The Tranquil Hill

Posted by on Sep 27, 2011 in Iwate, Travel Volunteer Journey | 4 Comments
The Tranquil Hill

I can think of no other country in the world that feels so simultaneously futuristic and steeped in history as Japan. Without ever having come here, I always imagined that Japan essentially existed five years in Europe’s future. Yet no right-minded wee boy would fail to fantasise about the machinations of the samurai and ninja.

Until today, we hadn’t really had a chance to experience either of those preconceptions. But a trip into the south of Iwate prefecture is like a trip back through time, and some hours of bumbling around the ancient town of Hiraizumi have totally satisfied my desire to hear of heroes, villains and no small amount of beheadings.

The life and times of the Fujiwara family are too chaotic and complex to go into in any great detail here, but listening to tales of death by blunt sword, betrayal, heroism and redemption was a real treat. Not least because of our wonderful guide Kuzuaki Okada.

The late-summer sun shone all day as the 69-year-old led us up through the cedar trees and burning incense, around the hilltop relics. Now retired and living his life at his own pace (slowly) Mr Okada has a serenity about him that it’s hard not to envy. In the peaceful atmosphere of these Buddhist Pure Land relics, his calm was probably accentuated, never more so than when a dragon fly saw fit to land and hitch a ride on his gently rocking hat.

When the great haiku poet Basho came here in 1689, he famously lamented the ruins of the Fujiwara family. “The summer grass/ ‘Tis all that’s left/ Of ancient warrior’s dreams”. Yet, thanks to some clever archaeology and a bit of funding, what remains today is a good deal more spectacular than the little master ever got to see. The hard work paid off this year – of all years – when UNESCO saw fit to award the mount World Heritage status. As a newcomer, and as tourism slowly rebounds in this region, it is now one of the least cluttered, least populated sites on their hallowed list (come quickly, in other words).

They endorsed it in recognition of all the various temples, pagodas and shrines that spread over Mount Kanzan, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Konjiki-do, or the Golden Hall.

If Goldfinger had a mausoleum, it would look like this: a 8m-tall, 5.5m x 5.5m gilded masterpiece, complete with ornate mother of pearl finishings, a healthy dose of Buddhas and the mummified bodies of three generations of the Fujiwara clan. Or four, if you count the embalmed head of Fujiwara no Yasuhira, whose gruesome demise ended the dynasty.

It took seven years for the UNESCO bid to come to fruition; seven years that included one flat-out rejection and of course one enormous earthquake. Thankfully, the damage to the site was minimal, and the United Nations, unlike so many other foreign bodies, weren’t to be put off. And, in our humble opinion, it was about time it was endorsed, too. There are sites in other countries that have half the history of this place, or that lie in far greater disrepair, and yet they were added to the influential list years ago.

A mere 900 years since the warrior lord Fujiwara no Kiyohira made his utopian dream a reality, it’s now getting the modern recognition it deserves.

 

Our time in Iwate prefecture was made possible by:

The Hanamaki City Council, and in particular guide, whisky-fanatic and fan of the Queen’s English, Mr Fudai who showed us all around his beautiful city and bought us the biggest ice cream we’ve ever seen. How could we not like him?

Hanamaki’s Folkloro Hotel, who gave us the most over-the-top regal welcome and send-off we’ve ever had in years of travelling. The onsen was great, the food was better. And Katy would like to give a special mention to the goats bumbling around in the back garden.

Our friend, Mr Okada, the slowest moving man I have ever met. A volunteer guide, it seems impossible that he’s achieved such a nuanced, varied grasp of English and yet has never left Japan. If I could slow the rest of the world down for him, and pack him an emergency sachet of miso soup, I’m sure he’d love it. But for the time being, it’s everyone else who’s missing out.

 

世界あまたの国の中で、近未来的ともいえるモダンさと古来の歴史という両極端な側面を持ち合わせている国は日本ぐらいではないだろうか。“日本はヨーロッパの5年先を行く国”来日前は日本に対してそんなイメージを抱いていた。もちろんサムライやニンジャへの憧れも失ってはいなかったけれど・・・。

とは言え、来日後そんな両側面を強く感じる場を訪れる事はなかったけれど、今日岩手県の内陸部から南部へ移動するにつれて、どんどんと時代を遡っているような感覚におそわれた。そして平泉の街を散策し、悪人が打ち首にされる昔話や、その時代のヒーローと呼ばれる人の話に聞き入ってしまった。

奥州藤原家の物語はここでは語りきれないので割愛させていただくが、平泉のガイド、岡田さんによる切腹、君主への背信行為、英雄像、償いなどにふれるくだりは興味深いものだった。
夏の終わりの日差しの中、お香漂う杉林の中を69歳の岡田さんがゆっくりと私達を案内してくれている。すでに悠々自適の隠居生活を送っている岡田さんは、誰もが羨むほどの穏やかさをまとっている。静寂で心安らぐ寺院特有の雰囲気のなかにありながら、ふと飛んできたトンボが彼の帽子にとまる様子が、その事を一層引き立たせてくれる。

1689年、俳句の第一人者として有名な松尾芭蕉がこの地を訪れた際、“夏草や兵どもが夢の跡”という句で藤原家の没落を嘆いたことは有名だ。
平泉は近年の考古学の発展と資金援助により、今なおその美しさを保っている。そしてその地道な取り組みと努力は、ユネスコの世界遺産登録という悲願達成につながったのだ。日本では最も新しい世界遺産観光地として、少しずつではあるが観光客の足も戻ってきているようだ。

ユネスコは関山に広がっている様々な寺社仏閣を世界遺産として登録したが、この中でもひときわ輝いているのは“金色堂”である。
もしゴールドフィンガー(ジェームスボンドの敵!)が自分の霊廟を作ったらこんな感じなんだろうか。高さ8m、縦5.5 x 横5.5の霊廟には藤原氏3代にわたるミイラ化したご遺体といくつかの仏像が安置されており、絢爛豪華な細工(真珠層の細工)が施されている傑作である。
あ、藤原氏4代目の藤原泰衡公の首も入れると4体になるのか・・・。

ユネスコ世界遺産に登録されるまで、突然の延期やそしてこの春の東日本大震災など、実に7年の歳月が費やされた。幸い東日本大震災の被害も少なく、今なお美しさを保っている。
これはあくまで私の個人的な意見だが、平泉の半分にも満たない歴史しかない、もしくは甚だしく荒廃しただけの場所がずっと以前に世界遺産という評価を受けている事を思えば、ここ平泉が世界遺産に登録された事は極めて妥当な評価であると思う。

藤原清衡公の前世紀から900年を経て、今やっと注目を浴びる時がやってきたのだ。

岩手県での滞在でお世話になった皆様

ウイスキーと英国英語のファンである、花巻の布臺さん。美しい花巻の街を案内して下さいました。そして今まで見た事のないような大きなアイスクリームをご馳走してくれました!お世話になりありがとうございました。

フォルクローロいわて東和ホテルさん、今まで世界中の多くを旅してきましたが、これほどの大歓迎を受けた事はありません。疲れを癒してくれる温泉。そして最高のお食事。本当にお世話になりました。ちなみに・・・ケイティは裏庭にいたヤギたちにもお礼をお別れを言いたいそうです!

今まで出会った人の中でもっともゆっくりと歩く岡田さん。一度も海外に行った事がないという岡田さんの繊細で美しい表現の英語力は驚異的でした。お世話になりありがとうございました。

4 Comments

  1. Ami
    September 29, 2011

    As an architect I am well aware of the properties a building has when photographed, and must say that the best pictures that can be made to a building are the ones that shows the harmony of proportions in the building, and for japaneese architecture these proportions are golden in nature :) so well thought of that one could compare to a greek temple architecture that has made even visual corrections that allows the viewer to take a glimpse of the building without being distorted by our spherical perception in our eyes.

  2. Kazuaki Okada
    October 7, 2011

    I am sure you are enjoying every place you visit. Would you paraphrase your following statements. I’m enjoying your blog very much. “Our friend, Mr Okada, the slowest moving man I have ever met. A volunteer
    guide, it seems impossible that he’s achieved such a nuanced, varied grasp
    of English and yet has never left Japan. If I could slow the rest of the
    world down for him, and pack him an emergency sachet of miso soup, I’m sure
    he’d love it. But for the time being, it’s everyone else who’s missing
    out.”

    Especially,”If I could slow…..he’d love it” is difficult to understand. My Brittish friend couldn’t make it out,either.

    • Katy & Jamie
      October 8, 2011

      Hello Mr Okada! Thanks for reading. With that line, I was referring to your slight apprehension when it comes to travelling around the world – you’d mentioned that some of your friends who have travelled missed miso soup when they were abroad. We shared a joke that you would need to have some “emergency miso” if you went travelling. Hope that clears it up?
      Thank you again for your time in Iwate, it was a real pleasure to spend time with you. Also, I managed to mention Chusonji in a recent article for a newspaper in the UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2011/oct/03/japan-highlights-spa-whisky-hokkaido

      • Kazuaki Okada
        October 11, 2011

        Now my lingering question was solved. No wonder native speakers around me failed to comprehend that line. They had no knowledge of what we spoke at meals about traveling abroad. I am also greatful that you refered to flying dumplings and Chusonji temple in the Brittish newspaper. And your post and picture of Chiba city makes me nostalgic of my hometown. I can even recognize where you took that picture of the giant crab.I sincerely hope your efforts will be fruitful.