In the southern part of Iwate Prefecture, in the northern Tōhoku region, you can visit the historic town of Hiraizumi.
This small town is famous for its many World Heritage sites, beginning from Chūson-ji’s Golden Hall.
Being located near the Kitakami river, Hiraizumi flourished thanks to transportation by water since the old times. During the Heian period Hiraizumi was an important base, fortified by the lord Ōshū Fujiwara.
At the time, according to historical records, 150.000 people lived in Hiraizumi, making it one of the widest cities of the region. The population slowly declined during the following centuries it and today is just a quiet town of 7.000 inhabitants.
The growth and diffusion of Buddhism left a sign too: such impact is visible nowadays with the amount of religious buildings remained.
By the way, in 2011 Hiraizumi gain a global recognition as a World Heritage Site for its role, with the official title of “Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land”.
Hiraizumi’s most famous spot is the Golden Hall of the Chūson Tendai temple, nestled in its forest: with its shining gold, it resembles Kyōto’s Kinkaku-ji. However, in order to preserve this inestimable repert, the Golden Hall is located inside a wooden building realized in a following period. However, the location of this complex, among the Japanese cryptomeria trees and at the end of an elegant stone stair, create an unique charm.
Dislocated from Chūson-ji, the so-called Mōtsu-ji Temple takes place. Yakushi Nyōrai is mainly worshipped here, but also Nikkō and Gekkō Bodhisattvas are venerated (a bodhisattva is a buddhist term to indicate an human being that accomplished in reaching the enlightenment, but chooses to remain on the earth to help other sentient beings to reach it as well).
There is also a wonderful pond among Mōtsu-ji’s boundaries, it is possible to behold some ancient buildings by walking in the surrounding area.
Hiraizumi has hosted some historical figures on its land, such as Minamoto no Yoshitsune in the Kamakura period, and the famous poet and haiku author Matsuo Bashō during the Edo period. Hiraizumi is so located on his “Oku no hosomichi”.
How to reach Hiraizumi
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We visited Hiraizumi in the beginning of a beautiful, greenish June, coming by Shinkansen from Tōkyō to Ichinoseki Station; then we transferred on the regional line and reached Hiraizumi Station.
A tourist office, bus stops and small shops are located in front of the station. We first walked for about ten minutes to the Mōtsu temple; the morning cool breeze felt really good, and the sky was blue with a few clouds.
When we entered the Mōtsu-ji, our eyes were first hit by the main hall and the Oizumi pond. There are some rocks called Dejima Ishigumi in it: these rocks are the main symbol of the Mōtsu-ji. The water surface was very tranquil, and besides the rocks, We could spot also a kind of boat resembling a colorful dragon.
In the temple area there were many beautiful flowers blooming. There is also a hall called Jōkō-dō which maintains its original aspect: it is a rustic Hōgyō-style building. Besides the main building, there are many ancient remains: unfortunately the time and the calamities deleted most of the buildings of this area, and you can only see the bases.
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Thanks to the recognition as a World Heritage Site, we think that the popularity of Hiraizumi will increase from now on as more and more visitors will come.
Try to visit these spots next time, Hiraizumi feels like the Tōhoku’s Nara (there are no deer, though).
We recommend you not to miss Hiraizumi on your Tōhoku itinerary!