Posted by: yamaninjo | February 6, 2010

Animals of the clock

In regard to the 鬼 ONI goblins of 節分 Setsubun, one of the teachers at the smallest junior high school told me that they have horns of a Bull and wear a loincloth made of a tiger’s pelt.  The next day she explained why.

Yin-Yang Zodiac Compass-Clock

Yin-Yang Zodiac Compass-Clock

The Chinese Zodiac is well-integrated into Japanese culture and society, and oddly enough this is where the Bull’s horns and tiger’s pelt are involved.

In the circle of cardinal directions, North is the Mouse, East is the Rabbit, South is the Horse, and West is the Bird.  In between the first two are the Bull (北北東 NNE) and Tiger (東北東 ENE).  In between East and South are Dragon (東南東 ESE) and Snake (南南東 SSE).  In between South and West are Sheep (南南西 SSW) and Monkey (西南西 WSW).  In between West and North are Dog (西北西 WNW) and Boar (北北西 NNW).

All of these also represent two hour periods on the 24 hour clock.  For instance, the Hours of the Mouse are from 23:00 to 01:00 and the Hours of the Bull are 01:00 to 03:00. It goes on clockwise from there along the cardinal circle.

ONI (goblins) come from between the cardinal directions of the Bull (北北東 NNE) and Tiger (東北東 ENE), probably because this is a harsh direction toward which to travel as you get wind and cold.  Just the same, as the lesser demons come between these two Zodiac animals, so it took the horns of the Bull and the pelt of the Tiger.

The direction the goblins come from is also called 「丑三つ時」(“ushi mitsu doki” — “Time of Three Cows”) but this refers to midnight, which I can’t quite figure out.  Midnight lies within the space of the hours of the Mouse.

This clock-compass comes from 陰陽道 the way of Yin and Yang, “a divination system based on the Taoist theory of the five elements” according to my Japanese-English dictionary application.


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