Chuson-Ji Temple UNESCO World Heritage Site
Founded in 850, Chūson-jí is a Buddhist temple in the town of Hiraizumi in southern Iwate Prefecture, Japan. Chūson-jí was designated as a Special Historic Site in 1979 and in June 2011 was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a part of the “Historic Monuments and Sites of Hiraizumi”.
Similar to Kinkaku-ji Temple in Kyoto (but without the crowds of fellow tourists), Chuson-ji’s main hall is covered entirely in gold leaf. The hall, known as Konjikido and which dates back to 1124, is enclosed inside another building for safe-keeping. Inside, Konjikido shrine is lavishly embellished the decorations use mother-of-pearl inlays, woodwork, metalwork, lacquer-work, and paintings, bringing together many aspects of late Heian period arts and crafts. It represents the peak of the craftsmanship of the classical period. It also serves as a clear reminder of the region’s history of mineral wealth and gold production, and by some historical accounts, may have been an inspiration for Marco Polo’s writings of “the golden land of Zipang”.
In the 12th century, Lord Kiyohara of the Fujiwara clan undertook a large-scale construction project to expand the temple in memory of the lives lost during previous wars. At its height, Chuson-ji had more than 40 halls and pagodas, and 300 residences for monks. The temple complex declined after 100 years during a period of political strife. Only two temple structures survived a massive fire in the 1300s.
The Sankozo Museum (also called the Treasure Hall) opened in 2000 to preserve Chuson-ji’s historic treasures. More than 3,000 important cultural properties and national treasures are housed here, such as Buddhist statues, scriptures, and other relics that survived the devastating fire. When the Fujiwara clan fell, Hiraizumi’s influence waned and the golden hall is one of the few remaining structures from this period causing the haiku master Matsuo Basho to write:
The summer grass
is all that’s left
of ancient warriors’ dreams.