Reframe Japan, Wabi-Sabi


What is Zipangu

Zipangu is an island located in the Far East, in the Pacific Ocean, which was described in the Book of the Marvels of the World, in English commonly called The Travels of Marco Polo, describing Polo's travels through Asia between 1271 and 1295, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan. Zipangu is considered as Japan.

In the book, Zipangu is introduced as follows: “People on the Island of Zipangu (Japan) have tremendous quantities of gold. The King’s palace is roofed with pure gold, and his floors are paved in gold two fingers thick." So, Europeans believed that “Zipangu" was a land of gold, and Columbus later sailed across the Atlantic in search of it.

Currently, Japan has not been the source of a large proportion of the world's gold supply, However, in the Heian period (平安時代 Heian jidai) which is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185, Japan was plenty gold-mining country. By the wealth from gold mining, Northern Fujiwara clan succeeded the semi-independent from Kyoto and created a capital city, Hiraizumi, in what is now Iwate Prefecture. Hiraizumi served as an important political, military, commercial, and cultural centre.

Fujiwara no Kiyohira who was the founder of the Hiraizumi or Northern Fujiwara dynasty built the large temple complex known as Chuson-ji. The first structure was a large pagoda at the very top of the mountain. In conjunction with this, he placed small umbrella reliquaries every hundred meters along the Oshu kaido(奥州街道)decorated with placards depicting Amida Buddha painted in gold. Other pagodas, temples and gardens followed including the Konjiki-do, a jewel box of a building intended to represent the Buddhist Pure Land and the final resting place of the Fujiwara lords. Konjiki-do is covered with gold leaf on both the interior and exterior and it is regarded as status symbol of power and financial ability of Northern Fujiwara clan.

It is thought that the story of "Zipangu", a land of gold, is from Hiraizumi's prosperity by Northern Fujiwara clan.

The name of "Zipangu" is taught with The Travels of Marco Polo in the world history class in junior high school and/or high school in Japan. So, I believe that Japanese know the name of Zipangu very well. However, from the perspective of mid-forties, Zipangu is very well known by Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation, a role-playing video game. Form the game, and also the image of a land of gold, Zipangu leave an impression as exotic, unique, secret and something special.


The photo is not Chuson-ji Konjiki-do but Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan.