"The full moon is so perfectly round, it is as though this world is my world." Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027), the most famous regent of Heian Japan, composed this poem in 1018. For many Japanese, this renowned verse symbolizes the influence of this powerful statesman and the golden age of his court. Michinaga stood at the center of an epoch-making cultural milieu that witnessed the rise of various Japanese arts and the early efflorescence of women's literature, such as The Tale of Genji. At the same time, he lived in a period of social and political transition between the decline of the early ritsuryo legal system and the beginning of the medieval period. His was also a time of great spiritual unrest in which many believed the end of the Buddhist teachings (mappo, or the Final Dharma) drew near.
In the eighth month of 1007, Michinaga--at the time, the Great Minister of the Left (Sadaijin)-- made a pilgrimage to Mount Kinpu (now known as Sanjogatake in Tenkawa Village, Nara Prefecture) to bury a resplendent gilt bronze sutra container that held several scriptures written in gold letters on indigo paper that he himself had copied. For the Heian aristocracy, a pilgrimage to this sacred mountain, known as mitake mode (literally, "visit to the great peak"), represented an important religious act and a lifetime goal during the age of the Final Dharma.
During the Genroku era (1688-1704) of the Edo period, Michinaga's sutra container was excavated and his hand-copied scrolls discovered inside. A prayer consisting of over five hundred characters incised on the outer surface of the sutra container describes in detail the hopes that Michinaga placed in the scriptures that he copied, such as the Lotus Sutra, Amitabha Sutra, and Maitreya Sutra. Michinaga appears to have wanted to leave his own set of sutras for the arrival of the Future Buddha, Maitreya (J., Miroku), some 5.67 billion years later. His detailed description of the Kinpusen pilgrimage in his diary Mido kanpaku ki (Records by the Regent of Great Hall [Hojo-ji Temple]) tells us of his journey from the capital of Kyoto to the mountain. This year marks a thousand years since that momentous event. Michinaga's magnificent sutra container, as well as other offerings--such as decorative sutra cases, images of the deity Zao Gongen, and votive mirror images--were unearthed from the mountain Sanjogatake, which is also known as the Kinpusen Sutra Mound. Michinaga's pilgrimage and sutra offerings to the mountain have been highly regarded for setting the widespread precedence of erecting sutra mounds throughout Japan in the latter half of the Heian period. The Legacy of Fujiwara no Michinaga: Courtly Splendor and Pure Land Faith, which celebrates Michinaga's pilgrimage to Kinpusen, feature the relics and sutras from the Kinpusen Sutra Mound. The exhibition also presents approximately 140 works, including Heian court diaries by historical figures such as Michinaga himself, Fujiwara no Sanesuke (957-1046), and Fujiwara no Yukinari (972-1027), Chinese Song-dynasty Buddhist paintings, scriptures, and ceramics, Japanese Buddhist paintings and scriptures related to Pure Land faith and the concept of mappo, Heian-period decorative arts, Buddhist statues, other sutra mound relics from Kyoto and its environs, as well as eaves tiles excavated from Jomyo-ji and Hojo-ji, the temples Michinaga built. Explore the splendor of Michinaga's court and his faith in the Pure Land through historical and cultural artifacts from this dynamic period.