Two kinds of feng-shui history in Japan: science and divination


  • Yoshio Watanabe Kokugakuin University



Feng-shui, Luo-pan, Kasou-sho manual, Nyoken Nishikawa, Edo Period


In this paper, I don’tuse the word of “geomancy” but use “feng-shui”, as meaning a set of method and concept for an assessment for environmental impact against human life.  Environmental impact assessment, connected with the feng-shui theory of later eras, first began with xiang-zhai (house and community observation), which appeared in the Zhou Period (770~256  BC.), Spring and Autumn/Warring States Periods(770~221  BC.) in China. Now I recognize the meanings of feng-shuiare indicated two kinds. One meaning is a kind of scientific thought through the ancient environmental impact assessment, and another meaning is a method of divination through judgments fortune-telling items. So I will mention about the Japanese history of feng-shuidivided into two kinds of histories. A number of scholars have  pointed out the transmission of feng-shui knowledge  to Japan, as recorded in the section of the Nihon Shoki (the Book of the ancient Japanese record) which reads: “In 601 AD, a buddhist monk named Kanroku arrived from Paekche (one of the country, ancient Korea) to Japan. As tribute, they brought books of astronomy and geography (same meaning of feng-shui)...”. After this record, terms synonymous with feng-shui can be sporadically seen in the records of ancient Japan. Continuing, in the Book of Ryo-no-gige (chapter of staff inst- ructions) of the 9th century in Japan, it states that 6 yin-yang practitioners of the yin-yang Bureau (Ministry of astronomical and geographical observations) “shall be in charge of divination sticks and souchi (feng-shui)”. Thus, one of the duties of the yin-yang practitioners was souchi. This was a form of divination and observation topography which was a predecessor of the feng-shui theory. Much later in time, we arrive at the Edo Period (1603~1868 AD.). In Wakan-sansai-zue, or Sino-Japanese encyclopaedia from this Period written by Terashima Ryoan, the compass (which developed later) was called a tokei-shin, and it is explained as “an instrument for determining directions and telling time”. According to Terashima Ryoan, it is a compass, like that used in Japan today for kasou (i.e. divining the fortune of a house from its directions and situation). The tokei-shin described by Terashima Ryoan was a “compass for sea navigation” developed further for sea navigation after the invention of the luo-pan (compass) in the Sung Period in China. This “compass for sea navigation” was a simplified version of the luo-pan for land divination (feng-shui), and until very recently, was used as a compass for small boats in Japan. After the luo-pan using a magnetic needle was invented, there is a history in China of using the luo-pan as a surveying instrument, i.e. as a successor of the previous tugui method based on sun shadow measurement. This was not a luo-pan notched with many graduations; rather, it was a luo-pan which attempted to measure accurate directions and angles by using only one type of graduation. This type of luo-pan was also used in Japan in the Edo Period called “banshin- raban”. In the Edo Period, there was active development of mines, and it was necessary to measure accurate bearings and angles for tasks like excavating mine tunnels. In the some of ancient Japanese written historical records, the synonymous words of “Chiri” (in Japanese), or “Dili” (in Chinese) could be recognized as the “geography” which has been used in ancient China. But we know two letters of “feng (wind) and shui (water)” that are widely used today all over the world. When it comes to the Edo period, the name “fuu-sui”, or “geography=Chiri” can be discovered at the time of feng-shui manual named “Kasou-sho”. A book of “Kasou-zukai or feng-shui illustration published in 1798 is commentary various divination ways in the name of “fuu-sui”. Since then, also in many other Edo periods, at the Kasou-sho manual, words and examples of “fuu-sui” are abundantly found, the knowledge of “fuu-sui” as a method of divination had been introduced to Japan. Currently, examples of I know the oldest word of “fuu-sui or feng-shui” in Japan is in a memorial document of “Engaku temple” in the Muromachi era. But I don’t know now that from Muromachi to Edo era, the term of “fuu-sui” has first used in Japan or not. Appeared in a “topography of Youshuu” in the Edo era and “Engaku temple document” in the Muromachi era, “fuu-sui or feng-shui” do not mean the knowledge of “geography” associated with land observations, but means a method how to judge right and wrong about their environmental conditions. We therefore, can recognize about the meaning of “Chiri” that there were two kinds or more of knowledge in Edo era. A Japanese geographer in Edo era named Nyoken Nishikawa wrote his book (1712). His book tells us an example of meaning of “Chiri”. Nyoken Nishikawa said that ranging from one of the house to the entire earth, “Chiri or geography” have various levels of meaning. “Fuu-sui” means “geographical conditions” themselves. There are good or bad conditions in “Chiri” itself, but not exist in human environmental judgments. “Geography” itself means environmental conditions, so there was no need to judge human environment good or bad. However, in the medieval period, Yin-yang diviner or fuu-sui master in Japan had broken out over wide area and using the name of “Chiri or geography”, explaining about the vicissitudes of descendant life, as a result of their adverse effects do not converge till now. At the time of Japan, there were many Yin-yang diviners preached weal or woe of human life for the common people. As the time passed, they were gradually increasing and Kasou-sho were also gradually increasing. Today in Japan and East Asia, we can take many books of feng-shui judgment and Kasou documents in our hand. These are filled with bothersome non-scientific judgment items. And because there are many different items in each feng-shui manuals, of course these books are fortune-telling books, but we can also find “some vestiges of scientific thought” in such feng-shui fortune-telling judgment items. European awareness about the declination was the end of 14th century, that is to say several hundred years later for China. Chinese direction finding methods and land surveying technology and knowledge, whose development was motivated by feng-shui divination and observation, subsequently spread to Europe (12th century) and Arabia (13th century). Therefore, today we must take another look at feng-shui research, on a global scale.


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Watanabe, Y. (2015). Two kinds of feng-shui history in Japan: science and divination. Estudos Japoneses, (35), 124-138.



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