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3-Day Model Trip Day3 / Hiraizumi - Motsuji Temple - Chusonji Temp

Northern Tohoku

3-Day Model Trip Day3 / Northern Tohoku / Hiraizumi - Motsuji Temple - Chusonji Temple - Geibikei Gorge - Ichinoseki

Hiraizumi was designed by the Fujiwara family as a utopian capital of northern Japan. It possessed a culture of its own that exceeded even that of the real capital, and blossomed in the 11th and 12th centuries as the political and cultural center of Michinoku (another name for what is currently the Tohoku region). Today, you can still see the remains of that prosperity in the temples of Chuson-ji and Motsu-ji.

First we're going to visit Motsu-ji Temple. Kasho-ji Temple, the predecessor of Motsu-ji Temple, was first opened in 850, but was ruined as the fortunes of the temple declined. Later, in the middle of the 12th century, Fujiwara Nomotohira rebuilt it as Motsu-ji Temple. In the next era, the Hidehira era, several monasteries were built in the extensive grounds, and its appearance is said to have surpassed even that of Chuson-ji Temple. Much of the temple was lost in a succession of fires, and the only buildings remaining today are the Hondo (main building) and Shogyodo, which were rebuilt later. However the cornerstones and alter bases that formed the foundations of the building still remain. There is also a Buddhist garden of paradise in front of the temple, which has Oizumi-ga-ike Pond at its center. This is the oldest Buddhist garden of paradise in Japan. The pond fills quietly with water, and features inlets, islands and a jetty for landing boats. Its formal design gives one a sense of the high level of culture at the time.

After walking once round Oizumi-ga-ike Pond and enjoying the beauty of the garden, it's time to go to Chuson-ji Temple. Chuson-ji Temple was built around the same time as Motsu-ji Temple. Fujiwara Kiyohira built lots of temple buildings to console the spirits of those who died in a long period of wars, and it developed into a large temple. Many of the buildings were destroyed by fire in the 14th century. But Konjikido and other National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties still remain in the same form they were at the time of construction.

On Tsukimizaka, a hill on Omotesando Road, is the grave of Benkei, a priest who achieved military renown serving Minamoto Yoshitsune. The hill also has other temple buildings, Fudodo and Hondo, and the 1 km ascent is not hard if you look at these things as you walk. When you have walked all the way to the top of the hill, you will see Sankonzo, a treasury. This contains over 3,000 temple treasures, including heirlooms of the Fujiwara princes like amber prayer beads and swords decorated with turban shells. It also has sutras, and 12th century craft items and statues of Buddha.

In the rear is Konjikido, the symbol of Chuson-ji Temple. As implied by the characters in its name, Konjikido is a gold-shining Amitabha hall, and is the only structure remaining from the time the temple was built. It is currently preserved inside the Fukudo building. At first your eyes will fix on the dazzling gold. But if you look at the details, the hall is like a work of art, skillfully crafted down to the last pillar with gold, varnish and mother-of-pearl lamina. The dais in the center for the Buddhist image contains the bodies and heads of four generations of the Fujiwara family.

We have been completely overwhelmed by the weight of history and Buddhist culture. Now it's time to change the mood, and set off to enjoy descending Geibikei Gorge by boat. Geibikei Gorge is a deep, 2 km long ravine with fantastic crags as high as 100 m. It is listed as one of Japan's 100 Famous Views.

The boat for descending the gorge has no engine, but is guided up and downstream by the boatman with a single pole. If you take your shoes off before going aboard, you will be able to relax completely. While you are slowly rocked in the tastefully designed rowboat, you can enjoy a scene that looks like a landscape painting, with a clear stream surrounded by towering cliffs. The boatman will explain each of the 17 famous points in the gorge, including crags and caves. When we have gone deep into the ravine, we will get out of the boat and take a walk. It is enjoyable to walk through nature alongside a clear stream. Getting out of the boat and walking around gives one the feeling of having come deep into the mountains, even though we were only aboard the boat for several tens of minutes.
After the walk, we will go back, once again being rocked in the boat. On the way, the boatman sings a wonderful local folksong in a booming voice called "Oiwake - Parting of Ways". One of the people on the boat said, "I come several times a year", and I felt I understood why. The wisterias at the beginning of the summer and the golden leaves in autumn are especially popular with tourists, but the season when the snow turns the scenery into a monotone is also beautiful. You can enjoy each season in a different way - a topless boat in summer, a boat with a glass roof in spring and autumn, and a boat with kotatsu (heated tables for sitting under) in winter. Now that you're in a relaxed mood after the boat trip, let's go back to Ichinoseki and finish our tour of Michinoku.