There are few rural towns in Japan that evoke such a sense of importance as Kamaishi. On the surface it seems like a remote town, with a beautiful bay, surrounded by mountains and sea. However, despite its isolation on Iwate's coastline, it was here in Kamaishi where Japan's rapid and explosive 19th century industrialisation that allowed it to become the most advanced economy in Asia, all began. Home to a world heritage site, the Kamiashi Daikannon (one of the world's tallest statues) and abundance of fresh sea food, the town of Kamaishi is truly one of Tohoku's hidden treasures.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Kamaishi, is that despite its remote location, hidden along the pacific coast and the mountains of Iwate, the town was at the very heart of Japan's industrialisation.
In 1858, Oshima Takato, considered to be the father of modern ironmaking in Japan, commissioned the Hashino Blast furnace in Kamiashi, heralding the dawn of Japan's heavy industry.
The original smelting site is located in the mountains 20km west of the town, in a remote forest, home to all the ingredients crucial to its success; trees to fuel the furnace, streams to provide water and crucially, the local mines supply the Magnetite metals. Most of the iron produced was used for weapons, however they also produced coinage on behalf of the government, and even continued to do so illegally on a large scale after the government requested them to cease production in 1868.
Today while the iron works is long gone, it's culture has not been forgotten, having been awarded World Heritage status in 2015. History aside though, the locals return throughout the year to enjoy the nature of the area; cherry blossoms bloom and burst into colour in Spring, and the rich colours of autumn encircle the site in fall.
In fact, this area is so beautiful, even the bears like to drop by! As you walk through the lush area, you'll discover signs dotted around warning travellers to be weary of their presence. This place truly is a natural power spot you can enjoy throughout the year.
Be sure to purchase an audio guide for 300 yen (available in English, Chinese and Korean), as there's no better way to immerse yourself in the history as you wander around.
Once you've experienced the site where it all began, be sure to visit Kamaishi's Iron Museum. It's home to a massive replica of the blast furnace that was created in Kamaishi and it's an impressive sight to behold. You'll be surprised at its sheer height and scale!
There are fun, interactive displays throughout the museum, including a large scale where visitors can weigh the metal and test their strength, and an exciting display of toys and memorabilia from the 1950's and 60's which you can pick up and play around with like a child again while the other adults aren't looking!
Out the front of the museum you'll be able to pose alongside a remarkable steam train; the kind of train that once connected Kamaishi to the rest of Japan. But perhaps best of all, the museum also offers one of the town's best views, with windows through which you can gaze across sweeping views of Kamaishi bay, with the eerily large Daikannon statue towering overhead, watching over the passing ships.
Who'd have thought this rural town, would be home to one of the tallest statues in the world?
Upon arriving in Kamaishi, one of the first thing that'll grab your attention is the 48.5 meter Daikannon statue - Kamaishi's answer to Christ the Redeemer, albeit 10 metres taller.
Built in 1970, the statue is said to bring good luck to the local sailors, and ensure they return home with a bountiful catch. Representing Kannon - the god of mercy - the statue towers impressively over Kamaishi bay, carrying a giant fish, as the ships in the harbour glide through the bay in its shadow.
Visitors are able to enter the statue for a small fee and ascend it many floors, adorned with 33 wooden statues crafted between 1185 - 1333, with the many faces of Buddha. Once you climb the statue you'll soon discover that the giant fish being held by Kannon, also doubles as a small observation deck, with stunning panoramic views of Kamaishi.
Situated next to the statue is a Sri Lankan style temple, with a design and an interior that feels like you've momentarily left Japan upon entering it. The temple enshrines Buddhas ashes, with statues of the founds of Japanese Buddhist sects exhibited in the basement.
As the doors to the San Fish Market open, you'll find yourself amongst a crowd of patiently waiting locals, looking to grab a bite from Ekimae Shokudou, the markets popular Ramen shop.
As you wander through the bustling San Fish market, it's hard to ignore the wide eyed stares of the bright orange Kinki Fish, presented amongst a bed of ice upon the stores of fishmongers, alongside Sea urchin and fish eggs.
One dish that'll undoubtedly grab your attention is Sanriku Kaihozuke - a glistening dish prepared with salmon roe, luxurious abalone and mekabu seaweed. It's an award winning local specialty not to be missed.
For hungry travellers, the second floor of the market has several restaurants, where you can tuck into Kaimaishi's fresh sea food. At the Miyagawa Fish Restaurant, customers can order a tower of tempura, presented in the manner of English tea, for just 1,100 yen, as part of a set meal. It's a steal for the quality of the tempura and the presentation, with three varieties of salt to dip into; plain, match green tea and curry.
There's no better place to sample Kamiashi's local specialty goods, than the towns Michi-no-eki. The must try local drink is Parsimmon vinegar soda, which initially hits your tastebuds with the refreshment of lemondade, but is accompanied with a delightfully addictive tangy, vinegar aftertaste, with a dash of Parsimmon. It's the sort of drink you find difficult to stop swigging, after the first mouthful.
There's no better accompaniment than the Towari Koji Miso Cake, another original local treat, which has the traditional sweetness you'd expect from a cake, blended with salty rich taste of miso. Alternativley, if you'd rather wash it down with something a bit stronger than Parsimmon vinegar soda, grab a bottle of Hamachi Dori Nihonshu - winner of the Sake Gold Award at a competition in London.
Kamaishi is easily accessible by train from Iwate's Hanamaki station on the JR Kamaishi line (approximately 90 minutes, 1660 yen one way). Shin-Hanamaki station is just under 3 hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen.