This character is the form of a crack deliberately added on a tortoise plastron or animal bone in order to divine before the tortoise plastron and bone characters are inscribed. The backside of the tortoise plastrons or animal bones being the divination material is dug and made flat, creating a hole to which an iron stick is applied. The character form shows the figure of the crack appearing on the opposite side.
Among the variant forms of 卜, this form is regarded as lucky or auspicious. The traditional name of the vertical line is 千里 ‘senri: thousand Ri (1 Ri is 3.9 km)’ and the horizontal line is called 坼 ‘taku: split, crack.’ When the ‘taku’ line is crooked halfway, it gets the meaning of ill (bad) luck. 卜 also is one of the characters indicating that the luck – bad luck alternative is a central way of thinking in Oriental culture. Among the animal bones the shoulder blades of oxen, the horns and skulls of deer, the rips and others of female rhinoceroses and the skulls of prisoners of war were used. Regarding tortoise plastrons there are two, the belly plate and the carapace; 甲, the character of the belly shell or plastron shows the flat, square belly plate, the plastron. As the back shell or carapace was seldom inscribed, this can rarely be seen. As the back shell is round and very hard, it is quite difficult to dig a hole in it for producing a divination crack.
As in ‘Western’ Kanji research not the correct ‘tortoise plastron and bone writing,’ but generalized wording like ‘tortoise shell or carapace’ not naming the plastron is used for the translation of 甲骨文 ‘Kōkotsubun,’ the original form or correct image usually is not conveyed clearly. One reason for this is that the character 甲 which originally shows the tortoise plastron is mainly used in compounds like 甲羅 ‘Kōra: tortoise shell’ and 亀甲 ‘Kikkō: tortoise shell, carapace.
The upper part of this character now is 折 (‘oru: to break off, to bend’), in the previous character forms, however, it is considerably different. 斥 is the form of an ax, 扌, however, in this case, does not mean a hand. That the ax is used with the hands is common sense and does not have to be mentioned in full detail. Here, it shows the object being made with the ax.
Like at the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima, there are so called god ladders to be used by the Kami (gods) when ascending to and ascending from heaven. It is a wooden ladder as one often finds at sacred places in China. The扌 of the upper part of 哲 is a god ladder and shows the making of a gods ladder with an ax. As the 口 of the lower part is a receptacle for putting in ‘norito’ prayer writings, this character represents the heart and mental state when welcoming the gods. Therefore, since antiquity it had the meanings ‘akiraka: clear’ and ‘kenmei: wise.’ This adjective was also often used for kings. There also is the character form with 心 ‘heart’ instead of the 口 ‘norito’ prayer receptacle which in a representative ancient dictionary is defined as having the meaning of “It is 敬 ‘Kei: reverence’.” The Zhu Xi school (in Japan ‘Shushigaku’) which exerted profound influence on East Asian thought for hundreds of years and became the political thought and philosophy of the Japanese Tokugawa government from the 17th to the 19th century had made 敬 the guiding principle. The meaning of this character 敬 thus is defined as identical with this previous character form of 悊.
Also, long before this, there was the variant character form 喆 (tetsu). Based on the dictionary Shuō Wén Jiě Zì, Setsumon Kaiji (Explanation of Simple Graphs and Analysis of Complex Characters) from the later Han period, Dr. Shirakawa also introduces the equivalent 嚞 made up of three 吉.
left: bronze inscription
right: so called Old Script from the Shuō Wén Jiě Zì
It shows the form of putting 士, a small broadax on top of a 口 prayer or benediction receptacle. Dr. Shirakawa’s Kanji research has first proved that 口 does not mean the human mouth but a ‘norito’ prayer receptacle already fifty years ago. As can also be understood from the character form 王, which shows the head part of a broadax, one generally thought that extraordinary spiritual power resides in weapons like a broadax. What regards the putting of something on the ‘norito’ prayer receptacle, it is similar to the character 悟 (吾) which shows a double lid. Here, however, it is the small broadax, symbol of the warrior class, which was an action widely spread among people to further enhance the effect of prayer. Therefore, it generally is used for benedictions, including also military affairs.
Although there is praying and requesting from God also in monotheism, there is no ‘auspicious’ - ‘inauspicious’ judgment like in Oriental religions when praying and asking for inquiring the chance of realization of a prayer. In Japan, it is usual to draw a ‘omikuji: written fortune oracle,’ at a shrine, in monotheism, however, this is absolutely unthinkable. Such a religious view letting people reflect on their lives by judgment in terms of auspiciousness and inauspiciousness shows that originally there is a basic Oriental tradition of being clear and definite about personal prayers. In this respect, there is no room for the thesis of an original ambiguity of Japanese or East Asian culture as often propounded by Japanese and non-Japanese authors.
Keiko Yoshida is the owner of Yoshida store in Daito-ku, Tokyo, that creates and sells Takarabune-kumade, or Treasure ship rakes, which are sold only at the Tori Fair of Ootori Shrine. Ms Yoshida was born in 1921 and is a master craftswoman recognized by Nihon Shokunin Meikoukai, the association for the Japanese Master Craftsmen.
Yoshida is currently the only store that creates Takarabune-kumade employing traditional methods, and Ms Yoshida continues to use the methods passed down since the Edo period. She initially started making the rakes to help her husband who was originally a carpenter. After his death, she became the head of the store and single-handedly manages the business.
Takarabune-kumade made by Yoshida store uses only natural materials of bamboo and paper. The whole manufacture process including cutting bamboo, cutting paper using a pattern, coloring, drawing faces, painting exterior, and insertion are done by hand. These techniques have been handed down to Ms Yoshida’s daughter, Kyoko.
Okera-mairi is an annual event to celebrate the New Year at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. It begins on New Year's Eve and ends on the morning of New Year's Day.
The practise of Okera-mairi comes from the belief that, by bringing the holy fire of Yasaka home in the New Year and cooking a 'zoni' (vegetable soup with rice cakes in it) from that fire, one will have perfect health for the next year.
'Okera' is an asteraceous perennial, and its root was traditionally used as a gastrointestinal medicine in Chinese traditional medicine. It was also used as a charm to ward off evil spirits by feeding it into the flames. These beliefs and practices turned out to become today's Okera-mairi.
After the ceremony of the watch night on New Year's Eve, the holy fire is divided into five Okera lanterns by the hands of the Shinto priest. Each lantern comes with an 'Okera-gi', a piece of wood with a wish written on it. People bring the holy fire with the wishes back home by lighting a rope of twisted-bamboo.
The sight of the visitors returning home from Yasaka Shrine, spinning their rope to keep the fire alive is also a specialty of the Okera-mairi. Such a tradition today let's us see the continuation of ancient Japanese beliefs in the power of fire.
There is a custom in Japan in which people purchase or receive a hamaya (evil-repelling arrow) on a visit to a shrine for the first time (hatsumode) in the new year (oshogatsu). The arrow is a good luck charm for good fortune in the coming year. Sometimes the arrow comes in a set with a hamayayumi (evil-repelling bow).
The origins of the hamaya come from a ritual called 'jarai', a customary ceremony that took place at new year in the imperial courts to exhibit people's abilities with bow and arrow. The target used during this ritual was called 'hama', hence the names 'hamaya' ('the arrow that hits the target') and 'hamayumi' ('bow used for the target').
Originally, jarai only took place in imperial courts, but during the mid-Heian period, the word 'hama' ('ha' means 'destroy' and 'ma' means 'evil') changed its meaning. The ritual then became a custom at new year in which common people gave a toy bow and arrow to any family with a male child.
Other customs that developed include setting up a hamaya on a ridge in the direction of the 'demon gate' when building a new house, and sending hamaya and hamayumi to relatives and friends on the 'hatsu sekku' (first annual festival) of a newborn baby.
A hammer is typically used to pound or smash objects, but the Uchide no Kozuchi (magical hammer) carried by Daikoku, one of the seven gods of fortune, is different: with just one swing, that person can achieve happiness, with all the fortune and the necessities of life (food, clothes, shelter) they would want.
Daikoku is usually portrayed holding the kozuchi, and a grab bag, seated on bales of rice with a smile that is in a way charming. The bag, which is over the shoulder of Daikoku, first appeared in the Japanese myth, 'Inaba no Shirosagi', and is said to hold the luggage of the Yasogamis. It is also described in an old fairy tale that relates how Daikoku was almost burned to death, due to Sanoo's trap, but was saved by mice. Mice then became the guardians of Daikoku.
At first, Daikoku was deified as the god of destruction and good harvest, but as time passed, he became the god of good harvest, food and fortune.
The kozuchi can be seen in other fairytales such as the 'Issun Boshi' ('One-Inch Boy') and the 'Binbogami and Fuku no Kami' ('God of Poverty and God of Fortune') as a hammer that granted any wish.
Tarobo Shrine (Aga Shrine) is probably some 1400 years old. Praying at the shrine is believed to bring good luck, protection from ill fortune and business prosperity.
The main deity at Tarobo Shrine is 'Masaka-Akatsukachi-Hayahiameno-Oshi-Homimi-No-Mikoto'. Around the main building, there are peculiar rocks called 'iwaza'. There is also a husband-and-wife rock pair. There used to be a single standing rock, but legend has it that it was smote in two by a deity. It is said that any liar who tries to pass through the gap in the two rocks will become wedged.
From the observation tower, one can see beautiful natural scenery.