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 (~ 80 mins). If you are in a hurry, you can also take the Shinkansen from Morioka to Ichinoseki and change to a local train there (~ 60 mins)! My first stop was Chusonji Temple.
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”.
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 150 yen, but you can also purchase a day pass for 400 yen at the tourist information center or in the bus. On weekends the bus leaves every 15 mins, during the week it’s every 30 mins. From Hiraizumi Station to Chusonji it’ll take about 10 mins.
Alternatively you also can get a rental bicycle.
Exploring Chusonji Temple
Chusonji is the most famous Buddhist temple in Iwate Prefecture and a popular tourist destination.
In 2011 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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.
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!
There are several halls and other temple buildings that you’ll see on your way to the main hall.
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.
The majority of all Buddhist services takes places in the Main Hall.
Anybody who wants can copy the sutras and practice Zen there.
As you can see it’s very colorful around the Main Hall in spring! Certainly a good time to visit!
You’re supposed to wash your hands and mouth before praying. The most popular “pond statues” seem to be dragons.
Pray to the big fat frog!
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.
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.
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).
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).
Here you see the main building of the shrine.
The shrine has several other buildings like the “Noh Drama Hall” (能楽殿).
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.
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.