Hiraizumi is a cute small country town, famous among history and temple lovers in Japan. Hiraizumi's five temples and gardens of cultural heritage have been registered as a World Heritage Site in 2011. Hiraizumi has stored these unique temples and gardens, which were built according to the Buddhism Pure Land philosophy. The first shogun of the Mutsu area (current Tohoku region), Kiyohira Fujiwara, moved to Hiraizumi in around 1100 AC, and began the construction of this peaceful Utopia with golden flowers, centering on Buddhism. In the latter half of the Heian era, this ideal Utopia, focused on the Buddhist culture of Hiraizumi, continued to be constructed by the Fujiwara shogun family for almost 100 years.
The access to Hiraizumi is quite convenient. The closest JR station is the Ichinoseki Station, which is about 2 hours away from Tokyo Station by Tohoku Shinkansen. Then, transfer to JR Tohoku Line (local line), and the Hiraizumi station is about 10 minutes away. The Hiraizumi town offers a loop-line bus for tourists. The bus loops from Hiraizumi station every 15 minutes and stops at all world heritage sites. One trip is 150 yen, but an all-day pass costs only 400 yen, so why not purchase the day pass and enjoy your day in the Tohoku’s Utopia of the Heian era.
Chuson Ji temple is one of the World's Heritage sites and Hiraizumi's most famous attraction. At the end of the Heian period, the temple consisted of a large network of dozens of buildings, including 30 zen rooms. However, with the fall of the Fujiwara Shogun family at the end of the 12th century, Chuson Ji suffered likewise. As a result, only two buildings from that era remain intact. Luckily, one of them is simply spectacular: the Konjikido is similar to Kyoto's famous Kinkaku Ji temple (Golden Pavilion). Konjikido's hall is completely covered in gold! There is a treasure hall of the Fujiwara family in Chuson Ji, where you can witness the history in depth. Visit the treasure hall to see the glittering and impressive artifacts from that Heian Utopia era!
Chuson Ji temple is known as a power spot among locals. The main rituals and rites of the temple are performed at the Hondo (main hall) of Chuson Ji. There is also a beautiful noh theatre stage, which is a must-see.
Moutsu Ji is another World Heritage site in Hiraizumi. In ancient times, there were 40 temple buildings and 500 priests' quarters on these premises. However, there are no temples from the era anymore. Newer (but still old) but beautifully simple temples, can be spotted around the site. So why is it listed on the World Heritage? Moutsu Ji offers a breathtakingly beautiful garden which is called "Jodo Garden (heaven garden)" because it represents the world of the Buddhism pure land, "Jodo." It is not necessary to have previous knowledge of Buddhism to enjoy this garden. The beauty of it will welcome all visitors with heavenly energy.
Standing along the prefectural road with a peaceful rural landscape, this Rock temple overwhelms its visitors. It is not World Heritage-listed; however, the style of the temple is unique, as some parts of it were built into the rock. The history of this rock temple is longer than the World Heritage sites in Hiraizumi. Apparently, this rock temple was modeled after the famous cliff-hanged wooden stage of the Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto. The size is of no comparison to the one in Kyoto; however, the contrast between the rural landscape and this powerful historical architecture is exciting and worth the visit.
Hiraizumi is a sleepy country town in Iwate, 2hours north of Tokyo. However, its history is rich and impressive. If you are interested in the Heian era of Japan and you are looking for alternative places to visit rather than Kyoto, you should definitely try Hiraizumi!
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