This blog is about travelling through Japan on a foldable bicycle (Brompton) but also by train, ferry, plane, bus or any other transport, if sea, weather, mountains or the like come between me and my desire to ride.
I have tried to summarise information that could be potentially helpful also for other bicycle travellers through Japan, such as list of bicycle roads, helpful web pages etc. Once I start my ride, I will upload the actual routes taken, together with some pictures and description.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Day 11 - Hiraizumi sightseeing 平泉で観光

Bicycle touring Japan - Day 11

Today was dedicated to sightseeing in Hiraizumi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is not (yet?) very well-known. It includes also some bicycle riding, between the different attractions. 

Bicycle: 35 km
Route: Sightseeing in Hiraizumi
Riding time: 2:25 h
Total ascent: 261 m
Weather: cloudy, around 17 C, but feeling much colder

Today sightseeing in Hiraizumi. A city declared UNESCO world heritage and I had never heard about it before starting to make plans for this travel. In general, except Nikko, it seems that the entire northern part of Honshu gets quite ignored by international travelers. Everyone is going to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and then maybe on to Hiroshima & Fukuoka or even over to Kanazawa, Nagano and / or Matsumoto, but people going North to Sendai, Yamagata or Iwate prefecture are less. Actually since I started this weeks trip in Morioka on Day 7, I have seen only very few Western tourists. I did see however a few Chinese (probably actually Taiwanese) tourists. Not many, but some.

Weather forecast for today wasn't great with possibility of rain in the afternoon, so I decided to start my day early. Decision made easy also by the fact that hotel breakfast is only between 7 and 8:30. I had mine around 7:15 and in contrast to the dinner it was not a great experience. But well, at least there were some oranges and grapefruits, so I got some fruits, which wasn't a bad thing. At 8:15 I was all set and rode down the hill towards Chuson-ji temple. The main attractions of Hiraizumi and quite close to my ryokan.

It opened at 8:30 and there I was... yet quite alone:

Way up the hill to the temple buildings
The main attraction of Chuson-ji temple is a Golden temple hall. Well, it is VERY golden, but also a bit strange. Not like the Kinkakuji in Kyoto, here the golden temple is protected within an other, quite ugly, concrete building. I get it that it is not a good idea to leave a golden building covered with lacquer and mother pearl out in the open, exposed to rain, snow, heat, sun, humidity, animals, humans... However "hiding" it inside an other building makes it loose some of its attraction. Just compare these pictures (not taken by me) of Kinkakuji (Kyoto) and Konjikido (Hiraizumi). But well, for a building covered entirely in gold, plus mother pearls and made out of precious wood, constructed in the 12th century one probably needs to make some concessions.

And actually, while I complain about the protection building (see image below), actually it seems that since the temple was originally constructed, it always was kind of inside of an other building, or at least had an other roof constructed above it for protection.

Protection building in which the Konjikido is "hidden"
As I had my early start (and it was Monday), I could see the temple with only an other 4-5 people and stroll leisurely through the temple grounds. However when I came back only about 30 minutes later, already tons of school groups had arrived, all lining up for their group photo.

And then off they went into the Konjikido, while I continued to explore the vast temple grounds, including a Noh stage (which is actually a shrine building).

I had set out this morning only with a cardigan and my skirt, and while I was on the bike that was sufficient, in the temple grounds, being in the woods, I got quite cold. So I was happy to get back to my bike and put the fleece jacket on. I even found a vending machine with some hot green tea to get some heat back into my body.

Then I continued on to the center of Hiraizumi where the Motsuji Temple is located.

Now, before coming to Hiraizumi I didn't know anything about this town. When I learned that it is UNESCO world heritage site, I thought it must be a rather important city. And actually it WAS a very important city. I only came 900 years too late. Back then it was the capital city of all Tohoku, which was a very rich region of Japan. Now it is a small city, with less than 10,000 inhabitants and consequently the city center looks like this:

Motsuji temple is actually less a temple and much more a garden.

Or even better to say, a lake with a garden around. But obviously not just some kind of lake, but a specifically planned lake, representing beaches, rivers, mountains etc.

Both at Chusonji and here I met a film crew. They seemed to shoot some new commercial for Hiraizumi, at least the only thing I ever saw the actors do, is walk around in admiration of the parks, temples and shrines.

Apart from the film crew, the only other visitors here were groups of elderly Japanese, all following their tour guide, bearing a small flag for all to follow.

For lunch, today Udon, just to change from all the Soba I had in the past days. Today in a hot soup to gain some temperature. For further protection against the cold I also donned my stockings and on I went to the next attraction of Hiraizumi, Takkoku no Iwaya.

As Hiraizumi is such as small town, there aren't any outskirts to speak off. Practically immediately after Motsuji temple the country side started. Again, similar to Tono (Day 10), with well preserved, large farm houses and the harvest ongoing.

Takkoku no Iwaya is a shrine build partially inside a rock and very scenic.

The last sightseeing point of the day was Genbikei gorge, just above a small hill towards Ichinoseki.

It is a nice but also sad place. Sad, because the surroundings clearly tell a history of past glory that is slowly but steadily rusting away or just getting abandoned.

Travelling alone in Japan, at least as a Westerner, makes you interesting for Japanese tourists (and locals). So not surprisingly also today I was approached by some asking from where I come and if I travel. At the gorge, I noticed a couple who had a very small dog in their rucksack and when they ordered some dango sweets, they got 3 sticks, and offered me one. Which was actually tasting quite nice. With black sesame sauce. And the delivery was all a spectacle:

From the gorge I went back to Hiraizumi, but this time through Ichinoseki (no hill to climb and an other road to take). However in contrast to Hiraizumi, Ichinoseki does have the typical Japanese outskirts.

I also found some smaller roads and came safely back to my hotel on the hill on the other side of Hiraizumi.

Surprisingly today, although I mainly did sightseeing I did still do 35 km of riding.

Bicycle touring Japan - Ride maps

For details on the bicycle tour today in Hokkaido, checkout the below maps:

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