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Auspicious Omens in the Reign of the Last Empress of Nara Japan, 749-770

Ross Bender
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
Vol. 40, No. 1, Onmyōdō in Japanese History (2013), pp. 45-76
Published by: Nanzan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41955530
Page Count: 32
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Auspicious Omens in the Reign of the Last Empress of Nara Japan, 749-770
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Abstract

The pattern of auspicious omens reported to the court and recorded in Shoku Nihongi during the reign of the last Nara empress, Kōken/Shōtoku Tennō, offers essential insights into the royal political theology of the time. Royal edicts and memorials to the throne discussing portentous animals, cloud formations, and spontaneous inscriptions on unusual surfaces constituted a dialog between court and literati revealing a coherent interpretation of how the cosmos responded to the actions and situation of ruler and subjects. The omens were a component of a developing structure of yin-yang (onmyō) thought, although the evidence of the chronicle is that Onmyōdō itself as a formal system had not yet crystallized. Most notable is that the omens were unfailingly good omens, upholding the sovereign in an age beset by succession disputes, conspiracies, and outright rebellion, and provided the occasions for creating auspicious era names.

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