Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Correcting the Old, Adapting the New

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Correcting the Old, Adapting the New

Article excerpt

The end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century in Japan saw transformations in divination techniques similar to those in other fields of knowledge and belief. These transformations were made possible by the growth of the book market and the emergence of a new intelligentsia willing to share its knowledge with a broader public. To be more precise, we can observe a change in paradigm regarding mantic practices and a gradual shiftfrom a "medieval" and a quite heterogeneous method based on calendrical parameters, the eight trigrams (hakke) technique, to more focused and homogeneous techniques such as shin'eki and dan'eki. These techniques derive from the mantic uses of the Book of Changes, and are based on hexagrams. At the center of the introduction of these new methods was Baba Nobutake, a member of the literati whose extensive publications influenced this shiftin divination theory and techniques.

KEYWORDS: divination-Baba Nobutake-Book of Changes-trigrams-hexagrams-hakke divination-shin'eki

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End-of-seventeenth-century Japan is known as a kind of golden age that saw the extraordinary development of commercial publishing, the rise of a new urban culture, and a renewal in the way knowledge and ideas were looked upon and passed on. This period set new standards of cultural behavior that served as a basis for the establishment of a modern society, which ultimately helped the archipelago to readily embrace the Western model at the end of the nineteenth century.

Quite unsurprisingly, divination in Japan had also begun to transform in parallel to these changes, following lines strikingly similar to those taken by other fields of knowledge and belief. Nevertheless, when compared to fields such as Neo-Confucianism, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and even religion, Japanese divination has hitherto received scant attention. This may explain the tendency of scholars to dismiss divination as something that supposedly kept people in a pre-scientific state of mind, pulling them back to the irrational. However, given the complexity of divinatory techniques grounded in an evolving correlative system, there is no denying how influential they were (and are) on the construction of cosmology and the world view shared in a given society.

In this article I attempt to shed light on the evolution of divination techniques at the end of the seventeenth century in Japan, and how it relates to a more general trend of the correction of the old and the adaptation of the new that can be seen through a wide range of fields, from literature to religion. What is more, we will see that this evolution involves a relative rejuvenation of divinatory techniques mirroring a sort of tropism toward Han-period "original" Confucianism, as opposed to Song-period Neo-Confucianism, shown by several Japanese Confucian thinkers.

These transformations were not taken up by professional diviners themselves, most of them not being skilled enough in Chinese, but rather by literati with premium access to Chinese sources who were willing to diffuse their knowledge in response to their Confucian ideals, and also to appeal to a new market for books. One of these literati, Baba Nobutake ... (?-1715), seems to have played a key role in this process, and therefore my inquiry will be focused on his works.

First, I will briefly present the context in which Baba played a role and give a quick biography of this little-known author, before moving on to his works related to divination. Finally, I will discuss the motives and implications of the winds of change he intended to see in Japanese divination.

Through this study of Baba's work, I will try to show that he contributed in popularizing at least two different techniques, shin'eki and dan'eki. Both techniques derive from yarrow-stalk divination based on the hexagrams of the Book of Changes (Ch. Yijing; Jp. Ekikyo . …

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