Mon, Sep 14, 2020
Japan’s beauty in the eyes of CIRs
The grave of Hirayama Sueshige was designated as cultural property by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government on March 4, 1936. The grave is currently located at Soinji temple in Hino, Tokyo.
Interestingly, the grave ‘outlived’ the Buddhist temple that originally housed it, Daifukuji. Persecution of Buddhism ran rampant during the Meiji Restoration, bringing Daifukuji to an unfortunate end in 1873. Many important features of the temple, including several related to its assumed founder Hirayama Sueshige, were saved and relocated to another nearby temple: Soinji.
Ironically, though Meiji era destruction of Buddhist sites had roots in nationalist sentiments, the style of Buddhist headstone used over Sueshige’s grave is believed to be uniquely Japanese. Sueshige’s grave, like many other Buddhist graves across Japan, is marked with a type of stone pagoda called a gorinto. Gorinto represent the Five Elements of esoteric Buddhism in a stack of five stone rings which symbolize earth, water, fire, air and void from bottom to top.
Hirayama Sueshige’s grave is also interesting in the historical figure it remembers. Born in the twilight years of the Heian period, Sueshige would play a part in the rise of a new political rule – the Kamakura shogunate.
The stage is set in Kyoto with the Hogen Rebellion of 1156, in which the newly crowned Emperor Go-Shirakawa defends his throne from political rivals with aid from two clans believed to be imperial branch families: the Minamoto and the Taira. Hirayama Sueshige, a young warrior from the Musashi province (modern Tokyo), fights on behalf of the new emperor in the army of Minamoto no Yoshitomo. Go-Shirakawa emerges victorious and passes the hard-won imperial position to his eldest son, cementing his own influence over Japanese politics as a cloistered emperor.
Following the rebellion, Sueshige becomes an imperial guard, a position which earns him the title “Musha-dokoro.” Meanwhile, a feud brews between the once-allied Minamoto and Taira clans, rivals in political weight. The two clash in 1159, and while Sueshige again fights under Yoshitomo, the Minamoto are devastated by Taira forces. Yoshitomo is killed, his young son Yoritomo is banished, and Sueshige is believed to have traveled home to Musashi.
While the Taira seized incredible influence over the imperial court in the following years, hope remained for the Minamoto. In 1180, roughly 20 years after his exile, the adult Yoritomo begins gathering forces to settle his score with the Taira clan. Still loyal to the Minamoto, Sueshige quickly joins. Sueshige proves to be a formidable warrior in the civil war that ensues; both The Tale of the Heike and Azuma Kagami tell of Sueshige’s military accomplishments, and Yoritomo is said to have personally praised his skill.
After five years of combat, the Minamoto forces overthrow the Taira. The toddler emperor backed by regent-like Taira advisors dies during the war, leaving cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa free to award Minamoto head Yoritomo various political powers. In 1192, Yoritomo is imperially granted the title of shogun and establishes the Kamakura shogunate. According to Azuma Kagami, the Kamakura shogunate’s written chronicle, Hirayama Sueshige became Yoritomo’s vassal in the same year and was chosen to perform a prestigious birth ritual for Yoritomo’s son Sanetomo, who would later become the third Kamakura shogun.
In his later years, Sueshige is said to have devoted himself to Buddhist faith before passing away at age 73 in 1212.
Today, over 800 years after Hirayama Sueshige’s death, he is still a source of pride among locals in his homeland of Hirayama, now a district of present-day Hino, Tokyo. While the Hirayama district is sometimes erroneously believed to take its name from the medieval warrior, it was actually Sueshige whose name came from the area’s. Each year, residents of Hirayama celebrate Sueshige as a local hero in the Hirayama Sueshige Festival. The event is particularly aimed at children, who don cardstock armor for a parade passing Soinji and Hirayama Sueshige’s grave.
Guests are welcome to visit the temple and grave year-round.
(Photos courtesy of Linnea Willing unless indicated otherwise)
(Cooperation: Council of Local Authorities for International Relations)
Linnea is a Southern Californian currently living in Tokyo, where she works as Hino city’s Coordinator for International Relations. In Hino, she has been writing about local history and events since 2017. She has been studying Japanese for over 10 years with a focus on translation, and also enjoys translating literature as a hobby.
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