Highlights of Sendai, Matsushima and Hiraizumi (2 days)

Area Map 青森県 岩手県 宮城県 秋田県 山形県 福島県 新潟県

Highlights of Sendai, Matsushima and Hiraizumi (2 days)

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Zuiganji Temple

A temple filled with the passion and aesthetics of the celebrated feudal lord Masamune

Zuiganji Temple
Zuiganji is the family temple of Masamune Date, a famous feudal lord of the Age of Civil Wars of the 15th and 16th centuries. The temple was originally founded in 828. After deterioration through the civil war period it was restored by Masamune Date and his aesthetic styling can be seen throughout the buildings.

The main hall and Kuri (the Zen kitchen) are designated national treasures. Inside the main hall the brilliant paintings on the sliding doors are a must see. The graceful Ume (Japanese plum) blossoms surrounding the main hall are exhilarating in spring. Visitors can also see Masamune’s aesthetics in the arabesque-pattern engravings in the Kuri.

Zuiganji offers much to see including officially designated Important Cultural Properties (Onarimon Gate, Nakamon Gate and Taiko-bei Wall), and a series of caves used for memorial services including the rock cave known as Hosshinkutsu.

The treasure house Seido-den exhibits paintings and tea ceremony items connected with the Date families along with the original paintings of the main hall’s sliding doors.

Zuiganji is one of the four temples of the Shiji Kairo Pilgrimage trail along with Chusonji and Motsuji in Hiraizumi, Iwate and Risshakuji in the mountains of Yamagata.

The renowned Entsuin temple is in the same complex and there are a number of restaurants and souvenir shops where visitors can take a break. Godaido Hall, the temple founded by Masamune previous to Zuiganji, is located nearby on the shore of Matsushima Bay.

After enjoying the breath-taking views across Matsushima Bay – known as one of Japan’s top three scenic sights – these temples are the perfect place to calm the mind and feel the spirit of the feudal Date family.
 

Entsu-in Temple

A matchmaking temple with beautiful gardens

Entsu-in Temple
Entsuin Temple is known as a matchmaking temple and a popular viewing location for stunning autumn leaves. It is located in Matsushima, whose islands have been chosen as one of Japan’s top three scenic views. The renowned Zuiganji Temple is nearby.

As the family temple of Mitsumine Date, a grandson of the famous samurai worrier Masamune Date, Entsuin is home to the mausoleum “Sankeiden” which has been designated an Important National Cultural Property. The temple also houses a precious Western painting of roses that the Date family’s retainer Tsunenaga Hasekura brought back from Europe in the 17th century. The temple is known as the “Rose Temple” for its rose garden influenced by this painting. The adaptation of Western culture can also be seen inside the small shrine of Sankeiden decorated with patterns of diamonds, clovers, hearts and spades.

Including a popular rock garden, the four distinctive gardens fascinate visitors. From late October to late November, visitors can enjoy gorgeous autumn colours and the illuminated temple at night. The view of autumnal foliage reflecting on the water of the garden pond is particularly special. The on-site restaurant serves traditional Kaiseki (multi-course) meals with an exquisite view of the garden.

Going through the main gate, the “Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) of matchmaking” is enshrined on the left surrounded by an array of Kokeshi dolls dedicated by visitors. If you would like to make a wish for love and marriage, you can write your wish on a Kokeshi doll and dedicate it to the Kannon.

The temple offers Juzu bracelet making, a popular experience for visitors. Juzu are Buddhist prayer beads that people place around their joined hands while praying. It is said that carrying Juzu brings you peace of mind. Three kinds of hands-on classes are offered using various materials (natural stone, glass or plastic beads). The Juzu making class with natural stone includes lectures on the meaning of the natural stone participants have chosen. Make something unique for yourself to take home!
 

Godaido Temple

The symbol of Matsushima - this temple sits on its own small island with a connecting vermilion-lacquered bridge

Godaido Temple
Perched on a small island jutting out into Matsushima Bay with a vermilion-lacquered bridge connecting it to the mainland, Godaido Temple is the traditional symbol of Matsushima and a scenic location from which to view the bay.

The small temple was originally founded as Bishamondo by the famous general Tamuramaro Sakanoue in 807 and took its name Godaido when the priest Ennin installed images of the Five Wisdom Kings in 828. The temple opens its doors to the public for the viewing of these images only once every 33 years.

The present temple is the one founded by the celebrated feudal lord Masamune Date. The meticulous carvings of the 12 signs of the zodiac under the eaves reflect the artistic style of the Azuchi-Momoyama period which flourished between late 16th and early 17th centuries. Godaido Temple is designated an Important Cultural Property as Tohoku’s oldest building in the style of the Azuchi-Momoyama period.

When walking across Sukashi Bridge connecting the mainland and Godaido Temple visitors can observe the water below through the wide gaps in the bridge floor. These gaps were intentionally left so that visitors would brace themselves before praying in the temple. The original bridge was in the form of a ladder, two horizontal boards were later added to allow an easier walk.

Legend has it that one night the image of Bishamonten (Vaisravana) that was enshrined by Tamuramaro Sakanoue at Bishamondo flew away to an offshore island when the priest Ennin installed the images of the Five Wisdom Kings at Bishamondo as a part of Enpukuji (Zuiganji), after which the island took its name and became Bishamon Island.

Visitors enjoy the spectacular view of the floating islands of Matsushima Bay while reflecting on this legend. Visiting the twin temples of Zuiganji and Godaigo makes for a magical Matsushima experience!

Lunch in Matsushima (enjoy the fresh seafood of the season)

Lunch in Matsushima (enjoy the fresh seafood of the season)
 
 

Zuihoden

The gorgeous mausoleum where Masamune Date was laid to rest

Zuihoden
Zuihoden is the mausoleum of Masamune Date, the founder of modern Sendai. The mausoleum was built in accordance with his will when he passed away in 1636 at the age of 69.

The mausoleum features the gorgeous artistic style of the Azuchi-Momoyama period
which flourished between the late 16th and early 17th centuries. With motifs of plants and butterflies, the elaborate decorations were heavily influenced by foreign art.

Long recognised for its impressive representation of the traditional architecture of the Azuchi-Momoyama period, Zuihoden was designated a national treasure in 1931. It was destroyed during the Pacific War and the existing building was reconstructed in 1979.

The surrounding grove of cedar trees gives the grounds a sacred atmosphere. The site is also home to Kansenden and Zennoden, the mausoleums of the 2nd and 3rd generation descendants of Masamune Date.

The on-site museum presents a video on the excavations during reconstruction, displays of precious documents of the three Date lords along with an introduction to the history of Sendai.

The gift shop offers some exclusive regional products.

Zuihoden is conveniently reached by the local sightseeing bus “Loople Sendai” that travels around the city centre of Sendai.

Please note that walking routes include steps and steep slopes due to the hilly nature of the location.
 

Sendai Castle Ruins (Aoba Castle Ruins)

A panoramic view of the city Masamune once looked over

Sendai Castle Ruins (Aoba Castle Ruins)
Sendai Castle was founded by Masamune Date, the famous feudal lord of Japan’s civil war period in 1610. He was also known by the nickname Dokuganryu (One-Eyed Dragon) thanks to his missing eye. An equestrian statue of Masamune looking down at the city stands at the entrance to the castle grounds to remind visitors of this historical era. Today Sendai Castle is recognised as one of Japan’s top 100 castles.

The castle fortress was built utilising the local geographical advantages of the surrounding hills and river. Although the original main castle tower no longer stands, the remaining stone walls and restored Wakiyagura tower are a must-see for any visitor to Sendai.

The Kenbunkan Library on site stores a range of precious documents and historical information on the castle. The Aoba Castle Museum also houses a number of historical exhibits along with a CG video of the castle’s restoration works.

The castle ruins are easily reached by the local sightseeing bus “Loople Sendai” which does a circuit around the city centre of Sendai.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the “Oshu and Sendai Omotenashi Group Date Bushotai”, whose members dress period costumes offering tourism information and performances.

The Sendai Castle ruins not only offer visitors the chance to experience a glimpse of local history but are also the perfect place to enjoy tasty local delicacies and find unique regional souvenirs.

The castle hill overlooking the city is also popular for its panoramic night views. Come and enjoy a fascinating view of the city along with the illuminated equestrian statue of Masamune.

The eye-catching vermillion shrine Gokoku-jinja, standing on the grounds of the former castle tower, is another popular local attraction for both visitors and locals.
 

Akiu Onsen

A well-located hot spring close to many natural attractions

Akiu Onsen
With 1,500 years of history, Akiu Onsen has long been a favoured hot spring on the outskirts of Sendai. Legend has it that the 29th emperor of Japan, Emperor Kinmei, cured a skin disease by taking a bath here in the sixth century. Along with Bessho Onsen and Nozawa Onsen, Akiu Onsen is known as one of the top three hot springs in Japan. It is also famous as the family bath of Masamune Date and successive feudal lords came here following him.

The transparent hot spring water is pure and odourless and said to keep your body warm for hours. A number of hot spring inns are lined along the Natori River. The area is a 30-minute bus ride from the Sendai station and offers a range of bathing options including foot baths, public baths and various plans for day visitors. This well-located Onsen town is perfect for a day out or an overnight stay from Sendai.

In addition to the baths there are many natural attractions in the neighbourhood. Rairaikyo Gorge is a scenic location of unique rock formations eroded by the force of the river water. The “Nozoki Bridge Heart” at the gorge is known as a special place for lovers. Look down while crossing the Nozoki Bridge with your loved one and find the heart-shaped hole in one of the rocks below that is said to bring happiness!

The dynamic Akiu Waterfall gushing 55m straight down is breath-taking! Enjoy the abundant natural surroundings while walking along the Futakuchi Gorge and marvel at the magnificent scenery of the huge Banji Rock.

Cultural attractions in the town include the Akiu Kogei-no-Sato (Aiku Craft Park) which offers local traditional arts and crafts and holds a number of workshops. The Akiu Sato Centre operates as a tourist information centre and Akiusha, a 160-year-old traditional Japanese homestead, opened in 2018 as a café, restaurant and cultural centre for both visitors and locals.

Immerse yourself in an open-air bath surrounded by rich natural surroundings. Akiu Onsen is particularly gorgeous when decorated with the colours of autumn.
 
 
 

Motsuji Temple

Free your mind in this temple’s peaceful garden known as Buddha’s Paradise

Motsuji Temple
Motsuji Temple is a designated UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site along with nearby Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi. The beautiful Japanese garden and ancient religious buildings are officially recognised both as a historic site and as a place of exceptional scenic beauty.

The priest Ennin originally founded the temple and the construction of the temple complex was done during the 2nd and 3rd generations of Oshu Fujiwara clan.

The beautiful Japanese garden representing Buddha’s Paradise is breath-taking. Visitors can enjoy the Pure Land Garden, a popular garden style of the Heian period with its unique landscape design techniques, surrounding the central Oizumi-ga-ike pond.

The peaceful garden fascinates visitors with its beautiful seasonal flowers and is the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Many people come here during the Iris Festival in early summer and the “Hagi” Japanese Bush Clover Festival in early autumn. For those wanting a deeper Buddhist experience, the temple offers Zen meditation sessions and Buddhist sutra transcription courses introducing participants to Japanese Buddhism.


Thanks to the flat nature of the location the temple is easily accessible. Lifts and accessible toilets are available in the temple buildings for the seniors and families with children.
 

Chuson-ji Temple

A World Heritage temple complex featuring a dazzling golden hall

Chuson-ji Temple

Chuson-ji Temple in Hiraizumi was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011 as an important location of Pure Land Buddhism. Along with the renowned golden hall “Konjikido”, the temple offers many highlights including Benkeido Hall, Yakushido Hall and Hondo (Main) Hall.


The great priest Ennin originally founded Chuson-ji Temple in 850. From the early 12th century the founder of the Oshu Fujiwara clan, Kiyohira, began construction of the temple complex with halls and pagodas calling for peace through the teachings of Buddha. Kiyohira undertook the construction to honour the family he lost during the local wars of the period. Thanks to the abundance of locally mined gold, Hiraizumi flourished for 100 years during the reign of the four generations of Fujiwara clan. One of the earliest designated National Treasures, Konjikido demonstrates the craftsmanship of that period including mother-of-pearl inlay work, openwork and lacquer work. Visitors can learn about the local history and prosperity of the Oshu Fujiwara clan at the Sankozo Museum, a treasure house of precious cultural properties representing Eastern Japan’s Buddhist arts.


The temple is enchanting throughout the year in harmony with springtime cherry blossoms, verdant summer greens, colourful autumn leaves and snowy winter scenes.


The town offers several services to get around Hiraizumi. The sightseeing bus “Run-Run” travels between Hiraizumi’s popular sights including Chuson-ji and Motsuji Temples, both 20 minutes from JR Hiraizumi station. Bike rentals are available at the cycling station “Rin-Rin” located near the station. Contact the tourism centre at the station for further information.

Lunch at around JR Ichinoseki station

Ichinoseki’s Historic Mochi Cuisine

Lunch at around JR Ichinoseki station

Ichinoseki city in Iwate and the surrounding area has a long history of Mochi (sticky rice cake) thanks to the region’s crops of excellent sticky rice. The locals say that over 300 varieties of Mochi dishes are available in the region including “Mochi Honzen” dating back to the Edo period when the Date clan ruled the region. Honzen cuisine is a formal meal served on a personal tray and “Mochi Honzen” is a multi-course meal with a variety of Mochi dishes prepared in a ritualised style. A wide range of Mochi dishes are available including sweets, savoury side dishes and fusion dishes combining Mochi with international cuisine.  

 
 
GOAL
  • Zuiganji Temple
  • Entsu-in Temple
  • Godaido Temple
  • Zuihoden
  • Sendai Castle Ruins (Aoba Castle Ruins)
  • Akiu Onsen
  • Motsuji Temple
  • Chuson-ji Temple

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