Hiraizumi, an ancient town in Iwate Prefecture, with world heritage-listed Chusonji Temple and local specialty “wanko-soba”
In about two hours and 30 minutes after leaving Tokyo by JR Tohoku Shinkansen, I arrived at Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture. It was my first visit to the Tohoku region in 10 years, and I had never stopped in Iwate Prefecture.
I am Hana, born and raised in the countryside in Okayama, a land of sunshine. After living in other countries, I came to realize how wonderful Japan is. Although I was very bad at history at school, I have recently become interested in Japanese history. I love visiting places in Japan while imagining the historical background of each place.
Located in the southwestern area of Iwate Prefecture, Hiraizumi prospered as the base for the Oshu Fujiwara clan from the late 11th century to the early 12th century. The temples, gardens, and ruins across this area, which all have been well preserved, were registered as one of the World Heritage Sites in 2011. As this area also falls under the category of Historical Landscape District under the Landscape Act, the objects and buildings in the area, such as mailboxes, post offices, and banks, in addition to the chic wooden building of Hiraizumi Station, have been carefully colored and decorated in tranquil tones so that the landscape won’t be marred.
Chusonji Temple is one of the World Heritage Sites in Hiraizumi. It was the main purpose of my trip to Hiraizumi. I had been eager to visit it for a long time, so one of the goals of my life came true.
Chusonji Temple was first established in 850, and the major construction of the buildings and tower by the founder of the Oshu Fujiwara clan, Fujiwara no Kiyohira (1056-1128), were carried out in the early 12th century. I went up the Tsukimi-zaka slope, the front approach to the temple.
Both sides of the slope are lined with huge cedar trees, which are said to be 300 years old or so. Imagining people in ancient times walking on this road, I was slowly going up toward the temple.
The purpose of the construction of Chusonji was to console the souls of the dead from the series of wars in the Tohoku region and build a peaceful, ideal society. This resolve of Kiyohira was passed down for generations, and Hiraizumi successfully created an era of peace without war for nearly 100 years even though the maelstrom of wars continued across Japan all those years.
The Konjikido Hall houses the mummified remains of the leaders of the Fujiwara clan in golden caskets, including the founder Kiyohira, the 2nd leader Motohira, the 3rd leader Hidehira, and the 4th leader Yasuhira.
I was overcome with emotion as I thought I could feel the desire of the Oshu Fujiwara clan and the people of those times for a peaceful world without war even now after several hundred intervening years.
You can enjoy different aspects of the area during different seasons, such as autumn foliage and snowy landscapes, so I would like to come here again in a different season next time.
20 min walk from Hiraizumi Sta. (JR Tohoku Line)
202 Hiraizumi Koromonoseki, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai County, Iwate
Then, I was getting hungry, so it was lunch time. I already decided to have wanko-soba, one of the local specialties of Iwate.
Wanko-soba can be simply described as all-you-can-eat soba buckwheat noodles with a server at your side. A customer holds a bowl and his/her server puts one bite-sized portion of noodles, after dipping them in hot soba tsuyu sauce, into the bowl. When your bowl is empty, your server will refill with the next noodles right away, so you can enjoy eating until you are full. It is a unique local specialty of Iwate Prefecture.
In Hiraizumi, there is a special way to serve wanko-soba without a server, called “moridashi wanko-soba.” You can eat wanko-soba already served in portions in bowls at your own pace.
I had this set!
In addition to soba dipping sauce, tororo – grated Japanese yam – is served in a set, so you can enjoy tororo soba. The set also included bite-sized tempura and dessert, which nicely filled my stomach. I wasn’t sure if I could eat everything, but I could quite easily because they were so delicious!
My trip was a quick day-trip; however, I am very satisfied that I could fully enjoy the history and food.
For my next trip here I would like to visit the surrounding areas as well, taking more time to get around.
*The information herein is as of September 2021.