Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Onmyodo in the Muromachi Period

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Onmyodo in the Muromachi Period

Article excerpt

This article argues that the significance of the Muromachi period within the history of Onmyodo has been seriously undervalued and understudied, and demonstrates the importance of the period through a discussion of the careers of the leading onmyoji of the time. It discusses the policies of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and his promotion of numerous onmyoji to high court ranks, and his performance of various Onmyodo rituals, such as "the Great Esoteric Rite at Kitayama villa." It then looks at the decline of onmyoji activities after the death of Yoshimitsu and during the administrations of Yoshimochi and Yoshinori. It concludes that the Muromachi period, especially during the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, was the "golden age" of Onmyodo, and speculates on why this has been overlooked by scholars.

KEYWORDS: Muromachi period-Ashikaga Yoshimitsu-Abe no Ariyo-court ranks-esoteric rites-Ashikaga Yoshimochi-Ashikaga Yoshinori

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How should we understand the Muromachi period within the history of Onmyodo (yin-yang divination) as a whole? If we consult the largest dictionary of Japanese history, the Kokushi daijiten, we find that the entry on Onmyodo begins with the period in the sixth and seventh centuries prior to the Taika reform and touches on the Medieval period, but devotes an overwhelming majority of space to Onmyodo in the Heian period. For the Kamakura period, we find the shogunate's favoring of Onmyodo set out extremely simply, and for the Muromachi period the entry merely touches on the Onmyodo texts produced around that time. Turning to the entry on onmyoji (yin-yang diviners, Onmyodo practitioners), we find an exposition on the subject from the Asuka period to the time of the Meiji Restoration, but it makes absolutely no mention of onmyoji in the Muromachi period. Even if the Muromachi period was a period of decline for Onmyodo, there must surely be issues concerning the onmyoji of the time that need to be taken into consideration.

If we put preconceived ideas to one side and approach the historical materials with an open mind, a historical image of Onmyodo comes into view that is radically different to the one described above. This article presents a discussion of the relationship between Onmyodo and the Muromachi regime during the administrations of the shoguns Ashikaga Yoshimitsu ... (1358-1408), Ashikaga Yoshimochi ... (1386-1428), and Ashikaga Yoshinori ... (1394-1441). This is said to have been a relatively stable era even amid the repeated uprisings and upheavals of the Muromachi period as a whole.1

The Period of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu's Administration

A large number of onmyoji appear in the historical materials of the Muromachi period. It is of great interest that the ranks held by the onmyoji of this period are unusually high. We even find some who have progressed to the Third Court Rank and higher, that is to say, to the highest aristocratic echelon, known as the court nobles (kugyo ... see table 1). There is no example of this prior to the Muromachi period. Court rank is a direct indication of the holder's position within the state. Thus we can say that the position of onmyoji within the state had become higher than had previously been the case. From what point in time, then, did onmyoji become able to rise to the Third Court Rank? Moreover, what was the historical background of this elevation?


Abe no Ariyo ... (1327-1405) was the first onmyoji to rise to the Third Court Rank (without Imperial Advisor status [sangi ...]), a position he achieved in the first month of the fourth year of the Eitoku era (1384) (see the Kugyo bunin ... official list of court appointments in szkt). Ariyo was born in 1327, the second year of the Karyaku era. While still young he served as commissioner of ceremonies for the kishimai ... ritual dance which was part of the Daijoe ... (the banquet on the occasion of the Daijosai ... enthronement rites in which the first of the rice harvest is ceremonially offered by a newly-enthroned emperor) in 1354, the third year of the Bunna [Bunwa] . …

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