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History and Brief Summary of Hiraizumi

History of Hiraizumi
 Fujiwara no Kiyohira, founder of the Oshu Fujiwara clan, moved his base of operations from the Esashi area of modern Iwate prefecture to Hiraizumi around the end of the eleventh century. His reasons for choosing Hiraizumi included easy accessibility by both land and water routes, a unique liminal position at the confluence of northern and southern ecosystems, and, if recent research is correct, proximity to excellent farmland located just east across the Kitakamigawa River.
 Upon his arrival in Hiraizumi, Kiyohira built a single pagoda, later expanding his temple into the great monastery known as Chuson-ji. This single pagoda symbolized Kiyohira’s utopian dream to create a Buddhist Pure Land on earth, and simultaneously marked Hiraizumi as the center of Tohoku region.
 In the twelfth century, Hiraizumi’s sphere of political influence stretched from the Shirakawa barrier in present-day Fukushima (37°N) to Sotogahama in Aomori (41°N). Hiraizumi, located at the 39th parallel, was thus the physical, cultural, and political center of this vast domain.


 The Oshu Fujiwara clan appear to have been descended from the military house of Fujiwara no Hidesato, an important warrior-noble of the tenth century. Kiyohira’s father, Tsunekiyo, was a nobleman and high-ranking local official who married a daughter of the Abe family that controlled much of the Kitakami river valley north of Hiraizumi.
 He fought together with his wife’s family when tensions between the Abe and the new governor of Mutsu (eastern Tohoku) led to the Earlier Nine Years’ War (1051-62); Tsunekiyo was executed as a traitor following their defeat. Kiyohira only survived when his mother was unexpectedly married into the family of an opposing general of the Kiyohara clan.
 Years later, Kiyohira was caught up in an internal struggle for control of the Kiyohara family, a conflict which erupted into the Later Three Years’ War (1083-1087). Kiyohira survived physically and politically unscathed—a testament to his talents as both politician and warrior. However, he lost his wife and children at the hands of his own half-brother, a traumatic experience that made Kiyohira an avowed pacifist and provided the motivation for his creation of Chuson-ji.
 The Konjikido was completed in 1124 and the remaining major halls just two years later. A great service was held to dedicate the temple. The dedication pledge (ganmon) read at this ceremony expresses Kiyohira’s desire for a peaceful utopia, free from strife and violence. Only two years later, Kiyohira slipped peacefully into eternal slumber and was mummified and enshrined in the central altar of his golden hall.
 Kiyohira’s son and heir Motohira carried on his father’s will, creating a second major temple complex called Motsu-ji. Evidence suggests that Motsu-ji and its surroundings were planned in emulation of the Toba and Shirakawa areas of the capital. Motohira comissioned one of Kyoto’s most famous sculptors to create the temple’s principal image. The phenomenal amount paid for this statue indicates that Hiraizumi was already extraordinarily wealthy by Motohira’s time. Still, the process of building this spectacular temple, which included clearing forests, digging ponds, and laying round stones throughout, was incredibly arduous. In 1157, not long after the completion of Motsu-ji’s main hall, Enryu-ji, Motohira died suddenly of what appears to have been a cerebral hemorrhage. Motohira never saw the completion of his great temple, known in later centuries to have been “without peer in all the land.”
 The temple was finally completed by his son, Hidehira. Hidehira also reorganized and revitalized and built up the political center of Hiraizumi in the area around Yanaginogosho Iseki, sponsored a temple called Muryoko-in, and constructed the Kara no Gosho mansion. It was in Hidehira’s day that the city of Hiraizumi reached its final stage of maturity, with great monasteries located at important and strategic points throughout.

The Characteristics of Hiraizumi Establishment of the Hiraizumi Polity
 The city of Hiraizumi was shaped by the hand of its Oshu Fujiwara clan. Chuson-ji was crowned by a 15m-tall two-storied hall (sometimes referred to as Daichoju-in), and Motsu-ji was surrounded by roads an astounding 30m across, lined with storehouses and, teeming with ox carts and the buzz of commerce.
 The lords of Hiraizumi extended their plan for a grand utopia into the surrounding mountains, burying sutras at their tops for protection, and planting stands of trees including thousands of cherries east of the city on Mt Tabashineyama.
 Hiraizumi’s guiding principle was, from its founding, the creation of a peaceful society based on the principles of Buddhism. The ultimate expression of this ideal can be seen in Muryoko-in, built by the third Fujiwara, Hidehira. The temple’s grounds were built to represent the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss, and its main hall as a replica of the Pure Land’s palaces.
 Hiraizumi was supported by untold economic resources from trade in valuables including plentiful local gold, and by the dedication and wherewithal of Hiraizumi’s rulers, who effectively used these resources to underwrite the construction and mainenance of their utopia.


 From the Fall of Hiraizumi to the Present
 The third Hiraizumi lord, Fujiwara no Hidehira, died amidst troubled times in 1187. He entreated his sons to stand behind the fugitive lord and military general Minamoto no Yoshitsune, whom Hidehira was harboring in Hiraizumi, and resist political or military incursion by Yoshitsune’s brother Yoritomo. Hidehira’s wish went unheeded.
 His heir, Yasuhira, forced Yoshitsune into suicide in early 1189 in an attempt to placate Yoritomo. Two months later Yasuhira turned on his younger brother Tadahira, who had befriended and supported Yoshitsune. The ever-watchful Yoritomo, who was attempting to revive the fallen Minamoto house under his banner and establish a polity of his own in Kamakura, saw this opening and sent his armies north toward the Hiraizumi domain.
 Within months, Hiraizumi had fallen to the great expeditionary force arrayed against it, and the century-long dynasty of the Oshu Fujiwara was at an end. Hiraizumi suffered after the loss of its Oshu Fujiwara patrons. Major fires scorched Motsu-ji in 1226 and Chuson-ji in 1337. By 1600, little remained of the Oshu Fujiwara utopia.
 Nearly all of the city's original structures have been reduced to ashes and ruins. Hiraizumi’s gardens have been plowed over and converted into paddyland. Yet the people of Hiraizumi are proud of their rich heritage, and have taken great care to preserve the once great city's sites, remains, and performing arts. The Cultural Heritage of Hiraizumi is more than just the remains of past glory—it is alive and well today.

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