Fengshui Protection: The Four Mythical Animals and Shinto Shrines

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


This paper presents a discussion of the appearance and context of fengshui-related symbolism in Japan. Attention is focused on the four directional deities (四神) and their associated symbolism from their initial appearance on the Japanese archipelago until the present day, in an attempt to show how this symbolism became fully assimilated to the point that it appeared in (early) modern times in contexts no longer consciously associated with their “original” practices or was fully absorbed into contexts that are deemed quintessentially Japanese. To illustrate this point, this paper presents a case-study of six well-known Shinto shrines, Dazaifu Tenmangū in Dazaifu, and Heian Jingū, Kamigamo jinja, Matsuo taisha, Yasaka jinja, and Jōnangū in Kyoto.
By doing so, this paper argues that the four directional animals preserved their ancient Chinese role of “multivalent signs”, susceptible to many applications, interpretations, meanings and values. As symbols, i.e. visual depictions of underlying concepts, the four divine beasts adapted to (or, better still, were appropriated by) changing circumstances and new ideas to appear in new and entirely different contexts.
PeriodJun 19 2015
Held atKyoto University, Institute for Research in Humanities, Japan