Hiraizumi: Motsuji Temple

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

After visiting the Morioka Castle Site Park in the morning I went to Hiraizumi in the early afternoon to see some of the great temples there. I was already quite impressed by Chusonji Temple. My next stop of the day was Motsuji Temple (毛越寺).

Visited: May 7th 2012

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

Accessing Motsuji Temple is fairly easy. It’s only 3 minutes by bus from JR Hiraizumi Station.
Take 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.
Alternatively you also can get a rental bicycle or even walk.

If you went to Chusonji Temple first (like I did) then you take the same bus, but bound for the station. From Chusonji to Motsuji it’ll take about 7 mins.

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

A long time ago Motsuji Temple was a huge complex of temples, pagodas and halls.
However, all that remains nowadays are ruins (the foundation stones, the podia).

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

Motsuji Temple was designated a Special Historic Site and Special Place of Scenic Beauty and is mostly famous for the “Pure Land Garden” (毛越寺浄土庭園) which survived until today.

The garden centered on “Oizumi ga Ike Pond” (大泉池) recreates many of Japan’s most beautiful coastal and scenic areas.

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

It dates back to the Heian era (794-1192) and is a great example of the gardening technique and style used back then.

In the southwest corner of the pond rocks of various sizes rise 4m from the surface, simulating a mountainous landscape. It’s considered to be a fine example of “karesansui” (枯山水, Japanese rock gardening).

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

Leading away from the pond is the “Feeder Stream” (Yarimizu, 遣水). It’s the only feeder stream site in Japan that is dating back to the Heian era. Another one was discovered at the site of the imperial residence in Nara, but it’s from an earlier era. The stream was designed in the style prescribed by the 11th century “sakuteiki” (作庭記, Treatise on Garden Making) to replenish the water of the pond.

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

In the background you can see the “Hondo” (本堂, Main Hall). It was constructed in 1988, so it’s rather new.


Motsuji Temple is said to be founded by Ennin (Jikaku Daishi), the third head of the Tendai sect, in 850 – just like Chusonji Temple.
Much later (in the 12th century) under the reign of Hidehira, the son of Fujiwara no Motohira, the temple complex was huge with more than 40 halls and pagodas.

The fate of this temple was the same as the one of Chusonji. With the fall of the Fujiwara, the buildings were destroyed by several fires.
Very interesting is that despite all that misery the eternal flame of Motsuji Temple was preserved.

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

This is the “Matsuo Basho Haiko Monument” (芭蕉句碑). You see the English translation of a famous master piece that Basho composed on the grounds of Motsuji Temple. Here’s the original haiku text: 「夏草や兵どもが夢の跡」

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

The Kaizando Hall (開山堂) commemorates Motsuji Temple’s founder Ennin and the three Fujiwara lords who have founded and ruled Hiraizumi.

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

There are also a few plants around the temple complex. If I had visited a bit later, I would have seen all the beautiful irises that were donated by Meiji Jingu!

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

The “Oizumi ga Ike Pond” is quite big and it’s a pleasure to walk all around it. No wonder it is designated a Special Place of Scenic Beauty!

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

I don’t think that those golden dragon boats have any purpose other than looking cool and fitting well into the scenery!

It worked for me at least! I took far too many photos of them! *g*

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

On the left you see the “Jogyodo Hall” (常行堂).

The principal image is a crowned Amida Nyorai (Mahavairocana). Inside the hall there’s also a statue of Matarajin, a deity of agricultural fertility. The current hall was rebuilt in 1732.

Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi Motsuji Temple in Hiraizumi

I was fascinated by this really old tree trunk.

I had to rush a bit through the garden. I think if you have 30 minutes, it’ll be enough time, but to be able to really enjoy the site, you should plan to stay for around 1h!

Right next to the entrance there’s the “Motsuji Cultural Assets Repository” (宝物館) featuring artifacts such as Buddhist statues, written works and costumes as well as implements used in the “Ennen no Mai” longevity rites. Some of the items date back to the 12th century. I’d say it’s worth checking out if you have enough time. It’s a small hall. However, if you’re short on time, then the garden should be your priority!

Also, at the temple you can experience Zazen and sutra transcription. For more information check out the official website (in English) of Motsuji Temple.

Tourist Information:
Opening Hours:
8:30-17:00 (until 16:30 from Nov 5 – Mar 4)
Entrance fee:
500 yen; 300 yen (HS student); 100 yen (children up to JH)
Time required:
30-40 mins
〒029-4102 Iwate-ken, Nishiiwai-gun, Hiraizumi-chō, Hiraizumi, Ōsawa 58 // TEL: +(81)0191-46-2331
From JR Hiraizumi Sta. by “Loop-line Bus Run Run” it takes only 3 mins.
You can also walk there in about 12 mins.
Please note: Prices as well as opening hours / holidays are subject to change. Please make sure to follow the provided link to the official website to check out the latest updates.


    • You can easly visit all the sights I present here in a day, but Hiraizumi has to offer a lot more. I wish I had more time, but it was already my last day there, so it couldn’t be helped.
      I’ll go back there for sure!

  • Hey!

    I’m going north in a few weeks and definitely heading to Hiraizumi to check out the sites there. 5 separate sites comprise this world heritage area… will probably only get to Chuson-ji and Motsuji. Planning my itinerary now… Do you think you can visit all 5 sites over an afternoon and a morning?

    Also want to get to Takkoku-no-Iwaya :)

    • It depends on your means of transportation, I guess.
      There are buses and rental bicycles and neither will get you to your desitnation fast enough to manage to see everything in just one day.
      If you only want to see Chuson-ji, Motsu-ji and Takkoku-no-Iwaya in a day, you can do it.
      I arrived before noon and had to leave around 6 p.m. and managed to do all three.

      There’s more to see in Hiraizumi if you have more than a day, but those are the main attractions that can be easily done in a day.
      If you have a complete day then you can probably squeeze in some more! :D

  • You noticed so much in half an hour! I visited in May and spent an hour or so there. The garden really is so relaxing as well as beautiful!

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