The Shining Paradise
When we look for remnants of the story of Michinoku Gold, perhaps the first example that comes to mind is the golden Konjiki-do prayer hall at Chuson-ji Temple in Hiraizumi, Iwate. The spectacle is not limited to the gold leaf that covers the entire structure—Konjiki-do is also adorned with imported red sandalwood and ivory used in the dais, green turban mother-of-pearl inlays, embellished metal fittings on the fretwork, and detailed golden lacquer painting. The culmination of Heian period craftsmanship and artistry is on display here, with the confluence of skilled craftsmen and rare imported materials speaking to the financial power of Hiraizumi’s coffers of gold.
However, the role played by gold here was not simply to demonstrate Hiraizumi’s wealth. Among Japanese Buddhists of the time, belief was widespread that the world had descended into mappo, a spiritual dark age prophesied of in Buddhist texts. The Oshu-Fujiwara clan, who sponsored the construction of Chuson-ji and Konjiki-do, wished for a world of peace and equality, free of conflict. They envisioned their golden hall as a gleaming embodiment of the heavenly afterlife, serving to inspire and influence others to follow Buddhist teachings. Due to this reliance on gold to spread their message, the Oshu-Fujiwara showed great favor to their gold-producing lands, a region which stretched from the Kitakami Mountains to the eastern coast.
Mount Tatsugane lies between the towns of Kesennuma and Minamisanriku in Miyagi; its peak commands a sweeping view over the Oshu-Fujiwaras’ gold-producing lands. On this sacred mountain, we can still see the remains of temples and ritual sites associated with the clan. These remains speak to the deep ties between Hiraizumi, the golden paradise, and the gold-producing regions that supported its realization.
This is a golden Buddhist temple adorned with gold dust from Michinoku. In addition to the gold, its craftsmen also incorporated an abundant amount of exotic materials from Japan and abroad, and made full use of the decorative techniques available at the time. The Oshu-Fujiwara clan, the commissioners of the temple, did so not to flaunt their wealth, but to represent in gold, with its majestic radiance, a paradise that begets a peaceful and equal world free of conflict. Konjiki-do is said to be the building Marco Polo was referring to when he tells of a “great Palace which is entirely roofed with fine gold” in The Travels of Marco Polo.
As with Konjiki-do, this mirror case makes full use of the decorative techniques available at the time. This piece was produced in Hiraizumi, and it shows that the finest craftwork of the period was gathered in Hiraizumi.
This tool was used to process collected grains of Michinoku gold. The processed gold was used in gold lacquer and ink. This shows that in order to make their “earthly paradise” a reality, the rulers of Hiraizumi collected not only gold, but also the finest techniques for putting it to use.
This tool was used to melt down collected grains of Michinoku gold. The melted gold was then used to gild bronze items. This shows that in order to make their “earthly paradise” a reality, the rulers of Hiraizumi collected not only gold, but also the finest techniques for putting it to use.
This is a group of eleven sutra mounds at the summit of Mount Tatsugane, in the center of the mountain’s three temple sites (Seisui-ji, Jakko-ji, and Kinpu-ji), which the Oshu-Fujiwara clan used as a location for offering prayers to gods and the Buddha. In the late Heian period, there was widespread belief the world had entered the time of mappo, a spiritual dark age. In order to leave scriptures for future generations, they placed some in gilt-bronze vessels and buried them to make mounds. The mounds were in the perfect location to look over all the early-modern era gold mines illustrated on the map of Kesen and Motoyoshi, the Oshu-Fujiwara clan’s gold-production centers in the Sanriku region. The Mount Tatsugane sutra mounds are an important site; they convey the strength of the influence that the Oshu-Fujiwara clan, in undertaking the construction of their earthly paradise, exerted over the gold-producing areas of the Sanriku region.
LocationKesennuma / Minamisanriku
A Buddhist scripture passed down as one of the treasures of Jakko-ji Temple on Mount Tatsugane, which the Oshu-Fujiwara clan used as a place of worship. The text of the sutra is copied in gold and silver ink onto indigo paper. It is believed to be part of an ornate Buddhist scripture set from Chuson-ji Temple in Hiraizumi. Not only is it evidence that religion during that period was supported by gold, but it also serves as evidence that the Buddhist sites developed on Mount Tatsugane were strongly influenced by the Oshu-Fujiwara clan.
A case carried on the back by monks of Kannon-ji, a temple strongly associated with the Sanriku region and Hiraizumi’s Chuson-ji Temple. Buddhist images, Buddhist ritual implements, and sutra scrolls would be stored in the case, which was worn like a rucksack. It is a superb piece of craftsmanship, covered in gold, with Buddhist motifs worked onto every surface. It is a beautiful piece that passes down historical goldworking techniques to the present day.