A history of Iwate Prefecture


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Iwate Prefecture spans a wide area, and is blessed with bountiful natural resources. This page will share the basics of Iwate’s history, from its beginning in the Jomon period (pre-ceramic period), to its formal birth as a prefecture in 1876 more than 135 years ago, and on to the modern period. This page also has a number of links to Wikipedia for further reading on the subject, but keep in mind Wikipedia is not an official source.

Iwate's roots as a supplier of rice

Around 2,300 years ago, the Yayoi culture (the Japanese Iron age) spread to the Tohoku region and some areas learned how to farm with rice paddies.

While there are places more suited to cultivating rice in Japan, Iwate became known as a rice producer in the Yayoi era, and we can find remnants of rice paddies in the Isawa plains of southern Iwate ranging as far back as 2 millenia ago.

Imperial court rule, and the path towards independence

In the Nara period (710-794), the imperial court of Nara sought to acquire the northern Tohoku region as part of their empire, and invaded the area. The Emishi, the native people of Tohoku, and their leader Aterui fought back, and for some time succeeded in fighting back against the imperial army. However, the general Sakanoue no Tamuramaro was sent to the area and soon after subdued the Emishi army. Iwate was then put under the rule of the imperial court.

In the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185) the imperial court built Isawa castle (current-day Oshu City), Shiwa castle (current day Morioka City), and Tokutan castle (current day Yahaba Town) as outposts, and began ruling the entire area under their law system.

However, the imperial court’s power began to wane towards the latter half of the period, and the local powerful clans like the Abe, Kiyohara, and Fujiwara began to grow in strength as they took control of the region.

The Kamakura samurai government to the warring-states period


Our historic city Hiraizumi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was formed in the 11th century by lord Kiyohira of the Fujiwara clan, who hoped to create a bastion of peace from the surrounding war-torn lands. However, the golden culture of Hiraizumi was destroyed at the end of the 12th century by the samurai general Minamoto no Yoritomo, who was based in Kamakura (to the south of current-day Tokyo). Iwate was once again ruled by outsiders. The area became a pawn of the central samurai government, dragged into Kamakura in-fighting and stand-offs against the northern and southern imperial courts during the Ashikaga samurai government. The warring continued until the famous general Hideyoshi Toyotomi unified the entire country in the 16th century.

In the year 1591, Hideyoshi traveled to Kunohe castle to help the Nanbu clan, which ruled over the northern areas of current-day Iwate, suppress the Rebellion of Kunohe Masazane. This was the last battle fought as Hideyoshi’s campaign to control all of Japan. In this way, Iwate was the stage for the end of the brutal warring-states period, and the beginning of the more stable Tokugawa shogunate that ruled Japan until the 1800s.

The early modern period, the four domains, and the Meiji Restoration

"The birth of Iwate!"

In the early modern period, Iwate’s northern half was ruled by the Nanbu clan-led Morioka feudal domain, while the southern half fell under the Sendai feudal domain led by the Date Clan. In later years, the Hachinohe domain gained independence from Morioka, and the Ichinoseki domain gained independence from Sendai, and for some time Iwate was made up of these four feudal domains.

During the Meiji Restoration, where power was given to the emperor and the samurai government was dismantled (1868), the borders of Iwate Prefecture grew and shrunk erratically until its final form was decided in May 1876. Those borderlines are the same as those of current-day Iwate, so we celebrate that point as Iwate’s birth.

The modern era

A nickname for Iwate

Following World War II, Iwate’s natural resources were ravaged by the lumber industry and aftereffects of war. In order to restore the land to its former beauty and to improve the lives of the people of Iwate, the government established laws and initiatives to develop the land.

In the 1970s, transportation networks were improved by the construction of the Tohoku expressway and Hanamaki airport, and in the 1980s, a shinkansen line was built and Hanamaki airport was refitted to accept jet-propelled aircraft. Projects were always developed to make the greatest use of Iwate’s unique features.

In December 2009, the prefecture created the “Land of Hope Iwate” project to help realize a homeland that all of the people of Iwate desire.


Office of International Affairs, Department of Homeland Promotion
(020-8570) 10-1 Uchimaru, Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture, JAPAN
Phone number:019-629-5765 Facsimile:019-629-5254
You can access our question form here.