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Hiraizumi was the site of a major cultural and political center from 1089 to 1189, created by a branch of the Fujiwara family in the Heian Period. At its height it rivaled the glory and beauty of Kyoto. it was here that Yoshitsune, the brother of Minamoto Yoritomo, took refuge when the Taira defeated the Minamoto's in battle.

When the Minamoto clan rose again, Yoshitsune fought alongside his brother. But later the brother's had a falling out and Yoshitsune took refuge, together with his retainers, with his Fujiwara friends in Hiraizumi.

Yoritomo, intent on exterminating his brother, forced the Fujiwara to turn against Yashitsune, and the latter killed his family and committed suicide to avoid capture. Later, Yoritomo rewarded the Fujiwara by exterminating them and the temples and palaces of Hiraizumi were largely destroyed. For these reasons Hiraizumi has a melancholy air about it, and Yoshitsune and his retainer Benkei live on in Kabuki and and in the long folk tale, the Heike Monagatari.

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