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Hiraizumi

Hiraizumi–Temples, Gardens, Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land comprises Buddhist properties enshrining Amida Buddha and gardens made for the purpose of representing a Buddhist Pure Land.

The Ôshû Fujiwara family turned Hiraizumi into the political and administrative centre of the northern realm of Japan at the early 12th century. The town was located in a borderzone with the far north, where the indigenous people lived and where the power of the central government did not reach. The rulers set about constructing a country based on Buddhism, of which Hiraizumi was the main city. Its layout is seen as reflecting the cosmology of Pure Land Buddhism. This lead for example to a fusion of Chinese/Korean with Japanese garden design (adding the ethos of nature worship).

The city developed over a period of around 100 years, its prosperity based on wealth accumulated from gold production. Almost all of it was destroyed in 1189 when rule was taken over by rivals.

The following five sites are included:

• Chûson-ji - temple and buried garden remains. This was the spiritual heart of the city. The main surviving 12th century building is the Chûsonji Konjikidô (Golden Hall). The building later became a mausoleum in which are the mummified remains of four lords of the Ôshû Fujiwara family.

• Môtsû-ji – temple remains and reconstructed garden. The garden layout contains a variety of elements such an island, cove beach, cape, vertical stone and a 4 metre high artificial hill.

• Kanjizaiô-in Ato – remains of temples and reconstructed garden. Includes a simple pond which shape is consistent with guidelines in the Sakuteiki ("Ponds should be constructed in the shape of a tortoise or a crane.")

• Muryôkô-in Ato – archeological site of temple and buried garden.

• The sacred Mount Kinkeisan – nearly 100m high and a central reference point for constructing the city.

The Yanaginogosho Iseki (site of government offices) was part of the nomination too, but has been rejected at inscription because it had no link with the Pure Land and had no OUV of its own. After an earlier deferral in 2008, the number of designated locations already had shrunk from 9 to 6.

Map

Visit June 2012

I started my visit to Hiraizumi with a smile on my face after the friendly welcome at Hiraizumi railway station: the seats are heated at the public toilets, there are coin lockers to get rid of any unnecessary luggage and there is a tourist information which hands out all kinds of folders and maps in English. I needed it after having been on a crowded train from Tokyo sandwiched between a fat older man and a sleeping salaryman.

And then I headed off into town – a very prosperous-looking town that is, just as Frederik noticed below. It’s about 10 minutes walk to the first of the 5 inscribed locations: Motsuji Temple. This is mainly known for its garden, a large landscape garden centered around a lake. I was blessed by great weather, which added to the fine composition. I also loved the building with the thatched roof at Motsu-ji.

I had read in the AB evaluation that “visual links between sites are compromised”. It sounded like overreacting to me to lament about electricity poles, but I was annoyed also when one of those kept showing up at my photos of Kanjizaiô-in Ato. This is a smaller pond, close to Motsu temple. After visiting the world heritage center, which has some interesting displays, I climbed up to Mount Kinkei. This “sacred mountain” fortunately isn’t even 100m high. There’s not a lot to see, which is also the case at Muryôkô-in Ato: an archeological field on the other side of the railway tracks.

After having visited 4 out of the 5 inscribed parts, I took a taxi to bring me to Ryokan Shizukatei for the night. This fine traditional Japanese hotel lies some 8 kms out of town, amidst the rice fields. I received a heartily welcome, and was pampered from that moment on with great food and a Japanese bath.

The next morning, the ryokan owner dropped me at Chuson-ji. This is the main temple complex, and I thought I had saved the best for last. It consists of many wooden temples and other buildings. The thing to see here is the Golden Hall. This unfortunately is encased in a protective building. After paying the 800 Yen (8 EUR) entrance fee, I felt that I entered a museum. It is also not allowed to take photos of it. It’s a brilliant piece of work however, imagine how it would be if it still stood outside among the trees and the other temples. In general though, Chuson-ji did not live up to my expectations and I rate Motsu-ji with its great garden as the best sight in Hiraizumi.

Community Reviews


Frederik Dawson - March 2012

Located in the Tohoku or Northern Japan that severely suffered from earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Hiraizumi was selected as a World Heritage Site, since then the government used the inscription as the symbol of hope of this region. From Matsushima, a beautiful bay near Sendai which was hit by tsunami, I took a train to Hiraizumi. After kept my luggage in the coin-storage, I walked from the very lovely train station to Motsu-ji Temple. The town itself looked very clean and new, hard to believe its status as historic town, I thought this was the result of World Heritage Site beautification process. After short nice walked I was at Kanjizaio-in, the temple ruin was actually a large lawn with some trees and bushes around a pond, a fine place but nothing remarkable.

Motsuji Temple was my next destination, as I visited in March, this ancient garden turned to be the ice rink! However, the garden was lovely and photogenic with stones and pebbles around the pond similar to many Zen gardens in Kyoto, the most important part of the garden was the standing rock, if you saw some old photograph, you may noticed that the rock had been changed its position! Then I took the bus to Chusonji Temple, the bus system of Hiraizumi was really well designed for tourists, there was a loop line called Run Run Line (pronounce like “ruin ruin” and be careful there is another bus line called Ran Ran Line that connect Hiraizumi with nearby town of Ichinoseki and pronounce like “run run”) and the bus connected all World Heritage Sites together, and with Day Pass at 400 Yen could save a lot of money and time.

As Chusonji was located on the high hill, the entrance pathway was surprisingly steep thru the pine forest. Along the way, there were many old wooden shrines and buildings which were quite lovely but nothing unique compared to other similar hill top temples in Japan. The main attraction was the Golden Hall of Konjikido which located behind the glass wall, was quite small than I anticipated, but it was pretty amazing to see such brilliant gold building with many lovely details and looking it was quite spiritual enlightenment. After Konjikido, I saw its old storage building and a museum which kept many artifacts, one of most remarkable was the Buddhist Bible written in silver and gold. By the small down hill road next to the museum, I went to see the ruins of the paradise garden; the garden was quite similar to Kanjizaio-in, however much smaller. Muryokô-in, this site again similar to the other was an empty space with some stones and very shallow ponds.

After visited all those sites, the best site I saw was Motsuji since it reminded me the garden of Byodoin in Uji which was another World Heritage Site and was constructed in the same period and by the same Fujiwara Clan. For Konjikido Golden Hall, it cannot be considered unique as Japan has another golden building, the famous Kinkakuji, also in East Asia, there are many golden halls which are bigger than Konjikido, but as I mentioned, it was truly amazing piece of art and should be seen. In my opinion Hiraizumi was quite a mix of Kyoto temples in the location of Nikko. All in all Hiraizumi was a fine place, in the region which quite lack of significant cultural sites compared to other parts of Japan, Hiraizumi could be a nice place to visit. I recommended combining Hiraizumi trip with Matsushima and Yamadera which was considered top three cultural sites in this region.


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Site Info

Full name: Hiraizumi-Temples, Gardens, Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land

Site History

Locations

The site has 5 locations.

  • Ch
  • Kanjizai
  • M
  • Mt Kinkeisan
  • Mury

Connections

The site has 17 connections.

Architecture

Constructions

Human Activity

  • Gilded Lacquer/Urushi the interior of Chusonji's Golden Hall is gilded and inlaid lacquer
  • Mummies Mummies of the three Fujiwara lords at Chusonji Temple

Individual People

  • Marco Polo "Some say that accounts of the sparkling light reflecting off the Konjiki-do led the Venetian traveller Marco Polo to describe Japan as a land so rich that all the rooves were made of gold."

Religion and Belief

  • Buddhist Pure Land "Hiraizumi - Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land comprises five sites, including the sacred Mount Kinkeisan. The realm was based on the cosmology of Pure Land Buddhism, which spread to Japan in the 8th century. It represented the pure land of Buddha that people aspire to after death, as well as peace of mind in this life." - AB Document
  • Phoenix Hiraizumi's altar of golden Konjikido Hall is adorned with inlaid phoenix motif
  • Sacred Mountains Mount Kinkeisan

Trivia

World Heritage Process