The Influence of Chūsonji

With the opening of Masaka Shindō, Chūsonji was able to exert much greater influence over Honedera. From this time, temples and halls were dedicated, changing the village landscape overnight. Until that time, the religious center of the valley had been the Unane Shrine area, but when the Tendai Buddhist Sannō Iwaya was created in the mountains, it became the village’s religious center. Near the new village entrance at Masaki Shindō, a hall was dedicated to Ryōgen (also known as Gansan Daishi), an important tenth century chief abbot of Enryakuji Temple. Along the road is a cave called Fudō no Iwaya that appears to have been associated with religious mountain asceticism of the type associated with Tendai. Even more interesting is the “public works” project of relocating residents along the Honderagawa, installing mini-dams in the river, and having these villagers develop new paddy land along the riverside, as shown in the illustrated maps. Additionally, these Honedera residents were employed to create a much larger paddy area (called a tsukuda), which is pictured in Illustration 1 in the northwest of the village, divided into twelve sections. This paddy land was farmed by the villagers for Chūsonji; they worked without pay on these plots and what was produced was handed over to the temple as annual taxes. Notice that in Illustration 2 you can see the most impressive building in the entire village located next to this large paddy area. The map labels this the経蔵別當御休所, or the “(Chūsonji) Sutra Repository steward’s rest area.” This means that the superintendent of the temple’s most important facility—the equivalent at a university of the university library—was also the manager of the village. The Sutra Repository steward visited Honedera from time to time to check up on things, and when he did, he stayed in this building, the finest in Honedera.

An Influx of New Villagers

With Chūsonji’s increased power in the village came a wave of new inhabitants, and the village population became a hybrid of new and old.

3. List of villagers from 1318 (from documents preserved at Chūsonji). Click image to enlarge.

Take a look at Illustration 3, the list of villagers compiled in 1318. You can see a dozen or so names here, which matches quite well with the number of households depicted in the maps. What is important here is that there are two types of farmer listed here. First we have the type designated as田屋敷 (“tayashiki”). These were the original residents of Honedera, and were accorded a higher status as such. They paid their annual taxes to the temple in bonito, polished and unpolished rice, and seasonal goods. These farmers had families consisting of up to several dozen members.
The obito were the village leaders, and instead of paying taxes like the other residents they paid with a bolt of silk. There is also one resident listed who has run off to escape debt or some such predicament. In Illustration 1, the spot labeled在家跡 (“house site”) quite probably refers to the spot where this now-fled villager had his former residence. We can see from these records that in the early days the entire village was made up of four farming families and one obito household.
However, new residents are also listed. These include Satō Jirō, Renmeibō, Shirō Tarō, etc. This new group, clustered around the central river, were referred to as作田分 (tsukuridabun). They were considered of lower status than the original families, and paid their taxes as a group in fixed amounts of rice and gold. And while the original residents observed a tradition of delivering their annual taxes directly to the temple, which would in turn entertain them with drink, this ceremonial element of tax payment was eliminated in the case of the newer villagers.
For both groups, though, the tax burden was of equivalent value to approximately twelve times the rice consumed by a single adult male in a year—or to put it another way, enough to support twelve grown men for a year. Honedera’s villagers also paid for the various festivals of the temples and shrines, and brought millet, dried chestnuts, and (at the end of the year) firewood to the temple. In fact, this was the most important form of tax payment for mountain villages such as Honedera.
By 1318, the villagers were clearly divided into two groups: those original families from prior to Honedera’s takeover by Chūsonji, and those new families who entered after the village had become the temple’s estate. This bifurcation is clearly visible in the size, splendor, and location of the houses in these maps, which is quite fascinating.
However, by 1376 the distinction between the two types of villager was gradually disappearing, as can be observed in the use of在家 (“household”) to describe, with some subsidiary variation, all of the houses of the village.

Before and After Buddhism

To summarize, the arrival of Buddhism dramatically reshaped the village landscape, and this process can be witnessed in the extant materials we have examined thus far. However, we can also see preserved elements of the pre-Buddhist landscape of Honedera, including the obito, Unane Shrine, and kagikake. Buddhism swept through and reformed the rural villages of Japan across the archipelago—with the exception of a few pockets in places like southern Kyushu—in or around the twelfth century. Honedera is the only known example where both the pre- and post-Buddhist visages of the village can be examined.
Similar processes of Buddhification no doubt occurred in Korea, Vietnam, and probably throughout Asia, but this is the only example where the process of change is so clearly visible. This is an exceptionally important point going forward with the nomination of Hiraizumi to the World Heritage.
As I noted at the outset, Hiraizumi was the first example of truly Japanese city planning. When Honedera is included in the larger picture, we can also see the beginnings of the Buddhification of Japan’s rural villages. Together, Hiraizumi and Honedera bear witness to the original shape and landscape of Japan, both urban and rural. I urge you all to visit the Hiraizumi area to see for yourselves this remarkable combination.

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