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Over the course of the 12th century, Hiraizumi was a political and administrative center established in the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshû, in what was then a borderland between the territories ruled by Japan’s central government and the regions farther to the north, and whose lively commerce with these regions served as its economic underpinning. The Ôshû Fujiwara clan had its origins in the samurai traditions, and while on the strength of the tremendous wealth accumulated over four generations, the family did not rely solely on its military power. Rather, they built Hiraizumi with the aim of creating the Pure Land—a Buddhist conception of the ideal world. Hiraizumi came into being as the locus of a unique pattern of regional rule with a religious core.
As a political and administrative center, Hiraizumi can be divided into a central area of roughly 190 hectares and a surrounding area of roughly 370 hectares, each of which comprises multiple component parts.
The central area includes the temples, gardens, and archaeological sites representing the Buddhist Pure Land, which are already inscribed on the World Heritage List, as well as the archaeological site of the buildings and their compounds serving as both residence and government office that was the backbone of the political and administrative power in the region. In the surrounding area, in addition to the site
s of temple founded on pre-existing Buddhist thought that formed the basis for the Pure Land thought, there are also archaeological sites such as the manor that formed the wealth of Hiraizumi as the Pure Land, the workshops that were run with those wealth, and other sites. Among the important points in both the central and surrounding areas there are the existence of the remains of religious structures that were laid out deliberately, demonstrating a unique placement and construction intended to represent the Pure Land as a whole.
These component parts have been well maintained up to the present day, and as such Hiraizumi offers an exceptional example of a political and administrative center that embodies the Buddhist Pure Land.
Hiraizumi, as a representation of the Buddhist ideal world known as the Pure Land, took as its point of departure the ideals and design concepts of Buddhist temple architecture and gardens that had been transmitted from China and the Korean peninsula, as well as the ideals and design concepts of constructing political and administrative centers that originated in the ancient capital cities. These were fused with the unique Japanese sense of nature worship, and in that process, Buddhist thought (particularly Buddhist Pure Land thought) developed in a unique and influential manner that would create a new ideal and design concept upon which this political and administrative center would be constructed in the 12th century. It was created with the vast wealth accumulated by four generations of the Ôshû Fujiwara clan thanks to the abundant gold mining in the region and the exchange of cultural products that was being carried out across a broad region stretching from Southeast Asia to China and the Russian maritime region, and up to the northern seas. At the same time, it was constructed in a way that sought to incorporate the ever-changing natural topography, while achieving the Pure Land as the Buddhist ideal world.
The unparalleled layout and construction patterns of this political and administrative center that emerged in Hiraizumi would have an impact on the ideals and forms of future construction of Japanese cities.
Based on a form of religious-based administration, a unique culture flourished in Hiraizumi in both the central and surrounding areas of the political and administrative center that directly reflected the political ideals of the statesmen. This was expressed in the temples, gardens, residence-offices, and other related buildings that were built as the manifestation of ideals of governance that relied on Buddhism rather than on military might—as symbolized by the fact that the creators of Hiraizumi, the Ôshû Fujiwara clan, were entombed within the Amidadô (Amida hall). Many of the elements necessary for understanding the ancient culture are maintained in good condition even after the downfall of the Ôshû Fujiwara at the end of the 12th century, and these elements make the property unparalleled testimony that Hiraizumi was a political and administrative center built with the aim of realizing the Pure Land as the Buddhist ideal world.
Within the global religion and thought of Buddhism, Pure Land thought played an important role in developing a unique perspective on life and death in the Asian region, and this is also strongly reflected in the construction and layout of Hiraizumi as a political and administrative center that was built with the aim of realizing the Pure Land as a Buddhist ideal world here on earth.
As seen from the above, the cultural heritage of Hiraizumi is the property of an important political and administrative center that was formed as the result of an interchange of values among the peoples of East Asia, and it remains as testimony of the effort to create the Pure Land as the Buddhist ideal world here on earth. In addition, underlying the creation of this unparalleled political and administrative center that sought to achieve the Buddhist Pure Land here on earth was the global religion and thought of Buddhism. Accordingly, the property possesses Outstanding Universal Value and is thus significant in terms of the balance and representativeness of the World Heritage List.
Criterion (ii) The cultural heritage of 12th-century Hiraizumi shows how the concepts of Buddhist temple architecture and gardens that were conveyed along with the Buddhist religion from China and the Korean Peninsula, as well as the ideals and design concepts of political and administrative centers that originated in the ancient capital cities, evolved as they interacted with Japan’s characteristic form of nature worship belief. It also shows how that developed as a result into not only Japan’s unique Buddhist temples and gardens, but also the concepts, design
, and layout of its political and administrative center. The foundation for that was the abundant gold mining in the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshû, the exchange of cultural products that was being carried out across a broad region stretching from Southeast Asia to China, the Russian maritime region, and the northern seas, and the vast wealth accumulated as a result. This exceptional example of a political and administrative center created with the aim of realizing the Pure Land as the Buddhist ideal world on earth would continue to have a lasting impact on the concepts and forms of Japanese cities.
Criterion (iii) Hiraizumi witnessed the flourishing of a unique culture of outstanding quality. Although the leaders were samurai, they applied religious criteria, and their political ideals of trying to create a Buddhist Pure Land in the present world were reflected in the development of the central and surrounding areas of their political and administrative center. The fact that the Ôshû Fujiwara clan sought to realize a Buddhist-based governance ideal is reflected in the temples, gardens, residences, and other structures they built, as well as in the unique form and construction of the cluster of buildings that formed the political and administrative center. The downfall of the Ôshû Fujiwara clan at the end of the 12th century brought an end to Hiraizumi’s role as the political and administrative center in Japan’s northern territories, and subsequent developments did not bring about any large-scale changes. As a result the various elements that are critical for understanding the culture that flourished there have remained in excellent condition. They totally bear testimony of the culture of Hiraizumi, as a place established with the aim of achieving the Pure Land as the Buddhist ideal world.
Criterion (vi) The cultural heritage of Hiraizumi unquestionably represents the diffusion of Buddhism throughout the broad Asian region and, within that context, the fusion of Buddhism with Japan’s indigenous ethos of nature worship and the unique development in Japan of the ideas of Amida’s Pure Land of Utmost Bliss. The layout and construction of the cluster of component parts symbolize the fact that the political and administrative center at Hiraizumi was constructed with the aim of achieving a Buddhist Pure Land in the present world.
The component parts of this political and administrative center that form the Pure Land as a Buddhist ideal world include not only the currently existing temple compounds and gardens but also the underground archeological remains that have been confirmed through decades of excavations, and thus the authenticity of all component parts is clear. Also, in terms of the historical record showing that the political and administrative center of Hiraizumi was built with the intention of achieving a Pure Land as a Buddhist ideal world, strict study have been made and the authenticity of the content of the description is solid.
The property includes all temples and gardens in diverse forms that give concrete expression to the creation of a Buddhist Pure Land. At the same time, it includes all component parts essential to the site as a political and administrative center built to reflect Japan’s unique Buddhist thought while at the same time achieving a Buddhist Pure Land. Each component part contains the necessary scope to serve as elements expressing the property’s nature as a political and administrative center that sought to express the Pure Land as a Buddhist ideal world. All component parts have been preserved in good condition. The surrounding environment is also well maintained and plays a supplementary role in recognizing the Pure Land of Hiraizumi as a Buddhist ideal world.
Among the political and administrative centers in the Asian region that were strongly influenced by religious thought and are currently on the World Heritage List, those related to capital cities include the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” (Japan), “Gyeongju Historic Areas” (South Korea), and “Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa” (China), while “Kamakura, Home of the Samurai” and the “Asuka-Fujiwara Archaeological Sites of Japan’s Ancient Capitals and Related Properties” are included in the Japan’s tentative list.
Among these properties, there are none that are similar to the Hiraizumi cultural heritage in that the layout of the Buddhist temples and gardens, tombs, and residence/offices are positioned in the central area in such a way as to express the manifestation of the Pure Land based on a unique Buddhist thought that developed in that location. Nor are any similar in that the relevant facilities in the central and surrounding areas were deliberately positioned to create an overall manifestation of the Pure Land as a Buddhist ideal world.