The Charm of World Heritage Site Hiraizumi

OCTOBER 11, 2023
The Charm of World Heritage Site Hiraizumi

Note: this post was re-posted from my old website, initially published in September 2016. Recently, I have traveled again to Hiraizumi in more favorable weather, and thus, updated with more photos.

It seems like it always rained whenever I visited Hiraizumi, a famous town in Iwate prefecture known as one of Japan’s World Heritage sites. The first time it was raining. This time in the summer of 2016, it was even worse because it rained hard due to a typhoon razing the Tohoku region. But before we lament on me being an ame-otoko, let us fall into the charm of Hiraizumi itself.

Hiraizumi can be reached easily by train from Tokyo or Sendai (see here for more info) via Ichinoseki. Once you get there you could opt to walk, use the Hiraizumi Loop Bus, or my preferred mode, bicycle. Technically the main attractions are inside the city and therefore walkable, but the nature side of Hiraizumi like the gorges goes into the countryside and requires either bus, car, or extra perseverance and stamina if you choose to go by bicycle.

Allow me to first mention the Chusonji Temple complex as the highlight of Hiraizumi. This is where Konjikido or the Golden Hall is located. The temple itself carries significance in Japanese history as a testament to the golden age of Hiraizumi as the northern branch seat of the ruling Fujiwara clan in the Heian period. Chusonji itself was built much earlier in the year 850 and at its peak, during the Fujiwara’s dominion, it grew into a large network of buildings.

Currently, only a few buildings from that era are still intact, but they are such a joy to see.

Not so far from Chusonji lies Takadachi Gikeido, a memorial dedicated to commemorating the tragic story of Minamoto Yoshitsune, who was the brother of the founder of the Kamakura shogunate. If you are an avid fan of Japanese history, this place would no doubt be of interest.

Now back to the summer trip, this time I visited the other places that I had not had the chance to last time. You could refer to this Google Map for the cycling route that I took:

The first was Motsuji Temple, which is famous for its huge garden centered around a large pond in the style of pure land gardens. The temple could easily be reached by going straight a mere few minutes down the main road from the station.

It was cloudy when I started the journey and the white overcast sky did not give the best impression of the garden’s beauty. It did, however, present a chance to enjoy the garden’s serene atmosphere as it drove away the majority of the visitors.

Just like Chusonji, Motsuji rose and fell in accordance with the Fujiwara clan’s ruling. Many of the buildings that once stood tall now are reduced to only signposts indicating the foundation. Walking around the pond makes it worth the while, however, as you could discover traces of that former glory. It amazes me so much that some of the buildings here are so old they date back to almost 1000 years ago! How cool is that!

I left the temple before noon hoping to come back later when the weather improves. Note that it started to rain around this time so I had to wear my raincoat while riding my bicycle.

The next destination was Takkoku-no-Iwaya, another shrine half-constructed under a cliff. This place is located farther down the main road than Motsuji. I was particularly interested in this red-painted structure because it reminds me of the various buildings in the Yamadera Temple complex, which was also built near the cliff.

In contrast, Takkoku-no-Iwaya is pretty small and in just mere minutes you could visit the whole complex. The highlight is of course the famous hall built fused to the rock wall, but I particularly like the red bridge that spans across the pond. It really feels authentic Japanese.

Finished with all the available temples in the Hiraizumi area, it was time for me to take on its natural side. The most famous spot is Geibikei Gorge (猊鼻渓), located a few kilometers east of the station. As I was at the cliff temple, I was on the west side of the station hence there was no way I could get to Geibikei before dark. Instead, I rode on westward to reach another gorge albeit less known, Genbikei Gorge (厳美渓). Be careful to not mix up these two gorges; their names are pretty similar.

I reached this ravine around 3 PM under quite pouring rain. There was just a handful of people there with their umbrellas on. In this place you could try to get the intriguing ‘flying dango’, the local tourist gimmick. Yet I chose to ride around the river to find spots to take pictures. The gushing stream beneath the gorge was quite beautiful even under rainy weather.

Also not to be missed if you have extra time, there is a glass workshop called Sahara Glass Park near the gorge entry point. Here you could view how craftsmen produce artworks through glassblowing techniques as well as visiting the souvenir shop. Supposedly you could also try making a glass art of your own there. Definitely worth a detour if you are in the vicinity of Genbikei.

I rushed back to the station when the rain had seemingly gotten harder. It was a downpour — I was absolutely drenched from head to toe when I returned the bicycle to the rental. It was only when I reached Ichinoseki that I learned Tohoku area was hit by a typhoon. Bad luck. I had to take the Shinkansen back to Sendai because the coastline railway was closed due to dangerously heavy rain.

I guess I am an ame-otoko after all…

Useful information:

Hiraizumi history site

Hiraizumi tourist information

Let me know what you think


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