the early morning adventure, we returned to our hotel to properly wake up and then continued to explore No. 2 of 2023’s NY Times Places to Visit. We also prepared for our final quest of our vacation by not eating anything from this point in time.

We continued exploring the city center, which looked more lively at this hour. The park, built on the grounds of the (former) castle, left to be desired in this season because of the lack of vegetation. But the neighboring local history museum was all the more interesting, showcasing both the history of the city and the castle, as well as the (current) festivals. I definitely want to come back in the summer to see the festivals.

Next, we found ourselves a lovely cafe near the river, called Coffee BAL. The owner not only prepared delicious freshly ground coffee but also was an interesting conversation partner (proficient in English I want to add).

As the sun was setting, we took a walk to Houonji temple before we returned to the city center. As dusk set in, we arrived at our dinner place.

Our final mission was to clear the wanko soba challenge. Wanko soba is one of three famous noodle dishes of Iwate and certainly the unique one of the three. You see, this dish is eaten in an all-you-can-eat fashion and minuscule portions of noodles are relentlessly replenished until resignation. Small things add up, and supposedly, consuming 10 bowls is considered equivalent to a regular-sized portion.

There we also reunited with the program director we met in the morning, although we did not plan to. Now I had another reason to be worried about my depiction — my speaking and eating style will be judged by millions of people.

Mentally and physically prepared for this challenge, we started the meal. Aside from the noodles, several garnishes were prepared to change the flavor of each bowl so as not to get tired. We quickly cleaned the first 15 bowls and we were given a minute break to rest before the next charge was ready. The waitress cheered us up while refilling our bowls in a continuous motion. If you want to see what I am trying to describe here, search for a video, like this one.

We prioritized time and minimized chewing to quickly pile up the bowls in front of us before our bodies signaled the capacity limit. In this fashion, we smoothly cleaned a total of 100 bowls for our and the viewers‘ satisfaction.

For no sane reason, we were given a (small) dessert to finish and received a commemorative plate.

Promptly, we left for the station, careful not to agitate our bellies. We arrived perfectly on time on the platform for the Shinkansen to open the doors. The train was fully booked, which does not happen every day. In racing speed, we traveled back to Tokyo in two hours and a bit, what a convenience over a hypothetical six-hour car ride for the 500 km journey.

With fulfilled wishes and filled bellies, we returned to Tokyo. I am happy that we could experience Tohoku, and I am looking forward to coming back.

Feeling Morioka (Tohoku in Winter 5/5)
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