Chuson-ji, which is said to be founded in 850, is a Tendai Buddhist temple in Iwate Prefecture. Chuson-ji is the head temple of the sect in Tohoku region and is actually the collective name of the temples in the precincts, consisting of Chuson-ji itself and its 17 sub-temples.
Konjikido, or the Golden Hall, the most famous component of the temple, was completed by Fujiwara no Kiyohira in around 1124 of the late Heian period. Konjikido is a representative of Jodo Buddhist architecture in this period, and, just like Byodo-in Hoodo in Kyoto, is designated as a national treasure for this reason. It is a hall dedicated to Amida Nyorai and is covered with gold leaf both inside and out, looking more like an art craft.
It is well-known that the renowned Oshu Fujiwara clan was the patron of this temple in those days, and the temple preserves many cultural assets from the Heian period including works like aforementioned Konjikido to this day.
In the coffins placed beneath the Buddhist statues are the mummified bodies of the first to third Fujiwara lords and the head of the fourth. In fact, Konjikido was constructed by Kiyohira, the first lord of the clan, himself as the place to worship his body after his death.
It is said that the area around Chuson-ji is full of spiritual energy, and also is a place where gold was mined. Therefore, many people visit this land hoping to increase their spiritual ability to attract fortune. They say it also purifies or resets your luck, especially in the morning, so I recommend visiting here in the morning.
People also say that if you walk a slope called Tsukimi-zaka, which is the main approach to Chuson-ji, you hit upon which direction you should take in your life. Some parts of Tsukimi-zaka are a little too steep to walk in high heels so wear shoes suitable for walking.
The Japanese cedar trees along the main approach are estimated to be around 350 to 400 years old. They were planted in the Edo period by the Date clan who ruled this area in those days. You may feel like your soul is being purified by the power of nature.
If you go up Tsukimi-zaka there is Benkeido, which is named after the wooden statue of Musashibo Benkei it enshrines. Benkei was an armed monk who served Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who sought protection of the Fujiwara clan from his brother Yoritomo in 1187.
Yoritomo, who was to be the first shogun in Kamakura in 1192, was trying to kill him (Yoshitsune was eventually killed by the Fujiwara clan).
If you go a little further, there are nobori (banners) with many eyes drawn on them. You may get a little surprised at first, but this is a place people gather to wish for good health – especially for eye health – and therefore sells cute talismans for the purpose.
There also are lotuses called Chuson-ji Hasu in the precincts. Its seeds were found in 1950 in the tub the head of the fourth Fujiwara lord was stored. When they were planted, they bore flowers after 800 years of sleep – isn’t it mysterious?
Where to eat around Chuson-ji
Iwate Prefecutre is famous for wanko soba (soba noodles served in small bowls, coming one after another as you eat). At Bashokan, wanko soba is offered in a little different way. It is served in 24 bowls from the begining, so you can have it at your own pace. Soba itself is of course delicious, but tsuyu (broth) is also excellent, and drinking tsuyu with soba-yu (hot water which was used to boil soba) at the end is very good.
Ramen shop Hiraizumi-ten
This ramen restaurant serves tasty ramen noodles with rich broth. Shoyu ramen is especially recommended. It is a popular eating place among locals with a cozy, warm atmosphere. Boiled pork, spinach, and green onion are basic toppings here.
Where to stay around Chuson-ji
Matsurube Onsen Kamikura
At Matsurube Onsen Kamikura, you can enjoy uncirculated hot water drawn directly from the spring. There are many bathtubs here, and the alkaline water containing a high level of sulfate is good for your skin, thus praised as one of the three spas in Japan which makes you beautiful.
As for meals, they are primarily washoku (Japanese traditional cuisine), and local dishes using seasonal edible wild plants and river fish will be offered. Steaks of Maezawa beef, a high quality Wagyu beef of Iwate Prefecture, can also be provided. Breakfast will be rice cooked in donabe (clay pot). Yokan (jellied dessert) using plenty of kuri (Japanese chestnut) the inn cultivated will be offered as well.
This ryokan-style inn is surrounded by mountains, and you can enjoy the scenery of beautiful nature from the windows.
Chusonji is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land” listed in 2011.
This Heritage Site is composed of five sub-sites associated with Pure Land Buddhism, and Chuson-ji is one of them. More than 3,000 art works from the Heian period are conserved here, and you may feel like as if you were living in the Heian period.