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Southwestern Iwate

Two days of history and culture

About this Itinerary

The temples and gardens of Hiraizumi, a World Heritage Site, as well as the traditional arts and crafts of each district, contribute to a rich tapestry of historic and cultural attractions in Iwate Prefecture. Here we present a model itinerary for a history and culture tour of the southwestern area.

DAY 1
Experience a unique cultural history at Hiraizumi’s World Heritage sites

Admire the majestic cliffs of Geibikei Gorge with a riverboat ride

The first day starts with your arrival in Ichinoseki, and a trip to the nearby Geibikei river gorge. The cliffs towering on either side of the river can reach an impressive height of 100 meters, even taller than the Statue of Liberty. Until the early 20th century, this natural wonder was a hidden gem, as locals were hesitant to invite outside attention for fear of overdevelopment. Thankfully, you can still enjoy a 90-minute cruise up the river today through virtually unspoilt scenery. Relax as the boatman guides you along the gentle river and entertains you with a traditional song.

Enjoy a traditional treat with mochi

After your river ride, return to the Ichinoseki Station area and find a mochi restaurant to try out the traditional local favorite. Mochi is a chewy dumpling made from rice, pounded and ground until the grains start to resemble dough, and is enjoyed all across Japan and beyond for snacks or meals. The Ichinoseki area has a long tradition of agriculture, and during the feudal rule of the Date clan, the clan leaders began using mochi in their religious offerings. The custom filtered down to the public, and a form of the tradition endures to modern day. As part of the frequency of mochi meals, a number of methods were considered to make the cakes more palatable for peasant farmers who had to rely on mixed grains and cereals of lesser quality, and what emerged was the variety of colorful toppings still seen today.

See the Temples of Hiraizumi, built in harmony with nature

Hiraizumi is about a 30 minute drive from Ichinoseki, and is home to a series of temples, gardens, and historical sites collectively listed in the World Heritage Registry. Hiraizumi’s historical temples and gardens were designed based around the teachings of Pure Land Buddhism, and were meant to embody the paradise that awaits practitioners after death. Designed in harmony with their surroundings, the temples also evoke the traditional Japanese appreciation of nature. Set your own pace as you enjoy the scent of incense on the breeze in Motsu-ji’s garden, or explore the hilltop complex of Chuson-ji, nestled in an aged forest, and the Golden Hall at Chuson-ji’s heart: a shining shrine covered head to toe in gold leaf.

A moment of Zen

Both Chuson-ji and Motsu-ji temple invite visitors to experience zen meditation in their prayer halls, led by temple monks. Zen is a traditional Buddhist practice that empties the mind of distractions, to calm and focus the mind. Try an hour-long introduction to meditation in a real temple, and let your worries and stress melt away. Advance reservations required.

Cap your adventure with local flavor

If your exploration of Hiraizumi has left you in the mood for a meal, try the Brewers of Hiraizumi café near Chuson-ji, at the foot of the hill. You can enjoy award-winning locally produced craft beers from Ichinoseki, made with all the expertise you’d expect from brewers who made their name on sake. You can also enjoy meals with locally-sourced vegetables and meat, and artisan coffee from Kessenuma’s Anchor Coffee.

Hiraizumi gifts and souvenirs

For a unique keepsake from your Hiraizumi adventure, Hidehira lacquerware can be found in gift shops near Chuson-ji. Hidehira-style lacquerware is a traditional local craft with hundreds of years of history, with designs characterized by vivid blacks and reds, and garnished with a unique diamond pattern in gold leaf. A range of decorative and practical pieces are typically available, including tableware, fountain pens, and phone straps.

Rest from the road at a hot spring inn

After a day of exploring Hiraizumi, relax and soak in the natural waters of the outdoor hot spring baths at the Shizuka-tei inn before enjoying a seasonal dinner with homegrown and locally sourced ingredients. In season, you can also pick your own vegetables for breakfast from the inn’s field and garden, and enjoy locally raised Maesawa wagyu beef at dinner, a melt-in-your-mouth tender and finely marbled meat served grilled or as beef sushi.

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