Hiraizumi : Chusonji and Motsuji Temples

Hiraizumi : Chusonji and Motsuji Temples

Hiraizumi : Chusonji and Motsuji Temples


Hiraizumi in the southwestern part of Iwate Prefecture is a town extending up the Hiraizumi Hill on the west bank of the Kitakami-gawa River, that prospered for almost 100 years from the 11th to 12th centuries as the center of the Tohoku region.

Hiraizumi : Chusonji and Motsuji Temples
View of Hiraizumi from Chusonji

Over 3,000 national treasures and historical sites still remain, telling of the Fujiwara Clan that reigned over the area in the zenith of its prosperity.

Hiraizumi flourished for nearly one hundred years, a time of peace and prosperity. However, hostility from the Kyoto court and the emergence of Minamoto no Yoritomo’s regime in Kamakura eventually dragged Hiraizumi into the violent political upheavals of the late twelfth century.

When Minamoto no Yoshitsune, younger brother and former general of Yoritomo, fell out with his elder sibling, he fled to north to Hiraizumi, but soon after he arrived, his protector Hidehira fell ill and died. Hidehira’s heir, Yasuhira, was unable or unwilling to handle Yoritomo’s pressure to hand over Yoshitsune, and in early 1189 attacked the fugitive general, forcing him into suicide. Yet this was not enough to appease Yoritomo, who attacked Yasuhira and brought the curtain down on the century-long Ōshū Fujiwara dynasty.

It is our sincerest hope that this booklet is of value to all who visit Chūsonji, and that it helps you to personally experience both the dreams of Hiraizumi’s Ōshū Fujiwara and the blessings of the Buddha.

Hiraizumi,Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land is grouping of five sites from late eleventh- and twelfth-century Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. The serial nomination was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2011.


Hiraizumi : Chusonji and Motsuji Temples
Konjikido or Golden Hall is covered with the simple construction.

Chusonji is situated on the top of a hill named Kanzan, and often called Kanzan Chūsonji. According to temple records, it was founded in 850 by Ennin (Jikaku Daishi), a monk associated with the great monastery Enryakuji and third head abbot of the Tendai sect. Ennin is also known for the autobiographical record of his travels and study of Buddhism on the continent, regarded by some as one of the world’s greatest travelogues.

It was in the early twelfth century that the first Ōshū Fujiwara lord, Kiyohira, began the construction of a massive temple complex of halls and pagodas here. According to the Azuma kagami (the official history of the Kamakura shogunate) there were more than 40 halls and pagodas, and over 300 monks’ residences.

Kiyohira intended that Chūsonji would placate the spirits of those who had died, either friend or foe, in the bitter conflicts that had dominated Tohoku in the latter half of the late eleventh century. He further wished to create a peaceful state based on the principles of Buddhism.

In the dedication pledge for Chūsonji, known as the Ganmon, Kiyohira writes that all travelers, regardless of status, would be greeted affectionately by the Buddhas and without fail receive their blessings. Chūson-ji’s merits were to be distributed evenly and universally to all who desired them.

Chūsonji’s fortunes changed drastically in the succeeding Kamakura period. In 1337 fire consumed many of the temple’s halls, pagodas, and treasures. Nevertheless, more than 3,000 National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties survived, principal among them the Konjikidō, the small, golden Amida hall which was the first structure designated a Japanese National Treasure. The significance of Chūsonji’s treasures is that they form an integrated collection of many different crafts, including lacquer work, woodwork, metalwork, dyeing and calligraphy all of which represent the pinnacle of Heian period Buddhist art in eastern Japan.


Hiraizumi : Chusonji and Motsuji Temples
Image of Jodo-teien or Buddhist paradise garden.

Motsuji was said originally founded by Ennin at the same time as the Chusonji.

Kiyohira’s son Motohira inherited this great vision and commissioned his own great temple, Motsuji, which was completed by his son, Hidehira. It is said that the complex of Motsuji was bigger than Chusonji. In turn, Hidehira commissioned Muryōkōin Temple. This was close to Yanagi no Gosho, which appears to have been a government complex of diverse departments from which the Ōshū Fujiwara administrated their Tohoku domain.

Because of the fire and wars, there remains no original temple construction there, but the most important thing is its garden. It is called Jodo-Teien or Buddhist paradise garden. The harmony between the temple structure and the pond is ideal. This philosophy of making garden is described in the oldest gardening text Sakuteiki published in 11th century.


Takkokunoiwaya is a Buddhist temple which enshrines Bishamonten, one of the four guardians of Buddha. It is said that it was first constructed by the worrier Sakanoue no Tamuramaro to commemorate his victory against the northern enemies in 801 to fight against the northern enemies.

It is very unique that it is standing surrounded by the rocks.

Hiraizumi : Chusonji and Motsuji Temples
Takkonoiwaya enshrines Bishamonten, the worrier guardian of Buddha

Information of Chusonji

Access : 20 minutes walk from Hiraizumi Station (JR Line) or you can take a bus to Tsukimizaka-iriguchi (月見坂入口) bus station
Entrance : Chusonji : Adult 800 yen / High school student 500 yen / Junior high student 300 yen / Elementary Student 200 yen
Hours : From March to November 3 8:30 – 17:00, From November 4 to February 8:30 – 16:30