Since ancient times people in the Chinese cultural sphere have been looking for ideal sites to construct graves, found cities, build houses, etc. These practices are generally grouped under the broad label of telluric divination or geomancy (Chn. 風水 fengshui). This paper focuses on a subcategory within telluric divination; it concentrates on a practice that received its own label—shijin sōō 四神相応 or “correspondence to the four deities”—in Japan but is in no way unique to the country. In China, Korea, and Japan, a number of written sources dating from the 8th through 19th centuries describe the ideal siting conditions of private residences. What these sources have in common is that a residence needs to be surrounded by specific landscape features, either natural or manmade (a river, an irrigated plain, a road, and a hill), each corresponding to one of the four directional deities (the Azure Dragon, the Vermilion Bird, the White Tiger, and the Black Turtle-Snake). Inhabitants of a site that corresponds to these topographical requirements are promised good health and a long life, a successful career, and numerous descendants. Interestingly, several of the written sources describing these ideal siting conditions also provide a practical—and in most cases realizable—solution to remedy any shortcomings in the surrounding topography in the form of substituting missing landscape features with specific (numbers of) trees. This paper compares and contrasts a number of these sources to address the underlying philosophy of substituting landscape features for trees as well as issues of knowledge transfer.
10 25 2015
The Third Conference of East Asian Environmental History (EAEH 2015)