- Hiraizumi — A political and administrative base
- The value of Hiraizumi
- Historical background and ideology
- Chuson-ji Temple
- Motsu-ji Temple
Hiraizumi — A political and administrative base
As the political base of northern Japan, Hiraizumi prospered for about 100 years during the twelfth century.
The goal of the Northern Fujiwara, who were the effective rulers of the area, was to create the Buddha's ideal world, meaning a Buddhist realm, based on Buddhist principles. To this end, they built and maintained temples in each of the 10,000 villages in northern Honshu. In order to center their base at Hiraizumi on the Buddhist realm and Buddhist Pure Land, they built many temples.
900 years ago, Hiraizumi prospered for 100 years from that time, including in the planning of the town. The Northern Fujiwara established Michinoku as a Buddhist base in order to build a world of peace and equality.
The sites remaining in Hiraizumi, such as Chuson-ji, Konjiki-do and the gardens of Motsu-ji, clearly represent how the people of those times imagined the Buddhist world, which is to say their image of a Buddhist realm and the Buddhist Pure Land.
Hiraizumi is almost in the center of Japan's Tohoku region. That center is roughly 1.5km to the west, and is surrounded by the Kitakami River to the east, gentle hills to the west, the Ota River to the south and the Koromo River to the north. It is a place blessed with a beautiful natural environment, with a rich sense of the seasons.
The value of Hiraizumi
Along with the spread of Buddhism, Hiriazumi's architecture and gardens had a great impact on the development of temple architecture and gardens, and is an important cultural heritage for the way it shows the exchange of human values.
Furthermore, because the Pure Land ideology which was the driving force behind the creation of this architecture and these gardens was widespread in Asian Buddhist countries and contributed to humanity, it may be described as a wonderful set of ideas and beliefs.
In 2011, five sites among Hiraizumi's cultural heritage, including the artistry of the architecture and gardens that represent Pure Land Buddhism in this world, were inscribed as World Cultural Heritage sites from the point of view of "exchange of values" and "direct relationship with ideas and beliefs of outstanding universal significance".
Historical background and ideology
Over a span of 100 years across four generations, the Northern Fujiwara built temples and gardens in Hiraizumi that were concrete representations of the Pure Land. In this process, what had important significance was Buddhism, above all the "ideology of a tranquil nation through the observance of Buddhist laws", and the "Pure Land ideology" which prayed for the actualization of the Buddhist world in this life and the next.
From the sixth century onwards, Buddhism, which had been introduced from mainland China, fused with Japan's pre-existing nature worshiping ideology, and by the twelfth century it had developed its own unique qualities.
Under these circumstances, alongside the prevalence of mappo ideology as well as the ideology of the spiritual protection of the nation, jodo ideology flourished, centered as it was on the Amitabha jodo belief in praying for a happy death leading to Amitabha's Western Pure Land. That became the powerful driving force that created a Buddhist realm in Hiraizumi.
Alongside their construction of Hiraizumi as their political base, the Northern Fujiwara also undertook the large-scale building of temples to also make the city the spiritual core of that base. That became the Chuson-ji temple complex.
Konjiki-do is a national treasure, and it is an important destination for tourists in Hiraizumi as well as being central to people's faith. Built in 1124, Konjiki-do is the oldest building of this style of Amitabha temple architecture among those still remaining in Japan. Inside the hall, 33 Buddhist statues are placed on the altar, with Amitabha, lord of the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss, at the center.
Also, it is astonishing that inside this dais for Buddhist images are interred the remains of four generations of great rulers from the Northern Fujiwara. Even now, Konjiki-do is still the spiritual base of the region because of the presence of those remains as well as the beauty of the interior of the hall itself.
The exterior of Konjiki-do is completely decorated with gold leaf. The temple is colored with gold leaf and lacquer, lacquered with mother-of-pearl and maki-e (gold and silver powder sprinkled onto wet lacquer), and designed and crafted with delicate metalwork. It may be said that Konjiki-do is the crowning achievement of Japan's Amitabha temple architecture.
The materials used in the interior ornamentation include rosewood and agarwood from southeast Asia and subtropical great green turban shell, as well as ivory, proving that the exchange of cultural products extended over a wide area both domestically and overseas.
With the 1950 examination of the remains in the dais structures and the disassembly and repair work begun in 1962, the whole story became clear, proving the authenticity and integrity of the entire structure and once again affirming the importance of Konjiki-do.
Konjiki-do is a rare example of a Buddhist temple that represents the culmination of the decorative beauty of the Pure Land faith, with its shining adornments representing the "immeasurable light" of Amitabha's Pure Land of Utmost Bliss. At the same time, it is also the mausoleum of the Northern Fujiwara. For these reasons it may be said that Konjiki-do is a unique structure.
The sheltering hall structure at Konjiki-do was built to protect the temple. The remains of the sheltering hall are also unique structure, as the hall is the oldest of its kind in Japan and has no supporting pillars inside.
It is a valuable example, passed down to the present day, of the traditional methods of protecting wooden buildings in Japan.
The sutra repository is a building where Buddhist statues and precious twelfth century sutras, including the "Chusonji-kyo" sutras, are collected. The "Chusonji-kyo" sutras are a complete set of Buddhist scriptures written in alternating rows of gold and silver characters on indigo paper. The existing building was reconstructed using the materials it was initially built with, so the inner walls still show their original colors.
Remains of Oike Lake
When maintenance work was performed on Chuson-ji in the middle ages, the original "Chuson-ji Kuyo Ganmon" prayer document was transcribed. This document mentions "one section of the great temple built to ensure a tranquil nation through the observance of Buddhist laws", and Oike Lake is the site where this temple is thought to have been built.
Archeological excavations to date have ascertained that there was a large-scale temple which had a garden with a pond.
It is thought that this garden with a pond was the first garden in Hiraizumi built to represent the Buddhist realm.
Currently, research to verify the ruins is being carried out in preparation for future repair and restoration.
The spirit of Chuson-ji
"When we ring this bell, suffering is relieved and comfort provided far and wide to all equally. I want to guide all of the many who died in great wars, both friend and foe, including the birds, wild animals and fish, to the tranquil Pure Land."
According to the "Chuson-ji Kuyo Ganmon", at the celebration of the temple's construction, Kiyohira, founder of the Northern Fujiwara, prayed for the spirits of all creatures who had died in the great conflicts of the eleventh century to be sent to the Pure Land and declared his intention to create a Buddhist realm, a Pure Land, in this world.
The spirit of this prayer was handed down through four generations across 100 years.
Nowadays many Buddhist events and festivals are held within the precincts of Chuson-ji.
Performing arts handed down from the Middle Ages, such as ancient dances and Noh, are presented at Hakusan Shrine, a Shinto shrine on the grounds of Chuson-ji.
The Kawanishi Nenbutsu Kenbai, a sword dance related to Pure Land ideology, is also performed at the Segaki-e, the feeding of hungry spirits. A single monkey appearing in the performance acts as a messenger of the Buddha, and the dance is meant to guide the spirits of those who died in wars to the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss.
Motsu-ji was constructed by Motohira, second generation ruler of the Northern Fujiwara.
It was built based on a north-south line running due south from the peak of Mount Kinkei, and there was a close positional relationship between the temple and the mountain.
The layout of the temple included a large garden with a pond in front of the temple and is thought to have represented the Buddhist realm of the Yakushi Nyorai, as the principal object of worship.
All of Motsu-ji and its grounds combined to represent the Buddhist realm, including not only the buildings but also the garden with a pond, and Toyama (Pagoda Mountain) as a backdrop.
When it was built, the magnificence of the main buildings was judged to be unmatched anywhere in the country. All the original buildings were lost in a fire, but the remains of the main buildings were well-preserved underground.
Pure Land garden
The ideology, design and techniques of temple building that arrived in Japan from the Chinese mainland and the Korean peninsula along with Buddhism changed with the unique evolution of Japanese Buddhism, and a variety of layouts developed in which the temple buildings were encircled with cloisters.
After this, the style of temples built in Kyoto and the vicinity from the eleventh century onwards included gardens, and this was carried on to Hiraizumi where it blossomed.
Furthermore, in Japan it had been thought that gods inhabited natural features such as mountains, large trees and flowing waterfalls since before the introduction of Buddhism. As the ideology of garden creation that arrived with Buddhism from mainland China fused with this pre-existing nature worshiping ideology, it evolved into an ideology, design and techniques that favored the creation of gardens surrounded by unadorned natural surroundings.
In contrast to the geometrical forms of gardens in eastern Asia, Japanese garden ideology established various Pure Land garden styles in which the natural scenery was amply incorporated.
The Pure Land garden of Motsu-ji represented this kind of perspective on nature held by the Japanese.
The world of garden creation
A manual of gardening techniques from the latter half of the eleventh century, called "Sakuteiki", describes the ideology, design and techniques of gardening of that time.
Comparing ponds to the sea, standing rocks represented rocky shores with sandy beaches and standing stones represented windswept coastlines. Artificial hills resemble cliffs. Now, in the present, the garden at Motsu-ji, with features such as a stream leading to the pond, shows us a perfect example of the elegant garden designs described in "Sakuteiki".
The way the stream murmurs through a ravine, representing a gentle river flowing across a plain, is an extremely important relic in fully grasping the design and techniques used, especially in the creation of the stream in the garden at Motsu-ji.
The elegant poetry game of Gokusui no En, in which participants must create and read out a poem before a sake cup floating on the water reaches them, is reenacted along the restored stream.
Furthermore, the Jogyozanmai prayers and the ritual Ennen no Mai dance are regularly performed at Motsu-ji.
Also, every year on January 20th in the Jogyo-do Hall at Motsu-ji, after the "Jogyozanmai" prayers are performed, the ritual dance of "Ennen no Mai" is offered to pray for long life and freedom from disaster and illness.
The Ennen dance performed at Motsu-ji is one of the oldest performing arts in Japan. It is extremely valuable as an element of Hiraizumi's culture that has been passed down to the present day.
The Kanjizaio-in site is the ruins of a temple built on the east side of Motsu-ji by the wife of the second-generation ruler Motohira.
Archeological excavations have ascertained that there was a pond with an island in the middle of it to the south of two Amitabha temples. Maintenance is ongoing within the temple precincts and the pond is being restored.
With features such as the shape of the white sandy beach at the edge of the pond, the placement of the landscape stones and an arrangement of stones over which a waterfall flows, this garden,like Motsu-ji, was consistent with the descriptions in "Sakuteiki"
Muryoko-in was built by the third-generation ruler, Fujiwara no Hidehira.
Archeological excavations have ascertained that there was an expansive garden with a pond containing three islands. Temples with aligning transepts were constructed on the largest of these islands. Like Chuson-ji's Konjiki-do, these temples enshrine Amitabha, lord of the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss.
Muryoko-in was constructed so that, when viewing the temples from east to west, Mount Kinkei was positioned in the background behind Amitabha. This shows that it was built precisely for the purpose of meditating on the world to the west of this one, which is to say Amitabha's Western Pure Land.
In this way, the spatial structure at Muryoku-in, where Mount Kinkei and the temples are positioned in a line from east to west, symbolizes the western direction of the Pure Land and is important as the most highly-evolved form of the Pure Land gardens that developed in Japan. The garden with the pond is currently being repaired and restored and is being returned to its ancient form.
Mount Kinkei held particularly important meaning in the construction of Hiraizumi. It is a mountain of worship, as the Northern Fujiwara built a sutra mound on the summit. However, it also holds important meaning as a reference point in the construction of Motsu-ji and Kanjizaio-in, and as a representation of the religious space of Muryoku-in.
Mount Kinkei is a landmark of Hiraizumi and is also thought to have played a role in linking the assemblage of architecture and gardens that represented the Pure Land.
The fall of Hiraizumi — Exchange of values and reflections of Pure Land ideology
In the autumn of 1189, the government of the Northern Fujiwara fell to Yoritomo from Kamakura, and the prosperity of Hiraizumi, which had lasted for almost 100 years, came to an end.
However, the examples of the temples and gardens at Hiraizumi served as models for temples and gardens built all over Japan, including Ganjo-ji at Shiramizu in Iwaki, Fukushima and Yofuku-ji in Kamakura, Kanagawa.
Most of all, Hiraizumi is important for what it passed down to Kamakura, which became the center of the next era in Japanese history. Hiraizumi's heritage showed that it had contributed to the exchange of human value systems.
The city has also long contributed to humanity as the Buddhist Pure Land ideology spread not only in Japan but also to China, the Korean peninsula and throughout southeast Asia as a "global value system". At the Hiraizumi heritage sites, the ideology and beliefs have outstanding universal significance, meaning it is clearly recognized as having a direct and real relationship with the "Pure Land ideology".
Hiraizumi's Buddhist temples and Pure Land gardens are a cultural heritage that shows the exchange of human values in the fields of architecture and gardens, and in their material aspects they certainly reflect a Pure Land Buddhist ideology that holds outstanding universal significance.
Towards the future
Over a span of 800 years, Hiraizumi has been protected and handed down in good condition by the local people.
The temples, gardens, archeological ruins and various special events that make up Hiraizumi not only show us the vestiges of past glories related to the Northern Fujiwara but also live on in our modern daily lives.
We will pass this precious cultural heritage to future generations and will certainly live our lives proudly protecting and hadning down the World Heritage of Hiraizumi.