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Real and Imagined

Real and Imagined

The Peak of Gold in Heian Japan

Heather Blair

ISBN 9780674504271

Publication date: 05/04/2015

During the Heian period (794–1185), the sacred mountain Kinpusen, literally the “Peak of Gold,” came to cultural prominence as a pilgrimage destination for the most powerful men in Japan—the Fujiwara regents and the retired emperors. Real and Imagined depicts their one-hundred-kilometer trek from the capital to the rocky summit as well as the imaginative landscape they navigated. Kinpusen was believed to be a realm of immortals, the domain of an unconventional bodhisattva, and the home of an indigenous pantheon of kami. These nominally private journeys to Kinpusen had political implications for both the pilgrims and the mountain. While members of the aristocracy and royalty used pilgrimage to legitimate themselves and compete with one another, their patronage fed rivalry among religious institutions. Thus, after flourishing under the Fujiwara regents, Kinpusen’s cult and community were rent by violent altercations with the great Nara temple Kōfukuji. The resulting institutional reconfigurations laid the groundwork for Shugendō, a new movement focused on religious mountain practice that emerged around 1300. Using archival sources, archaeological materials, noblemen’s journals, sutras, official histories, and vernacular narratives, this original study sheds new light on Kinpusen, positioning it within the broader religious and political history of the Heian period.


  • In giving us a micro-history of Heian religious practices at Kinpusen within a macro-history of early and medieval Japanese mountain religion, Blair has produced a magnificent work, one deserving a wide readership among those interested not only in mountain religion but more broadly in premodern Japanese religion, history, and politics as well.

    —Jonathan Stockdale, H-Net Reviews


  • Heather Blair is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

Book Details

  • 364 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center