Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chusonji Temple Complex

On May 16th, hubby and I visited Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi town of Iwate prefecture. At about 9 am, we checked out of the hotel located in Furukawa city of Miyagi prefecture where we had stayed for the night. The temple was about 60 km north of the hotel and it took as almost an hour to reach there by our car. We parked our car at a free parking lot just outside the temple precinct, and then walked up the hill where Chusonji Temple is located.

Chusonji Temple is situated on the top of a hill named Kanzan in Hiraizumi town. According to temple records, it was founded in 850 by Ennin (Jikaku Daishi), a monk of Tendai sect of Buddhism. It was in 1105 that the first Oshu-Fujiwara lord, Kiyohira, began the construction of massive Chusonji Temple complex of halls, pagodas, repositories, and gardens here. According to the Azuma Kagami (the official history of Kamakura shogunate) there were more than forty halls and pagodas, and more than three hundred residences of monks. Kiyohira intended that Chusonji would placate the spirits of those who had died in the bitter conflicts that had dominated Tohoku region in the latter half of the late eleventh century; the Former Nine-Year War (1051-62) and the Latter Three-Year War (1083-87). He wished to create a peaceful state based on the principles of Buddhism. Hiraizumi flourished with peace and prosperity for nearly one hundred years. However, hostility from the Kyoto Court and the emergence of Minamoto no Yoritomo’s regime in Kamakura dragged Hiraizumi into violent political wars of the late twelfth century, and it eventually brought the curtain down on the century long Oshu-Fujiwara dynasty. Chusonji fell into misfortune in the succeeding Kamakura period. In 1337 fire consumed many of the halls, pagodas, and treasures of the temple complex. Fortunately more than 3000 National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties survived from that era. Two principal buildings that survived are the Golden Hall Konjikido and part of the Sutra Repository Kyozo Hall. Chusonji Temple is a legacy of the magnificent culture of the twelfth century. The temple precinct has a circumference of 5.4 km and an area of 1.34 square km, and has been designated a Special Historic Site.

From the car parking area, we reached the Underpass Entrance of the temple complex at the foot of Kanzan Hill within a minute. The main approach to Chusonji is called Tsukimizaka or Moon Viewing Slope. We walked on this broad path that leads gradually upward to the temple. There are cryptomeria trees on either side of the path that were planted three or four centuries ago by the famous Date feudal clan of Sendai, whose domain this was in Edo period. Walking under the stately cryptomeria trees was so peaceful and serene.
Hubby standing next to a board giving information about Hiraizumi

Underpass Entrance of Chusonji Temple

Hubby standing at the Underpass Entrance of Chusonji Temple

Me walking on Tsukimizaka Slope

Tsukimizaka Slope

There are many halls that line the main approach to Chusonji. Most of these halls have either been rebuilt or moved since around the eighteenth century. First we came across a hall named Hachimando Hall to our left. This hall is an offshoot of Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine of Yawata in Kyoto prefecture. To curb the expansion of Abe clan power, the Imperial Court of Kyoto appointed warrior-noble Minamoto no Yoriyoshi and later on his son Minamoto no Yoshiie as the governor of Mutsu province. These appointments caused tensions which led to violent wars in Tohoku region. The Abe clan was defeated during these bitter conflicts in 1057. Hachimando Hall was constructed as a memorial for winning the war over Abe clan.
Hachimando Hall

Me standing near Hachimando Hall

After passing Hachimando Hall, the steep initial climb up Tsukimizaka Slope flattened out. It was rather easy and comfortable to walk up the path. To our right we saw a platform for Eastern Lookout from where we got a beautiful panoramic view of Hiraizumi town, vast fields, river, and faraway mountains.
Me standing at a platform for Eastern Lookout

Panoramic view from Eastern Lookout

Next, we saw a hall named Benkeido Hall to our left. Benkeido Hall was rebuilt in 1826 and its principal image is Bodhisattva Jizo Bosatsu. But as the hall houses wooden images of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Benkei, it has been known as the Benkeido since the latter half of the nineteenth century. The ceiling is decorated with more than sixty grasses and flowers. We prayed to Jizo Bosatsu and then continued our walk up the hill.
Torii Gate of Benkeido Hall

Benkeido Hall

Statues of Yoshitsune and Benkei along with Jizo Bosatsu inside Benkeido Hall

While walking up the slope, next we came across Yakushido Hall to our left. This hall was initially constructed by Oshu-Fujiwara lord Kiyohira somewhere within the Chusonji Temple Complex. But the hall in the present location was built in 1657. Chusonji founder Ennin made the principal statue of the hall Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Healing. This principal statue is flanked by Bodhisattvas Gekko Bosatsu and Nikko Bosatsu on either side. We prayed to the Buddha statues at this hall.
Yakushido Hall

Statue of Yakushi Nyorai Buddha inside Yakushido Hall

After another three minutes of walk up Tsukimizaka Slope, we reached Main Hall Hondo located on the right side of the slope. We had to cross a gabled gate that dates from the Edo period. The gate has been designated an Iwate Prefectural Cultural Property, and it is thought to have originally belonged to the home of Date Munekatsu, a famous lord of Date clan of Sendai. After crossing the gate, we entered the grounds of Hondo Main Hall. Chusonji is the name of both, the entire temple precinct and this principal temple hall. The main rituals, rites, and many services of the temple are performed at Hondo hall. This Main Hall was last reconstructed in 1909 and has seventeen subsidiary halls. Memorial services for the Fujiwara family, for high priests and for our ancestors, as well as prayers for peace are held here. This is also a training hall for learning hand copying of sutras and Zen meditation. A statue of Amida Nyorai, the Buddha of Infinite Light, is the principal image of this hall. On either side of this image stands ‘Eternal Light of Buddhism’, which are lit with flame from the Tendai sect’s main temple named Enryakuji located on Mount Hiei in Kyoto. We walked around in the grounds of the Main Hall and loved the serene mood all around us. The front entrance of the Main Hall has intricate wooden work which is artistic and very appealing. Just in front of the hall there is a large cauldron of incense, smoke from which is believed to bestow good health. We saw many people lighting incense sticks to the already fuming stock and with their hands wafted the incense fumes over their bodies. We also wafted incense fumes over us. Next, I prayed to the Buddha and hubby took a video of me while I prayed. We saw a bell and belfry located in one corner of the Main Hall premises. An elegant looking small pond is also present in the premises. We left the Main Hall after spending about 20 minutes inside the hall premises and started walking further up Tsukimizaka Slope.
Gate of Main Hall Hondo

Main Hall Hondo

Main Hall Hondo

Me wafting incense fumes from a large cauldron

Hubby standing in front of the Main Hall entrance

Intricate wooden work on the top portion of the Main Hall entrance

Statue of Amida Nyorai inside the Main Hall

Video of me praying at the Main Hall

Bell and belfry of the Main Hall

A small pond at the Main Hall

Soon after leaving the Main Hall, we came across another hall named Mine Yakushido Hall to our right. Originally this hall was located near the Golden Hall Konjikido. However, the hall gradually decayed due to the natural elements, and it was shifted and reconstructed in the present location in 1689. The present hall structure was again rebuilt at the same location in 1982. The area of the hall is 107.5 square meters. The principal image of the hall is a 2.7 meters tall seated-statue of Yakushi Nyorai. The original statue dates back to the 12th century Oshu-Fujiwara period and is now enshrined inside Sankozo Museum for safer preservation. This original statue is an Important Cultural Property. A new statue of Yakushi Nyorai has been substituted in the hall that was sculpted by Matsuo Hidemaro in 1988.
Mine Yakushido Hall

Seated-statue of Yakushi Nyorai inside Mine Yakushido Hall

After walking further up for only about 10 meters or so, we saw yet another hall named Dainichido Hall to our right. The hall looked very impressive. Oshu-Fujiwara lord Kiyohira ordered the construction of Dainichido hall which was a three-roofed pagoda. The original hall decayed long back due to natural elements. In 1711, the present hall was constructed at the same location as the previous hall. The principal statue of this hall is Dainichi Nyorai, the Buddha of cosmic life.
Dainichido Hall

Next, to our right we saw the Bonsyo Temple Bell. This bell is an Important Cultural Property of Iwate Prefecture. It is a Banshikicho-style bell cast in 1343 on the initiative of Raiei, a priest of Chusonji’s Golden Hall Konjikido. The bell stand has become hollow after long years of striking, and thus it is no longer rung. It is inscribed with a description of a fire in 1337 that consumed many of the halls and pagodas of Chusonji complex, which makes it a remarkably important piece of documentary evidence about the history of post Oshu-Fujiwara Chusonji. Its diameter is 86 cm.
Temple Bell

Temple Bell

Next to Belfry, we saw a hall named Amidado Hall whose principal image is Amida Nyorai Buddha. A random fortune omikuji box was kept in front of the hall.
Amidado Hall

Just in front of Amidado Hall, we saw Sankozo Museum across the walking path. It usually takes just fifteen minutes to reach the museum from the Underpass Entrance of the temple complex. However, it took us almost 1.5 hours to reach there as we walked at a leisurely pace and enjoyed viewing many temple halls on our way. It was a rather hot and humid day and we were a bit tired of walking up the hill. So we took rest and sat down on the chairs located in front of the museum. A small shop of the museum sold snacks and drinks along with the curio goods related to Chusonji Temple. We bought softcream and enjoyed eating it while relaxing. Hubby tried to get a tan by looking up directly towards the sun for almost 20 minutes. Afterwards we bought tickets worth 800 Yen per person as admission fee for the museum as well as the Golden Hall Konjikido. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket counter of the museum. First, we decided to visit Konjikido.
Hubby relaxing in front of Sankozo Museum

Hubby eating softcream

As soon as we started walking up the slope, we saw Konjikido Shelter Hall to our left. We showed our tickets at a gate counter and then entered the grounds of Konjikido complex. Between 1962 and 1968, the Golden Hall Konjikido was dismantled and restored before being placed inside this concrete outer shelter hall to protect it from natural elements like wind and rain. The Shelter Hall looks somewhat traditional. This outer hall is fireproof, dehumidified and air-conditioned, and has protection against dust and insects.
Konjikido Shelter Hall

Konjikido Shelter Hall

On entering the Shelter Hall, we saw the Golden Hall Konjikido and were really struck by the fabulous beauty and elaborate decorations of Konjikido. The Konjikido Hall is the only 12th century structure to have survived completely in its original form at Chusonji. Its construction took fifteen years of labor and was completed in 1124. The hall is entirely made of wood. Apart from the roof, the hall is covered with glittering gold leaf both inside and out. The Konjikido Hall was carefully restored from 1962 to 1968 and was moved a few yards inside the concrete Shelter Hall. Konjikido is a square building measuring five-and-a-half meters on each side and eight meters tall. The interior is very artistic. The four pillars, tie beams, and three daises are all gorgeously decorated with iridescent mother-of-pearl shell inlay, intricate openwork metal fillings, and maki-e. On each dais, to the left and right respectively of the principal image Amida Nyorai, stand statues of the Bodhisattvas Kannon Bosatsu and Seishi Bosatsu. On either side there is a row of three images of the Bodhisattva, Jizo Bosatsu. At the front of each dais, two of the four heavenly kings, Zochoten and Jikokuten stand guard over this sacred space. Behind the peacock design of the central dais, beneath the Buddhist statues, the body of the first Oshu-Fujiwara lord, Kiyohira is interred. The left dais holds the body of his son Motohira, and the right dais holds both the body of Motohira’s son Hidehira and the head of Hidehira’s son, Yasuhira. Four consecutive generations of a single lineage are preserved here. Konjikido is designated as a National Treasure.

Inside the concrete Shelter Hall, Konjikido is further protected and sits behind a thick acrylic glass so that it is only visible from the front. We were dazzled by the glittering gold and the stunning beauty of Konjikido. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside Konjikido. We bought a wallpaper of the Golden Hall Konjikido and two photos of the wallpaper are shown here. We appreciated the Konjikido Hall for about ten minutes and then came out of the Shelter Hall by an exit door located on the opposite side of the entrance door.
Inside the Golden Hall Konjikido (photo of a wallpaper we purchased at Konjikido)

Inside the Golden Hall Konjikido (photo of a wallpaper we purchased at Konjikido)

Adjacent to Konjikido shelter hall, we saw another beautiful and elegant structure named Chusonji Kyozo which is the Sutra Repository of Chusonji Temple. This is a hall to accommodate sutras belonging to Chusonji. The dedication pledge Ganmon (1126 AD) for Chusonji describes the Sutra Repository as being a ‘two-storey, tile-roofed’ structure. In 1337, fire destroyed the upper section but the building was saved from complete destruction and repaired with old salvaged timber. Its once colorful decoration has now faded. The oldest ridge tag dating back to 1122 is stored here. The principal image of the repository is a mounted statue of Bodhisattva Monju Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Learning) with four attendants, and this image is designated as an Important Cultural Property. This Monju Bosatsu pentad and shelves which housed Chusonji’s Blue-and-Gold Canon have now been enshrined in Sankozo Museum for safer preservation. However, a new mounted Monju has been substituted at this repository. Sutra Repository is designated as an Important Cultural Property.
Kyozo Sutra Repository of Chusonji

Me standing in front of the Sutra Repository

Mounted statue of Monju Bosatsu inside Sutra Repository

Next, we saw a monument of Matsuo Basho to our left. He was a most famous poet of the Edo period, and was recognized as a master of brief and clear haiku. He visited the Golden Hall Konjikido in 1689 and wrote a haiku about the hall.
Untouched by
The rains of May
Shining Hall
Me standing near a monument of Matsuo Basho

Next to the monument of Matsuo Basho is Konjikido Ooido which is a former shelter of the Golden Hall Konjikido. This is a temple hall built in order to protect the Konjikido from the wind and rain. Konjikido was restored in 1288 on the order of the Kamakura shogunate. It was assumed that this Shelter Hall was built at that time, from the evidence of the date on a ridge tag. However, recent studies have shown that the Golden Hall Konjikido was covered with a simple roof around fifty years after the construction of Konjikido (1124), and that after several extensions and reconstructions, the shelter hall took its present shape in the middle of the 16th century. Due to the construction of a new concrete Shelter Hall in 1963, the older one was transferred to this location. Konjikido Ooido Hall is an Important Cultural Property.
Konjikido Ooido former shelter of Konjikido

Konjikido Ooido

Inside Konjikido Ooido

Next, we saw a red lacquered Torii Gate of Hakusan Jinja Shrine that is located at a slightly secluded spot of the Chusonji Temple Complex. After entering the Torii Gate, we saw a beautiful outdoor Noh Stage located in the grounds of the shrine. The stage was nicely restored in 1853 using authentic methods and materials. The stage has beautifully painted wooden panels as a backdrop. During the spring and autumn Fujiwara Festivals the monks and priests of Chusonji perform Noh here. The Noh Stage is an Important Cultural Property.
Torii Gate of Hakusan Jinja Shrine

Outdoor Noh Stage of Hakusan Jinja Shrine

Hubby standing in front of the Noh Stage

Painted wooden panels as a backdrop of the Noh Stage

Hubby walking next to the Noh Stage

Hakusan Jinja Shrine is located beside the Noh Stage. Monk Ennin (Jikaku Daishi), the founder of Chusonji Temple, is believed to have also founded Hakusan Jinja Shrine in 850. The shrine was destroyed by a fire in 1849. Date Yoshikuni of Sendai Date clan rebuild the present shrine structure in 1853. The shrine is designated as an Important Cultural Property. It was very calm and serene and we spent about 30 minutes at Hakusan Jinja Shrine premises.
Hakusan Jinja Shrine and the Noh Stage

Hubby standing near Hakusan Jinja Shrine

Hubby standing in front of Hakusan Jinja Shrine

Me ringing the bell of Hakusan Jinja Shrine

Me standing in front of Hakusan Jinja Shrine

Another Torii Gate that we used for leaving Hakusan Jinja shrine premises. The side view of the Noh Stage is also seen.

After coming out of Hakusan Jinja Shrine, we went to back to Sankozo Museum. Earlier, we had already bought tickets for admission to the museum (along with the tickets for Golden Hall Konjikido). Sankozo Museum was opened in 2000 to preserve various treasures and cultural assets of Chusonji. Most of Chusonji’s more than 3000 National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties are now housed here. Among these are many Buddha statues, sutras, and the burial accessories of the Oshu-Fujiwara lords. We loved seeing various unique and precious assets of Chusonji. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the museum.
Sankozo Museum

By the time we came out of the museum, it was about 1.30 pm. We had finished visiting most of the important halls and temples of Chusonji Temple Complex, and we loved it. We were rather hungry and so had lunch at Kanzantei located near Hakusan Jinja Shrine. We left Chusonji complex after lunch. Next, we visited Yumeyakata Museum where we learnt about the history of Oshu-Fujiwara family. I will write about this museum in the next post.


Anonymous said...

Excellent tour! I've visited Chusonji myself - a rather brief one, and now I can undrstand the place better. Thanks!

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Anonymous for your comment. Hope you enjoyed the virtual trip of Chusonji Temple.