Cherry Blossoms and World Heritage: Hiraizumi (Iwate Prefecture)

Founded with the Ideal of a Peaceful Society (Chuson-ji)

Chuson-ji
Chuson-ji Konjikido (The Hall of Gold)
Chuson-ji Konjikido (The Hall of Gold)
Chuson-ji exterior
Chuson-ji exterior

Founding of Chuson-ji

Chuson-ji temple was founded in the year 850 to comfort the souls of those who died in battles throughout Tohoku. At the beginning of the 12th century, large-scale temple construction was carried out by Kiyohira, the founder of the Ōshu Fujiwara clan, with the intent of creating a peaceful, ideal society.

Chuson-ji Konjikido (Hall of Gold)

The Konjikido – “Hall of Gold” – has remained covered by an exterior structure to preserve it through the centuries, with the current “Shinfukudo” outer building constructed in 1965. The interior Amida hall is surfaced with gold leaf, and the lustrous white shell inlays, engraved metal fittings and gold-sprinkled lacquer bring together the most sophisticated artistic techniques of the late Heian era.

Chuson-ji Tsukimizaka

Chuson-ji is situated at the top of rolling hills at an altitude of 130m (426 ft). Worshippers offering prayers at the the main temple building and Hall of Gold have traversed the Tsukimizaka (literally “Moon Viewing Slope”) since ancient times. On either side of the path are cryptomeria trees planted three to four centuries ago, creating a sublime atmosphere.

Recreating a Picture Scroll – The Spring Fujiwara Festival

Fujiwara Festivals

One of two annual Fujiwara Festivals held in the spring and autumn. The Spring Fujiwara Festival runs from May 1st to 5th. One of the highlights takes place on May 3rd, with 91 costumed participants (sometimes featuring celebrities) recreating the the scene from a famous picture scroll. The procession moves from Motsu-ji temple garden to Chuson-ji, parading through the town of Hiraizumi.

Zazen Workshop

From April to October, visitors can try zazen meditation. (*Reservation required. Please inquire in advance about which dates offer English guidance.)

Zazen is considered to be one of the main ascetic practices of Japanese Buddhism. The aim of zazen is to sit still in a prescribed position and to harmonize the body, breath, and mind.

[Address] 202 Koromonoseki, Hiraizumi, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate Prefecture

[Getting There] From JR Tohoku Main line Hiraizumi station, walk 25 minutes to Chuson-ji Tsukimizaka entrance

[Entrance Fee] Adults ¥800, High school students ¥500, Junior high school students ¥300, Elementary school students ¥200 (*Group discounts available)

Heian Period Enjoyment in Beautiful Gardens (Motsu-ji)

Motsu-ji

Jodo Garden (Pure Land Garden)

Completed in the 12th century, the original precinct of Motsu-ji temple was home to some 40 halls and pagodas and more than 500 monks’ living quarters, but in a series of calamities all the structures were burned to the ground. However, Motsu-ji temple’s ruins, Motsu-ji Teien (Garden), and its central pond have remained largely intact since the Heian period (794 to 1185).

A Recreation of Heian Period Poetry Reading in the Temple Garden

On the fourth Sunday of May, the “Gokusui no En” (literally “Winding Stream Banquet”) is held near on the grounds of Motsu-ji Garden. Sake cups are gently floated along the pond stream, setting the pace and flow for tanka poetry readings by men and women in authentic Heian costumes seated along the bank of the waters.

[Address] 58 Osawa, Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture

[Getting There] A seven-minute walk from JR Tohoku Main line Hiraizumi station.

[Entrance Fee] Adults ¥500, High school students ¥300, Elementary school students ¥100 (*Group discounts available)

A Park Stroll through History followed by Soba Noodles

Kanjizaioin Hall Ruins
Kanjizaioin Hall Ruins
Wanko Soba
Wanko Soba

Kanjizaioin Hall Ruins

The site of the Pure Land Garden remains largely intact, now as a historic park. Japan’s oldest treatise on garden-making, “Sakutei-ki”, was written in the 11th century, and elements of Sakutei-style design can be seen in many places. In particular, there are two Amidado hall structures on the north side of the garden, one of which is said to contain illustrations of points of interest in Japan’s previous capital, Kyoto. Residents of Hiraizumi would’ve been unable to visit the capital at the time, with the drawings created as a vision of what it must have been like.

A Taste of Wanko Soba

In front of Hiraizumi station you’ll find various restaurants, including Bashokan, which serves 24 single-bite bowls of soba noodles in the Hiraizumi style, with a variety of condiments to choose from.

[Address] Hiraizumi-shirayama nai, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate Prefecture

[Getting There] A six-minute walk from JR Tohoku main line Hiraizumi station.

A Jodo Garden Masterwork (Ruins of Muryoko-in)

Ruins of Muryoko-in
Ruins of Muryoko-in

Living History of a Bygone Era

While there are no structures extant at the site of Muryoko-in temple, the pond and foundation stones remain. Twice annually at the equinoxes, the sun sets directly behind Mt. Kinkeisan, epitomizing the religious significance of the west as Pure Land of Utmost Bliss of Amida Buddha (Amitabha). Considered a masterwork of Jodo Garden design.

Yanagi no Gosho Site

The historical park of Yanagi no Gosho is located a short, six-minute walk from the Kanjizaioin Hall Ruins. Many artifacts have been excavated from the site, which is believed to have been the base of the Fujiwara government. Some of these items are on display at at the nearby Yanagi no Gosho Museum.

[Address] Hanarichi, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate Prefecture

[Getting There] A 10-minute walk from JR Tohoku main line Hiraizumi station.

Hiraizumi’s history, culture and natural scenery can be explored by by bus, bicycle, or on foot. Plan your Hiraizumi adventure today.