Part 10 of the series: Satoyama Concept in Fukui
The Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines of Japan have a special relationship to nature. Although their landscapes are managed, this is done in a very different way than Christian churches as there is a stronger natural element to them. In urban settings, the temples and shrines are refuges for nature, and in the countryside they often provide a glimpse into historical cultural landscapes.
Heisenji Temple in Echizen is the site of a medieval mountain temple that was traditionally the start of the ascent of Buddhist worshippers of the sacred mountain Hakusan. 200 hectares of land that the former temple stood on have been a designated Historical Site since 1935 and archeological excavation of the site is ongoing.
The temple was affluent and prosperous from the Muromachi period (室町時代/Muromachi jidai c.1337-1573) until the Warring States period (戦国時代/Sengoku jidai, c.1467-1603). It is believed that during this period, the temple rivaled major warlords in terms of its powers and boasted 8000 warrior monks and 6000 dwellings including 48 shrines and 36 temples. Sustaining such a large temple put a great strain on the local population who were taxed in order to maintain it. This led in 1574 to the Echizen Uprising by followers of the Honganji sect of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism and Heisenji was burned to the ground. The temple was rebuilt at a tenth of its former scale. As part of the 19th century Meiji government’s program of separating Shinto and Buddhism the temple name of Heisenji was abolished, and became Hakusan Jinja (shrine).
In addition to the fascinating history of the area, the remnants of the holy mountain path at Echizen are terrific for hikers. The holy site has beautiful ancient trees, many of whom are over 300 years old. Some of the trees have been designated as holy with shimenawa – rice straw ropes used in the Shinto religion. This reminded me of the camphor tree in My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ, 1988). My kids were delighted by the variety of flora and fauna, discovering cicada shells and even a live millipede. There was some concern that it might be an example of the millipede’s poisonous centipede cousin (mukade), but close examination of its legs reassured us that we were in no danger.
The Hakusan region is working towards gaining UNESCO World Heritage Site status under the title “Sacred Mt. Hakusan and the Cultural Landscape at the foothills of Mt. Hakusan.” Learn more about it here.
Hakusan Heisenji Temple Historical Museum Mahoroba
Tel. +81 779-87-6001
Fax. +81 779-87-6002
Museum opening hours: 9am to 5pm (last entry at 4:30)
Closed on Wednesdays and during the New Year’s holidays
Closed the day after a federal holiday.
Address: (Google Maps)
66-2 Heisenjichō Heisenji, Katsuyama-shi, Fukui-ken
For more information:
白山平泉寺歴史探遊館 まほろば, Katsuyama City website (JP only)
Historic Site: Former Temple Precinct of Hakusan Heisenji, Japanese Archaeological Association
Morimoto, Yukihiro. “Ecological Dynamics Of Urban And Rural Landscapes - The Need For Landscape Planning That Considers That Considers The Biodiversity Crisis In Japan”, Ecological Issues in a Changing World, 2004, pp 325-336 (link).