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Hiraizumi Travelogue INOUE Yasushi

Fujiwara no Kiyohira sponsored Chūsonji, his son Motohira built Mōtsūji, and Motohira’s wife constructed Kanjizaiōin beside her husband’s temple. Though these second-generation complexes were lost to fire in 1210, historical documentation indicates that Mōtsūji was a monastery of “more than forty halls and pagodas, and more than five hundred dorters,” meaning that it surpassed even Chūsonji in scale and was a truly extraordinary temple. Currently, all that remains of Mōtsūji’s original buildings are their foundations (visible above ground), and of Kanjizaiōin markers only.

Even having read Fujishima Gaijirō’s Hiraizumi: Mōtsūji to Kanjizaiōin no Kenkyū (“Hiraizumi: Research on Mōtsūji and Kanjizaiōin,” Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 1961), and even standing on the sites themselves, it is awfully hard to imagine what Mōtsūji and Kanjizaiōin might have looked like in their prime. On the far side of the large pond in the center of Mōtsūji’s vast grounds stood several nearly identical halls with long, graceful corridors and decorated in gold, silver, vermillion, and jewels. Even the painted image of Mōtsūji standing near the ruins of the southern gate is not enough to bring on a sense of what the temple might have really been like centuries ago. All that strikes me, all that I can take away is a hazy feeling of dreamlike, transcendent beauty.

Motohira’s son, Hidehira, had his own temple: Muryōkōin. Hidehira’s temple burned down in the late sixteenth century, and only ruins remain today. In its time, Muryōkōin was also known as the “New Hall” (Shin Midō). It was modeled on the Phoenix Hall of the Byōdōin Temple at Uji (near Kyoto), and is said to have included a three-story pagoda.

From October to November, 1952, Cultural Properties Protection Committee and Iwate Board of Education excavated the site, and their findings are summarized in a booklet called Muryōkōin Ato (“Muryōkōin Site”). According to this document, there was a pond with a central island in front of the main hall, and two bridges connected the island to the hall and the far side of the pond. It appears that there was also a pond behind the main hall. Though it is again not easy to imagine what this great temple was like during its time, like Mōtsūji and Kanjizaiōin, an otherworldly vision of beauty comes to mind.

Hidehira, sponsor of Muryōkōin, was the first descendant of the Emishi (ethnic northern Honshu tribes) to be named to the prestigious post of peacekeeping general, but not everyone was pleased with this appointment. Powerful courtier Fujiwara no Kanezane recorded the event in his diary thus: “Ōshū eastern barbarian Hidehira appointed peacekeeping general. Genesis of chaos.” Kiyohira was an eastern barbarian. Motohira was an eastern barbarian. And Hidehira was an eastern barbarian, too. The lords of Ōshū were, in the minds of the court, nothing more than outsiders who needed to be assimilated into Kyoto’s control.

All three of Hiraizumi’s great lords spared no expense in creating massive and magnificent Buddhist temples, but I believe that they maintained their pride and at some invisible level they were always struggling against the central regime and its culture. Though they may have been disparaged as eastern barbarians, the Hiraizumi Fujiwara also challenged themselves to cultivate the flower of court culture on their barbarian soil in ways it never had even in the capital. The twelfth century was not as peaceful everywhere as it was in Hiraizumi—in the capital the Taira and Minamoto clans were locked in a death struggle for power. It was also a time of natural disaster, war, and famine. Far away in Ōshū, the Fujiwara family of Hiraizumi dedicated itself for three generations to creating massive Pure Land gardens and great temples. And each lord upon his death was entombed in a gold-leaf coffin in the Konjikidō.

The fourth Fujiwara, Yasuhira, allowed the vast energy of Hiraizumi to be directed to something other than temple building—instead it crossed the Koromogawa River. Yasuhira should have bent all his strength to constructing extraordinary temples and monasteries like his predecessors. Instead, he met the awfully natural fate of an Emishi lord. In 1189, the Hiraizumi Fujiwara under Yasuhira were eliminated by the armies of Minamoto no Yoritomo. It had been 96 years, or not quite a century, since Kiyohira first settled in Hiraizumi.

Excerpted from Shio, 11/72. First appeared in Rekishi no Hikari to Kage
(“The Light and Shadow of History,” Tokyo: Kodansha, 1979).

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