Friday, March 8, 2013

Tohoku Culture Paper 1: Hiraizumi

Here is my first paper from the Tohoku Culture Class I took during the winter semester. This paper was not that bad. Therefore I decided to put my whole paper online without the sources. For this paper, I had visited Hiraizumi.
Hiraizumi is a town located in the rural part of Japan known as Nishiiwai District, Iwate, Japan. Hiraizumi is known for being the home of the Fujiwara clan: Japan’s most powerful clan. During the Heian period, it had rivaled the wealth and culture of Kyoto, Japan’s capital during that time. Unfortunately during 1189, the town of Hiraizumi was attacked by soldiers of the man that would become Japan’s first shogun Minamoto Yoritomo. After the town was attacked, a lot of its historical buildings were destroyed and Hiraizumi was no longer a super power that could rival Kyoto anymore. The Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō had visited Hiraizumi during 1689 and wrote a haiku (Japanese poem) about Hiraizumi’s former glory. 

The summer's grass
'Tis all that's left
Of ancient warrior's dreams

When he had visited Hiraizumi, he wrote down those words above. These words comes from Basho’s text called “Oku no Hosomichi.” At the time of the writing, he was reflecting on the tragedy of how Hiraizumi was once a prosperous town many years before and how the city has become of shell of its former self. After the events of the Fujiwara clan, Hiraizumi had become a relic of the past. Part of the tragedy is because of the warrior Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune was exiled by his brother, Japan’s first shogun, Yoritomo. Yoshitsune had then traveled to Hiraizumi to seek protection from the Fujiwari clan only to be betrayed by a member within the Fujiwara family. Since that day, Hiraizumi had lost its glory, and it seems like the town of Hiraizumi was waiting for something to happen so that people could visit Hiraizumi again.

Recently I was able to visit Hiraizumi for a class field trip for JAS 435 also known as Exploring Tohoku Culture at Akita International University. At Hiraizumi, I was able to visit some of Hiraizumi’s famous sightseeing destinations such as the Bishamon Hall, the Golden Hall, and the stone carving of Buddha. Based on what I have read from the website Japan-Guide after attending this field trip, I learned that Hiraizumi’s two major festivals are the Floating Poetry Festival on the forth Sunday of May, and the Longevity Dances on January 20. Out of the two major festivals, I was able to see the Longevity Dance on January 20, 2013. For the Longevity Dance, men wear only a loin cloth and head band at night and carry a big piece of lumber with fire on top for about 400 meters taking turns to the hold the piece of lumber as they walks towards a shrine. Once all of the men reach the shrine, the priests at the shrines gave away free mochi to the audience in order to celebrate the New Year. Below is a video of men participating at the Longevity Dance.

It was interesting to watch the performers perform during the Longevity Dance because despite these men wearing barely any clothing at a temperature that is about close to zero degrees, these men managed to walk about 400 meters while carrying a big piece of lumber that was burning with fire at the tip of the lumber. I could imagine the amount of effort these men have dedicated to this festival both mentally and physically as they make a long journey from opposite sides of the park. These men were very committed to maintaining the spirit of the festival which is to help this town regain its former glory. Therefore all of their movements were synchronized with each other when they took turns passing the fire. While watching these men, like many others at the festival, I envied their will power and was amazed how there was a huge crowd of people following these people after all of the performers had managed to pass through the gate.

Participating in the mochi catching portion of the festival after the performers had made it to the shrine was also an interesting experience because people were so eager to catch the mochi that they seemed like fish waiting to be feed. As fish, everyone that was interested in catching the mochi had become a part of a massive crowd of people that were waiting to receive their mochi from their shrine. During this part of the festival, people would call out in English or Japanese to the people at the shrine to throw the mochi towards their direction. Once the mochi was thrown, the people would scramble with each other to get their mochi. I was at the back of the crowd so it was difficult for me to receive mochi. Thankfully the people at the shrine had thrown mochi to what may have seemed like almost everyone that was a part of the crowd, so despite waiting for a while I was able to finally receive mochi.
Mochi I had caught from the Festival
Besides the festival, at Hiraizumi, I was able to see the Bishamon Hall, the Golden Hall, and the stone carving of Buddha. Before going to the festival at night, I had walked around the area visiting multiple sight-seeing locations during the day with my class. At the Bishamon Hall, I was able to go inside of it and notice the Buddhist Statues. I could also see people’s wishes written on wooden supplication boards (ema). According to the brochure manual I had received after arriving at Bishamon Hall, the building that I was in was remade four times already. The previous four buildings of the Bishamon were destroyed by fires. Before the building was burnt down, there were at least 108 statues of the war god Bishamondo. Bishamon Hall was named after the war god Bishamondo by Sakanoue no Tamuramaro in order to celebrate his victory over the warloard Akuro Takamaro.

Nearby the Bishamon Hall, I think I could see the Ganmen Daibutsu. According to the pamphlet that I received, the Buddha statue was carved by Minamoto no Yoshiie possibly during the Muromachi era. This is one of Japan’s most well-known Buddha statues and it is known as the Northern Rock Buddha. Below is a picture of what I think may be the Ganmen Daibutsu. Although the bottom of this statue was destroyed by an Earthquake during 1896, the head remained. Looking at the statue, it reminds me of one of the three main values of Buddhism: renunciation. Despite the amount of damage this statue has received over the years, a portion of this statue continues to exist for future generation: thus enduring the greatest obstacle encountered which is time. In addition, when I look at this statue, it seems that the Buddha is looking down at Hiraizumi like a watchful guardian trying to make sure that the people of Japan are safe.

The last place of significance I remember at Hiraizumi was the Golden Hall. According to the pamphlet, the original Golden Hall was burnt down in 1490, and then another building was repurposed as the Golden Hall until the end of the Meiji restoration. The current Golden Hall was completed in 1996 after being started at 1987. The whole building is made out of gold and it was made using traditional Japanese techniques. Like the Bishamon Hall, there is a statue of Buddha inside. This Buddha is meant to deal with anything that people may be worried about. This Buddha is like a healer because those that come to this temple and offer their respects to this Buddha may be cured and have a healthier and longer life. In addition, the whole hall is covered in gold which is significant because in psychology, gold is the color of the success and wealth. Therefore this place is not just a wealthy place filled with tangible items, but also a place filled with a lot of wisdom for those seeking advice from the great Buddha.

Although it is possible that the town of Hiraizumi may never be able to return to its former glory, Hiraizumi is a town that is both culturally and historically significant. Hiraizumi is the home of the Fujiwara clan. It is also the home of Japan’s historical locations which are the Golden Hall and the Bishamon Hall. At Hiraizumi, people may visit the Buddhist statues at this location and pray the Buddha or come to the Buddha for any problems they may have. At Hiraizumi, the Buddhist statue will always be watching those that enter and leave Hiraizumi regardless of their belief or character traits. At Hiraizumi, the people dance with great pride despite the coldness from the snow at the Longevity dance. It is here at Hiraizumi where outsiders and locals can enjoy the mochi that is passed around. Perhaps someday, Hiraizumi can be restored to its former glory, and no longer be just a warriors dream.

"Four Seasons in Japan." : Hiraizumi. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.
"Fundamentals of Buddhism: Life of the Buddha." Fundamentals of Buddhism: Life of the Buddha.
N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.
"Hiraizumi Guide." JapanVisitor. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.
"Matsuo Basho and "Oku No Hosomichi" | Gikeido (Yoshitsune Hall) in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture." Matsuo Basho and "Oku No Hosomichi" | Gikeido (Yoshitsune Hall) in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013
"The Rise of Fujiwara No Kiyohira." Main. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.
"Understanding the Meaningof Colors in Color Psychology." Meaning of Colors in Color Psychology. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.