Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Chūsonji Temple – The Treasure Trove of Heian Buddhism

Hiraizumi Town (平泉町), which once rivaled Kyoto‘s refined culture and elegant surroundings in the 12th century, is now the hometown of a World Heritage, Chūsonji Temple (中尊寺). The same as Motsuji Temple not too far away, it was also founded by Jikaku Daishi (慈覚大師) in 850 based on Pure Land Buddhism.

Chusonji Temple konjikido in winter
Ⓒ pakutaso.com/

While most of the halls in the temple’s grounds were burnt down in 1377, most were restored to their past glory.

With numerous cultural heritages at Chūsonji Temple (such as the building, painting, calligraphy… etc), the temple is known as the treasure trove of Heian Buddhism and is registered as a World Heritage.

A List of Attractions in Chūsonji Temple

Benkeidō Hall (弁慶堂) and the Lookout

As soon as you go past the main gate of Chūsonji Temple, hiking up the Tsukimizaka Slope (月見坂) will lead you to this lookout next to Benkei-dō.

From the lookout, you will get a panoramic view of Hiraizumi town, which surely will give you a relaxing sort of vibe (^_-)-☆.

Chusonji Temple hiraizumi benkeido and lookout
Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

Hondō Hall (本堂)

After seeing this gate, you will know you are really close to the Main Hall of Chūsonji Temple.

The same as the front gate of Motsuji Temple, this gate was relocated from the Ichinose Castle in 1659.

Most traditional rituals are performed at Hondō, which was rebuilt in 1909.

The coolest thing we thought about the hall is not only the main Buddha – Gautama Buddha in the hall is 2.7 meters tall Σ(゚Д゚), but the history of the eternal lights at his two sides.

Chusonji Temple hiraizumi hondo
Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

Apparently, they were lit with the flame from one of the Three Holiest Places in Japan, Enryaku-Ji Temple (延暦寺) in Mt. Hiei in Kyoto/Shiga, which is quite far away from Hiraizumi town, so we wonder how… The flame has shone since the temple’s founder, Saichō, lit it back in the 800s!

And lastly, if you have visited the Byōdōin (平等院) in Kyoto, you might find some similarities between the two halls as they were all valuable heritages from the Heian era (*’▽’).

Mineyakushidō Hall (峯薬師堂)

Chusonji Temple hiraizumi mineyakushido
Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

Passing the Hondō, you will see this gorgeous little hall – Mineyakushi-dō.

Make sure you say your prayers here if you have any eye-related problems!

Konjikidō Golden Hall (金色堂)

Kinjikidō Golden Hall is the highlight of the entire Chūsonji Temple.

The preciousness isn’t just because the rest of the building structure is covered by gold leaf except the hall’s roof. It is also due to its heretical importance that it conveys the highly sophisticated artistic techniques of the late Heian era.

Ⓒ ⼀般社団法⼈東北観光推進機構

The other shocking fact to us about this hall is apart from the main Buddha – Amida Nyorai (the Buddha of Infinite Light), it is also a mausoleum of the mummified remains of four leaders of the Fujiwara clan (we really thought mummies were unique to Egypt…).

Other Parts of Chūsonji Temple

Chusonji Temple hiraizumi
Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

As illustrated in the map on the official Japanese website HERE, there are quite a few charming halls you can visit (like the one on the left-hand side).

To fully appreciate the temple may take you an hour or two. But don’t worry, even if you arrive at the temple in the late afternoon, as long as it’s still bright outside, you will be able to stroll around on the Temple’s grounds!

Different from other temples in Japan, Chūsonji Temple’s grounds are open 24/7. It is just that you won’t be able to access the interior of the halls (´▽`*).

Cultural Experiences at Chūsonji Temple

  • Tea Ceremony at Shōjuan (松寿庵): 1,000 yen for a bowl of tea and a Japanese traditional sweet
  • Sitting meditation: 1,000 yen, reservation required
  • Copying Buddhist sutra using calligraphy: 1,000 yen, reservation required
Chusonji Temple hiraizumi
Ⓒ photo-ac.com/

Important:
→ Please note that due to the cold weather, experiences other than tea ceremonies aren’t held from late November to the end of March.
→ If no one in your group knows Japanese, it might be hard for you to experience sitting meditation and calligraphy…

Festivals at Chūsonji Temple

There are several festivals and events held at Chūsonji Temple throughout the year. Most of the events have rich cultural elements involved. So if you happen to travel to Iwate prefecture around the dates below, you will probably want to plan your visit to Hiraizumi accordingly (=゚ω゚)ノ.

  • 31/12 – 01/01: Hatsumoute 初詣 (where you pray for a peaceful and prosperous new year)
  • Early-February: Setsubune 節分会 ( where you receive blessings from Buddha and Gods)
  • 01/05 – 05/05: Spring Fujihara Festival春の藤原まつり (refer HERE to brief information about the festival. On the 4th and the 5th of May, traditional Noh plays are performed at the Noh theater at Shirayama Shrine (白山神社) on Chūsonji Temple’s grounds)
Ⓒ photo-ac.com/
Ⓒ pakutaso.com/
  • 14/08: Takiginoh薪能 (from late afternoon, traditional Noh play is performed at Shirayama Shrine)
  • 16/08: Daimonji Okuribi大文字送り火 (a big character dai – 大, is written on Mt.Tabashine, opposite the hill where the Chūsonji Temple is located. The ritual is performed to farewell the ancestor’s spirits)
  • 22/10 – 15/11: Chrysanthemum Festival – 菊まつり (around 500 Chrysanthemum is displayed at the Temple’s grounds during this period)
  • The end of Oct till mid-November: Light-up event – 紅葉銀河, from 4 pm to 6:30 pm
  • 01/11 – 03/11: Autumn Fujihara Festival – 秋の藤原まつり (refer HERE for brief information on the festival. On the 3rd of November, traditional Noh plays are performed at the Noh theater at Shirayama Shrine (白山神社), and traditional folk performances are taken place on Chusonji Temple’s grounds)

Tip: Chūsonji Temple’s fall foliage season is between late October to early November!

Chūsonji’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • 8:30 am ~ 5 pm between the 1st of March to the 3rd of November
  • 8:30 am ~ 4:30 pm between the 4th of November to the end of February
  • Adults: 800 yen
  • Senior high school students: 500 yen
  • Junior high school students: 300 yen
  • Elementary school students: 200 yen

Important: Please note the admission tickets to Konjikidō, Sankōzō Museum, Sutra Repository, and Former Konjikidō Shelter Hall can only be obtained up to 10 minutes before the end of opening hours on the day.

It is possible to pre-purchase your tickets HERE. But as there aren’t any discounts with this option (and plus the website is in Japanese), it’s probably only beneficial for you to do so if you want to pay by methods of payments other than cash (or if there is a long queue in front of the ticket office when you get there).

Explore Other Astonsoihing Temples in Hiraizumi

平泉町_達谷窟毘沙門堂
Click the photo for more information about this spot!

Your visit to Hiraizumi shouldn’t stop at Chūsonji. Other fascinating temples in the town are worth your time.

To find out about other great attractions in the town, refer to our article on Hiraizumi!