Hiraizumi was inscribed as a World Heritage site in June 2011.

General Information about the Hiraizumi World Heritage Site Hiraizumi Iwate, World Heritage Information Center

世界遺産平泉・東北復興対談 達増拓也岩手県知事×ドナルド・キーン氏(日本文学研究者)

The Appeal and Value of World Heritage Site Hiraizumi

Konjikidō Pod Hall at Chūson-ji

——Hiraizumi was registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site, the first in Tohoku, in the same year as the great earthquake. This must mean a lot to Tohoku and Iwate, areas so affected by the disaster.

Keene In 1955, I made a journey in honor of Matsuo Basho's Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Interior). What left the deepest impression on me during that trip was the Chuson-ji Temple. I have visited Hiraizumi several times since then. The more I learned about Hiraizumi's charms, the more I thought how strange it was that it hadn’t become a World Heritage Site. I was concerned that registration would be difficult if the Buddhist statues in Chuson-ji Temple were destroyed in the earthquake, but much to my relief, the damage was not extensive.
 I hear that people from all over Japan who had never paid homage to Chuson-ji Temple before are now going as a result of Hiraizumi becoming a World Heritage Site. The fact that many people are visiting is important for the reconstruction efforts. Of course, there was also the concern that too many tourists visiting the temple will destroy its ambiance, but that didn’t happen either.

——What do you feel is the appeal of Hiraizumi and its value as a World Heritage Site, Mr. Keene?

Keene The first thing is the location. Hiraizumi is surrounded by forests, there are ponds nearby, and splendid temples can be found in very tranquil locations. The first time I entered the Konjiki-do (Golden Hall) at Chuson-ji, I thought to myself, “This is not just a temple. These are not simply Buddhist statues. This is the Pure Land.” I am deeply moved every time I go. I always discover something new each time, as well.

——What do you think it is about Chuson-ji Temple that you find so fascinating?

Keene Most temples in Japan have a sangō (an honorific mountain name), though the name is symbolic and there is no actual mountain. Even many temples in Kyoto are on flat ground. On the other hand, Chuson-ji Temple is actually surrounded by nature, with mountains and forests nearby. An American may misunderstand the Konjiki-do to be a tacky, gilded building based on a description of it, but that is certainly not the case. It is in harmony with nature, and you can feel its superb artistic and aesthetic effects.
 The first time I saw the Konjiki-do was in an era where there were no tourists. Therefore, I was able to enter the hall, and actually hold a keman (Buddhist flower garland; a national treasure) in my hands. I still have a picture of that moment. That would be impossible nowadays, but I will never forget that experience.

——You felt the sacredness of a place of worship.

Keene Although I have visited Chuson-ji Temple several times, the truth is that I only admired it for its artistic splendor. I never really felt a spiritual side. However, when I went there after the earthquake, my impressions were completely different. There are many people in Tohoku whose families, relatives, and friends had died in the earthquake. I could sense how important Chuson-ji Temple was for these people, and it brought tears to my eyes. Many of the people visiting the temple were elderly, and I felt a connection with them. I now feel a deeper sense of worship and religious faith than simply aesthetics.

Source:Iwate Nippo date 1 August 2012