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The Amazing Japanese Town You’ve Never Heard Of

At this stage of my life as a Japan traveler, it takes a lot to stop me in my tracks. I visit dozens of new destinations per year, and while I enjoy almost all of them, very few affect me in a significant way.

It was humbling, then, when I stopped in a small town in Iwate prefecture a few weeks ago. Particularly since I wasn’t expecting much from the few hours I planned to spend here, apart from photo ops at a couple of temples.

Is Hiraizumi worth visiting? Yes, although if I’d known how amazing it was before I went there, I probably wouldn’t have passed through quite as quickly.

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How to Get to Hiraizumi

Before I get into the details of my Hiraizumi itinerary, I wanted to cover somethings more foundational: How to get there! It’s pretty easy, thankfully. You can start with a Shinkansen, whether you’re coming from the south or the north. Specifically, you’ll want to ride the Nasuno (or, depending on the departure, the Hayabusa) to Ichinoseki Station, which is just 7 minutes from Hiraizumi Station via the JR Tohoku Line.

Once you arrive in Hiraizumi, it’s best to get around on foot, even though there are limited bus services. This is because so much of the magic in this town is in random sights along the roads, rather than the “attractions” themselves (even though those are incredible, as you’ll see shortly). Do note that since the JR Tohoku Line doesn’t come often, you will need to be somewhat methodical about how you plan your sightseeing.

My Favorite Things to Do in Hiraizumi

Start at Chuson-ji


Located up a hillside staircase that takes you through a dramatic pine forest, Chuson-ji is one of those places that thrills me before I even get to the main hall—or halls, rather, because there are three. As you explore these ornate structures, which date back to the 12th-century (i.e. the time of the Fujiwara), it’s hard not to feel transported back in time.

Go the scenic route


Indeed, the walk southward from Chuson-ji to Motsu-ji really does feel like you’re at least 100 years back in time, with so many of the houses, temples and other structures you find en route so spartan (in a good way) and untouched by modern influence, a theme I’ve tried to carry through this Hiraizumi travel blog where it’s been possible.

Enjoy the greenery at Motsu-ji


Although there are some season seasonal trees on the site of Motsu-ji, which is even older than Chuson-ji, the main color here is green. The grounds are absolutely covered in twisted Japanese pine trees, which are one of the reasons I don’t mind coming here on a rainy day (which, for most other places in Japan, does end up being a dealbreaker for me).

See the sakura


Which is not to say everything that makes Hiraizumi worth visiting is rooted in a particular time. Some of it, particularly when the cherry blossoms are in bloom (or, if you can’t come in April, the autumn colors) start to change, has a timeless feel, as if you could imagine people centuries ago enjoying the same spectacle as you are.

Plan on coming back


The only thing I could think of as I walked back to Hiraizumi Station was how intensely I want to visit again some day. If you don’t end up taking my advice below and booking a room in the town, then you should plan on getting back to Hiraizumi as soon as possible. I’ll be sure to update this post with more details and insights once I make my next trip!

Should You Stay Overnight in Hiraizumi?

I’ll be honest: If I could do it all over again—or, more accurately, when I do it again at some point in the future—I’d like to stay overnight in Hiraizumi. While not necessary, given how accessible the town is from other places in Japan, doing so would really allow me to take things in at a relaxed pace, and dig much deeper into the ancient ambiance on offer all around.

If you do decide that you find Hiraizumi worth visiting for an overnight stay, I would recommend booking a room quickly. Not because it’s likely to be crowded with tourists, mind you, but because there aren’t many accommodation choices. Places like Minpaku Hiraizumi and Iris Yu are among the only ones, and let’s face it: They just don’t have massive capacity.

Other FAQ About Visiting Hiraizumi

What is Hiraizumi known for?

Hiraizumi is known for its rich heritage, when it was an important base for Japanese Samurai fighting to unify what was then any extremely unruly north. In spite of how important it is, historically, it doesn’t really have much of a reputation at all among tourists.

How to get around Hiraizumi?

Although there is a local bus service that connects major attractions in Hiraizumi, your best bet is simply to go most places on foot. The town is small enough (and, more to the point, is interesting enough in its in-between points) to make walking the best way to get around.

How many days do you need in Hiraizumi?

Most people (myself included) opt to see Hiraizumi on a day trip from Sendai or Morioka. However, if you do decide to stay overnight (assuming, in other words, that you can get a room at one of the few accommodations here), I would suggest staying just one night here.

The Bottom Line

Is Hiraizumi worth visiting? Without a doubt, this small town in Iwate has been one of my most pleasant Japan travel surprises ever. Whether because of attractions like Chuson-ji and Motsu-ji temples, or the ancient vibe of the town center, Hiraizumi is one of the best-preserved (and, at least for now, least touristic) historical places you can visit in Japan. It’s especially gorgeous in the spring and autumn though, like most of Tohoku, stuns at basically any time of year. Want personalized help incorporating Hiraizumi into your Japan trip? Commission a custom Japan itinerary today!


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