The steep hill should not discourage you from climbing further ahead, as the best part of Hiraizumi awaits at the top of the hill in Chuson-ji. The beauty of multiple pagodas built in a form of a“Buddhist Pure Land” is just the beginning. The highlight is, of course, saved at the very end: the Golden Hall.
View of the Golden Hall from its entrance: The serenity glows even through the trees.
The world of Buddhism unfolds even in some of the smallest pagodas.
Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture became the first site in the Tohoku region to be enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage in 2011. Hiraizumi consists of five temples and gardens: Moutsu-ji, Kanjizaioin Ato, Muryokoin Ato, Mt. Kinkeisan and Chuson-ji.
Chuson-ji is by far the most known part of Hiraizumi with its golden temple. Founded in 850, Chuson-ji was later expanded and created the perfect place for the Buddha's teachings by Kiyohira Fujiwara in 1124, who wished for peace especially after having lost his family through the conflicts and wars happening at that time.
Just when you thought you were nearly out of breath heading up the hill, the ground flattens and the pagodas begin to appear one after another. Rows of trees with large tree trunks is proof that this forest-like green has been in the region for hundreds of years.
The trees must surely be full with layers of tree rings. All seem to take at least a few people for a full hug!
Past multiple pagodas and the hondo (main hall), appears a museum where the history of Chuson-ji is introduced along with its treasures. Currently, the sacred Buddha is exhibited for the public originally to celebrate the 5th anniversary since Hiraizumi was listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites and also as the memorial of the lost souls of the Great East Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. The viewing started even earlier than scheduled for another memorial which occurred due to another unforeseen natural disaster: The April 16 Kumamoto Earthquake. This special exhibition will continue until November 6, 2016.
Another pagoda from the museum stands Konjikido (Golden Hall). What is golden inside what appears to be another pagoda, which is rather humble, compared to the glow it conceals inside; the pure land as mentioned or a land of utmost bliss lavishly decorated in gold. The raden (inlaid lustrous shell) and maki-e (gold-sprinkled lacquer) are no less decorative than the bright gold. They have a glow of their own which brings out a composed beauty within the hall. What makes this hall special is the fact that the remains of lord Kiyohira rests beneath the central altar along with the second, third and the fourth lord of the Fujiwara clan. Whether it is their spirit or the luminous gold, the hall is rather captivating in that one would find it hard to leave the spot.
The goshuin or the “proof of the visit” that comprises of the venue’s title in a brush stroke and its red-ink stamp surely is the “proof” that one has made the visit to the “Land of Utmost Bliss”!
Don’t forget to make a stop at the Kanzantei Restaurant as you make your way back. This little restaurant not only lets you rest your feet after the long walk but also grant you with a full view of the area. Be it the Hiraizumi soba (buckwheat noodle), one of the specialties that come from the area or a cup of coffee, they do not taste the same as the ones you would have outside of the “ideal world”.
The view of Hiraizumi from the top.
If you need another layer of comfort before coming back to everyday life, treat yourself with the region’s specialty; zunda (edamame) rice cake. What could possibly be more perfect than the flavor of zunda, after the walk through such a soothing area.
Your trip to Chuson-ji is now complete!