For a traveller, Morioka is perhaps not high on any itinerary and is best known as a major transport hub for Tohoku. From here, one can branch off on the Shinkansen towards Akita and some of the tourist towns on the Akita Shinkansen line. It serves well as a stopover town on the way to either Akita or Hokkaido and there is enough to see and do for a day or two if you need somewhere to sleep or stock up on supplies. Morioka can also be used as base for day trips to Kakunodate or some of the other small towns in the area.
Morioka is an ancient city; it has been inhabited since prehistoric times. You’re not likely to see much of its history, however, as it presents itself as much like any Japanese city of its size.
Morioka is a major Shinkansen (bullet train) station on the Tohoku Shinkansen line. It is also a major transit station for regular trains.
The most frequent Shinkansen services from Tokyo to Morioka are the all reserved Komachi (こまち) and Hayate (はやて), which normally run coupled together as a single train. The ride takes 2 1/2 hours at a cost of ¥13,840 each way, so you may want to consider purchasing a JR East Rail Pass or Japan Rail Pass beforehand.
Faster Hayabusa (はやぶさ) services make two daily round-trips between Morioka and both Tokyo and Aomori, complementing the other services. Fares for the Hayabusa are slightly higher (¥14,340 from Tokyo).
The Japan Rail Pass and JR East Rail Pass are valid for travel on the Hayate, Komachi and Hayabusa. On the other hand, rail passes will only cover the basic fare if you are willing to try out the premium first class seating on the Hayabusa called “GranClass”. To use “GranClass” the limited express and GranClass fare has to be paid (¥14,640 from Tokyo). Without a rail pass, “GranClass” costs ¥22,830 between Tokyo and Morioka.
Morioka is a good option for a stopover if you are travelling by train to either Hakodate or Akita during peak times where it can sometimes be impossible to get a seat to your final destination. Depending on where you are going, you will be allocated a seat on either the Hayate or Komachi, which travel together as a joined train until Morioka where they split off to go to Shin-Hakodate and Akita respectively. If you are only travelling as far as Morioka you can be allocated a seat on either part of the joined train. It’s then possible to spend the night in Morioka and get an early train in the morning to the place you want to go, or to jump on a local train if you’re only going so far as an intermediate Shinkansen stop between Morioka and Akita or Shin-Hakodate, for example if you’re going to Kakunodate.
An overnight bus service, the Rakuchin, runs twice nightly from Tokyo Station to Morioka (about 7 1/2 hours, ¥7,850 one way). Other companies offer cheaper, less comfortable rides for as little as ¥5,000.
Morioka is a small enough city to walk around. The furthest you’re likely to want to go is the Morioka Castle site which is about a 30 minute walk from the front of the train station over the steel arch bridge and through the central business district. You can otherwise get the bus to the castle site (below), but the walk through the city is quite pleasant, though can be slippery, snowy and just plain cold in winter and unpleasantly hot and humid in summer.
From the station, the easiest and safest way to into the city proper is to use the underground tunnels from the station which go underneath the bus station and the main road. This can be slightly confusing at first for people who cannot read Japanese signs and is not wheelchair accessible.
There is a wide and flat walking trail along the Kitakami river that makes for a pleasant walk or a good jogging spot with nice views of Mt Iwate. It’s about a five minute walk from the front of the station, walking straight ahead to the steel arch bridge and then taking the stairs on either side of it down to the river.