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Chūson-ji and the Golden Hall of Konjikidō

JAPAN | Tuesday, 27 August 2019 | Views [48]

Chūsun-ji Temple Golden Hall (internet photo)

Chūsun-ji Temple Golden Hall (internet photo)

IT WASN’T EASY TO LEAVE NIKKO.  EVEN THE Frank Lloyd Wright designed station seemed to tug at our sleeves.  But the shinkansen was coming faster than a speeding bullet and we didn’t want to miss the train.  

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 ...gotta ticket for my destination             There's a train a'coming

Hiraizumi is too insignificant to be so splendid.  There are no hotels to speak of — only 7800 people live there — so we booked at the Chisun Inn in Ichinoseki. Our room was comfortable and affordable but the hotel was quite a bit farther from the station than I thought, a $13 cab-ride as it turns out.  But the staff showed us which bus to take and the visitors center had the train info for the ten-minute trip to Hiraizumi’s Chūson-ji World Heritage Site, so no harm, no foul, right? 


      Hondo or Main Temple of Chūson-ji

First, a littleJapanese history.  Hiraizumi reached its zenith in the 12th Century under the Ōshu Fujiwara clan.  Though dedicated to Buddhism, they were, ironically, wealthy gold miners — not exactly the Path to Enlightenment Buddha envisioned.  By 1124 they used their wealth to expand the 9th Century Chūson-ji complex to more than 300 buildings with 40 temples.

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  Entrance to Main Temple              Shaka Nyorai Historical Buddha

In 1189, Minamoto Yoritomo, the man who would soon after become Japan's first shogun was searching for his brother and rival, Yoshitsune, who had taken refuge with the local Fujiwara leader.  Now the shogun-to-be had a double reason to attack — the defeat of the Ōshu Fujiwara and to eliminate his brother.  When Yoritomo saw the temples of Hiraizumi he was so impressed that he ordered them protected.  Even though the Ōshu Fujiwara clan was gone — Karma being a bitch — Chūson-ji was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1337.  

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  Moon Viewing Slope                        Reflections on Chūson-ji

The Path to Enlightenment — and to Chūson-ji — can be steep.  Tall cedars line the Tsukimizaka (Moon Viewing Slope) and gasping groups of visitors, all Japanese, ebb and flow like the tide.  The only westerners we saw were an Italian couple.  We took the long route, past the former gardens and over the hill before reaching the World Heritage Site, making it that much harder.  But I don't seem any closer to Enlightenment.


          Statue and Lantern, Chūson-ji

Chūson-ji is the name of both the complex and also the principle temple hall or Hondo, not the original but an early 20th Century re-creation.  Twenty or so monks work here, tending to the Shaka Nyorai, the Historical Buddha.  Likewise, the bell towers and outlying buildings have been “recently” added since the fire.


          Ivory, Mother-of-Pearl and GOLD!  Amida Nyori, Buddha of Infinite Light

The pìece de resístance of Chūson-ji is the Golden Hall or Konjikidō dedicated to Amida Nyorai, the Buddha of Infinite Light.  The Golden Hall was completed in 1124 and is the only structure to remain intact since the Buddhist temple was constructed 900 years.  This is no mean feat since, except for the roof, Konjikidō is covered with gold leaf inside and out and ornamented with ivory and mother-of-pearl.  Today Konjikidõ is housed inside another building and surrounded with glass.  You can’t see the intricate “needle carving” details on the peacocks’ feathers or on the Jizo carvings on the posts but we saw them on the video in the visitors center. 


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