With the arrival of the New year, there is also a new Lunar year, which plays a significant part on the prospects people can look forward to…at least for those who follow it. For the last several years I’ve covered each new year, from the representative animal sign, to any historical details that may be important. This year, I will try something new. Along with the cultural background, there will be a short story regarding the 1st zodiac animal sign for this year.
YEAR OF THE RAT
For 2020, the Lunar Zodiac cycle has restarted completely back to the beginning of the Chinese Calendar, making it the year of the rat. Pronunciation for rat is “nezumi” in Japanese, while the kanji used to represent the lunar year is “子年”, which is pronounced “nedoshi” or “nezumidoshi”. While many have started acknowledging the new lunar year, keep in mind that, in accordance to the Chinese Calendar, this doesn’t start until January 25th.
The lunar zodiac sign “子” is attached to the rat both image-wise and in pronunciation only for the Lunar year; as with the other zodiac signs, this sign did not originally mean rat, nor was it supposed to be represented by an animal. Interestingly, when the Lunar year falls on the rat, one of the symbolism used is growth or fertility. The character “子” has a meaning of small child, so prospects for the year range from increase child birth, seeds growing into plants, to having an abundance in harvest. A word related to this is “nezumizan” (ねずみ算), which means multiplying in numbers. This year being the start of the 12-year lunar cycle could play a role in this.
Along with the 12 Animal Zodiac signs, there is the incorporation of the 10 Heavenly Stem, which is written with the kanji “十干” and pronounced “Jikkan” in Japanese. Some things to note:
Jikkan has also gone full circle within its 60-year cycle, and starts off with “甲”
甲 is pronounced “kinoe” in Japanese
In ancient times, 甲 meant 1st in the 10-year cycle, while other (more modern) meanings include “shell”, “armor”, and “insects”
Kinoe represents “light-metal”, being a combination of ying-yang theory and the 5 elements
Going hand-in-hand with the 12 animals, we get a pairing of “kinoe-ne” (甲子, metal-rat)
Accordingly, 2020 is marked as the 37th year of the Sexagenary (60) year cycle
2020 also receives the title “庚子”, which is pronounced “kanoe-ne” in Japanese. In English this stands for “Year of the White Metal Rat”.
TRAITS OF THE RAT
In terms of human qualities, the rat sign represents being shrewd with spending of money, which leads to good saving habits. For this year, it is advised to avoid being too stingy with money, and squandering it on useless things. On top of this, the rat attributes to being cunning & clever, have a good discerning eye for when situations are good or bad, and being able to live laid back and calm especially in solitude.
Outside of the Lunar calendar, here’s how the rat sign was used for conventional means:
Time = from 11 pm to 1 am (-1 hr due to daylight savings in the states)
Direction = north (360°)
Month = November (according to Japan’s old calendar)
Energy = light (yang)
Element = water
RAT TAKES THE LEAD ROLE
Today’s story features the rat as the star, with the cat being the critical co-star! Illustration from frame-illust.com
In order for the Chinese Lunar Zodiac to be appealing to the common people, the tale about animals coming together to represent the 12 years was used. Over the ages, the tale had different settings, although the outcomes were always the same.
For this post, I added one version of this tale, which centers the attention on the rat. It is a short tale, one that I translated from Japanese to English. The original source is from “Eto Jōhō Site” (干支情報サイト), which can be accessed here.
A long, long time ago at the dawn of time, the Heavenly God made an announcement to all the animals throughout the lands.
“As the world is greeted by the New Year, come all to my kingdom on the morning of New Year’s day. Whichever 12 of you who are the fastest here will be appointed as an animal commander, where each of you will represent one year according to the order of your arrival. ”
Upon hearing the announcement, each animal was very serious about this, with thoughts about being number one. They waited for New Year’s Day to come. It just so happened that the cat forgot which day they were to go to the Heavenly God’s place. The rat intentionally told the cat one day later than the appointed date, which the cat took at face value for the time, and happily went home.
When New Year’s day finally arrived, the ox thought to himself, “I should set out slightly early, since I do walk slow”. Making preparations while it was still late night, the ox headed out while it was still dark. The rat, who spotted the ox from the top of the ox’s shed, sprang up into the air and landed on the ox’s back.
With thoughts about wanting to be 1st as well, the rat pleasantly waited there, as the gates to the Heavenly Palace opened. Immediately it jumped down from the ox’s back, and scurried through the gates, making the rat the 1st to arrive. Following this, the order in which the animals arrived is the ox as 2nd, next the tiger, then the rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and boar (pig). As a side note, the cat arrived one day late to the Heavenly Palace, thus there are no good relations between the rat and the cat.
To this day, it’s believed that cats chase rats due to the grudge they bear from being deceived by that one rat.
With the prospects of this year being a prosperous one in terms of growth, let’s all do our best and end the year as winner, just like the rat did!
As many have heard by now, 2019 is the year of the pig according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar. A topic generally filled with auspicious predictions and deep meanings, I’ve follow the Chinese Zodiac for as long as a I can remember, for there is a lot to learn for anyone who’s interested in Asian culture and traditional/ancient practices. This time around, will pretty be much the same. For this post, I will cover the particulars regarding the pig sign, from its meaning, how it is used generally and systematically, as well as the standard prediction for this year. On top of this, I will also talk about how this year’s Zodiac sign and outlook is viewed in Japan, as there are some slight differences that should be pointed out.
IMAGE AND PREDICTIONS
Although it’s the new year, the Chinese calendar officially starts from Feb. 5th. From that date will communities that observe this change in the Zodiac year celebrate.
In Chinese culture, the pig represents wealth. In the past, where living conditions were very vast between commoners and nobility, those wealthy and living in healthy conditions were bigger in size. Thus, the chubby cheeks and big ears of the pig is symbolic of wealth.
According to the pig sign, great fortune is the outlook for 2019. While some sources say that it’ll be a lucky year for everyone, those born under the pig sign will have a rough year. To avoid downfalls, they will need to not overexert themselves; stress and troublesome matters are unavoidable, but the key point in handling these are to accept them but not get too caught up on them in order to move on. Taking part in others’ happy occasions in order to benefit from their luck is also advised.
Financially, predictions state it will be a prosperous year, both in earnings and savings. Along with this, much benefits can be obtained through establishing good relations with others. Overall, should be joyful year, and easy to attract successful relationships and friendships.
THE WORKINGS OF THE CHINESE CALENDAR
Now, for the technical aspect of this post. As mentioned before in previous posts on the same topic, such as “2017, Zodiac Calendars, and Roosters“, there are 2 components significant for the Chinese Calendar, which are the 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Animal Zodiacs (also called the 12 Earthly Branches due to association). Here’s some important points to keep in mind:
This year marks the last stage of the 12-year zodiac cycle
Also the 60th year in 60-year cycle that incorporates the combination of both the 12 Animal Zodiac signs + 10 Heavenly Stems.
The important components for this Zodiac year are in the label “earth-pig”, which is written as 己亥 and pronounced as “Tsuchi no to-I²” in Japanese. Based on the number of days in a given year, as well as how the years total up, we get this combination of Tsuchi no to (from the 10 Heavenly Stems) and I (pig sign from the 12 Zodiac signs).
According to the 10 Heavenly Stems, Tsuchi no to is an earth element of the dark energy¹. The single syllable I (pronounced like the letter “e”) is another pronunciation for the Zodiac symbol for pig. In actuality, it did not mean pig in its original conception; from ancient times, this symbol was a hieroglyph for “creature”, and is used in the makeup of certain kanji with the nuance of skeletal structure or shell. Outside of that, this symbol is used with the rest of Zodiac sign in ancient measuring and dating systems. Here are a few examples of what the pig sign represents in these different systems below:
Time = from 9 to 11 pm
Direction = north-northwest (330°)
Month = October
Energy = dark (ying)
Element = water
Based on auspicious beliefs regarding the yearly element being earth and the pig sign being a natural water element, it is said that this year will be especially beneficial to plants and flowers. This is due to the symbolism of earth and water being essential for growth of plant life, thus why it is predicted they will easily grow plentiful. If this is the case, we can take advantage of this for the sake of our environment, as well as for our homes (for those with a green thumb), and for business.
DIFFERENCES IN JAPAN
While throughout Asian (as well as in the West due to China’s influences) this year’s animal sign is viewed as a pig, only in Japan is this particular sign labeled as a boar. The differences lies in lifestyle and cultural viewpoints during ancient times.
For example, the kanji used throughout Asia to state “year of the pig” is “猪年³”. Japan also uses the same kanji, but there it is read “year of the boar”. This difference in animal is found in the character “猪”. In Chinese, the character for pig is “猪”, but in Japan it is read as “boar”. Interesting, boar is written as “野猪” in China, which has a literal translation of “wild pig”. Whereas pig is written with the character “豚” in Japan. This could be a case of linguistic differences based on the development of the Japanese language and culture throughout the generations, for Japan steered away from following suit in using the characters for both boar and pig are distinguished set forth by China.
Another simple explanation could be the role boars played hundreds of years ago during the period when the hunting culture was at its peak in Japan. Boars roamed freely in the fields, and were seen as formidable animals as they were very alert and would attack anything (including people) when felt threatened. One could say that the strength of a boar’s head-on charge was respectable even by hunters, and this influenced the use of imagery to describe characteristics in humans liken to the boar, such as “chototsu mōshin⁴” (head straight towards one’s goal), “choyū⁵” (unwavering bravery), and “ikubi⁶” (a person with a short neck like a boar).
Pic of “inochi mochi”, which is red bean filled mochi treats the shape of little boars.
This value of the boar goes even further through a few traditional practices and beliefs. For starters, there’s an ancient belief that the meat of a boar was medicinal and could help cure all types of illnesses. There is also a celebration in the western part of Japan called “Inochi no Hi⁷”. Taking place on October 1st (according an older calendar system once prevalent in Japan), townfolks would consume a mochi treat called “inochi mochi⁸”, which was shaped like a boar. This is usually eaten around 10 pm on the day, as a means to pray for such things like good health and prosperity for future descendants. Both practices are synonymous to the phrase “mubyōsokusai⁹”, which means to be free of illnesses and bad fortune.
BEGINNING OF THE END?!?
Here ends my little coverage on the Chinese Zodiac calendar and the sign of the pig for 2019. While trying to understand all the specifics, terminologies, and workings of this can seem daunting, in the long run it can be fun and informative. Let’s all look ahead and strive for a rich, healthy, and prosperous year!
1) The 10 Heavenly Stems, which is written as 十干 in Chinese characters (pronounced jikkan in Japanese), is made up of 10 hieroglyphs. Over the generations, they served various purposes, but in recent times are primarily used, in conjunction with the 12 Earthly Branches, as a system for keeping track of the 60-year cycle of the Zodiac calendar. These 10 hieroglyphs work with the 5 elements (earth, water, fire, wood, and earth) and ying-yang theory. This unique system categorizes 2 of the hieroglyphs sharing one of the 5 elements, with one being attached to light energy and the other dark energy.
2) Can also be pronounced as “ki-gai”.
3) Pronounced “inoshishi-doshi” in Japanese.
7) 亥の子の日. Meaning “day of the boar”, it is also a play on words, for “inochi” sounds like another word that means “life”.
This is the continuation of the discussion on the Hidari Mitsudomoe, one of 2 family crests of the main Kuki line. In part 1 the historical, cultural, and spiritual symbolism in relations the tomoe emblem in Japan, and Asia as a whole, was introduced. For this post, we will focus solely on the Hidari Mitsudomoe’s connection to the Kuki clan, from how it was possibly acquired to how it played a role within their own personal history.
APPEARANCES OF THE TOMOE
The Kuki clan’s main line has, for as long as it is known, been associated with this family crest. It is visibly shown in some of their works and activities. It may even appear on banners in public activities they take part in as well. While this crest is generally called “Hidari Mitsudomoe”, take note that there are actually 2 variations: one is a regular version, and another is a slimmer version called “Hosoi Hidari Mitsudomoe”. For the slimmer one, the 3 commas are much thinner, but still round out to make a proper circle. Is there any significant differences between the two? Other than appearances, possibly not.
These photos show the book “Kukishinden Zensho: Nakatomi Shintō, Kumano Shugendō”. 1st pic features the cover of both the book and its box dust cover. 2nd pic is of the back of both items. Note that on the back is the Hidari Mitsudomoe, which overlaps another emblem called “Jurokuyae Omotegiku”.
ACQUISITION OF THE TOMOE EMBLEM
While mentioned to be a family crest even within their own works, The Kuki clan have not put out much info regarding the source from where they acquired the Hidari Mitsudomoe. Actually they are not entitled to, especially since in today’s generation the use of family emblems do not possess the same weight as in the past. Piecing together possible sources of information on the topic takes a bit of work, primarily with historical documents that deal with cultural practices.
Fortunately, there are valuable sources that keep records on the numerous family crests used through Japan’s history, which explain detailed information from the meaning behind each one, to the families that are linked to them. Looking back at the roots of the Kuki family has given me an idea of the possible source of the family emblem in question.
The general consensus from sources regarding kamon history state that the Kuki clan are indeed hereditarily associated with the Hidari Mitsudomoe. One theory on this is based on the original roots of the Kuki clan. The founder of the Kuki clan, Kuki Ryūshin, originally bore the family name “Fujiwara”. The Fujiwara clan was a noble family of the imperial court. There are several Fujiwara lines to be exact, so to be more specific, it is said that he is a descendant of the Fujiwara no Takaie¹. Takaie was the 4th son of Fujiwara Kitaie², who belonged to one of the Fujiwara lines that used the Hidari Mitsudomoe as a family emblem. This is primarily because Kitaie’s family were worshipers of the deity Hachiman (god of war), and helped spread its influence throughout Japan with the construction of many small shrines. This theory tends to be the common and most feasible in Japanese sources.
Next, a point to consider is the connection between the Kuki family and their role within Shinto practices. For many generations they have served in Shinto shrines, from when their ancestors were still a part of the Fujiwara clan, to even after this when the Kuki clan established in Kuki Ura. If we look at when several members served as betto³ (chief administrative of a temple) for the Kumano Hongu Taisha, the perception of the tomoe with its spiritual connections and as a mark of protection was already in place at the time. Being the shinmon (deity emblem) of Kumano Hongu Taisha, the Hidari Mitsudomoe can be found all over this shrine. Another interesting point is that another emblem called “Jurokuyae Omotegiku⁴” (a type of Kikuka⁵ emblem) is also associated with this shrine. On top of this, the Kuki clan uses a combination of both emblems, with the Hidari Mitsudomoe overlapping the other. Apart from the association due to the connection with Kumano Hongu Taisha, I am not sure the reasoning behind using both emblem in such fashion.
Kuki Yoshitaka is generally mentioned in association with the Hidari Mitsudomoe. It’s stated that on such items like the back of his jinbaori⁶ (a special vest worn by a commander) and the flag of his large ships bore the Hidari Mitsudomoe mark. Other members of the Kuki clan also used this emblem openly. Of course, this was by those who inherited it or were granted permission to use it. Places where this can be seen at an abundance are where they had resided as land owners, such as Kuki Cho.
A pic of a miniature-scaled large battle ship “Nihon Maru” (日本丸). From the book “Kukishinden Zensho”.
A town in Kuki Ura after Kuki Ryūshin moved his family to reside there, Kuki Cho is an area where the Hidari Mitsudomoe saw great use. Apart from being used as a family crest, many old buildings within Kuki Cho are said to bear this crest along the eaves of roofs and sides of the walls. It is also found on grave sites of certain Kuki members as well. Due to their control over this area, it would make sense that they would express their presence in such manner. The same can be said in other places such as where Toba castle once stood (Toba, Mie Prefecture).
WRITINGS FROM THE KUKI
In the book “Kukishinden Zensho: Nakatomi Shintō, Kumano Shugendō⁷”, which is based heavily on the documentations kept in the care of the main line of the Kuki clan, features a page with a discussion on the Hidari Mitsudomoe. Other than stating much of the popular conceptions about this emblem explained in part one, this also contains views and insights about what it means to the Kuki clan itself. Below are a few excerpts from that page, with the actual Japanese text followed by my translations.
The page from the book “Kukishinden Zensho”, where the original Japanese text about the Hidari Mitsudomoe is taken from.
Incidentally, the triple 3-head left sided comma…is the family crest of the Kuki clan.
This kanji “巴” (ha⁸) is thought to be a hieroglyphic character representing the appearance of a snake or of such nature coiling upon itself. It’s also said to to be a character that symbolizes a whirlpool’s turning waters. As such, from this idea of “whirlpool’s water”, it was then used as an abumigawara (a roof tile consisting of a semi-cylindrical tile and a decorative pendant) for shrines and temples as a charm to ward off fire.
The 3 commas is thought to express (3-point) ideas such as heaven-earth-person (creation of all things), wisdom-virtue-valor (3 primary virtues), and the religious idea of “spirit–present-astral” (3 boundaries of the physical & spiritual realms). However, in the Kuki clan’s case, this is also found in the Shinto prayers to the grand kami of the Takamikura Jingu, a shrine that they also have a connection with….
The last point is key to understanding the significance of the Hidari Mitsudomoe to the Kuki clan, for it is very unique to them; the 3 commas are symbolic of Mihashira no Ookami⁹, or 3 grand gods pinnacle to the creation of all things within their version of shinto. There’s also connections to the term “mitsu no tomoshibi¹⁰” (3 guiding lights), which involves the rescue of Southern Emperor Godaigo, along with the 3 sacred treasures that were retrieved by and protected by Kuki Ryushin in the 1300s. However, despite these details explained in the aforementioned book, trying to understand the full gist of all this is a difficult task to undertake for many reasons, which will steer far away from this post’s main focus, which is on the Hidari Mitsudomoe.
We’ve reached the end of this topic regarding the Kuki clan’s use of the family emblem called Hidari Mitsudomoe. As mentioned from the 1st post, there is much history regarding the tomoe emblem, let alone the Hidari Mitsudomoe. The same can be said with the Kuki clan due to their religious background and beliefs. I hope that touching upon different aspects of this has helped to get an understanding its relationship with the Kuki clan, and why it would be used as their kamon. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more!
1) 藤原隆家. The “no” part is generally omitted in written form, but said verbally.
4) 十六八重表菊. This is considered an imperial emblem.
7) 九鬼神伝全書中臣神道熊野修験道. Written by Agō Kiyohiko (吾郷清彦), an associate to the main line of the Kuki clan who was given the task of reviewing & archiving their many documents.
8) “Ha” is another pronunciation for tomoe. This is onyomi (non-native Japanese reading) for this kanji, and is shown that to be so as it is written in katakana, which is one of Japanese’s writing styles and can indicate words that are foreign.
There are some unique and unusual things in Japan that are not normally seen or talked about, especially those that are old & have a long history. For example, in a few posts in my blog I discussed about tales of certain oni¹ (or demons in English) viewed as beings to be revered. While oni are generally seen as being scary and bringers of misfortune in Japanese culture, there are groups that are opposite of this, and instead give praise to particular oni for the sake of luck and protection².
A snapshot of the entrance into Kijin Jinja. All credit and rights of picture goes to Yoshi Oka.
One of the more unusual practices of giving praise to oni can be found in shrines. Take for example Kijin Jinja³, a shrine located in Saitama Prefecture. It is 1 of the 4 shrines found on Japan’s east side that are dedicated to worshiping oni⁴. At Kijin Jinja, the oni is viewed as a model of unwavering effort, resilience, and having the will to win. This shrine is well known for it’s small ornamental statues of demons on the roof tops, paired red and blue demons drawn on “ema⁵” (small wooden plaques) used for writing one’s prayers & wishes, and small omamori⁶ (charm for protection) in the form of a “oni no kanabo⁷” (demon’s metal club). Thus, visitors that frequent here come to get “powered up” in passing entrance exams into universities, making their homes safe, thriving business, and the like.
Records of Kijin Jinja state that it was established in 1182, nearing the end of the Heian period. Its history lies with a military commander by the name of Hatakeyama Shigetada⁸ (1164 – 1205) , who was owner of the castle called Sugaya Shiro⁹ in Musashi no Kuni (present day Saitama Prefecture). In order to protect his castle at its point of misfortune¹⁰, Shigetada built a shrine there. To make things even more interesting, the deity of worship in this shrine was devised to be that of a demon itself, to counteract bad luck that is usually associated with demons themselves. Thus is the beginning of Kijin Jinja.
One of the festivals that take place throughout Japan is called “Setsubun¹¹”. It’s a celebration of the end of winter, and a period to rid one’s household of bad luck. Part of the celebration called “mame maki¹²” is where roasted soybeans are spread along the ground in one’s residence to drive away demons, then swept up as if “sweeping away misfortune”. A phrase that goes along with this is “oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi¹³”, which means “demons (bad luck) go outside, good luck stays inside”. At Kijin Jinja, since (good) demons are respected, the celebration of Setsubun has some tweaks to it. Along with demons not associated with bad luck, the phrase used at the celebration there is “fuku wa uchi, oni wa uchi, akuma wa soto¹⁴”, which means “good luck stays inside, demons stay inside, evil demons stay out”.
Artwork called “Setsubun no Oni” (節分の鬼). A man is shown throwing roasted beans at a demon to drive it away. By Katsushika Hokusai, from his series “Hokusai Manga” (北斎漫画). From Wikipedia.
There is another tale that is attached to the Kijin Jinja, which is about “Kijin-sama¹⁵”, the actual demon deity that is worshiped here. Kijin-sama (with -sama being the honorific title) is said to be enshrined within Kijin Jinja upon its establishment. The version of the tale I am about to share is from the publication “Ranzamachi Shi” reproduced on the website called “Kijin Jinja“. Below is the Japanese version of this tale, followed by an English translation done by myself.
A long time ago, there was a blacksmith that made swords who lived in Kawajima. From morning to night, he put his heart into making swords as the clanking sounds from his hammer could be heard from his shop. One day, a young man came to the blacksmith’s shop.
“I want to make swords, so please teach me.” The young man requested. Having a lot of work to be done at his shop, an extra pair of hands would help the blacksmith greatly.
“Okay, you’re in.” The blacksmith acknowledged his request.
The young man, full of enthusiasm, put his all into making swords, for he didn’t take breaks or sleep at night. In the home of the blacksmith, was a beautiful girl, who was his daughter. The young man requested to his new boss that he be allowed to make the daughter his wife. The blacksmith gave the request some thought, before giving his answer.
“If you can produce 100 swords in one night, then you may take my daughter as your wife.” the blacksmith replied.
Excitedly, the young man made all sorts of preparations at the shop for his task at hand, and waited for that designated nighttime. Once nightfall came, the young picked up his hammer, and swung it making lots of clanging sounds as he proceeded to making swords. In a blink of an eye, he had already produced 35 swords.
It became late at night. Worrying about the matter at hand, the blacksmith went to the shop to take a look at how the young man was doing. Secretly watching the young man at work, he eyed how quickly the swords were being made one after another. In such a short time the swords were piling up!
Just then the blacksmith stared at the young man as he was making swords. Suddenly, the man before him was no longer a man! Bearing eyes that pierced like daggers, and horns protruding from his head, the being before the blacksmith’s eyes was none other than a demon!! This demon stood before what seemed like a sea of fire, as sparks scattered around the demon like fireworks as he clanged away repeatedly with his hammer, producing with his hands one sword after another.
Shocked at what he was witnessing, the blacksmith rushed out of the shop. “There’s no way I can allow my beloved daughter be taken by the likes of such a person!” He thought. Frantically, the blacksmith ran to the chicken coop, thinking that if he could get the rooster to crow, this will signal that the night is over.
“Cock-doodle-doo!” The rooster crowed (through the blacksmith’s efforts).
Afterwards, the blacksmith snuck back into the shop. There stood the man-turned-demon, who was in the middle of striking a sword with his hammer. However, just then the sky to the East began to light up as the night truly came to a close. The demon-man then fell down dead to the ground, still clutching his hammer. He was not able to accomplish his goal, for he managed to produce only 99 swords.
Feeling pity for the man who’s life was lost in work he put his heart into, the blacksmith picked up his lifeless body and carried it outside. He left the body in the hands of Shinto priest, who in turn buried it at the edge of a garden. Later, this same place was turned into the shrine for Kijin-sama, where the celebrations in honor of him take place.
By reading this, one can tell that Kijin-sama’s inspiring points are going beyond what may be seen as the impossible in order to accomplish one’s goals. That unyielding drive to produce nearly 100 swords in one night is definitely beyond human…which in turn is that same drive visitors wish to acquire to succeed in their tasks at hand.
That sums up this post about Kijin Jinja and its relationship with demons. There are plenty more unique and unsual things of old to be discovered that are a part of Japanese cultures, so please stay tuned for more posts regarding them.
1) 鬼. Along with the image of a large frightful creature with horns and dressed in tigerskin loincloth, oni (demons) are liken to bad luck and disasters according to certain superstitions and practices specializing in reading fortune.
2) Certain demons that do good for the sake of mankind are said to be similar to deities, thus can be revered as a god. Usually these demons are considered “dehorned”. See my posts here and here for more on this.
3) 鬼鎮神社. Kijin can be translated as “Demon Quelling” (or if referring to someone, “Demon Queller”), and Jinja as “shrine”
4) The other 3 shrines are located in Aomori Prefecture, Ōita Prefecture, and Fukuoka Prefecture.
5) 絵馬. Literally meaning “horse-drawing”, originally a picture of a horse was drawn on these wooden boards. Reason behind this is that there was an old belief that gods travel by horses. To offer one’s wishes and prayers to the gods, one method was to draw a picture of a horse on paper or a wooden board, for those who couldn’t do so in front of a shinme (神馬, a divine horse). Later, the drawn image varied depending on the god of worship.
10) According to Onmyōdō (Japanese divination system based off of Taoist beliefs and the 5 Elements), northeast is believed to be the direction where evil spirits come from. The name common for the northeast direction is kimon (鬼門, demon’s gate). In the past, one way to block these evil spirits away was to build a shrine in that direction, and have a particular deity enshrined inside for protection. Thus, many land owners had a shrine built to the northeast of their estate or castle. This practice is called “kimon yoke” (鬼門除け, repelling the demon’s gate).
11) 節分. This takes place usually the 1st week of February, either on the 3rd or 4th day. Originally, Setsubun symbolized the change in seasons, and was celebrated 4 times a year at the end of each season according to the Japanese calendar. Now, there is only one Setsubun celebration for the close of winter.
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.
ASSOCIATION WITH THE SHICHIYŌ
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.
SOURCE OF ORIGIN
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.
ABOUT INYO GOGYO SETSU
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“.
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.
APPLICATIONS OF THE SHICHIYŌ
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):
12 Zodiacs + 5 Elements (干支)
12 Signs of one’s Fortune (十二直)
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.
DAYS OF THE WEEK
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.
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.
2) 七曜. This is also called Nanatsu Boshi (7つ星), also having the same meaning.
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.
8) 陰陽五行説. Inyo (陰陽) is Ying Yang in Chinese, while Gogyo (五行) is Wu Xing in Chinese.
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.
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.