Travel

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

After exploring the Morioka Castle Site Park in the morning I rushed to Hiraizumi (平泉). Both destinations are in Iwate Prefecture and are connected by local train (~ 80min.). If you are in a hurry, you can also take the Shinkansen from Morioka to Ichinoseki and change to a local train there (~ 60min.)! My first stop was the Chusonji Temple.

smilie Visited: May 7th 2012 smilie

JR Hiraizumi Station

Do you see the cute “bowl characters”? You’ll run into them everywhere in Iwate Prefecture!

They’re called “Wanko Kyodai” (わんこきょうだい, Wanko Siblings).
The word “wanko” is a regional dialect of Iwate Prefecture meaning “small, wooden soup bowl”.

JR Hiraizumi Station

I finally arrived at the JR Hiraizumi Station.

And then I was off to my first destination in Hiraizumi: Chusonji Temple (中尊寺)

You can easily access Chusonji Temple using the “Loop-line Bus Run Run” (平泉巡回バス「るんるん」). One ride costs 140yen, but you can also purchase a day pass for 400yen at the tourist information center or in the bus. On weekends the bus leaves every 15min., during the week it’s every 30min. From Hiraizumi Station to Chusonji it’ll take about 10min.
Alternatively you also can get a rental bicycle.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

Exploring Chusonji Temple

Chusonji is the most famous Buddhist temple in Iwate Prefecture and a popular tourist destination.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

In 2011 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

Chusonji is the head temple of the Tendai sect in Tohoku (Northern Japan). It is unclear when the temple was founded.
According to temple records, it was founded by the monk Ennin, the third head of the Tendai sect, in the year 850. However, most scholars assume that it was Fujiwara no Kiyohira who founded the temple in about 1100.

With the fall of the Fujiwara at the end of the 12th century, Chûson-ji lost its glory. A fire in 1337 destroyed a lot of the temple’s buildings and treasures. Luckily a few survived and can still be admired nowadays.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

The temple complex is located on the top of Kanzan Hill, so the temple is also commonly known as “Kanzan Chûson-ji” (関山中尊寺).

As you can see you have a nice view from up there!

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

There are several halls and other temple buildings that you’ll see on your way to the main hall.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

One of the most important buildings is the Hondô (本堂, Main Hall). Here you can see the entrance gate.

Obviously a group of students had a school trip on that day.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi, Main Hall

The majority of all Buddhist services takes places in the Main Hall.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi, Main Hall

Anybody who wants can copy the sutras and practice Zen there.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

As you can see it’s very colorful around the Main Hall in spring! Certainly a good time to visit!

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

You’re supposed to wash your hands and mouth before praying. The most popular “pond statues” seem to be dragons.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

Pray to the big fat frog! smilie

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

A stone statue in front of the Fudôdô Hall (不動堂). There were a lot of momiji (Japanese maple) trees everywhere, so I suppose it must be stunning in autumn!

They also had a nice collection of various ema (wishing plaques).

A few steps away from the Fudôdô Hall is the Sankôzô Museum (讃衡蔵). Photos inside were not allowed, but it features more than 3000 treasures from the time of the Ôshu Fujiwara. Some of the highlights are three large seated Buddhas and sections of the Chuson-ji Sutras. The latter is a national treasure. The sutras are complete transcriptions of the holy canon of Buddhism on deep blue paper in gold and silver ink.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi, Konjikido - Golden Hall

Another national treasure is the Konjikidô (金色堂, Golden Hall). The hall dates back to 1124 and is the only remaining example of a building from the Fujiwara-era at Chuson-ji. The mummified remains of the four generations of Fujiwara lords are located inside the hall.

Konjikidô is dedicated to Amida Nyorai (the Buddha of Infinite Light). Inside you’ll find a lot of golden statues. It’s a really breathtaking sight. It is said to be one of the most beautiful and elaborately decorated buildings in the world! Apart from the roof the hall is covered with gold leaf both inside and out. A team of specialists carefully rebuilt it from 1962 to 1968.

As it is a national treasure and rather old photos inside are prohibited.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

A few steps away from the Golden Hall’s exit you’ll find the Kyôzô Hall (Sutra Repository, 経蔵). [not pictured]

It was built by Kiyohira to house a collection of copies of the Buddhist canon known as the Chuson-ji Sutras (中尊寺経).

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

Finally there’s a slope leading to the Western Lookout (西物見) of Kanzan Hill. You’ll get there after heading to the “Hakusan Shrine” (白山神社).

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

Here you see the main building of the shrine.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

The shrine has several other buildings like the “Noh Drama Hall” (能楽殿).

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi, Noh Stage

This is the “Outdoor Noh Stage” (能舞台) of the Hakusan Shrine. It was restored in1853 using authentic materials and methods.

The monks and priests of Chusonji perform Noh on this stage during the Spring and Autumn Fujiwara Festivals.

Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi

Nearby you’ll also find these mini shrines, one for each Chinese zodiac!

There are several smaller buildings which are also part of Chusonji Temple. It’s a huge temple complex! This post featured the most important spots, but definitely take your time to explore everything yourself!

My next destination was Motsu-ji Temple (毛越寺) featuring an interesting garden and two ancient temple ruins. Just like Chuson-ji it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So stay tuned for the next post! smilie

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13 Comments

  • As usual, great pictures! Your post has many more pictures than mine of last November, which I restricted, having done that visit a few years ago.

    Hiraizumi is lovely in the fall, particularly at Motsu-ji, which I don’t think you visited. The latter has a few remaining buildings, but mainly a wonderful Heian period “Pure Land” garden. Truly Hiraizumi is worth at least a whole day. There is also up on a hill a shrine to Yoshitsune built by Date Musumane, from which you get a great view.

    • I agree! I wish I had more time in Hiraizumi, but I’m glad I got to visit at all. I need to go back some time soon.

      Did you read the last few sentences of my blog post? :hihi: Of course I went to Motsu-ji. I’ll write about it in my next entry. I thought it’s going to be too much information and too many photos at once. And I also went to another interesting spot, so stay tuned! ^__^
      I’m curious to see if you’ve been to that spot as well, but I won’t spoil the fun and thus won’t tell you yet where it was! *g*

  • Some beautiful pictures zooming Japan of a must see place in Japan. I would imagine it is very picturesque in either the spring or autumn. Any recommendations on when the best time of year to visit is?

    • I missed the cherry blossoms there by a few days, but some were still left and I could tell that it must have been beautiful!
      I agree with Simone, though. Autumn is surely the best time to visit! :D

  • I think the best time is autumn. That time is more reliably dry, and spring tends to be rainy. There are enough maples to give color.

    In my view Hiraizumi is unjustly by-passed. It is very easy to get to from Sendai for a day trip, or one can stay longer, of course. I would recommend the lovely Musashibo ryokan. The loop bus takes care of transportation, or bike renting.

  • I visited Hiraizumi as a student on a university day-trip when I lived in Sendai. It really is a beautiful area up there. We went in May so unfortunately we had already missed the cherry blossoms and the weather was quite wet. Konjikido is beautiful, but like you said it is unfortunate that phototaking is prohibited.

    • I suppose you went later in May, Dan?
      As you can see I also visited in May, in early May, and some cherry blossoms were still left, but the peak was already over.
      I’m glad you enjoyed Hiraizumi as well! :)

    • Hello Milly! :D

      I almost spent 2 hours there, but it can be done in less time.
      There were a lot of students because they were all taking school trips to Chuson-ji Temple on that day – which slowed down my pace.
      As I take a lot of photos, I’m usually a little bit slower than the “average tourist”, I guess.

      I would still recommend to calculate at least 1 h for this sight!

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