The sacred source of Japan’s first gold
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key sites in Michinoku Gold country. First, there’s Japan’s earliest source of gold, the Koganeyama alluvial deposits in Wakuya, Miyagi.
Gold dust discovered here in 749 (Tenpyo 21 in the Japanese calendar) was collected and presented to the emperor to help gild the great Vairocana-Buddha at Todai-ji Temple in Nara. Delighted with the offering, Emperor Shomu decreed that the official era name be changed from Tenpyo (“Blessed Peace”) to Tenpyo-kanpo (“Wondrous Treasures of Blessed Peace”).
At the southern foot of sacred Mount Nonodake, whose summit looks out over Hiraizumi and the coastal Sanriku area, there stands a great golden torii gate. Beyond the gate lies the tranquil ruins of a Buddhist temple built to commemorate the discovery of gold, and the still-standing Koganeyama Shrine, which has a rich heritage. A monument on the shrine grounds is inscribed with verses from the Man’yoshu written by eighth-century poet and statesman Otomo no Yakamochi, praising Japan’s first discovery of gold. This attention from figures of the imperial court demonstrates that even faraway Nara was linked to Michinoku through gold.
Along the streams of Mount Nonodake and the Koganesawa River that runs past the shrine’s hall of worship, luminous fireflies dance wondrously in the air, casting a golden twinkle over the water. Sometimes, you may even be lucky enough to spot flecks of real gold in the water too. In the Koganeyama area, you can revel in a legacy that began with a single grain of gold.
The ruins of a Buddhist temple in the Koganeyama District. The a Buddhist temple here had been erected at the gold collection site in response to Emperor Shomu’s declaration that the discovery of Japan’s first gold was “blessed by the gods and the Buddha.” It is an important site that confirms that this was the site of Japan’s first gold production.
These are roof tiles that were part or the Buddhist temple which once stood at the site of the Koganeyama Gold Mine. Because the shape of the tiles suggest that a circular temple was built, and because they include tiles with the era name “Tenpyo” written on them, the construction of the temple can be narrowed down to the Tenpyo years. They are important materials that give shape to the contents of the ruins.
A shrine erected on Mount Nonodake, on the ruins of a Buddhist temple built to commemorate the production of gold. It is said that the shrine’s history dates back to the time of Japan’s first gold production, and that the mountain itself, from which gold was easily extracted until the early modern era, was the object of worship. It is a historic shrine that continues to convey that this was the first site of gold production in Japan, even after the Buddhist temple which was built to commemorate the same fell into ruin.
A monument stone on the grounds of Koganeyama Shrine. Engraved on it are verses from the Man’yoshu by Otomo no Yakamochi who, alongside Emperor Shomu, wrote of his delight at the discovery of gold in Japan. It is written that the gold was collected “at a mountain in Oda District” (now part of Wakuya Town). This gold was carried to the capital in faraway Nara, where it became the cause of national celebration. This poetry monument memorializes and celebrates the gold of Michinoku.
The sacred, 236-meter-high Mount Nonodake is located in the center of the Wakuya area. Gold dust-producing rivers, including Koganesawa River, flow down the mountain. In a verse of the Man’yoshu, it is written that gold was discovered “at a mountain in Oda District” (now part of Wakuya Town), so it is clear that the first gold collection operation in Japan developed on this mountain.
The gold dust collected from Mount Nonodake in Wakuya Town. It originates from a secondary ore deposit where grains of gold accumulate in the layers of rock. This geology clearly shows that Japan’s history of gold extraction began with the collection of gold dust. The gold dust first collected here, in 749 (Tenpyo 21), was used to plate the Vairocana-Buddha at Todai-ji Temple in Nara.