NY Times Nod Puts Morioka on The Map

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Foreign tourists enjoy wanko-soba on Jan. 19 at Azumaya in Morioka.

MORIOKA — Visitors from Japan and overseas have been flocking to a city in the Tohoku region since its inclusion on a major U.S. newspaper’s annual list of recommended tourist destinations.

Morioka was listed second after London on The New York Times’ list of “52 Places to Go in 2023.”

Published online on Jan. 12, the article has triggered a surge in customers at restaurants and shops featured in the piece.

On the evening of Jan. 19, a group of 10 foreign tourists surrounded a table at Azumaya, which serves the prefecture’s specialty wanko-soba.

The group said the article was how they learned about the restaurant, as servers brought out bowls of soba one after another. A diner from Canada hailed the delicious food and the area’s abundant nature.

The New York Times’ annual “52 Places to Go” list includes destinations from around the world nominated by Times journalists.

In recent years, Japanese destinations have frequently appeared on the list, with Osaka getting a nod in 2017, Tokyo in 2020, Hokkaido in 2021 and Kyoto in 2022.

Fukuoka also made it onto this year’s list.

The article highlights Morioka’s “Taisho-era buildings that mix Western and Eastern architectural aesthetics,” and the city’s downtown area is described as “eminently walkable.”

Writer Craig Mod, 42, who recommended Morioka in the Times article, said it is an impressive city but its charms are not well known.

Nagasawa Coffee, a popular Morioka cafe that was recommended in the article, said it has started getting more than 100 online orders a day, mainly from outside the prefecture.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nagasawa Coffee in Morioka is busy with coping with a sharp increase in orders after the shop was introduced by The New York Times.

“I’ve always been particular about the beans and roasting process, hoping people from all over the world would say my coffee tastes great,” said Kazuhiro Nagasawa, 54, the owner of Nagasawa Coffee. “The acknowledgment made me happy.”

A jazz cafe mentioned in the article had been temporarily closed when the list was published, but the owner said he reopened because of the endorsement.

“Since the day I reopened, so many customers have been coming here,” said Ken Terui, 75, the owner of the Kaiunbashi no Johnny cafe. “I realized that Iwate Prefecture is in the spotlight.”

Described in the article as a destination that is “often passed over,” Morioka has not traditionally been a big draw for foreign visitors. According to the city’s tourism division, 65,597 foreign tourists visited the city in 2019, a small fraction of the number of visitors to cities such as Osaka.

A municipal government tweet about Morioka’s inclusion on the Times list got around 370,000 views in about a week. Hoping to capitalize on the attention triggered by the article, the municipality has launched a new website and started posting in English on social media, promoting a digital map it created in October in seven languages that features 119 tourist attractions and restaurants.

“We want to establish a citywide framework of ‘omotenashi’ hospitality,” said city official Shin Sanada.

Courtesy of Craig Mod
Craig Mod