A short train ride from Ichinoseki station is Geibikei Gorge, a very famous landmark with traditional boat rides down the river. On the other side of town, however, is the less well-known but equally dramatic gorge with the confusingly similar name of Genbikei Gorge. It’s a lovely spot and you can walk down both sides of the river for 2 kilometers.
The main attraction of Hiraizumi is the World Heritage site of Chusonji, founded in either 850 or 1095, depending on who you believe. It is centered around Konjiki-dō, a small pavilion entirely covered in gold leaf dating back to 1124, which is housed within a wooden building.
This is the approach up to the building which houses the golden pavilion. I would love to go back in Autumn:
Here’s a sneaky picture inside. The actual pavilion is an impressive sight, being completely covered in gold and all, though it’s a bit cramped and you can’t actually see all sides of it:
A Jizo statue keeping watch near another smaller sub-temple building:
Around the back were several old gravestones set among the forest which gave them an otherworldly feel, almost like a scene out of a Ghibli animation:
Walking further down you can see across to the far hill where the Chinese character for ‘big’ or ‘great’ (大) is carved into the hillside:
Not sure what that’s about really. The area is actually quite a large complex of temples some big and some small:
But all of them are quite different and varied in their objects of worship. Here’s a peek inside some of them:
I would like to go back again some time if given the chance (or time!). It really does justify it’s World Heritage status and I’m sure it would be even more spectacular in Autumn.
Combining a love of ranking things and an historical inferiority complex, the Japanese place inordinate value on UNESCO World Heritage status. So it was in 2011 when the status was conferred upon Hiraizumi, specifically the complex around Chusonji temple, that brought a glint in the eye which may have been pride or promise of gold. Anyway, they all went a little crazy. But Chusonji is not all in Hiraizumi. There are actually a number of attractions in the area that are well worth a visit.
First, we went to Takkoku no Iwaya temple which is built into a rock-face. Actually, no-one really knows what the original temple looked like – founded in 801 it burned down many times – so the current one is pretty much a guess from 1961.
The front entrance:
The main temple is based on Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto and it really is a mini version:
The inside of the temple is carved into the rock-face (ignore the ‘No Photography’ sign):
The temple is in a rural area set among rice paddies:
The rock temple is the show-piece but there are other temples further up the hillside. This is himemachi hudoudo (姫待不動堂):
Apparently, it is dedicated to the god of eye diseases. Or a death cult:
The last stop on the trip was Aizu-Wakamatsu Castle, also known as Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城). The castle, originally built in 1384 and redesigned in 1592, was an important base of power for the whole northern Tohoku region. The castle was damaged in the Boshin civil war in 1868 when the Tokugawa shogunate loyalists attempted to hold out against the new Imperial army. It was finally demolished in 1874. The current buildings are a 1965 concrete replica but they are still pretty impressive.
The main tenshu (keep):
Views from the top:
The main defenses must have been pretty impressive. It was besieged and held out for over a month during the civil war:
Our original plan had been to come for the cherry blossoms which are quite famous for the castle but unfortunately we were just a little bit too late. Perhaps next time:
Just outside of Aizu-Wakamatsu is Ouchi-juku, a post town on the former highway between Aizu and Nikko to the north of Tokyo (or Edo as it was then). In order to control the Daimyo lords, the central Shogunate government required then to spend every other year in the capital, Edo. As all travel was done at that time by foot the post towns would have played an important role in breaking up the journey, and providing vital accommodation and supplies. The town has done a wonderful job of preserving the area just as it would have looked at the time by burying all electrical cables and mercifully restricting the use of concrete. As such, there is a long street with splendidly preserved thatch buildings lining each side:
You can really catch glimpses of how the town must have looked like at the time and a lost way of life:
We were lucky to catch the tail end of the cherry blossoms: