Feng shui has become a phenomenon in the west over the last few decades, as discussed here. To cover the wide range of subjects and styles associated with the approach, there are now over 40 feng shui books sitting in my bookshelf. All are based on the ancient Chinese art of placement used to create harmony in our environment through the manipulation of energy. In Japan feng shui is called fusui (wind-water). Fusui has had a long history and wielded considerable influence from ancient to contemporary times. Like other practices that incorporate the five Chinese elements in Japan, such as traditional Japanese medicine, the art of fusui has had limited exposure outside of the country. Based on the information I’ve been able to find in English, a summary follows of what I have learnt so far. It represents the first steps in an ongoing journey of discovery.
There are so many dimensions to fusui in Japan that it is a challenge to know where to start. Should I begin with the introduction of feng shui from China in the 7th century and the subsequent formation of the Onmyoryo (Bureau of Yinyang) that utilised fusui? Or start in contemporary times where fusui appears to have widespread popularity amongst individuals (based on the number of books published and sold) and where new buildings such as the SkyTree in Tokyo are critiqued by fusui experts? A lot has happened between the 7th century and now, with the fortunes of fusui changing over the centuries – largely depending on how it was viewed and supported by the powers that be.
My aim in the material presented below has been to present a cohesive if not entirely chronological story about the practice and evolution of fusui in Japan. A reminder to readers that my posts in elementaljapan.com are informal introductions to subjects related to the elements. They draw on my impressions, experiences and observations as I travel in Japan and build my reference collection. A more comprehensive coverage will come at a later date.
The first, and still the best overview I’ve read of fusui in Japan was found in an unexpected source – a book titled ‘Supernatural and Mysterious Japan – Spirits, hauntings and paranormal phenomena‘. The author Catrien Ross describes how fusui has been applied from its first introduction to modern usage. Of interest are her comments on the importance of energy lines (Dragon paths), ketsu (energy outlets) and the three geomantic criteria of mountains, watercourses and directions for fusui. According to Ross the central intent of the original practice was to take these factors into account to calm the wind and acquire water. Hence the use of kanji for wind and water to describe the art. Wind and water also distribute energy in the landscape.
Catrien writes that from its beginnings fusui has been inseparable from yinyang dualism and the Five Elements theory, the Chinese doctrine that all things and events are products of yin (the vital energy of the earth) and yang (the vital energy of the heavens). Yin and yang interact to produce the five elements or phases/agents (gogyo) – metal, water, wood, fire and earth. In the Japanese context I have sometimes seen ‘wood’ referred to as ‘tree’, ‘metal’ as ‘gold’ and as ‘earth’ as ‘soil’. As my research on elemental Japan continues I hope to discover more about these nuances.
What I have discovered however are numerous academic papers in english on Onmyodou, the Way of Yinyang (and by association the five Chinese elements/phases). In Japan yinyang is referred to as InYo or OnMyo. The Bureau of Yinyang (Onmyoryo) operated for around 1000 years and the Onmyoji (Masters of Onmyo/Yinyang) who worked there held considerable influence in the placement of cities, houses and graves, as well as on other decisions made by the ruling class and elite. Fusui was one of several arts the Onmyo Masters drew on in their roles.
By far the most famous practitioner of Onmyodo/Onmyoudou is Abe no Seimei who lived between 921-1005. Wikipedia has a useful introduction to this intriguing man. If you find yourself in Kyoto the Seimei Shrine is well worth visiting. There are several other shrines, and at least one Temple (Shinnyodo in Kyoto who sell an ema with a red pentagram) that have links to Seimei. When I visit Japan in mid 2018 I am planning to visit the Seimei neighbourhood Shrine in Osaka where it is purported Seimei was born.
In modern times interest in Seimei has been revived in Japan through books, anime, manga, video games and two movies. The pentagram appears in many of the modern portrayals of Seimei. It is said that he independently developed the symbol in the 10th century. Some writers say that the five pointed star went on to become the mark of the Onmyoji. The resurgence in interest in Seimei has helped highlight the practice of geomancy/fusui in the Hiean period and its importance in the history of Japan.
In my trip to Japan in mid 2017 I discovered illustrations of the five Chinese elements in a different context, also related to fusui. Thanks to my friend Kaori Okushima my eyes were opened to the large number of modern books written in Japanese on applying fusui principles in homes or businesses. The illustration in the books reminded me of the feng shui titles in English that I have acquired. Just as feng shui has been adapted for a western audience in many of these books, modern fusui practitioners in Japan such as Dr Copa have recast the concepts for popular consumption. The approach must have appeal as according to his website Dr Copa has sold 450 million copies of books written on the ZEN feng shui style he advocates. That’s a lot of books!
Another aspect of fusui related to the elements is the use of the Pa Kua/Bagua (eight symbols), an essential tool in most Feng Shui Schools. The eight symbols are trigrams that represent different combinations of in and yo (yinyang) and an associated element. Bagua appear in modern day ‘self-help’ books on fusui albeit sometimes in a simplified form. The Bagua also appears in the two Onmyoji movies and are mentioned in some texts I’ve read on Onmyodou. Wikipedia has a useful entry on the “Later Heaven” Bagua in feng shui, which is used for residences:
“The trigrams are related to the five elements of Wu Xing used by Feng Shui practitioners and in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Those five elements are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. The Water (Kan) and Fire (Li) trigrams correspond directly with the Water and Fire elements. The element of Earth corresponds with both the trigrams of Earth (Kun) and Mountain (Gen). The element of Wood corresponds with the trigrams of Wind (Xun) (as a gentle but inexorable force that can erode and penetrate stone) and Thunder (Zhen). The element of Metal corresponds with the trigrams of Heaven (Qian) and Lake (Dui)“.
Hopefully I will be able to find similar information on the Bagua/trigrams specifically written about fusui.
The books described above principally relate to applying fusui principles within a home or business. At the landscape scale the Sky Tree in Tokyo has attracted considerable attention in relation to its design and placement. This landmark building has been criticised for being bad fusui – likened to a poison arrow. The designers have defended the tower saying it represents a five (Buddhist) element pagoda that will protect the prosperity of Tokyo for years to come. Like Kyoto, the original city design for Tokyo (then called Edo) was based on fusui principles.
There is much more that I could write about fusui. It’s a fascinating subject and one that is key to my research on elemental Japan. The subtitle of my blog and book is/will be ‘Feel the energy‘. At a fundamental level fusui is about energy flow and exchange both within and external to our bodies. Exerting control over the different energies entering our own energy fields can influence the way we feel. Over the centuries fusui has been used in Japan to influence these energies at local and landscape scales.
Before I go further there are those academic articles to read on Onmyodo and posts on the Onmyoudou Facebook site to explore. Other avenues for research include following up reports that fusui is more pragmatic in its application than feng shui and that the ‘bad’ direction at the landscape scale differs in the two systems. The book ‘Invisible Armor‘ by Serge Mol (2008) postulates that decisions made by Tokugawa Ieyasu in relation to the location of his and his enemies grave sites, all strongly influenced by fusui, may have had a major impact on the families long reign in Japan. Theories and intriguing leads abound!
There is more to discover as well about the practice of fusui in Okinawa (where it is known as funshi), the chain of Japanese islands close to Taiwan. From what I understand feng shui was introduced to Okinawa later than the rest of Japan and still has a strong presence today. A series of academic articles on feng shui villages in Okinawa and their associated trees should provide some insights.
The five Chinese elements have remained a fundamental component of fusui from the time it was first introduced to Japan centuries ago through to contemporary practices. Fusui appears alive and well in Japan, expressing itself in many guises. Its application and evolution is a captivating and complex story. While the practice is derived from feng shui it appears that some adaptations have been made in Japan. Fusui is definitely a subject that would lend itself to a mind map to capture its different dimensions and weave these threads together. I will report back when the opportunity arises to put pen to paper. 🙂