Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Good To Go

Heritage Japan

A Ray Of Hope For Hirazium

A historic Japanese town expects World Heritage status to put it back on the tourist map,  by Justin Mccurry, executive summary by Darmansjah.

Northern Honshu’s earthquake hit Tohoku region has had precious little to celebrate in recent months. It was no surprise, then, that the people of Hiraizumi, a 900-year-old town near the disaster zone so enthusiastically welcomed UNESCO’s recent decision to designate their home a World Heritage Site. Locat tourist authorities are hoping that Hiraizumi’s inclusion on the list will boost visitor numbers and help the region regain its confidence.

shrine post, the path to the golden hall of Hiraizumi's hilltop Chuson-ji Temple 

Lying well inland, Hiraizumi escaped major damaged from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the east coast of Tohoku in March. But tourism slumped dramatically, as nervous visitors resisted the lures of its clusters of ancient temples and gardens-the physical expressions of the town’s  central place in 12th-century Japanese politics and its role in the spread of Pure Land Buddhism.

sake barrelss at the entrance to a nearby shrine

Founded in the late 11th century by Fujiwara no Kiyohira, Hiraizume was partly intended  as a contemplative retreat for the warlord and his family after a lifetime engaged in bloody battle. As headquarters of the powerful Fujiwara clan, however, the town cam to rival Kyoto in grandeur and size. At the peak of its influence in the 12th century, Hiraizumi’s population numbered in tens of thousand; today, it is a far more manageable 8,500.
Hiraizumi’s golden age lasted for nearly a century, and while the Fujiwara clan’s decline-as well as two huge fires-saw the destruction of much of what they had built, enough remains of the original town to make an immediate impression on visitors.

The place is small enough to walk around over the course of a couple of days, along paths lined with centuries-old cedars and an embarrassment of architectural riches, from the glass-encased Konjikido (Golden Hall) at Chuson-ji temple to Motsu-Ji temple and its serene gardens. At every turn there are examples of planning and building techniques borrowed from China and Korea, inspired by a desire to create an earthly version of the heavenly utopia envisioned by the followers of Pure land Buddhism.

“Despite its ancient beginnings, Hiraizumi has relevance in today’s world,” says Chusonji’s executive director. “It’s about peaceful co-existence among all living things. The news about the World Heritage status is like a bright ray of hope for us.”

According to local officials, the expected influx of new visitors will be able to tour the town’s historic sites by minibus and velotaxi, some with “storyteller” drives behind the wheel. But most will probably want to survey the landscape and seek out its cultural treasures on foot, just as Hiraizumi’s founders did almost a millennium ago.

For more information, visit the Hiraizumi Tourism Association’s website at hiraizumi.or.jp

 hiraizumi station

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