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Iwate Prefecture

Iwate Prefecture

Iwate Prefecture is the second largest prefecture in Japan and was once the political and cultural center of the Tohoku region.

Iwate Prefecture (岩手県, Iwate-ken) is the second largest prefecture in Japan and its eastern coast faces the Pacific Ocean. The name Iwate comes from a myth involving the evil demon Rasetsu and the god Mitsuishi. There are three large boulders wrapped with large rope and it said that they were flung from Mount Iwate. They refer to them as the god Mitsuishi (three rocks). The evil demon Rasetsu terrorized the village and travelers in the area and one day the villagers prayed to Mitsuishi to stop the menace. Mitsuishi answering the prayers of the villagers pinned Rasetsu to the boulders with rope. Rasetsu, scared, promised to never hurt the village and as proof left their handprints on the boulder. Today, on rainy days, you might see the handprint on the surface and that is where iwa (rock) and te (hand) comes from.

Before the area was called Iwate it was known as being part of the Mutsu Province. When the Heian Period (794-1185) began the imperial court built three castles as outposts in the northeastern region. Isawa Castle, Shiwa Castle, and Tokutan Castle are the three that were built in the areas that known today as Oshu city, Morioka city and Yahaba Town. From these castles the court ruled and enacted their law system into the area. In the latter half of the Heian Period the Abe, Kiyohara, and Fujiwara clans grew in strength and took control of the Tohoku region. Kiyohira of the Northern Fujiwara first formed the historic Hiraizumi city in the 11th century, which is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city was so grand that it rivaled Kyoto in culture and political power at the time. Hiraizumi was a place of peace, but it was cut short when Minamoto no Yoritomo from Kamakura destroyed the city to kill his brother and rival Minamoto no Yoshitsune. This sparked the beginning of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) where the samurai emerged as the ruling class and feudalism.

The in fighting continued until Hideyoshi Toyotomi unified the land at the end of the Sengoku Period (1336-1573). Once Hideyoshi helped the Nanbu clan, who were the rulers of the northern areas, suppress the Rebellion of Kunohe Masazane, he was able to control all of Japan. When the Toyotomi clan was defeated by the Tokugawa, this brought in an age of peace known as the Edo Period (1603-1868). During this time the northern half was ruled by the Nanba clan in Morioka and the southern was governed by the Date Clan from Sendai. At the end of the Edo Period, the Meiji Restoration returned power back to the Emperor and abolished the samurai system. The borders of Iwate Prefecture kept changing until its final form in 1876.