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A National Treasure That Glitters Gold! Wander Around Some of Tohoku’s World Heritage Sites in Hiraizumi, Iwate

Hiraizumi in Iwate has plenty of temples, shrines, gardens, ruins, and more to see, including the famous Chusonji that glitters gold. Here are 5 World Heritage sites within the area.

What is Hiraizumi?

Hiraizumi is a town in southern Iwate. There are 5 temples and ruins built as part of Pure Land Buddhism to teach about passing onto Sukhavati, the Pure Land, that are registered as the World Heritage Site of Hiraizumi - Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land.

To reach Hiraizumi, you can take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train), and then the JR Tohoku Main Line from Ichinoseki Station to Hiraizumi Station. Within the town is a convenient bus called Runrun that goes around the sightseeing areas in about 20 minutes. Each ride is 150 JPY, but there's a one-day free pass for 400 JPY. You can also get around quite well on bicycles, so renting a bike is recommended. Here is a route to follow to reach all five World Heritage Sites.

1. Motsuji

Motsuji is a temple with a beautiful garden and remains. The garden was built to represent the Pure Land, and it centers around a large lake. You can enjoy the beautifully curved shore, the standing rock representing waves, artificial hills standing in for cliffs, and other designs representing natural features. Events like the Hatsukayasai and the Fujiwara Festival in both spring and fall include the Ennen no Mai, a dance dedicated to the deity which holds various meanings including prayer and reverence. It's a tradition that's been handed down as-is since ancient times, and is now registered as a national important intangible cultural artifact.

Admission fee: 500 JPY for adults, 300 JPY for high school students, 100 JPY for middle and elementary school students

1. Motsuji

58 Aza-Osawa Hiraizumi, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate

2. Kanjizaioin-ato

This temple is to the east of Motsuji. Kanjizaioin was a temple and all that is left are ruins and a park, but the design meant to resemble the Pure Land is still mostly complete. The sight to see here is the huge rock formation made by piling rocks, the compact shore, and the long island stretching east-west. To the east of the lake are ruins such as those of the belfry.

2. Kanjizaioin-ato

Inside Hiraizumi Aza-Shirayama-chi, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate

3. Mt. Kinkei

Mt. Kinkei is a beautiful mountain of about 60m tall. You can see the entire town from the top, and it's considered the center of Hiraizumi. They drew a meridian stretching south from Mt. Kinkei near Motsuji, and Muryokoin was built on top of a straight line stretching to this mountain, so it was the basis of the urban planning of this town. There are various legends, such as that it's a man-made mountain made overnight and that there is a pair of male and female golden birds buried within it. It's mentioned in the records written by the famous poet, Matsuo Basho.

3. Mt. Kinkei

Inside Hiraizumi Aza-Hanatachi-chi, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate

4. Chusonji

Chusonji has about 3,000 national treasures and important cultural artifacts, but the main attraction is the Konjikido, a gorgeous building that is covered in gold leaf both inside and out. It has a massive collection, including items made with glimmering mother-of-pearl, metal fixtures made of fretwork, and lacquerware with metal accents. The collection is of items mostly made during the later half of the Heian period (794 - 1185), which is considered a golden era for Buddhist art. The gorgeousness of the gold interior and the high quality of the art will steal your breath away.

Admission fee: 800 JPY for adults, 500 JPY for high school students, 300 JPY for middle school students, 200 JPY for elementary school students

4. Chusonji

202 Hiraizumi Koromonoseki, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate

5. Muryokoin-ato

Muryokoin was designed after Byodoin in Kyoto, which is on the ten yen coin. Muryokoin was destroyed by fire so only the foundation stones remain, but you can still see the lake and island. In the past, the main building, east gate, bridge, and island were all lined up in a row, and beyond you were able to see Mt. Kinkei. It's thought to have been a rather large temple. Also, out of Hiraizumi's Pure Land gardens, Muryokoin's is considered to be the perfect one. At sunset, the sun sinks behind the mountain ridgeline and you can feel as though you are truly experiencing the Pure Land.

5. Muryokoin-ato

Inside Hiraizumi Aza-Hanatachi-chi, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate

At Chusonji, Motsuji, and the Hiraizumi Tourism Information Center, you can rent audio guides in Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, French, German, and Spanish for 500 JPY, so please check that out.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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