The Story ofMichinoku Gold

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Oshu & Hiraizumi

The Shining Paradise

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Oshu & HiraizumiThe 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.

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