The Charm of Heritage Site Hiraizumi

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 in October 2015, it was raining. This time in summer 2016, it was even worse because it rained hard due to typhoon razing 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 either use the Hiraizumi Loop Bus or bicycle. I, of course, preferred to ride the bicycle again. Technically the temples are approachable by bicycle, but the nature side of Hiraizumi (the gorges) requires either bus, car or extra perseverance and stamina if you choose to go by bicycle.

Before we delve into the route I took using bicycle, allow me to mention Chusonji Temple as the highlight of Hiraizumi, which I visited in fall 2015. This is where konjikido or the golden hall is located. The temple itself carries a significance in Japanese history as testament to the golden age of Hiraizumi as the northern branch seat of the ruling Fujiwara clan in Heian period. Chusonji itself was built much earlier in year 850 and at its peak during the Fujiwara’s dominion it grew into large network of buildings. Currently only a few buildings from that era were still intact however.

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

Now back to the summer trip, this time I visited the other places that I have 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 5 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 to 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 to the Fujiwara clan’s ruling. Many of the buildings that were once stood tall now are reduced to only sign posts 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!

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 rain coat while riding bicycle.

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 in particular interested to this red-painted structure because it reminds me of the various buildings in Yamadera temple complex (also built near the cliff) during my other trip there.

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 you should really follow the clearly marked visiting route that takes you to all the sights there. At the end of the route you will find one weird-looking Buddha statue that caught my attention.

Finished with all the available temples in Hiraizumi area, it was time for me to take on its nature side. The most famous spot is Geibikei gorge (猊鼻渓), located a few kilometers east from the station. As I was at the cliff temple, I was at 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 3PM 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.

Ride further down the river if you wish to find more scenic spots, like a small arch-bridge lined with naturally huge boulders or the hanging bridge that takes you to see the slower downstream current.

Also not to be missed if you have extra time, there is a glass workshop called Sahara Glass Park nearby 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 has seemingly gotten harder. It was a downpour — I was absolutely drenched from head to toe when I returned the bicycle to the rental. Even the uncle running the rental took pity on me and gave me clean towel to dry my head off. It was only when I reached Ichinoseki that I learned Tohoku area was hit by a typhoon. Bad luck. I had to take 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

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