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Ode to Heian-Kyo: Esashi Fujiwara

There are many very important periods through out Japan's long and illustrious  history.    Far too exhaustive of an account of history for me to cover on a blog, so what I will attempt to do is unfairly... condense down a couple of periods in order to highlight the theme of my post.    Before you read this though,  I highly recommend reading a post I did up on Nara.   It is well worth the read.

The periods listed above are perhaps the most significant periods historically after Kofun in the evolution of the Japanese soul and identity.  Prior to Nara, many ordinary Japanese, including the Ebisu or Emishi tribes of northern Honshu, were somewhat illiterate and had no unifying linguistic fingerprint, save the monks, the nobility and descendants of the Samurai class.     It wasn't until the Heian period that the Japanese language and writing system became  standardized and unified, and then taught to ordinary people.  As a  result, by the time  Edo period was in full swing  a type of literate singularity  occurred where knowledge had spread rapidly throughout the rest of Japan, especially in the areas of technology, linguistics, and aestheticism - even Western ideals began to seep in..  

The marriage of the Shinto faith, the indigenous religion of Japan, and Buddhism, foreign religion, occurred  in the Nara period where human form was given to Shinto gods as Buddhist deities.  Buddhism was also deputized and used as a political arm to weed out foreign elements that sought to spread christianity.  The refinement of the Samurai class also had all undergone change during this time as well.   It was  truly the dawn of a new age for Japan and the subsequent birth of the spiritual essence of the Japanese race and nationhood.   That's Nara in a nutshell.

I don't thank the nation of China per se, for the Heian period,  but I do thank the Korean monks, the priest, and the Chinese Taoist of the Kofun illuminati for spreading this enlightenment from China, in spite of being poor themselves, and for enduring the hardships imposed on them for painstakingly preserving the ancient teachings, and often times in the face of adversity from other factions within China and Korea who only saw Japan as an extension of its territories in the East China Sea.  

         ("Ancient China wanted to posses Japan as an extension of its soverignty, not necessarily nationalize it, let alone enlighten it.  Enlightenment in the form of control, maybe.")

Again, the Heian and Nara periods are  very significant  points in Japanese history.   This post, however, will not be entirely about the Heian-kyo, or present-day Kyoto, but about another Heian-kyo, located deep in the far north of Japan in present day Iwate Prefecture of Tohoku.    Heian is a period in time and a place and is used  interchangeably from time to time in order to represent different ideas and eras. 

The Order of Succession is the most remarkable aspect of Japan's royal court.   It arguably has the oldest unbroken imperial lineage in the history of the world.    Second to China after Puyi, the last emperor of China, who was disgracefully dethroned and humiliated, and then driven into exile by his own people, which subsequently ended the royal line indefinitely - 5000 years of history.   This travesty plummeted the country into civil chaos which  ushered in an era of civil wars that eventually claimed the lives of untold millions of Chinese, and the destruction of priceless artifacts and royal heirlooms along with other cultural assets.   Japan wasn't about to make a similar mistake.   The Japanese court had served the interest of the military and was incredibly well trenched and elaborately intertwined  within  the political fabric of Japan, so much so that even retired emperors retained power and even their own private military.   

These retired emperors were called cloistered emperors because although they abdicated their thrones to their descendants, they still ran the country from behind the scenes, almost like a Madame Dowager, but more intelligently, and as a result supplanted the power of the Fujiwara-clans and other power families for the greater good of peace and unity.

Here in Japan, as enlightenment struggled to spread further north into the cold mountainous regions of Honshu,  deep in the hinterlands where strange warring tribes had ruled the rugged backbone of Japan's most pristine alpine preserve  tribes had existed; specifically the Emishi or Ebisu people.    These tribes resisted the rule of the Japanese emperors for centuries, which only proved  futile since many Emishi either sided with the emperor, or were married into clans that were pro-emperor.    As the royal court in Japan began to consolidate and reconsolidate its territories on the Japanese archipelago the north-east was practically the last frontier.   Morimoto was commissioned and ordered to bring down the warring tribes of the north and force them under the control of the emperor of Japan.   

      ("Japan had to unify from within in order to break away from China and Korea's influence.")

As destiny would see it, the warring clans eventually relented their territories and  Kiyohira, the first lord of the Oshu-Fujiwara clan was established in the north.  Kiyohira by the way was of mixed heritage.  

Esashi Fujiwara no Sato map. 

Esashi Fujiwara no Sato (Fujiwara Heritage Park) is a theme park built as a Heian period city. It is located in Oshu City, which is the birthplace of Kiyohira, the first lord of the Oshu-Fujiwara clan of mixed Japanese and Emishi heritage.

No English map online.   The layout 

Royal Court

This is Heian architecture at its finest.   What you want to remember is an architectural term in Japanese called shinzen zukuri, a type of structure resembling detached teahouses....i.e. could close off sections at a time for privacy.    These edifices were lavish and extravagant, and were  built for aristocrats and the nobility. 

Here's a post on a more authentic Japanese structure.

Once the nobility was firmly established in the north, Tohoku prospered greatly, especially from its ores, and precious earths.   

Seicho South Gate
The Fujiwara-clan lived lavishly and in opulence unprecedented in any other period and region of north-eastern Honshu in Japanese history.  It was capable of self containing itself without interference from others.    

Standing opposite side

Traditional Japanese structures weren't as brightly colored as what you see here in the top picture.  These bright red and whites were directly influenced by Kyoto and China.    Nara structures also resemble less gaudiness.  

This  is more inline with how traditional structures were in ancient Japan; plain wood.   Not imposing on the natural landscape. Simple, yet beautiful.

What you have to see in the evolution of a people is the coming together of a race and an identity from centuries of influence from China and Korea.  Japan has, in a sense,  woven together  the very best essence of Chinese and Korean culture into its own identity and  nationhoodand has successfully brought together the ancient teachings and knowledges of the Ages into its own doctrine.  

Heian period saw the flowering of true indigenous art  and literature; no longer influenced or copied from Chinese art.   Kana and hiragana were supplemented into the language and court women of this period did not learn Chinese per se, but a more Japanese ideograms.

Kiyohira Hall (Toyota Hall)
The royal court was splendid.   Traditional officialdom and the aristocracy were highly ordered and symbolic of the capital in Kyoto.    Courtly gentlemen of nobility feasted on sumptuous cuisines.

The Heian women were also known for their incredible beauty and sophistication.   They were well educated and highly literate in the arts.    The ideal beauty during the Heian period was a woman who had jet black hair, fair skin and shaved eyebrows; almost resembling the Tang period in China.   The women back then were portly and had chubby, yet small faces, unlike the wax figure in the picture who appears more anglo than Japanese.   Uncharacteristic of the Yayoi and Yamato women, too.

Heian Beauty

Walking down and around the corridors of  this great  heritage center forced me into introspection about my own heritage.   So many thoughts there.   What I do know is that I cannot endure court life.   Something about how you have to walk and appear before others, and the attention to detail.   Heian was a period filled with civil dictators who enjoyed virtual impunity for past transgression against other families,  and lived as though they didn't have to answer to anyone, all the while, at the same time, maintaining an air of order and civility like no other civilization in history.   

A story was once told  to me about the people of the north.   About how they have their own identity.  Sure, there's a national conscience  in Japan.    And then there's Nihonjinron(ism).   But here, in the far northeastern part of Honshu the people take on a more austere national conscience; a rugged and stubbornly beautiful people.   Reticent and resolute like the blisteringly cold winters across chapped lips and immovable faces.    

The whole city could've been burnt down to the ground, like this storehouse and still the unmovable faces of Tohoku  would've pressed on and continued on living and rebuilding.   Life goes on like the growth around it.  Life simply goes on.   Life finds a way amidst the newness of life.

Prayer had existed in Japan long before many of the Western religious figures were born, and the ancestors for ages have always recognized this and have passed it down from generation to generation.   Nature worship is older than Japan.   The ancient petrified  tree trunk is considered a god here in Japan.   The tassel along the top represents  a sacred boundary and beneath it is a prayer trough.  You drop a coin into it and do the ceremonial rites.   I love nature worship in the sense that the object you are praying to is real.    

Directions are below if you are interested in visiting here.   There are two course, a two hour walking course, or a 45 minute one.   I highly recommend the two hour walking tour.   I only covered less than half of the course.  

NameEsashi Fujiwara-no-Sato
Japanese PronunciationEsashi Fujiwaranosato
Address86-1, Iwayado Aza Konamaru, Esashi-ku, Oshu-shu, Iwate-ken
Phone Number0197-35-7791
Access15-minute drive from Mizusawa Esashi Station on the JR Line (free shuttle service available).
Price800 yen



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