At the top of Mount Kanzan lies Chuson-ji Temple in northern Japan’s Iwate Prefecture. Housing the “Golden Pavilion” of the north, it’s a scenic spot that lets you experience a beautiful temple without the crowds and a few ancient surprises.
The highlight of Chuson-ji is Konjikido Hall, founded in 1124. The small building is covered in gold and often compared to Kinkakuji, the world-famous Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. It showcases several forms of art and culture from the period it was constructed, such as lacquer work, metalwork, and pearl inlays.
Konjikido also houses the mummified remains of leaders of the Fujiwara Clan. Lord Kiyohira’s mummified body was placed under the central altar. The remains of his son, Motohira, were discovered below the northwest altar.
Originally built outdoors and exposed to the elements, a second structure was built around Konjikido in 1288 for protection. Today, it is surrounded by glass within a concrete building, and photography of the interior is prohibited.
The Sankozo Museum, also called the Treasure Hall, opened in 2000 to preserve Chuson-ji’s historic treasures. More than 3,000 important cultural properties and national treasures are housed here, such as Buddhist statues, scriptures, and other relics that survived the devastating fire.
In the 12th century, Lord Kiyohara of the Fujiwara clan undertook a large-scale construction project to expand the temple in memory of the lives lost during previous wars. At its height, Chuson-ji had more than 40 halls and pagodas, and 300 residences for monks.
The temple complex declined after 100 years during a period of political strife. Only two temple structures survived a massive fire in the 1300s. The same buildings still stand today—the Konjikido Temple and a storehouse for religious sutras.
A few buildings were rebuilt over the following centuries, including the main hall. Many Buddhist rituals associated with the temple still occur. Built in 1909, it houses a historical Buddha, with eternal flames lit on either side.
Visitors can get to Chuson-ji by making their way up the Tsukimi-zaka (moon-viewing hill), lined by trees planted during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868).