If you find yourself in Hanamaki, Iwate, you don't want to miss out on a great dining experience. To say that Marukan is an institution in Hanamaki is an understatement. Not only do they have the restaurant and department store, they had at some point a supermarket, video stores, bowling alley, a driving school and a second hand store.
The restaurant and department store first opened in 1973, it was their second store, they outgrew the first one. The restaurant is located on the 6th floor of the department store. It commands quite an impressive view over the center of the city and what used to be the business center of Hanamaki, Kamicho (上町). It's open 365 days a year from 11:00 to 19:00, the last order is at 18:30.
Their menu is quite impressive, with over 200 items, some seasonal. They have everything from hamburgers, sushi, pasta, tempura, fried rice and a very popular item in family restaurants called "omerice", it's a combination of fried rice covered with a thin omelet. As is the case with family restaurants in Japan, they have most of their items on display in a glass case. So if you can't read Japanese you can point at the item of your choice. Ordering is done by buying tickets at the register, next you choose a table in the dining room. The dining room has about 580 seats, naturally the window tables are taken quickly. Once you get to a table, a waitress will come by and take half of your ticket to the kitchen and get your food. Once she brings your food, she'll take the other half of the ticket so hold on to it. Many family restaurants operate this way in Japan.
Their most popular items are ramen, they have several kinds, and Neapolitan spaghetti. As far as desserts are concerned their soft ice cream is by far the most popular, followed by parfaits. The ice cream is usually eaten with chop sticks as it is so big. I can't finish one by myself, the same goes with the parfaits, they are huge. All of their items have a few things in common, they are big, cheap and they arrive quickly. Their motto is big, cheap and fast.
Their food isn't gourmet but is is certainly on par with most family restaurants and they have very big portions too. You'll no doubt be impressed by their decor, it's straight out of Showa era (1970's). I don't think that they have made any changes to the decor since they opened. In fact, it was my first dining experience when I came to Hanamaki about 25 years ago, I have returned there regularly since.
The department store is located in the center of Hanamaki about 15 minutes walk from the station or just a few minutes off National Route 4, look at the map for more info.
Note; It was just announced March 7th that Marukan Department Store and Restaurant will be closing June 6th 2016. Now is your chance to experience this bit of history. Expect it to be busy.
Note; After closing for about almost a year, Marukan Restaurant has reopened, they have kept the dining room the same but renovated the kitchen with modern equipment. The menu is the same, the sky high soft ice cream is still there, only some minor changes, they now open at 11:30 and close at 6:00 and are closed on Wednesdays. There is still a line up everyday before opening so be prepared to wait. There is also a cafe and small shop on the ground floor now.