Pleasing the Four Gods: Shijin Sōō, Site Selection and Site Adaptation

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


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.
PeriodJul 3 2009
Event title26th International SAHANZ Conference: Cultural Crossroads
Event typeConference
LocationAuckland, New ZealandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational