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Iwate Prefecture

iwate prefecture, iwate prefecture japan
Iwate Prefecture 岩手県, Iwate-ken is a prefecture of Japan It is located in the Tōhoku region of Honshu island and contains the island's easternmost point2 The capital is Morioka3 Iwate has the lowest population density of any prefecture outside Hokkaido Famous attractions include the Buddhist temples of Hiraizumi, including Chūson-ji and Mōtsū-ji with their treasures, Fujiwara no Sato, a movie lot and theme park in Esashi Ward, Oshu City, Tenshochi, a park in Kitakami City known for its big, old cherry trees and Morioka Castle in Morioka City


  • 1 Name
  • 2 Culture
  • 3 History
  • 4 Geography
    • 41 Cities
    • 42 Towns and villages
    • 43 Mergers
  • 5 Economy
  • 6 Demographics
  • 7 Natural disasters
  • 8 Tourism
  • 9 Transportation
    • 91 Rail
    • 92 Road
    • 93 Air
    • 94 Sea
  • 10 See also
  • 11 Notes
  • 12 References
  • 13 External links


There are several theories about the origin of the name "Iwate", but the most well known is the tale Oni no tegata, which is associated with the Mitsuishi or "Three Rocks" Shrine in Morioka These rocks are said to have been thrown down into Morioka by an eruption of Mt Iwate According to the legend, there was once a devil who often tormented and harassed the local people When the people prayed to the spirits of Mitsuishi for protection, the devil was immediately shackled to these rocks and forced to make a promise never to trouble the people again4 As a seal of his oath the devil made a handprint on one of the rocks, thus giving rise to the name Iwate, literally "rock hand" Even now after a rainfall it is said that the devil's hand print can still be seen there


Bashō visited and wrote about Iwate in the journey described in Oku no Hosomichi He was especially inspired by Hiraizumi


See also: Historic Sites of Iwate Prefecture

Until the Meiji Restoration, the area of Iwate prefecture was part of Mutsu Province5

Iwate Prefecture was created in 1876 in the aftermath of the Boshin Civil War which heralded the beginning of the Meiji Restoration While the entire island of Honshū was claimed by the Japanese, or Yamato, government from earliest times as a sort of divine right or manifest destiny, the imperial forces were unable to occupy any part of what would become Iwate until 802 when two powerful Emishi leaders, Aterui and More, surrendered at Fort Isawa

The area now known as Iwate Prefecture was inhabited by the Jomon people who left their artifacts throughout the prefecture For example, a large number of burial pits from the Middle Jomon Period 2,800–1,900 BC have been found in Nishida Various sites from the Late Jomon Period 1,900–1,300 BC including Tateishi, Makumae and Hatten contain clay figurines, masks and ear and nose shaped clay artifacts The Kunenbashi site in Kitakami City has yielded stone "swords", tablets and tools as well as clay figurines, earrings and potsherds from the Final Jomon Period 1,300–300 BC

The earliest mention of a Japanese presence dates to about 630 when the Hakusan Shrine was said to have been built on Mt Kanzan in what is now Hiraizumi At this time various Japanese traders, hunters, adventurers, priests and criminals made their way to Iwate In 712 the province of Mutsu, containing all of Tohoku, was divided into Dewa Province, the area west of the Ou Mountains and Mutsu Province In 729 Kokuseki-ji Temple was founded in what is now Mizusawa Ward, Oshu City by the itinerant priest Gyōki

Little is known about relations between these Japanese frontiersmen and the native Emishi but in 776 they took a turn for the worse when large forces of the Yamato army invaded Iwate attacking the Isawa and Shiwa tribes in February and November of that year More fighting occurred the next and following years but mostly in Dewa and the area south of present-day Iwate prefecture This situation continued until March 787 when the Yamato army suffered a disastrous defeat in the Battle of Sufuse Village in what is now Mizusawa Ward, Oshu City There the Emishi leaders More and Aterui leading a large cavalry force trapped the Yamato infantry and pushed them into the Kitakami River where their heavy armour proved deadly Over 1,000 soldiers drowned that day The Japanese general Ki no Asami Kosami was "rebuked" by the Emperor Kanmu when he returned to Kyoto

Since the Japanese could not win on the battlefield they resorted to other means to conquer the Emishi Trade for superior quality iron wares and sake made the Emishi dependent on the Japanese for these valuable goods Bribes were offered to the Emishi leaders in the form of Japanese citizenship and rank if they would defect Finally a campaign of burning crops and kidnapping the Emishi women and children and relocating them to Western Japan was adopted Many a stout warrior gave up the fight to join his family again

In 801 Sakanoue no Tamuramaro began a new campaign against the Isawa Emishi having moderate success Finally on 15 April 802 the Emishi leaders More and Aterui surrendered with some 500 warriors The captives were taken to Kyoto for an audience with the emperor and beheaded at Moriyama in Kawachi Province against the wishes of General Sakanoue This act of cruelty enraged the Emishi leading to another twenty or more years of fighting

After the surrender numerous forts were built on the Chinese model along the Kitakami River In 802 Fort Isawa was built in what is now Mizusawa Ward, Oshu City, in 803 Fort Shiwa was built in what is now Morioka City and in 812 Fort Tokutan was built also in Morioka

In the latter part of the Heian period, the town of Hiraizumi in what is now southern Iwate became the capital of the Northern Fujiwara The warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune fled here after the Genpei War6


Map of Iwate Prefecture showing cities in pink, towns in yellow, and villages in cyan

Iwate faces the Pacific Ocean to the east with sheer, rocky cliffs along most of the shoreline interrupted by a few sandy beaches The border with Akita Prefecture on the west is generally formed by the highest points of the Ou Mountains Aomori Prefecture is to the north and Miyagi Prefecture is to the south

The Ou mountains on the west still contain active volcanoes such as Mt Iwate at 2,038 meters the highest point in the prefecture and Mt Kurikoma 1,627 meters But the Kitakami Mountains running through the middle of the prefecture from north to south are much older and have not been active for thousands of years Mt Hayachine 1,917 meters lies at the heart of the Kitakami range

Besides these two mountain ranges and the rugged coastline, the prefecture is characterized by the Kitakami River which flows from north to south between the Ou and Kitakami mountain ranges It is the fourth longest river in Japan and the longest in Tohoku The basin of the Kitakami is large and fertile providing room for the prefecture's largest cities, industrial parks and farms

In the past Iwate has been famous for its mineral wealth especially in the form of gold, iron, coal and sulfur but these are no longer produced There is still an abundance of hot water for onsen, or hot springs, which is the basis of a thriving industry The forests of the prefecture are another valuable resource Before World War II the forests were mainly composed of beech but since then there has been a huge swing towards the production of faster growing Japanese cedar Recently, though, there has been a push to restore the original beech forests in some areas

As of 1 April 2012, 5% of the total land area of the prefecture was designated as Natural Parks, namely Towada-Hachimantai and Rikuchū Kaigan National Parks; Kurikoma and Hayachine Quasi-National Parks; and Goyōzan, Hanamaki Onsenkyō, Kuji-Hiraniwa, Murone Kōgen, Oritsume Basenkyō, Sotoyama-Hayasaka, and Yuda Onsenkyō Prefectural Natural Parks7


Fourteen cities are located in Iwate Prefecture:

Towns and villagesedit

These are the towns and villages in each district:


Main article: List of mergers in Iwate Prefecture


Iwate's industry is concentrated around Morioka and specializes in semiconductor and communications manufacturing

As of March 2011, the prefecture produced 39% of Japan's beef and 144% of broiler chickens8 In 2009, 866 tons of dolphins and whales were harvested off the coast of Iwate, accounting for more than half of Japan's total catch of 1,404 tons9


The current population of Iwate as of 1 October 2007 is 1,363,702 consisting of 651,730 males and 711,972 females

The earliest census records date from 1907 when the population of Iwate stood at 770,406 with 389,490 males and 380,916 females This is also the only census to record more males than females

In 1935, Iwate's population surpassed a million reaching 1,095,793

In 1985, the population of the prefecture reached its all-time high before or since at 1,433,611

The census of 1950 saw the most births in the prefecture with 45,968 reported Since then there has been an almost steady decline to 10,344 births in 2007 The greatest number of deaths were reported in 1945 with a total of 32,614 The number of deaths declined steadily until 1980 when the fewest deaths were recorded, 9,892 Since then the number of deaths has increased gradually to 14,774 in 2007

Thanks to improvements in medicine the number of infants dying at birth has declined from a high of 4,246 in 1950 to just 332 in 2007

The number of marriages in the prefecture has also declined from a high of 13,055 in 1950 to an all-time low of 6,354 in 2007

Natural disastersedit

In 839, a meteorite fell from the sky in Dewa Province causing a large number of peasants in the area of Fort Isawa to desert

On 13 July 869, a magnitude 86 earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of Iwate

On 14 November 1230, volcanic activity was reported

On 2 December 1611, a magnitude 81 earthquake and tsunami were reported to have killed over 3,000 horses and people

In 1662 Morioka and its suburbs were hit by a large flood leaving 1,000 dead

Volcanic activity was reported on Mt Iwate on 23 March 1686 and 14 April 1687

On 13 May 1717, The Hanamaki area was struck with a magnitude 76 earthquake opening cracks in the ground everywhere There was also widespread destruction of houses and shops

In Nanbu-han alone, 49,594 people starved to death in the famine of 1755

Severe famines continue from 1783 to 1787 and again from 1832 to 1838

Cholera outbreaks occurred in August 1879, in Miyako and Kuji

In July 1882, a cholera outbreak in Kamaishi left 302 dead and warnings about drinking water were posted throughout the prefecture

In April 1884, there was another outbreak of cholera in Kamaishi

In September 1886, cholera outbreaks throughout Iwate left 312 dead

On 15 June 1896, at 7:32 am, a magnitude 85 earthquake struck offshore The ensuing tsunami sent waves onto the coast of Iwate at Yoshihama, in what is now Sanriku town, reaching 24 meters in height 18,158 people died in Iwate alone while some 10,000 homes were destroyed Fishermen fishing the ocean about 20 miles offshore felt nothing, then returning home the next morning found the shore littered with their homes and the bodies of their loved ones

In September 1899, dysentery spread throughout the prefecture killing 2,070 people

There was a widespread crop failure due to violent storms in September 1902 Only 32,900 tons of rice were produced in Iwate, just 30% of the previous year's harvest

In 1905, there was again a massive crop failure due to heavy rain and cold leading to famine in 1906 People were reduced to eating straw, acorns and roots

In 1919, a small eruption occurred at Nishi-Iwate10

On 3 March 1933, a magnitude 81 earthquake struck offshore killing 3,008 people and destroying 7,479 homes This is the fifth worst earthquake in Japan since 1923

Small explosions shook Mt Iwate throughout 1934 and 1935

In August 1957, there was volcanic activity on Mt Kurikoma

There was volcanic activity on Mt Akita-Komagatake from September to December, 1970 with lava flows visible from Morioka

In 2003, earthquakes struck on 26 May M70 off the coast of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, 25 July three jolts of M55, 62 and 53 in southern Iwate and 26 September M83 in Hokkaido but strongly felt in Iwate

At 8:43 am on 14 June 2008, Iwate was struck by a 72 magnitude earthquake The epicenter was about 8 km underground in Ichinoseki City Thirteen deaths were reported and massive landshifts occurred in Northern Miyagi and Southern Iwate

On Friday, 11 March 2011, a magnitude 90 earthquake hit this area, triggering a large tsunami and extensive damage The highest run up of water was measured at over 38 meters11 The disaster destroyed 9,672 of the prefecture's fishing vessels, damaged 108 of 111 ports, wiped out nearly all of the prefecture's fish processing centers, and caused ¥3715 billion in damage to the prefecture's fishing industry12


  • Chūson-ji
  • Mōtsū-ji
  • Muryōkō-ji
  • Takadachi-gikei-dō
  • Iwate Park
  • Morioka Hashimoto Museum of Art
  • Ryūsen Cave
  • Tōno City Museum



Iwate is served by the East Japan Railway Company JR East which operates two high-speed shinkansen lines in the prefecture and seven local rail lines The Tōhoku Shinkansen has stations at Ichinoseki, Oshu, Kitakami, Hanamaki, Morioka, Iwate Town and Ninohe The Akita Shinkansen starts at Morioka Station and connects to locations in Akita Prefecture

JR East operates passenger and freight trains on the Tōhoku Main Line or Tōhoku-honsen in Iwate but sold the track north of Morioka to the Iwate Galaxy Railway Line in 2002 The two lines share track with JR still running freight trains and some passenger trains over IGR track and IGR running occasional passenger trains as far south as Hanamaki There is a large JR freight yard and maintenance facility in Yahaba

Local lines include the Ofunato Line, the Kitakami Line, the Kamaishi Line, the Tazawako Line, the Yamada Line and the Hanawa Line

Other lines include the Sanriku Railway which operates two lines along the coast, the North Rias Line and the South Rias Line


Expressways: Tōhoku Expressway, Hachinohe Expressway, Akita Expressway, Kamaishi Expressway

National Highways: 4, 45, 46, 106, 107, 281, 282, 283, 284, 340, 342, 343, 346, 395, 396, 397, 455, 456, 457


  • Hanamaki Airport


  • Ofunato Port
  • Kamaishi Port
  • Miyako Port

See alsoedit

  • List of people from Iwate


  1. ^ National Census 2010 Preliminary Results
  2. ^ Frédéric, "Tōhoku" in Japan Encyclopedia, p 970, at Google Books, p 970
  3. ^ Frédéric, "Morioka" in Japan Encyclopedia, p 661, at Google Books, p 661
  4. ^ "【民話・昔話】鬼の手形" Bunkaprefiwatejp Retrieved 2013-06-07 
  5. ^ Frédéric, "Provinces and prefectures" in Japan Encyclopedia, p 780, at Google Books, p 780
  6. ^ "言い伝えられた平泉" Iwate Prefectural Office Retrieved 7 June 2013 
  7. ^ "General overview of area figures for Natural Parks by prefecture" PDF Ministry of the Environment 1 April 2012 Retrieved 22 September 2013 
  8. ^ Schreiber, Mark, "Japan's food crisis goes beyond recent panic buying", The Japan Times, 17 April 2011, p 9
  9. ^ Kyodo News, "Sea Shepherd's return to Iwate town enrages local fishermen", The Japan Times, 26 May 2011, p 2
  10. ^ http://wwwdatajmagojp/svd/vois/data/tokyo/STOCK/souran_eng/volcanoes/027_iwatesanpdf
  11. ^ "38-meter-high tsunami triggered by March 11 quake: survey" Kyodo News Archived from the original on 2011-04-06 Retrieved 2013-06-07 
  12. ^ Fukada, Takahiro 21 September 2011 "Iwate fisheries continue struggle to recover" The Japan Times p 3 


  • Frédéric, Louis 2002 1996 Japan Encyclopedia Translated by Käthe Roth Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press ISBN 0-674-01753-6, ISBN 978-0-674-01753-5 OCLC 58053128
  • Yiengpruksawan, Mimi Hall 1998 Hiraizumi: Buddhist Art and Regional Politics in Twelfth Century Japan Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press ISBN 0674392051, ISBN 9780674392052 OCLC 38738867

External linksedit

  • Official website in Japanese
  • Official website in English

Coordinates: 39°42′13″N 141°9′9″E / 3970361°N 14115250°E / 3970361; 14115250

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