The Four Directional Animals in East Asia: A Comparative Analysis

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Abstract

In this paper, I present some tentative conclusions about the comparative research I have been conducting into the way(s) in which the four creatures that each guard one of the (cardinal) directions are represented in the physical landscape within the practice(s) of geophysical divination.
In China, in Korea, as well as in Japan, these four directional beasts are identified as the Black Turtle-Snake (玄武) of the back/north , the Vermilion Bird (朱雀) of the front/south, the Azure Dragon (青龍) of the left/east, and the White Tiger (白虎) of the right/west. However, the earliest texts on divination remain vague about the specific landscape features corresponding to each of the four mythical animals. In later times, at least two co-existing traditions seem to have developed within the practice of site divination in East Asia. Following one tradition, emphasis lay on the presence of natural features with all four animals represented in the landscape as mountains. Another tradition, however, required the presence of a different natural or man-made landscape feature for each of the four beasts.
This paper focuses on the latter tradition, in Japanese referred to as “shijin sōō 四神相応” (“correspondence to the four deities”). Through an investigation of written sources, this paper will trace the origin and evolution of the observances of shijin sōō, as well as provide a basic analysis of the different textual traditions. Furthermore, this paper will challenge the commonly held view that the practice of shijin sōō was a divination process used to determine the location of capital cities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFeng Shui (Kan Yu) and Architecture
Subtitle of host publicationAsien- Und Afrika-studien Der Humboldt-universitat Zu Berlin
EditorsFlorian Reiter
Place of PublicationBerlin
PublisherHumboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Pages201–16
Volume38
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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