Hiraizumi, ancient stronghold of Fujiwara samurai clan, will likely be named a UNESCO World Heritage

Hiraizumi, Ogasawara Group win World Heritage endorsement (Asahi, May 8 )

Iwate Prefecture’s cultural Hiraizumi area and Tokyo’s Ogasawara islands have won endorsements to be listed as World Heritage sites, sources from the Environment Ministry said May 6.

The final decision will be made at a session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Paris that gets under way June 19.

The Historic Monuments and Sites of Hiraizumi include buildings, gardens and remains that embody the Buddhist heaven. They include the Chusonji temple built by Fujiwara no Kiyohira, the first in the lineage of the Oshu Fujiwara family, and Motsuji, the remains of a temple built by Fujiwara no Motohira, the second in the lineage.

“Hiraizumi was a center of the Tohoku region’s recovery from a period of wars. That historical context has made me think that it could symbolize our recovery from the disastrous earthquake and tsunami,” said Iwate Governor Takuya Tasso upon hearing the news of Hiraizumi’s endorsement. “The news has encouraged me to proceed with recovery efforts energetically as a matter of historical and international significance.”

Hiraizumi eyed for UNESCO list (Japan Times, Sunday, May 8, 2011)

Kyodo – An advisory panel to UNESCO has recommended registering the historic Hiraizumi area in Iwate Prefecture and the Ogasawara Islands off Tokyo as World Heritage sites, the government said Saturday.

The two sites, put forward by Japan, are expected to be formally listed in June when the World Heritage Committee meets in Paris.

Registration of Hiraizumi as the 12th cultural heritage site in Japan and the first in Tohoku would be a boon to the region as it attempts to recover from the devastation wrought by the March 11 quake and tsunami.

Hiraizumi features a cluster of temples and ruins left by the Oshu Fujiwara warrior family that ruled the Tohoku region from the 11th to the 12th centuries. It also has Chusonji, a Buddhist temple known for its Golden Hall.

The temples and gardens in Hiraizumi symbolize the Pure Land tradition of Buddhism, according to the Cultural Affairs Agency.

Because the area suffered no major damage in the March 11 disasters, Chusonji has allowed students from quake-hit coastal areas in the prefecture on school excursions to view the Golden Hall free of charge.

“It is very encouraging as we move ahead toward reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake,” Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso said, referring to the temblor by its official name.

When the central government’s first attempt to get it on the UNESCO list failed in 2008, Hiraizumi had nine component properties.

But on the second attempt, six of them cleared the screening by the International Council on Monuments and Sites, or ICOMOS, on the condition that the ruins of the official residence of the Oshu Fujiwara be excluded.

See also excerpts from related earlier news article: Iwate’s Hiraizumi unlikely to become World Heritage site

Hiraizumi was the headquarters of a powerful samurai clan led by the Oshu Fujiwara family, who ruled the area almost throughout the 12th century until they were vanquished by warlord Minamoto no Yoritomo, who established a shogunate in Kamakura in 1192.

During the Oshu Fujiwara family’s rule, Hiraizumi developed into one of Japan’s most advanced cultural centers outside Kyoto.

Its historic site is home to nine major monuments, including renowned Buddhist temples and traditional gardens. The government applied for World Heritage status for Hiraizumi in December 2006 on grounds that its architecture and gardens are artistic masterpieces that re-create the Buddhist concept of heaven.


At the peak of the Heian Period  (794-1185), Hiraizumi was the grand capital and the political and cultural center of the Northern branch of the powerful Fujiwara clan. It was said to rival the splendour of Heian-kyo (Kyoto) itself. Hiraizumi saw three generations of Fujiwara rule until overthrown by Minamoto Yoritomo in 1189, bringing the Heian period to an end. Most of Hiraizumi’s temples were destroyed and the city never recovered.

On excavations of warehouse area site and the Hiraizumi temple garden site that throw light on the wealth and power of the Fujiwara lords:

The warehouse area site is located to the south of the Kanjizaioin Temple Garden Site. A number of warehouses stood here. The floors of these buildings were raised up off the ground on stilts. The gold, silver, and treasures they held is said to have shocked Minamoto no Yoritomo when he entered Hiraizumi as its conqueror.

Recent excavations here have unearthed evidence of postholes with a width and depth of 1.5 meters each. The structure supported by such pillars would have been one of Hiraizumi’s largest. Octagonal pillars were among the other interesting finds. Chinese pottery and porcelain fragments (an extremely expensive luxury item in the twelfth century) have also been discovered, adding strength to the preponderance of evidence that this site was a major warehouse district.

The remains of a boulevard measuring 30 meters across has been discovered between the warehouses and Kanjizaioin Temple. This appears to have been Hiraizumi’s main street. The road that runs in this area now is only 12 meters across, not even half of its width in the twelfth century.

This Motsuji area was Hiraizumi’s southern entrance, the first glimpse of Hiraizumi for visitors from the imperium. Great roads and enormous warehouses would have served as a symbol of the wealth and power of the Fujiwara lords.THE WAREHOUSE AREA SITE 


The warehouse area siteThe rise of Fujiwara no Kiyohara pages at the Hiraizumi’s Cultural Heritage site;

Hiraizumi Travel Guide

About the rise of the Fujiwara family:

From around 792 onwards, local power holders again became the primary source of military strength as the provincial upper class was transformed into a new military elite of bushi warriors.   Large regional military families formed around members of the court aristocracy who had become prominent provincial figures. These military families gained prestige from connections to the imperial court and court-granted military titles and access to manpower. The Fujiwara, along with the Taira, and Minamoto, were among the most prominent families supported by the new military class. The Fujiwara family dominated the political government of the Heian period over several centuries (794-1160) through strategic intermarriages with the imperial family. The Fujiwara Regency was the main feature of government of the entire Heian era. Fujiwara princes initially served as highest ministers of the imperial Court (kampaku) and regents (sesshō) for underage monarchs – they were the “power behind the throne” for centuries. They occupied all the important political offices in Kyoto and the major provinces.

From The Fujiwara family: “The Fujiwara family (written in Japanese Kanji as 藤原氏 Fujiwara-shi) was one of the most powerful families from Japan. They originated from the Nakatomi clan when Nakatomi no Kamatari was given the surname Fujiwara by Emperor Tenji. … They had strong influence over politics and things concerning the government, as they were close advisors to the emperors that existed during their time. The  Hokke  created a claim that they had a heredity claim to the place of regent, and some Fujiwaras had these places more than once. Lower members of the Fujiwara held places as court nobles, provincial governers, and vice governers. Some were also samurai. Fujiwara was one of the four great families that had the most influence on politics during that time. The other three were Tachibana, Taira, and Minamoto. The Fujiwara, however, exerted the most power and influence out of the four. The Fujiwara ruled the government area from 794 to the mid 1100s.”


The rise of the military class;

Fujiwara clan (Wikipedia)

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