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Onmyōdō and the Aristocratic Culture of Everyday Life in Heian Japan

Author(s): Shin'ichi Shigeta, 繁田信一 and Luke Thompson


Source: Cahiers d'Extrême-Asie, Vol. 21, The Way of Yin and Yang: Divinatory Techniques
and Religious Practices / La Voie du Yin et du Yang : Techniques divinatoires et pratiques
religieuses (2012), pp. 65-77
Published by: École française d’Extrême-Orient
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/44167487
Accessed: 26-02-2020 22:57 UTC

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Onmyõdõ and the Aristocratic Culture
of Everyday Life in Heian Japan

Shigeta Shinichi

Dans cet essai, l'auteur critique l'appellation de « religion » dans le cas de


1'onmyõdõ. Pour étayer son propos, il étudie d'abord l'évolution des « maîtres
du Yin et du Yang » à l'époque de Heian, de spécialistes du Bureau du Yin et
du Yang ( Onmyõryõ aux onmyõji fêÉÛÊîfi - terme recouvrant un
assez large éventail de fonctions. Cette diversification répondait à la demande
de rites privés de la part de la noblesse de Heian . Les pratiques divinatoires
réservées jusque-là aux grands rituels étatiques passèrent au service privé de
la classe nobiliaire. Les nouveaux onmyöji formèrent ainsi le noyau actif de
ce qui allait devenir 1'onmyõdõ.
Mais ce dernier terme n'en recouvre pas pour autant un système unifié,
encore moins une « religion » ; il s'agit bien plutôt d'un ensemble hétéroclite
de techniques relatives à la divination et de concepts portant sur les interdits
de toutes sortes qui régissaient la vie quotidienne de l'époque. En outre,
les onmyõji en question étaient bien souvent des bouddhistes et, pour eux,
les pratiques regroupées un peu arbitrairement sous le nom d'onmyôdô ne
constituaient pas une religion particulière, mais simplement un aspect - certes
important - de leur existence.
Dans la la seconde partie de l'essai, l'auteur se fonde sur un recueil de
lettres compilé par Fujiwara no Akihira MMWfêi (989-1066), /Unshú
shõsoku ÛiWfëLÛv, et en particulier sur une lettre adressée par le gouverneur
de la province d'Inaba Sí# à un onmyõji qui occupait alors le poste de
directeur de l' Onmyõryõ. Il s'agit d'une discussion concernant une question
précise de topographie, notamment la construction d'un site idéal gardé par
les quatre animaux héraldiques qui protégeaient les points cardinaux. La
popularité de ces divinités à l'époque de Heian tient sans doute au fait que
la nouvelle capitale, Heiankyõ, s'inscrivait parfaitement dans cette norme
topographique, et elle semble être le produit de l'aristocratie de l'époque. Ce
modèle en vint à être reproduit dans les domaines provinciaux. Comme on
le voit, les onmyõji de l'époque de Heian remplissaient la même fonction
que les maîtres de fengshui (j. fïisui topomancie) du Japon moderne.
Ils accomplissaient également des exorcismes visant à expulser les démons
des maisons abandonnées ou restées vides trop longtemps, comme on peut le
voir dans le Shôyùki le journal de Fujiwara no Sanesuke
(95-7-1046). De nombreux exemples sont également donnés dans des œuvres
littéraires comme le Konjaku monogatarishû (Histoires qui sont
maintenant du passé). Le rituel pratiqué à cette occasion était le henbai ¿šcfrļ
sorte de piétinement destiné à faire - littéralement - rentrer les mauvais
esprits sous terre. Ce rituel se pratiquait également pour vaincre un ennemi,
ou encore pour se protéger lors d'un voyage dangereux (mais tous les voyages,
à cette époque, étaient dangereux).
Comme on le voit, 1'onmyõdõ de l'époque de Heian n'était pas tant une
religion à part entière qu'un élément de la culture quotidienne, et c'est de ce
point de vue qu'il devrait, selon l'auteur, être étudié.

Cahiers d'Extrême-Asie 21 (2012) : 65-77

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66 Shigeta Shin'ichi

The Classificatio

The treatment of
and Buddhism lea

i. Translators no
already in its title, "
LTOHjÜtII in Japanes
culture of daily life"
aristocratic life and
consumed on a daily
to translate. The ide
Kiyoshi Hyfcr# (189
which was very in
and the appropriatio
in part in oppositio
the individual rather
members of a partic
late 1960s and early
The few English tra
tunian, Overcome by
NJ: Princeton Unive
in Modern Japan : A
MA: Harvard Univer
of Beauty: Mingei an
Press, 2,007], h6). A
separation from the
to translate Useikats
easily be translated a
The existence of the
English, gives the be
clarity throughout t
despite the fact that
For English-languag
Brandt (ibid., 146-53
the creation of the t
very briefly mention
and seikatsu bunka. T
to early to mid- twen
create Japanese ident
context, but rather a
Nihon rekishi d
entry heading Useika
the periodization of
(Despite the term's
works, including
accessed via JapanKn
Kokushi daijiten [
via JapanKnowledge

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Onmyõdõ and the Aristocratic Culture of Everyday Life in Heian Japan 67

one particular religion (as defined according to the models offered by such traditions
as Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism) is unreasonable, to say the least.2
The core of what we call "Onmyõdõ" developed within the confines of Heian-
period aristocratic society. When Heian aristocrats were faced with abnormal
occurrences or found themselves in close proximity to an ill person, they turned to
the divinations of onmyõji BSRftÊ®. The various incantations and so forth that these
aristocrats had onmyõji perform served as a means of protection from calamities
such as illness and fire, and also led to the realization of these aristocrats' aspirations
for longevity and prosperity. Furthermore, it was common practice for Heian
aristocrats to ask onmyõji about temporal and directional taboos ( kinki lĒŠĒt) prior
to departing on an official journey or holding an important event or ceremony.
From the very outset, "onmyõji" was a position within the ritsuryõ govern-
ment structure. The sole function of the six onmyõji allocated to the Onmyõryõ
ÜRiÄ (Bureau of Yin and Yang) was divination; when an accident or strange incident
occurred at a public institution, such as a government office ( kanchõ Hi/r), temple,
or shrine, onmyõji would use their divinatory skills to determine the significance
of that event for the realm. In this way, the term "onmyõji" originated as a title
for a civil servant whose function was to practice divination on behalf of the state.
However, beginning with earth-quelling ( jichin iftü) and rainmaking ( amagoi M^)
rituals, the performance of numerous rituals and the employment of various technol-
ogies were gradually added to the official duties of these official onmyõji. As a result,
by the early Heian period at the latest, the Onmyöryö's onmyõji were recognized
as civil servants whose functions included both divination at official ceremonies
and sorcery- type technologies ( jujutsu Çîffi). Furthermore, by at least the middle
of the Heian period, the functions of onmyõji had been expanded to include the
prescription of temporal and directional taboos.
In addition there was a transformation of the term "onmyõji" sometime prior to
the mid-Heian period. This appellation, which originally designated a government
official who performed one particular function within the confines of the Onmyõryõ,
came to be used to refer to a particular type of occupation.
Besides the six onmyoji, the Onmyõryõ included other civil servants, such as the
onmyõ hakase (responsible for training the next generation of onmyõji ),
tenmon hakase (who would determine the implications of the movements of
celestial bodies and the weather for the state), reki hakase (calendar makers),
and rõkoku hakase ÜMWib (in charge of measuring time), as well as those respon-
sible for overall administration, such as the onmyõ no kami onmyõ no suke
IÄBIB&, onmyõ no jõ and onmyõ no sakan While originally the only
people to perform divination within this system were the six onmyõji , by the mid-
Heian period at the latest all the aforementioned members of the Onmyõryõ were
performing not only divination, but were also practicing sorcery-type techniques

2. The fact that Onmyõdõ has thus far been dealt with as a religion can be seen in the title
of the second work of the series Heian bungaku to rinsetsu shogaku published
by Chikurinsha which is Ochõ bungaku to bukkyõ, shintõ, onmyõdõ
üßüjl (Fujimoto Katsuyoshi ü$§£ü, ed., Tõkyõ, 2007).

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68 Shigeta Shin'ichi

and determining
called "onmyõji" I
" onmyõji ." It is
Abe no Seimei
there was an onm
From the mid-H
Onmyõryõ in thei
demands of aristo
the state in the co
openly in Heian a
regard to sorcery (
In this way, by t
civil servant amon
particular type of
divination, sorcer
we now call "Onm
the daily life of H
However, Onmyõ
unique dogma or i
be sure, Onmyõdõ
And yet in Onmy
totalityof the sys
theories upon wh
were many Onmy
theories. In fact,
ing more than a g
concepts (e.g., con

3. Konjaku monoga
monogatari shü
(Tõkyõ: Iwanami sho
4. This understandi
thecontext of resear
jidai no shükyö bunka to Onmyõdõ (Tõkyõ: Iwata shoin
1996), 21-61; Suzuki Ikkei Onmyõdõ: jujutsu to kijin no sekai
(Tõkyõ: Kõdansha Üifctí:, 2003), 42-70; Shigeta Shinichi Onmyõji to kizoku shakai
# (Tõkyõ: Yoshikawa kõbunkan aiW&JCfÊ, 2004), 1-103; Shigeta, Onmyõji:
Abe no Seimei to Ashiya no Dõman (Tõkyõ: Chúõkõron shinsha
2006), 3-25; Shigeta, Abe no Seimei: onmyõji tachi no Heian jidai

(Tõkyõ: Yoshikawa kõbunkan, 2006), 71-84.


5. There is of course the viewpoint of Murayama Shù
sõsetsu [Tõkyõ: Hanawa shobõ itiÄÜ, 1981], an
[Osaka: Osaka shoseki 1987]), whereby an exte
that exhibit influence of yin-yang and five-element theor
of "Onmyõdõ." However, research conducted from this st
that have nothing whatsoever to do with onmyõji as "Onmy

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Onmyõdõ and the Aristocratic Culture of Everyday Life in Heian Japan 69

Therefore, the notion that onmyõji were those who sought the meaning of
human existence in the context of the Way of Yin and Yang did not exist during the
Heian period, even as a claim on the part of onmyõji. For onmyõji , Onmyõdõ was
nothing more than an occupation, and to the bitter end their reason for practicing
Onmyõdõ was to put rice on the table. Like physicians ( kusushi ^Ěí), Heian-period
onmyõji were a type of tradesman or artisan; they were by no means religious figures.
Furthermore, the onmyõji of the Heian-period, like many of their contemporaries,
embraced Buddhism. For example, the onmyõji Koremune no Fumitaka
(mid-Heian period) had his own private Buddhist temple.6 Fumitaka, even though
he was an onmyõji , probably spent a large amount on building temples without any
regret. In addition, such figures as the late Heian-period Kamo no Ieyoshi
who served as the head of the Onmyõryõ, were remembered by future generations
as ones who had achieved rebirth in the Pure Land ( õjõnin ÍÈ£À).7 In other words,
the grouping of techniques and concepts that we call "Onmyõdõ" was seen by at
least Heian-period aristocrats not as one particular religion, but rather as one aspect
of their culture of daily life (seikatsu bunka ) that had to be taken into account.

Onmyõji and the Ideal Topography for the Four Deities ( shishin sõõ no chisõ

The following is from an aristocratic letter written in the mid-Heian period:


Recently I acquired a villa in the mountains (sansõ ULlJEt). Its topographical features ( chigyõ
MM) are as follows: on the south side there is a large ravine ( kõtaku to the east
a long river ( chõga UM), to the west a highway ( kanro II 5&), and to the north a marsh
( chishõ ftkfêî). A topographical selection specialist (söja IS^) said of the aforementioned
[villa] , 'If there was a hill on the north side, [this landscape] would be endowed with the
presence of the four deities (shishin 0#). However there is instead a marsh [on the north
side], which is obviously undesirable.' Another written source states: 'Separate [the marsh
from the villa] with a grove, and take [this grove] to be the deity Genbu In other
words, by planting pine, cedar, bamboo, oak, and so forth on the southern side of the
marsh, which is situated on the north side of the villa, the place will be ready for the four
deities. What do you think? Furthermore, is the river to the east [of the villa] supposed
to be flowing from west to east, or should it be flowing from north to south? We cannot
come to any final conclusion concerning this matter. What is the explanation that has
been handed down from long ago? A petty officiai (keihai $111) respectfully stated this.8

"Onmyõdõ" meaningless. It is for this reason that I do not adopt Murayama's viewpoint. Instead,
I restrict the category of "Onmyõdõ" to those phenomena that are directly related to onmyõji.
6. Shöyüki entry for the twenty-sixth day of the fifth month of Kannin 2 (1018).
Tõkyõ daigaku Shiryõ hensan-jo ed., 1959-1986, Shöyüki 'J^fB, 11 vols.,
Dainihon kokiroku (Tõkyõ: Iwanami shoten, vol. 5 [1969]), 35.
7. Goshüi õjõden gekan T#, Inoue Mitsusada and Õsone Shõsuke
eds., Õjõ-den, Hokke genki Nihon shisõ taikei vol. 7
(Tõkyõ: Iwanami shoten, 1974), 667a.
8. Unshü shõsoku SMtÜJÍ*, kan chü-matsu #4^, Shigematsu Akihisa ed., Shin
Sarugaku-ki, Unshü shõsoku (Tõkyõ: Gendai shichõsha ÌlftJIlSIÌL, 1982), 189-90.

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70 Shigeta Shin'ichi

The work known as U


by the mid-Heian-pe
(989-1066) and include
composed in Classical
The sender of the lett
served as the governor
to be the head of the
the aforementioned le
Inaba asked the onmyõ
Now, chisõ , as the Chi
of the land ( chi Ä), i.e
(correspondence betwe
encapsulates the ideal t
divine presence that gu
to the four mythical c
and Genbu These four
stagnant water, highw
reason that the arist
as it was by the four d
by the Kamo River t
highway to the west,
the four deities as my
relation to Heiankyõ.
In actuality, when we
Heijõkyõ we find th
role in the selection of
notion was most likely
Heiankyõ was in fact s
the case, it was in all p
developed the idea of sh
a highway, and elevate
Genbu, respectively, a
were acting as protecto
Thus Heiankyõ arist
depended upon this id
mythical creatures wh
sõõ- type topographie
in the aforementioned
Onmyõryõ, this Fujiwa

9. This is not the only le


there is also a request for
as a written communicatio
specialist. For more
Fujimoto, ed., Ochó bungak

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Onmyõdõ and the Aristocra tic C ul ture of Ever yda y Life in Heian Japan 7 1

a hill that corresponds with Genbu at the site of his newly acquired villa. As far as
we can make out from the letter, there were to the east, south, and west of the villa
running water, stagnant water, and a highway, which served as representations of
Seiryù, Suzaku, and Byakko, respectively. However to the north, rather than a hill
symbolizing Genbu, there was only a marsh. As noted by the landscape-selection
specialist, this was a serious drawback.
However Heian-period aristocrats did have ways to get around such problems.
According to the words of the governor of Inaba, if a number of trees were planted
on the on the south side of the marsh, between it and the villa, then it would be
possible to regard this grove as Genbu. In his letter to the head of the Onmyõryõ,
one of the governors inquiries concerns the relative utility of planting trees on the
north side of the villa, to be regarded as Genbu. This account is evidence of the
unusually intense obsession on the part of the mid-Heian-period aristocracy with
the shishin sõõ topographical model, protected on four sides by the four mythical
creatures. In any case, this letter included in the Unshü shõsoku sheds light on this
phenomenon.
Moreover, as this document suggests, onmyõji , such as the head of the Onmyõryõ,
aided in the realization of shishin sõõ- type landscapes during the mid-Heian period.
In other words, the onmyõji of the period in question served a function not unlike
that of practitioners of fengshui (fūsuishi SzJcÉip) in modern Japan.
At any rate, for the governor of Inaba, who wanted to create an environment
that would guarantee the presence of the four deities around his villa, considering
the physical setting of Heiankyõ as the ideal topography for the four Daoist gods
(shishin sõõ) was probably mere common sense. In the mid-Heian period such an
understanding had already become inseparable from the general sensibility of the
aristocratic class. This indicates that the notion of shishin sõõ , then regarded as
an important element of Onmyõdõ, had become an indispensable element of the
culture of daily life of Heian-period aristocraties {Heian kizoku no seikatsu bunka

Incidentally, the Unshü shõsoku also includes the reply that the head of the
Onmyõryõ sent to the governor of Inaba. It reads as follows: "Concerning this matter,
just a moment ago the chancellor ( kanpaku ISÖ) let out a shriek. I must thus visit
him immediately, and I shall therefore reply to your letter afterwards."10 In this way,
through their service as fengshui masters and in their capacity as diviners, sorcerers,
and determiners of taboos, mid-Heian-period onmyõji provided important support
for the aristocratic culture of daily life, and were no doubt kept extremely busy."

10. Unshü shõsoku , kan chü-matsuy Shigematsu, ed., Shin Sarugaku-ki, Unshü shõsoku , 190.
ii. In my work Murasaki Shikibu no Chichioya tachi , I analyze the letters addressed to onmyõji
found in the Unshü shõsoku not from the vantage point of research on Onmyõdõ and the history
of Onmyõdõ but rather from the position of research on the Heian aristocracy. See Shigeta,
Murasaki Shikibu no chichioya tachi : chükyü kizoku tachi no õchõjidai e
(Tõkyõ: Kasama shoin 2010), 103-12, 132-41, 154-60.

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72 Shigeta Shin'ichi

Onmyõji and the Spi

In line with a custom


no Sanesuke (957-10
and remained absent f
time. Because of his l
back to Ononomiya-te
original residence. A
onmyõji named Aga
Ononomiya-tei at the
This ritual entailed
particular manner, an
(917-977) and Abe no
when these two onmy
use of the henbai ritu
But who originally p
example is found in a
in which we learn tha
Minamoto no Michisat
Sanuki HR where he w
is the performance of
on behalf of the gen
with suppressing t
aristocrats regarded t
nothing of the distan
In this way, the Heian
for averting anticipat
When we consider th
crats, we can readily u
henbai performed at h
the property was bec
the house. In short, S
As for why Sanesuke
to be found in the fac
The relevant belief he
(early eleventh centur
states: "Should a large

12. Shöyüki , entry for


kokirokuy vol. i (1959), 96
13. Chikanobu kyõ ki
(974). Chikanobu kyõ
ruijü 29 -ge T (Tõkyõ: Zoku Gunsho ruijū kankõ kai 1959), 294a.
14. Shöyüki , entry for the fifth day of the eighth month of Chõgen Mit 1 (1028), Dainihon
kokirokuy vol. 8 (1976), 77.

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Onmyõdõ and the Aristocratic Culture of Everyday Life in Heian Japan 73

picious and evil will most certainly take up residence therein."15 Yokawa no Sõ
then, is saying that "something inauspicious and evil" (yokaranu morto
will come and settle in homes left unoccupied.
Of course this monk's words are part of a fictitious account created by Murasa
Shikibu However this does not take away from the fact that Yokawa no
Sozu's statement in the story reflects a common understanding regarding unoccup
houses during Murasaki Shikibus time (the mid-Heian period). It was probab
because of the perceived presence of something evil in abandoned mansions tha
such structures were regarded by Heian-period Japanese as evil places.
In addition, Yokawa no Sozu's entourage encountered a suspicious woman in a
large, vacated mansion in Uji ^/p, and while they regarded this figure as someho
evil, they made multiple conjectures concerning her more specific nature. Was sh
fox who had transformed into a woman? Was she a demon (oni HL), a deity (kami
or a tree spirit (kodama ^fcfi)?16 It would appear that this "evil something" that w
thought to reside in unoccupied homes was in a category of beings labeled by t
contemporaneous aristocracy as reibutsu M$)y which included oni, kami , spirits (rei M
and transformed foxes.
The Konjaku monogatari shü provides us with many examples of spirits who
have settled in empty houses. For example, we read that it was said that in an ol
neglected house in the Gojõ-Horikawa area rumored to be a bad pla
lacking any residents, there lived in the garden a tree-spirit (kodama 1sł#) in an old
overgrown tree, as well as demons, demon-deities (kishin ]&#), old foxes (oi ta
kitsune ^®), and many more, all of these being types of spirits.17 Furthermore,
Konjaku monogatari shü tells of an unoccupied house in the capital's southern wa
(shimo no hotori nari ketu tokoro that was used as lodging in cases
which a person altered his route of travel so as to avoid moving in an inauspiciou
direction (katatagae ífS). It was said that since long ago spirits (ryõ M) appeared
in this structure. One night, a wet nurse in a traveling entourage staying at t
house witnessed about ten noble small people (taka gosun bakari naru goi-domo
. . .jūnin bakari . . . +ÀfFV) dressed in traditional court garb
mount a horse and stride about.18
In the Konjaku monogatari shü there are many examples in which spirits dwe
ing in empty homes threaten the lives of those who stay overnight in these hous
For instance, there is an anecdote about a man from eastern Japan who came to t
capital for the purpose of purchasing a high court rank (eishaku SM [that is goí S
the fifth rank]) and found one nighťs lodging in an unoccupied house at Kawar
no in [that is on sixth avenue in the eastern ward, Sakyõ Rokujõ
old residence of Minamoto no Toru (822-895)]. However, a demon who live

15. Genji monogatari (tenarai Genji monogatari by Murasaki Shikibu


5 vols., Yanai Shigeshi et al., eds., SNKBTy vol. 23 : 370.
1 6. Genji monogatari (tenarai SNKBTy vol. 23: 325-27.
17. Konjaku monogatari shü , fase. 27, tale 31, SNKBTy vol. 37: 146-49.
18. Konjaku monogatari shū , fase. 27, tale 30, SNKBTy vol. 37: 145-46.

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74 Shigeta Shin'ichi

there kidnapped this


relates a the story of
decided to pass some
in Seta iflffl that he
who was dwelling wit
abodes housed danger
regarded such struct
Significantly, there
house (akiya and one
because Fujiwara no S
time, this original r
we consider this, we
once he decided to m
a long time and was
would have expected
that while living at h
previous residence, th
Thus, when Sanesuke
drive off this evil pr
there. To this end, Sa
dence. The henbai per
was therefore a techn
there during Sanesuk
houses (or in houses w
were regarded as a da
journeying outside t
aristocracy called upo
As I hope to have m
onmyõji to fulfill was
the work of onmyõji
of the culture of dail
culture of everyday lif

19. Konjaku monogatar


20. Konjaku monogatari
21. In the minds of He
places where evil spirit
constructed residence h
house. Accordingly, Hei
henbai and employ a num
this grouping of rituals
("new construction rit
kizoku to onmyõdõ: Abe n
(Tõkyõ: Yoshikawa kõbu
one facet of the Heian-p

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Onmyõdõ and the Aristocratic Culture of Everyday Life in Heian Japan 75

The History of Onmyõdõ as a History of the Culture of Daily Life

It should now be clear that the Onmyõdõ of the Heian aristocracy was not a reli-
gion but rather a matter of the culture of daily life (seikatsu bunka). Accordingly,
research on Onmyõdõ must also include a focus on the culture of daily life, and
the history of Onmyõdõ as we conceive of it must account for the role Onmyõdõ
played in the culture of daily life.
As for the relative merits of regarding Onmyõdõ as being in the same category as
Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and so forth (i.e., the category of "religion"), it would
be good if sooner or later we had an earnest debate about this particular approach.
It is possible that such a discussion might in turn lead to the very important debate
about what religion is in the first place. This would be a desirable situation from
the standpoint of the academic fields of Religious Studies (shükyö gaku thI&P) and
the History of Religions (shükyöshi gaku Despite the fact that there are
a number of academic societies with the term "religion" (shükyö Tnifc) included in
their titles, the Nihon shùkyô gakkai being a representative example,
the fact of the matter is that within the fields of Religious Studies and the History
of Religions in Japan there is currently no earnest discussion about the concept of
"religion."
Finally, as we look forward to future developments in the study of Onmyõdõ
and its history, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Bernard Faure, who
organized this international symposium for Onmyõdõ researchers.

Translated by Luke Thompson

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j6 Shigeta Shin'ichi

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Onmyõdõ and the Aristocra tic C ul ture of Everyda y Life in Heian Japan 77

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