Katherine Whatley’s recent piece, “Morioka: Crafts, poetry and Tohoku’s bleak nature” in the Feb. 23 edition, in which she filters her experience of Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, through the grim poetry of Kenji Miyazawa, seems a classic example of a tourist with preconceived notions seeing only what she had already decided to see.

No one here calls Mount Iwate “bleak.” In literature, a more frequent adjective is “yūdai na” — “majestic.” When it comes into view while you’re walking or driving around, it’s simply “kirei!” — “beautiful!” Oh, and the castle walls she found “melancholy” are topped with a riot of cherry blossoms every spring.

As for Iwate’s “difficult terrain,” the reporter apparently never ate anything during her visit. Iwate’s produce is outstanding across a dazzling array of products, including rice, sake, wheat, beef, chicken, dairy, fruits, vegetables and, of course, seafood. Many restaurants use entirely Iwate-sourced ingredients. Everything here is fresher than in Tokyo, too. Food here reminds me of my previous home in California.

The article also had a glaring omission about local crafts. Those iconic cast iron tea pots that symbolize Japan to the rest of the world? All the genuine ones are made right here in Morioka, and nowhere else.

The real Morioka is a walkable city with cafes, jazz clubs, an arts scene and lovely natural views and wildlife. Coffee chains are far outnumbered by independent shops that roast their own coffee and grind it to order for every cup. In winter there’s a world-class ski resort just 50 minutes’ drive away. From June through September the city offers a continual stream of festivals. And year round, political conversation is the most beloved pastime: Even the taxi drivers are tuned into to Diet debates.

I’m not one to discourage people from reading literature. But readers should know that if they visit Morioka, truth is better than poetry.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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