Japan is a place of beauty and mystery; and after living here in Snow Country for three years, it’s time to start writing about Fu Sui, the study of mountains, landscape and architecture and how the environment affects the wellbeing, prosperity and happiness of the people who live there.
During China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907), there was a rich cultural exchange between Japan and China. Feng Shui (lit. ‘wind water’) was popular in China and the Japanese showed great interest in it. So it was brought to Japan and adapted to the local culture where it became known as Onmyōdō (lit. ‘The Way of Yin and Yang’) which was initially under the control of the imperial government.
The first capital city of Japan, Nara, established in 708, was built according to Chinese design principles with a criss-crossed grid pattern of roads. The location was also chosen according to Feng Shui principles. The Japanese interest in all things Chinese extended to architectural practice, and traditional Japanese architecture exhibits a distinct Tang style with solid lintels and upturned corners.
From my research so far, detailed information on the practice of Onmyōdō is not available in English (most books appear to be about ‘good luck’, this one on Amazon looks the most interesting). Suffice it to say that Fu Sui in Japan is quite different from Feng Shui in China, and there are different ideas at play. Nonetheless the fundamental principles are the same between Fu Sui and Feng Shui,
Feng Shui is the same everywhere, the same yin and yang.” Geomancer for Tang’an Village, South of Liping County, China
When I ask locals about the Fusui in Minamiuonuma, they will ponder for a minute and then refer me to their favourite ‘Power Spot.’ These are places with high concentrations of life force energy, or qi (chee, or ‘ki’ in Japanese). Most of the time, we will find a shrine in these locations and sometimes, an important building or structure.
Let’s start with the most important site in the area, Mount Sakado, because it was chosen as the site for the castle of the local Lord:
Mount Sakado is a prominent landform in Minamiuonuma valley. It is the most outstanding ‘mountain dragon’ and from this location, there is a view up and down the entire valley.
The original Sakado Castle was built right on top of Mount Sakado, with the strategic advantage of being able to view 360 degrees. This location in fusui is called the ‘dragon’s back’:
It is possible to hike up Mount Sakado to see this magnificent view for yourself. But is this location good Fusui? Perhaps not. The reason being that when you are located at the top of a hill, there is no support; there is no ‘Black Tortoise’ to provide protection from strong winds.
It is no surprise then, that the original castle doesn’t exist any more. Fusui shows how any site affects the people who live there. Perhaps one day I will learn more about the history of Sakado Castle and be able to add further to this discussion.
The Feng Shui concept of the Four Animals features strongly in Japanese Fusui. Here is an animated gif to explain their locations at the Sakado site:
The yellow lines are the back and veins (ridges) of the ‘mountain dragon.’ The original Sakado Castle site is on the top (dragon’s back). This location is exposed to the strong and cold northerly winds and in winter, heavy snow.
The blue line is the Uono River. The base of Sakado Castle (Castle Wall ruins) is ’embraced’ by the river with runs from south to north (from right to the left of the image). The river is winding, not straight, and it curves away at the red bird and comes back in, this is ’embracing.’ It is a good Feng Shui feature.
The location of the Castle Wall ruins is an excellent Fusui location because it is embraced by the Four Animals: mountains on three sides (‘White Tiger’, Green Dragon’, Black Turtle’) and the river at the front (‘Red Bird’).
Ideally, in Feng Shui we say that the dragon side should be more prominent than the tiger side. In this case the tiger is stronger because the mountain extends out into the valley further on this side. The small lake in Senbuchi Park was once much larger, thereby blocking the qi of the tiger from intruding onto the site. According to Feng Shui, qi is ‘blocked’ by water. The tiger side in this case my also be good because it blocks the cold northerly wind from intruding onto the site.
The dragon side is also very prominent and wraps around to ‘hug’ the Castle Wall ruins site. The dragon (‘Ryu’ in Japanese) figures prominently in both Chinese and Japanese culture and is a symbol of good fortune. It makes the site auspicious.
As we move to the right of the dragon site, another location ‘Ryugon’ can be seen. This is the location of a very beautiful and traditional Ryokan (hotel) onsen, and magnificent Japanese garden. Recently I had lunch with friends at Ryugon. I have been here several times before but this time we were invited to view the special VIP suite.
From the window of the suite I took this photo and in a moment of realisation, I understood why the hotel was named ‘Dragon Word’…The embracing second arm of Mount Sakado is curving around the entire site of Ryugon:
When I asked one of the staff, “Why the name Ryugon?” They didn’t know. When I explained it is the ‘dragon side’ of Mount Sakado, they got it straight away.
Perhaps if Sakado Castle had been built at the Castle Ruins site instead of on the top of Mount Sakado, it may still be there today.