Tohoku's Four Temple Pilgrimage

Amazing four beautiful temple tour through Tohoku

By Ashley Cox    - 3 min read

The Tohoku region of Japan is home to countless beautiful temples and even more breathtaking views. It is truly a beautiful place to visit and explore.  The best combination of beautiful temples and amazing views can be found if you follow the Four Temple Pilgrimage through Tohoku. These four temples are well known amongst Japanese and visitors alike for their historical and cultural value and their beauty. The temples that are included in the pilgrimage are Yamadera (山寺) in Yamagata prefecture, Zuiganji temple in Miyagi prefecture, Motsuji temple in Iwate prefecture and Chusonji temple, also located in Iwate prefecture.  Most visitors to Tohoku visit these four temples, BUT many of them do not know about the neat little book you can purchase to collect stamps from each of the temples!

In order to collect the stamps, you must purchase the book from the little souvenir shop located before you get to the temples. The books are 1000 yen each, and when you first purchase the book, that includes the first stamp.  They are often on display, so if you don't speak Japanese you can just point to the book.  Usually, the monks stamp the book and write the date and the name of the temple on the side panel. Be sure to leave your book open for a few minutes to let the ink dry!  Once you have the book, at the next temple you visit, just go to the little souvenir shop and pay for your stamp. Each stamp after the first one is 300 yen.  I do not speak Japanese, but when they saw my book, they knew what I was after!  After I collected all the stamps, I also will receive a small poster board with a handwritten kanji from the monks. I am not sure if they are all the same or if they are different depending on which temple you finish the journey with. I was told that the kanji on mine means "Respect."  Please let me know in the comments when you finish your journey if you got the same one as me!

These four temples are also well known for inspiring the famous poet, Matsuo Basho, to write haikus about each location. Here are some English translations for the poems that he wrote when he visited these sites:

About Yamadera:

Deep silence

The shrill of cicadas

Seeps into rocks

About the two sites in Hiraizumi

The summer's grass

'Tis all that's left

Of ancient warrior's dreams

About Matsushima

Matsushima, Ah!

A-ah, Matsushima Ah!

Matsushima, Ah!

The story behind the Matsushima haiku is that when Basho saw the beauty of Matsushima, he declared that nothing else needed to be said. The beauty that inspired Basho 350 years ago is still very much thriving today.  Make the same pilgrimmage as this famous poet and collect all your stamps too!

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Ashley Cox

Ashley Cox @ashley.cox

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Guillaume Doré 3 years ago
I really liked doing this pilgrimage. And for your information, when you complete the course, you will get a different board depending on what temple you finished at. I can tell you finished at Chuson-ji, just as I did.
Ashley Cox Author 3 years ago
Thank you for solving that mystery for me!
Iain Stanley 4 years ago
Looks like a lot of fun!!
Justin Velgus 4 years ago
These temples are real highlights in Tohoku. This sounds like the perfect souvenir!