TOHOKU, JAPAN - Part 3 - HIRAIZUMI
Day 1: Chuson-ji Temple
After saying goodbye to Morioka, we drive over an hour south to reach Hiraizumi, a historical “gem” on the road to Sendai. Having heard of the Golden Hall (“Konjikido”) - and its golden statues - at the Chuson-ji Temple, I really wanted to see this place for myself. I hadn’t realised that this town was going to unravel much more to us than just this majestic Buddhist site. We were also going to discover the serene Temple of Motsu-ji as well as the embedded-in-the-rock-wall Takkoku no Iwaya (Bishamondo Temple), both as beautiful and unique as Chuson-ji, in their own way.
Because of its northerly location, Chuson-ji Temple is our first stop. Although it is nice to have the whole complex nearly to ourselves. This temple, established in 850 by the Tendai sect of Buddhism, was originally built to represent the Buddhist Pure Land to console the souls of all who died in the two major conflicts of the end of the 11th century. In 2011, this site became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As we start our ascent toward the main buildings, we are welcomed first by majestic, tall, old trees lining our path, followed by a forest of thick, lush green bamboo.
First, we come to the Main Hall (“Hondo”) on our right, then the museum on our left, a few hundred metres further, and finally we find ourselves standing in front of the famous Golden Hall.
From the outside the building containing the Golden Hall, which is surrounded by lush green lawn and tall trees, with a straight set of stairs leading to the entrance, seems minimalist but noble, pleasing to the eye and inviting. In contrast, the inside, meant to represent the Pure Land in Buddhism (“gokuraku”), is mostly covered with gold-leaf and hosts a variety of golden statues, oozing opulence and riches. The statues include Amida Nyorai (the Buddha of Infinite Light), Kannon (the Boddhisatva of Compassion) on the right and Seishi (the Boddhisatva of Wisdom) on the left, as well as six Jizo Boddhisatvas (Saviours from Hell) and two Guardian Kings, Jikokuten and Zochoten in front. I did not take any pictures of the inside as it is forbidden, but it is spectacular.
After spending some time admiring the hall, we go to the museum next door to check its over 3,000 National Treasures and Important Cultural Assets. Then, finally wandering further, we find a nice wooden noh theatre stage hidden in amongst the bamboo forest, as well as a line of small shrines, representing the twelve astrological signs. As I find mine (the tiger), I throw a coin, ring the bell and make a wish. It feels good.
Day 2: Motsu-ji Temple
After a relaxing onsen at the hotel in the late afternoon, a delicious Korean BBQ dinner and a good night’s sleep, we get up in the morning for a quick jog and then wander to the World Heritage listed Motsuji Temple.
While Chuson-ji is famous for its Golden Hall, Motsuji is famous for its outstanding gardens. As we enter the park, we find on our right a pond with an elegant rock standing in the middle of it, called Chichu Tateishi, which represents the spirit of Motsuji Temple Gardens.
There is a sense of serenity about the place that makes us want to get lost in it. After a stroll along the shore of the pond, our steps take us to the large Jogyodo Hall. We then pass by the Matsuo Basho Haiku Monument upon what is carved a haiku poem written by Matsuo Basho, the haiku master, recollecting the tragic fate of commander Minomoto no Yoshitsune.
Natsu kusa ya (Summer grass)
tsuwa monodomo ga (this is all that now remains)
yume no ato (of warriors' dreams)
Continuing further, we stop at the Yarimizu, a winding stream built through the park to fill the pond with mountain water, using rocks to control its flow. As soon as I see this stream, I recall that a friend of mine, Itsuko-san, mentioned such a stream before. She told me that during the Heian Period, nobles would wear fancy outfits, sit by the side of the stream and write poetry. Still nowadays, every May such water poetry parties called “Gokusui no En” take place here.
This place is already incredible in the summer, exposing all its shades of greens. I guess it must be absolutely beautiful in autumn too, with the leaves of the maple tree turning red.
After Motsuji, we drive southwest to Takkoku Saikoji, a bright red wooden temple embedded in a cliff face in honour of the god, Bishamon.
Although a lot smaller than the two first temples, this temple hosts the Benzaiten-do Temple, the Bishamon-do temple and by the side of the temple is carved the face of the Big Buddha. Another amazing place in Japan that reminds you that the world is such a beautiful place.
To be continued...