Kuki Archives: Shichiyō

2017-07-20 14.26.21

A snapshot from the website “Kamon World”. The 2 kamon shown are the Shichiyo (on the left), and the Hidari Mitsudomoe (on the right).

It is not uncommon for wealthy families in the past to have a kamon1, or family crest, in Japan. The Kuki family is no different. On the site “Kamon World“, there is a page dedicated to the Kuki Family’s history. On this page are two kamon listed that are associated to them. The one with the 7 black dots is called “Shichiyō2”, which represents 7 illuminating objects in the sky.  The other kamon is called “Hidari Mitsudomoe3”. What do they mean, and how significant are these kamon? For today’s post I will elaborate on the Shichiyō kamon, it’s origin and symbolism, as well as explain its ties to the Kuki family. Please note that, despite the title, there won’t be *much* talk about the Kuki family like my previous posts, but should still be an interesting read.


First, let’s look at how the Kuki are tied to the Shichiyō kamon. There are stories that say that Kuki Yoshitaka1, the head of the Kuki clan and navel commander in the company of the fearless Oda Nobunaga during the late 16th century, would sail the seas and have the Shichiyō kamon raised high as his flag. Unlike the Hidari Mitsudomoe kamon which the Kuki house primarily uses to be recognized by, the Shichiyō is specifically associated with Yoshitaka, possibly indicating it’s use was soley by him. What’s the reason behind this? Earlier I mentioned the Shichiyō kamon’s association with 7 illuminating objects in the sky. Could it be that these objects were viewed as stars that one would see at night5? Could this be a symbol of luck while Yoshitaka and his crew sailed the seas at night and be guided safely to their destination? I personally have yet to find any info that states this to be the case. So, what we are left to do is investigate further the true meaning behind the Shichiyō, and its role in history.

Artwork of Kuki Yoshitaka, From Wikipedia.


Let’s get a proper definition of what the Shichiyō stands for. Translated, this means “Seven Luminaries”, as labeled in Chinese tradition. Shichiyō represents an ancient way of thought regarding life and its connections with 7 celestial objects high up in the sky. It’s recorded to have first been in use in Japan as early as the 9th century. Before going further with this, it is now important to take several more steps back and look much further into history, and see the roots of its conception. Warning, things get abit complicated due to the amount of references used from here on till close to the end. Just keep in mind that the information presented here on out pertains (either partially or fully) to the Shichiyō, one way or the other.

The idea of Shichiyō is believed to have several sources for its roots. One belief, which is mentioned in a book called “Gendai Koyomi Yomihodoki Jiten6”, is from Judaism, along with Christianity, especially when Christian travelers made their way through Central Asia. Another belief is that it came from the Romans and Greeks, from their concept called the “7 Planets”. Yet another idea is that it is comes from an ancient divination from Hindu called “Shichiyou Joisai Ketsu7”. The last point is a strong, concrete possibility, for this actually had great influence on another way of thought called “Inyo Gogyo Setsu8” developed in ancient China, which also plays as a basis for Shichiyō.


It is recorded that from the Kingdom of Qi (1046 BC – 221 BC) in China, an Onmyoji9 (Taoist priest) by the name of Zōu Yǎn10 (305 BC – 240 BC) developed the ideology called “Inyo Gogyo Setsu”. Looking at Inyo Gogyo Setsu, we must understand that it is the combination of two theories, which are Inyo and Gogyo. Inyo (commonly referred to as Ying Yang) is the belief that life is balanced by being in harmony with 2 forces, which are the In (Ying, dark) and Yo (Yang, light). As an example, this theory states that people have a light and dark side, (which fall under numerous labels such as good and bad, hot and cold, male and female, etc.) and must try never going to the extremes by being more of one side than the other.

The ideology of Gogyo follows a similar path where life and many aspects in our daily lives are related to 5 different elements, which are water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. Each of these elements have particular traits that, as an example, can be found in everyone and professions we specialize in, such as medicine and politics. As a form of checks & balance, the 5 elements can either support each other to “enhance” their benefits, or destroy each other as means to illustrate the death cycle, or military strategy.  Both theories are pretty old and unique in comparison to Western views, although both have made their way into Western culture, if by a small influence. Usually, those who are involved in some form of Asian-related studies or activities have come across both of these ideologies.

An illustration of the solar system. The 5 planets, along with their positioning in relations to the Earth, is pointed out in red.

Taking the concepts of Inyo and Gogyo, Zōu Yǎn redefines them through the symbolic representation of “7 heavenly objects of astronomy”, which consists of the sun (representing the concept of Yo), moon (representing the concept of In), and 5 planets (representing the 5 Elements) visible to the human eyes. These 5 planets, both with their English and Japanese titles, are the following: Kasei (Mars), Suisei (Mercury) Mokusei (Jupiter), Kinsei (Venus), Dosei (Saturn).

It was common in many ancient cultures to attach a sense of divinity to objects for many reasons, such as for the sake of superstition, religious beliefs, or for luck. The same can be said here. Below is part of this philosophy, taken from the book “Reki to Uranai no Kagaku11“.

  •  天地の始め渾沌とした中で明るく軽い気が陽の気とを作り火となる。
  • 暗く重い気が陰の気を作り水となる。
  • 天上では火は太陽となり、
  • 水は月となり、
  • これらが組み合わされて五惑星となる。
  • 地上では火と水から五原素が出来る。

Now, here’s my translation of the above text:

  • The beginning of the sky and earth comes from within chaos in the form of a bright, gentle energy. Becoming light (Yo) energy, it is made into fire.
  • The black, heavy energy becomes dark (In) energy, which then turns into water.
  • The fire that is up in the sky becomes the sun
  • The water becomes the moon
  • When these objects are joined together, they make up the 5 planets.
  • 5 chemical reactions take place when there is fire and water on the surface of the planet

The 5 chemicals are the elements. Each of the planets represent a specific element from the Gogyo, which is the following:

  • Kasei (Mars) = Fire
  • Suisei (Mercury) = Water
  • Mokusei (Jupiter) = Wood
  • Kinsei (Venus) = Metal
  • Dosei (Saturn) = Earth

These 5 planets are but one of many variations of the Gogyo developed in China12. This makes the Shichiyō a Gogyo Shisō13, or a “theoretical way of viewing life based on the Five Elements”. Due to its ties with the 5 elements, it is interrelated with, and can be interchangeable based on context and purpose, with other Gogyo variants.

Now that we have a clearer idea of the Shichiyō’s conception, let’s turn our attention to its arrival in Japan.


Around early 800s, a Buddhist by the name of Kuukai14 (774 – 835) returned home to Japan after spending some time in China as an envoy for the Emperor. He brought back with him a Chinese text called the Shukuyōkyō15. Within this text are passages on fortune telling through astrology. This contains 2 components, which are the 28 positions of the Constellations, and the 7 Luminaries. These components worked in a pattern that, based on specific factors, (i.e. time, day, direction, etc.) one’s moments of good luck, bad luck, and everything in between can be determined.

Since almost everything from China was viewed with value at the time, the Shukuyōkyō was adapted in the life of the educated, wealthy, and powerful in the growing civilization of Japan. Early written records from the Imperial Court indicate it was used in what is called the “Guchūreki16” during the Heian period (794-1185). The Guchūreki was a year-based almanac in the form of 2 scrolls, each with 3 parts consisting of the following (partial listing):

  • Day (日付)
  • 12 Zodiacs + 5 Elements (干支)
  • 12 Signs of one’s Fortune (十二直)
  • Chants (納音)
  • 24 Stages of Weather (二十四節気)
  • 72 Climates (七十二候)

As one can guess the Guchūreki is very complex, and takes a good amount of practice in order to understand it correctly. Many other forms of almanacs as a source of fortune-telling were created throughout the history of Japan, such as the “Jōkyōreki17“, and “Tsuitachine Getsuyō18“, each with their unique method. Eventually, from the Imperial Court, other groups such as those of religious & esoteric practices (i.e. Buddhism and Mikkyo) adapted this, as well as those of martial and military background. As Japan became more modernized, common people also gained access to this source of fortune-telling as well, through a 1-year daily calendar (more on this later).

An example of the Jōkyōreki. From Wikipedia.

Note that throughout the years since its initial use, the components for learning one’s fortune changed numerous times. These changes became more evident when much more focus was placed on just the Shichiyō, as the next wave of almanacs were steering away from the more complex processes. This is especially evident with the Jōkyōreki, which was developed by Shibukawa Shunkai19 around the late 1684. Much more concise, he refocused the concept of the fortune-telling almanac styled after the methodology of Taiin Taiyō Reki20 (the sun and moon were prioritized for prediction), which was the current trend found in the Chinese almanac called Jujireki21 at the time. The Jōkyōreki was structured around the revolution cycles of the sun and moon, and the seasons in accordance to this. The necessary components of fortune-telling were coordinated with the sun-moon-seasonal cycles,  such as the 5 Elements. Despite its foreign influences, the Jōkyōreki was very much a Japanese invention designed for use in accordance to Japan’s astrological and seasonal conditions.


Eventually, the Jōkyōreki was replaced22 with a much more user-friendly calendar that incorporated the days of the week.  At some point during the Meiji period (1868-1912), when the Japanese calendar followed suit with other countries and adopted the 7-day week cycle23, the calendar had each day noted systematically with information such as the sun and moon phases, the type of fortune one would have for that particular day, and other related information. The Shichiyō was, conveniently, attached to this calendar, mostly by name. To be more specific, each of the 7 astrological objects were used to name each day of the 7-day week, while the title ‘Shichiyō’ became a reference for this. Today the Shichiyō is still used as an annual calendar in Japan, most containing the present year, the past year, and the next year. It is similar the same way that calendars are used in the West, but with extras.

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Here’s a screen capture of the Japanese calendar on my phone, called “Hi Mekuri”.  Lots of information, including the moon phase, temperature, when both the sun and moon will be visible, and important dates. Different fortunes are also listed based on which fortune-telling method you prefer. For example, according to the “Old Calendar” (the one in purple font), today’s prediction is “senkachi” (前勝). What this means is “anything done during the day will be successful, but if you wait until the evening time it will be doomed for failure”.


This sums up the history behind the Shichiyō. As a representation of 7 astrological objects, and used for predicting one’s fortune, the 7 dotted kamon may have been viewed as symbolic for good luck. Whatever the reason it may have been, Kuki Yoshitaka saw value in the Shichiyō kamon. Look out for a future post regarding the Hidari Mitsudomoe kamon, and learn what significance it had for the Kuki family.

1) 家紋

2) 七曜. This is also called Nanatsu Boshi (7つ星), also having the same meaning.

3) 左三つ巴

4) 九鬼嘉隆

5) Interesting, in China there is a phrase called “Hokuto Shichisei” (北斗七星), which refers to the Big Dipper (aka the Plough). Note that this is completely different from the Shichiyō, and that the Shichiyō kamon doesn’t make any references to the Big Dipper.

6) 現代こよみ読み解き事典. This is compiled by Okada Yoshirō.

7) 七曜壌災決

8) 陰陽五行説. Inyo (陰陽) is Ying Yang in Chinese, while Gogyo (五行) is Wu Xing in Chinese.

9) 陰陽師

10) 鄒衍. Pronounced “Sūen” in Japanese.

11) 暦と占いの科学. Written by Nagata Hisashi.

12) Examples of other variants include the following: 5 Tastes (五味), 5 Festivals (五節), 5 Divinities (五神), 5 Organs (五官), 5 Virtues (五德), 5 Directions (五方). It should be stated that, while 5 points of references are in each of these examples, it is not as literal as one would think. Sometimes an extra point of reference is added just to add up to the concept of “5”. For example, 4 Divinities (mythical creatures, well associated with direction or position) is commonplace in Asia, but in the 5 Divinities an “extra” is added, and that extra is different depending on the source. In another case, 4 Directions is commonplace for almost all cultures, but in the 5 Directions one’s starting point (that is, the center or mid point) is added.

13) 五行思想

14) 空海

15) 宿曜経

16) 具注暦

17) 貞享暦

18) 朔日値月曜

19) 渋川春海

20) 太陰太陽暦

21)  授時暦

22)  The Jōkyōreki is now referred to as Kyuureki, or ‘Old Calendar’ (旧暦). It’s added to most calendars in Japan, just as a reference.

23) At one point, A 6-day week calendar was used in Japan.

3 thoughts on “Kuki Archives: Shichiyō

  1. Pingback: Revisiting the Shichiyō through Takaharu – Light in the Clouds

  2. Thank-you Curtis for a very clear and helpful explanation of Shichiyou and Inyo Gogyo Setsu. I am pleased that your friends encouraged you to share your knowledge! I also write a blog about Japanese culture, through the lens of the elements. My most recent post on yinyang in Japan referred to Inyo Gogyo Setsu as well. You might like to read it at some stage at elementaljapan.com. Unlike you, I cannot read Japanese, so any advice or pointers you may have would be much appreciated. Best wishes, Jann Williams

    • Hi Jann. Thank you for the kind words! Writing has always been an interest of mine, but making them public was not something I would’ve ever imagined. I am happy I started thanks to encouragement from friends, as well as feedback from readers.

      I will definitely visit your page and read your blog! Although I have learned much on Inyo Gogyo setsu over the years, I am far from a professional on the topic. Still, If there’s any tips of feedback I can give to you, I will gladly do so. Good luck with your blog as well!

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