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Around Yoshitsune from the Radiant Hall OSARAGI Jirō

The only buildings in Hiraizumi known to both Yoshitsune and to us today are the Konjikidō and Sutra Repository of Chūsonji. Construction on this temple complex was begun by Hiraizumi's first lord, Fujiwara no Kiyohira, soon after he moved his base of operations from the Esashi area of present-day Ōshū City to Hiraizumi. Kiyohira first sponsored an esoteric "treasure pagoda" known as Tahōji. Next, he built a two-storied hall called Daichōjuin Hall, which housed a central Amida (Amitābha) statue of over nine meters in height and nine companion Amidas of about five meters each. In this first decade or so, Kiyohira also built a Shaka Hall and a Two Worlds Hall. Finally, 13 and 15 years from the beginning of this massive project respectively, construction was completed on the Sutra Repository and Konjikidō.

Nine-image Amida halls (of which Daichōjuin was an unconventional derivative) were popular at the time, and one survives to this day at Jōruriji in Nara; it is the main hall of the temple. However, the records show that Kiyohira's hall, a two-storied structure, was even larger. It was this magnificent assemblage of Buddhist architecture that greeted Yoshitsune from atop Kanzan.

Kiyohira, who had become master of the Oku Rokugun (Six Back Districts), was a man of deep faith. A single great thoroughfare led travelers from the southern border of Ōshū (Shirakawa no Seki) to the far northern port of Sotogahama. This road ran through the grounds of Chūsonji, between Tahōji and the Shaka Hall. Kiyohira placed umbrella reliquaries every 108 meters or so along the twenty-day north-south journey. On the face of each reliquary was a golden image of Amida, meant to stimulate the religious sentiments of travelers.

Sponsoring temples and Buddhist statues was extremely popular with the court nobility, and was beginning to make inroads with the warrior class. But Kiyohira, newly become lord of the vast northern territories, had embarked on a project of incomparable scale and marvelous ingenuity. Nobody until Kiyohira considered placing reliquaries along an entire trunk road.

The pledge read at Chūsonji's dedication has been preserved, and from it we can learn of Kiyohira's motivations for this massive undertaking. It explains his intention to create a temple and hold services to commemorate the dead from the previous generations of war that had ravaged Ōshū, and to lead them all—whether friend or foe—to rebirth in the Pure Land of the Buddhist Paradise. In this decade and a half-long project of temple building and expansion, a record found inside the Konjikidō itself indicated that the golden hall was the last structure completed, in 1124.

It appears that, having finished his array of halls and pagodas for the masses, Kiyohira was finally ready to create a hall for his own samadhi by constant walking, a miniature simulacrum of the Pure Land on earth to live out his final days in. Its diminutive stature also made the Konjikidō a miniature in comparison to the surrounding buildings, dwarfed by its massive companions it almost resembled a model of a Buddhist hall. But it shone both inside and out with the radiance of pure gold, symbolizing the golden light of the Amida Buddha's Paradise in the manner of the Pure Land ideology of the time.

It was common to cover the bodies of Buddhist statues with gold to represent the Pure Land's effulgence, but not even in the capital had there ever been an entire hall covered with gold. This accomplishment was uniquely Kiyohira's—uniquely that of the lord of Ōshū. Certainly his realm was a major gold producer, and could have used the precious metal profligately on magnificent decoration to demonstrate his power and authority. But it seems that Kiyohira was truly motivated by religious zeal to create the Pure Land in the world of the living. In the Chūsonji dedication pledge, Kiyohira refers to himself humbly as "head of the fushū," a term referring to assimilated native northern Honshu peoples. This simple, unassuming character surely made his Pure Land faith qualitatively different from that of the courtiers in Kyoto. For Kiyohira, entering the radiant hall of his own creation must truly have felt like entering Paradise itself.

Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, son of Yoriyoshi (victorious general in the Former Nine Years' War), built an Amida hall prior to his death, and spent his final moments attached to the principal image by five colored cords. Yoshimitsu's death exemplifies the belief, which had spread from the nobility to the warriors, that Amida would come on purple clouds, accompanied by legions of bodhisattvas and celestial maidens, to collect the dying and bring them into his fold. The five cords connecting the hands of the dying to an Amida statue were meant to assure a straight path to salvation. Konjikidō has also become a mausoleum containing the three coffins of Kiyohira and his heirs, a fact that is surely because Kiyohira's descendants made sure that their great patriarch could remain in his personal Pure Land for eternity. Even the head of Yasuhira, Kiyohira's great-grandson and Hiraizumi's last ruler, has been preserved here. Who rescued this head from impalement to a gatepost is unclear, but Yasuhira's remains now rest in the coffin of his father. For the Hiraizumi Fujiwara, who believed that the Konjikidō was truly the Pure Land on earth, how could they not have desired to lie here forever in their hall and coffins—both uniquely encased in gold leaf?

Perhaps the young Yoshitsune, accompanied by Hidehira, sat here on the floor of the Konjikidō. And perhaps some summer morning the sunlight sifted gently through the canopy, lighting the unparalleled golden hall like something not at all of this mortal world.

Excerpted from Ōsaragi Jirō Collection, Vol. 1. First appeared in Asahi Shimbun PR (3/7/65- 5/25/66).

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