Pleasing the Four Gods: Shijin sōō (四神相応), Site Selection and Site Adaptation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract

In this paper, I investigate the antiquity and origin of the interpretation given to the concept of shijin sōō 四神相応, ‘to befit the Four Gods’, in Japan.
When discussing the site selection process that preceded the relocation of the ancient Chinese-style capitals on the Japanese archipelago, scholars often use the term shijin sōō. According to shijin sōō, the most favorable site to construct a capital was protected in the cardinal directions by one of Four Gods: the Vermilion Bird (suzaku 朱雀) of the south, the Black Turtle-Snake (genbu 玄武) of the north, the Azure Dragon (seiryū 青龍) of the east, and the White Tiger (byakko 白虎) of the west. Still according to the same scholars, each of these gods was represented in the landscape by natural or man-made features: an irrigated plain in the south, a mountain in the north, a river in the east, and a road in the west. Although the first textual evidence of this interpretation of the Four Gods in the landscape postdates the construction of Heian—the last of the Chinese-style capitals—by at least two centuries, it is often asserted that capital site selection based on these man-made and natural requirements was already put to practice in the seventh or eighth century. A second assertion frequently
made in connection with this interpretation is the claim that it is a type of geophysical divination unique to Japan.
Based on textual study and geographical analysis, this paper refutes both the presumed antiquity of the above-mentioned interpretation of the shijin sōō concept as well as its uniqueness, thus questioning the notion that the theory applied to capital site selection in ancient Japan.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCultural Crossroads, Proceedings of the 26th International SAHANZ Conference
EditorsJulia Gatley
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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Deity
Japan
Antiquity
Divination
Uniqueness
Turtle
Snakes
Cardinal Directions
Roads
Dragon
Textual Studies
Mountains
Questioning
Rivers

Cite this

Van Goethem, E. E. M. A. (2009). Pleasing the Four Gods: Shijin sōō (四神相応), Site Selection and Site Adaptation. In J. Gatley (Ed.), Cultural Crossroads, Proceedings of the 26th International SAHANZ Conference

Pleasing the Four Gods: Shijin sōō (四神相応), Site Selection and Site Adaptation. / Van Goethem, Ellen Elza Melina Albert.

Cultural Crossroads, Proceedings of the 26th International SAHANZ Conference. ed. / Julia Gatley. 2009.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Van Goethem, EEMA 2009, Pleasing the Four Gods: Shijin sōō (四神相応), Site Selection and Site Adaptation. in J Gatley (ed.), Cultural Crossroads, Proceedings of the 26th International SAHANZ Conference.
Van Goethem EEMA. Pleasing the Four Gods: Shijin sōō (四神相応), Site Selection and Site Adaptation. In Gatley J, editor, Cultural Crossroads, Proceedings of the 26th International SAHANZ Conference. 2009
Van Goethem, Ellen Elza Melina Albert. / Pleasing the Four Gods: Shijin sōō (四神相応), Site Selection and Site Adaptation. Cultural Crossroads, Proceedings of the 26th International SAHANZ Conference. editor / Julia Gatley. 2009.
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abstract = "In this paper, I investigate the antiquity and origin of the interpretation given to the concept of shijin sōō 四神相応, ‘to befit the Four Gods’, in Japan.When discussing the site selection process that preceded the relocation of the ancient Chinese-style capitals on the Japanese archipelago, scholars often use the term shijin sōō. According to shijin sōō, the most favorable site to construct a capital was protected in the cardinal directions by one of Four Gods: the Vermilion Bird (suzaku 朱雀) of the south, the Black Turtle-Snake (genbu 玄武) of the north, the Azure Dragon (seiryū 青龍) of the east, and the White Tiger (byakko 白虎) of the west. Still according to the same scholars, each of these gods was represented in the landscape by natural or man-made features: an irrigated plain in the south, a mountain in the north, a river in the east, and a road in the west. Although the first textual evidence of this interpretation of the Four Gods in the landscape postdates the construction of Heian—the last of the Chinese-style capitals—by at least two centuries, it is often asserted that capital site selection based on these man-made and natural requirements was already put to practice in the seventh or eighth century. A second assertion frequentlymade in connection with this interpretation is the claim that it is a type of geophysical divination unique to Japan.Based on textual study and geographical analysis, this paper refutes both the presumed antiquity of the above-mentioned interpretation of the shijin sōō concept as well as its uniqueness, thus questioning the notion that the theory applied to capital site selection in ancient Japan.",
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