Pennsic Wrapup

Greetings all!

Just got back from the Pennsic War, which was great fun if intolerably muggy. I taught two classes, a revised version of my Japanese Heraldry class and a class on the Soto Zen meal ritual, based on Dōgen’s writing on it from the 13th century. Here are the handouts, if anyone’s interested.

Mata ne!

Auspicious Days, a dissenting view

A while back I talked about auspicious days and directions. I recently came upon a counterpoint reflecting the practical aspects of military thought. This is one of the seventeen testaments of Asakura Toshikage, one of the first Sengoku daimyō, the great lords of the Warring States period.(SoJT:429)

It is extremely regrettable if a commander, when fighting a battle that can be won or laying siege to a castle that can be taken, should change his time schedule after choosing an auspicious day and considering which directions are good and which are bad. But if a commander, disregarding auspicious days and favorable directions, assesses in detail the realities of the military situation, lays detailed plans for attacking, responds flexibly to circumstances as they present themselves, and maintains his basic strategy, he is sure to be victorious.

As I’m off to Pennsic War this week, I’ll be sure to follow this advice and completely ignore auspicious days while there. Now, back to packing.

Following Directions

A few weeks ago, I talked about Rokuyō, the six-day calendar cycle of varying auspiciousness. Another key part of Japanese astrology, or Onmyōdō1, was concerned with auspicious and inauspicious directons.(en.wp:Onmyōdō) Which directions were auspicious or inauspicious for a given person, along with monoimi (personally inauspicious days), were determined by Onmyōji, professional diviners licensed by the court. They depended both on the calendar and on the time of day, in a similar way to the Rokuyō.

These divinations weren’t limited to cardinal directions; 24 directions were used, associated with animals in the Chinese zodiac, the 10 calendar signs (each in turn a combination of one of the 5 elements2 and yin or yang), and one of the eight trigrams of the I Ching.(ja.wp:干支) These associations were often mapped out with ornate compasses along the lines of the following.
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O Auspicious Day

It’s a new year,1 and that means a new calendar. My new calendar, given to me by a mysterious benefactor, is a Japanese calendar with very nice pictures of Japanese castles. One thing I did not expect is for each date in the calendar to be annotated with an additional label in Japanese, in a mostly six-day cycle. It turns out that this is a system called Rokuyō (六曜) which came to Japan (from China, of course) towards the end of the Kamakura period.(ja.wp:六曜)

Rokuyō was supremely easy to use: just add the number of the lunar month to the number of the day in the month, and look at the remainder when divided by six.2

  1. Daian3 (大安): an auspicious day. Good for ceremonial occasions. The kanji literally mean “great peace”.
  2. Shakkō (赤口): unlucky except for the hours around noon, which are auspicious. Be careful with fire and sharp things. Literally “red mouth” (a Taoist reference).
  3. Senshō (先勝): lucky in the morning, but inauspicious in the afternoon; getting things done quickly is advised. Literally “victory before”.
  4. Tomobiki (友引): good day for trials and competitions, but bad for funerals. Lucky in the morning, unlucky around noon, and very lucky in the evening. Literally “friends pull”.
  5. Sembu (先負): basically the opposite of Senshō: unlucky in the morning and auspicious in the afternoon. Avoid haste and judgment. Literally “loss before”.
  6. Butsumetsu (仏滅): a very inauspicious day. Horrible for ceremonial occasions,4 but good for memorial services. Exercise restraint. Literally “Buddha’s death”.

The auspiciousness of a given day was a big deal. In fact, in much of Japanese history this and other astrological concerns were primary reasons for maintaining the calendar.(Lunar) Auspicious days were strongly favored for major events such as adopting a child, as recounted in the late-10th-century Kagerō Diary;(TJL:245) issuing a decree, as recorded in the 11th-century Tale of Flowering Fortunes;(CJP:206) and holding a wedding, as in the late Muromachi period street performers’ tale Shintokumaru.(TJL:1172)

In addition to ceremonial events, examples of travels being structured around these day categories can be seen in many places in Japanese literature. In the Kagerō Diary, we find, as the author sets out on a pilgrimage: “However, the day I decided on is inauspicious, so we make a pro forma start a day earlier, staying the night around the neighborhood of Hōshō Temple.”(TJL:230) The author goes to the trouble of spending the night at a temple in town to work around the restrictions of the Rokuyō. Similarly, in the Sarashina Diary, from around 1059, the author recounts making a similar preliminary start on a journey to the capital to allow the group to technically leave on the Daian instead of the Shakkō.(TJL:455)

The Japanese weren’t content with just this simple astrological system, however. In addition to the Rokuyō, there were days of abstinence (monoimi/物忌) for individual people, determined by astrologers, where one would stay isolated indoors, seeing no visitors, fasting, and generally abstaining from all activity.(TJL:256) Then we have auspicious and inauspicious directions, which also feature heavily in Japanese literature. We’ll explore those next week.

For now, if you’re ever wondering whether a particular day is a good day for an important undertaking, feel free to consult my Rokuyō script. I take no responsibility for your actual luck, however.

Footnotes »