Morioka to Ninohe
Distance: 58 miles
Total Distance: 1428 miles
Photo Album

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Although it was very hot and we didn’t have a tailwind to help us along today, the scenery was much nicer and we had an interesting campsite at the end of the day.

We woke early at the campsite in Morioka, packed up and said good-bye to our biker friends, who gave us a very cheerful farewell. We had stopped just southwest of the main city, and spent an hour getting into and through the center. Morioka seemed unexpectedly large to us, especially after a week of riding through small coastal and mountain villages! We made it through all the traffic safely, and rode on until we came to a major fork in the road–and a big decision about our route through Tohoku. We could take a more indirect road that went over the mountains and past Towada-ko (a famous crater lake south of Aomori) or else stay on the 4 and go south of the Shimokita Peninsula and around to Aomori. We opted for the second choice, since it would be quicker and still allowed us to see some of the coastline around Mutsu Bay.

We spent a few hours riding in quite a bit of traffic, although we had gotten out of the huge agricultural valley and were now climbing gently through some foothills. We enjoyed the relative calm as the towns grew smaller and pine forests began to dominate the landscape again. It was one of the hottest days we have had so far in Japan, so we rode a little slower than usual–also, we were lacking the great tailwind that had pushed us through the miles south of Morioka!

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More rice fields on the way out of Morioka

After a nice lunch at a road station in Iwate, we had our longest climb of the day which took us up to the highest point on Route 4 north of Tokyo! After that, the riding was generally easier but our legs were feeling the miles. We looked at our map and decided that we could make it to Ninohe, where we could hopefully find a place to camp for the night. When we finally arrived n Ninohe, we were glad we had made the effort, as it is a very enjoyable town with some nice-looking buildings along the river and around the station. We arrived a little before sunset and found the streets full of activity as people did hteir evening shopping, opened up their restaurants, and chatted with their neighbors.

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Highest point on the 4 north of Tokyo!

We rode just a little uphill from the river to a park marked on the map, and found that it was the site of the Kunohe or “Ninth Door” castle. There is a group of cities in this area of Iwate prefecture, each of which is named numerically for a castle located nearby: Ichinohe, Ninohe, Sannohe, Gonohe, etc. (“First Castle”, “Second Castle”, “Third Castle”, and so on). I’ve tried to find some information about why these castles are named this way, but haven’t found much so far.

In Ninohe, the castle ruins have been preserved to show the original outline of the moat and keep, and the grounds are used for community recreation and sports–it’s a very nice arrangement that helps to protect the historical value of the land while still allowing it to be used by everyone in the town.

We weren’t sure about camping in such a public area, so we picked a quiet corner under some cherry trees and had a cold dinner while the sun went down. The rest of the evening was uneventful, aside from Vicky accidentally pressing the “emergency siren” button instead of the flush mechanism in the park toilet–Japanese plumbing sure is complicated! After it got dark, we pitched our tent and had an early night. We fell asleep on top of ancient castle walls under a sky full of stars, ready for one more long day of riding north.