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Japan: Iwate Prefecture (Ichinoseki and Hiraizumi Hot Air Balloon Festival)

Located in Iwate Prefecture are the towns of Ichinoseki and Hiraisumi. Ichinoseki borders on the World Heritage site Hiraizumi and is the southern gateway to Iwate Prefecture. Hiraizumi is the 12th World Heritage Site within Japan and was recognized by UNESCO as the first World Cultural Asset in the Tohoku Region due to its well preserved temples, gardens and archaeological sites.

During the Sengoku period (Japan’s Warring States period), the area of present day Ichinoseki was under the control of the Date clan who ruled the Sendai Domain. The town was officially established in 1889 with the creation of the municipality system. Ichinoseki merged with surrounding municipalities in 2006 but still remains relatively small. It is easily accessible from Tokyo via the Yamabiko Shinkansen with the journey taking about 3 hours.

Hiraizumi is merely ten minutes away from the Ichinoseki shinkansen stop. During the reign of the Fujiwara clan (866-1184), Hiraizumi was said to have had rivaled Kyoto in grandeur and sophistication.

In 2012, Ichinoseki and Hiraizumi began hosting a hot air balloon festival in an effort to increase tourism in the region. Understandably, tourism took a major hit following the Great East Japan Earthquake and the towns have banded together to not only lure people back to the area but to also positively impact the moral of their citizens. The festival is held in late October and features hot air balloon classes, rides and a competition.

Whether you want to immerse yourself in the history of the area or enjoy the carefree hot air balloons as they quietly drift off into the sky, a visit to Hiraizumi and Ichinoseki is definitely worthwhile.

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Geibikei Gorge, Ichinoseki

Geibikei Gorge, Ichinoseki

One of the many Hiraizumi temples

One of the many Hiraizumi temples

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Foggy morning

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Hot air balloon class

Hot air balloon class

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Ichinoseki Waterside Plaza

Ichinoseki Waterside Plaza

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Honda's Asimo balloon

Honda’s Asimo balloon

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This year's tournament winners

This year’s tournament winners

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