Hiraizumi’s other main sight, the Heian-period gardens of Mōtsū-ji (毛越寺), lies eight minutes’ walk west from Hiraizumi Station. In the twelfth century the Fujiwara added to this temple, originally founded in 850, until it was the largest in northern Honshū. Nothing remains now save a few foundation stones and Japan’s best-preserved Heian garden, the Jōdo-teien. The garden’s main feature is a large lake, speckled with symbolic “islands”, in the midst of velvet lawns. There are a few simple buildings among the trees and ancient foundation stones, but otherwise the garden is simply a pleasant place to stroll. You’ll find flowers in bloom in almost every season, including cherry blossom, lotus, bush clover and azaleas, but the most spectacular display is in late June, when thirty thousand irises burst into colour. As you leave the temple gate, pop into the small museum on the left, which is most of interest for its photos of Mōtsū-ji’s colourful festivals, including the sacred Ennen-no-Mai dance, and a poetry-writing contest in Heian-period dress, which takes place on the last Sunday in May.

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