Organized Panel Session

2 - Earthquakes, Onmyōji, and Omenology in Heian Japan

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Thurgood Marshall South, Mezzanine

In the six official histories of Japan (rikkokushi), completed between 720 and 901, earthquakes are treated no differently from other disasters and portents. Their occurrence is generally understood as the expression of discontent of one or more kami (tatari); as an admonition from Heaven (Jpn: ten; Chn: tiān) directed to the ruler’s leadership; or as the deed of a vengeful spirit (onryō). At the end of the tenth century, however, a new discourse on earthquakes starts emerging, whereby earthquakes are interpreted on the basis of the position of the moon on the ecliptic. Proponents of this new discourse were onmyōji, mantic technicians active within the court bureaucracy who based their findings on Chinese astronomical texts and the Dazhidulun, a commentary on the Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra.In this talk I will identify, through an analysis of court diaries, the appearance of this new conception in the late tenth century, and follow its development up to the early thirteenth century. In particular, I will focus on onmyōji and their role within Heian-period omenology, as well as on their contributions to the ritual resolution of disasters and inauspicious omens. I will also address the historical consequences of this reinterpretation of earthquakes—namely, their incorporation within the realm of celestial anomalies (tenpen)—and some of the methodological implications for the study of cultural transmission in premodern Japan.

Alessandro Poletto

Columbia University, New York


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2 - Earthquakes, Onmyōji, and Omenology in Heian Japan

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