Fusui, the way of Feng Shui in Japan | Elemental Japan

Feng shui has become a phenomenon in the West in recent decades, as discussed here. To cover the wide range of topics and styles associated with the approach, there are now over 50 feng shui books in my library. all are based on the ancient Chinese art of placement which is used to create harmony in our surroundings through the manipulation of energy. in japan feng shui it is called fusui (wind-water). Fusui has had a long history and has exerted considerable influence from ancient times 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 have been able to find in English, here is a summary of what I have learned so far. represents the first steps in an ongoing journey of discovery.

fusui has so many dimensions in japan that it is a challenge to know where to start. should it start with the introduction of feng shui from china around the 7th century and the subsequent formation of the onmyoryo (yinyang office) which used fusui? or start in contemporary times where fusui seems to be very popular among people (based on the number of books published and sold) and where fusui experts criticize new buildings like the skytree in tokyo? A lot has happened between the 7th century and now, with fusui’s fortunes changing over the centuries, depending largely on how he was viewed and supported by the powers that be.

Reading: Feng shui japan

my goal in the material that follows has been to present a cohesive, if not entirely chronological, history of the practice and evolution of fusui in japan (note that, for the record, i have also seen fusui occasionally called zoufuu tokusui). a reminder to readers that my posts on elementaljapan.com are informal introductions to elemental-related topics. They are based on my impressions, experiences, and observations while traveling in Japan and building my reference collection. more comprehensive coverage will come at a later date.

The first and still the best overview I have ever read of Fusui in Japan was found in an unexpected source: a book titled “Supernatural and Mysterious Japan: Spirits, Apparitions and Paranormal Phenomena”. 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 core 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 since its inception fusui has been inseparable from yinyang dualism and the five element/phase theory, the Chinese doctrine that all things and events are products of yin (the vital energy of the earth) and the yang (the vital energy of the heavens). yin and yang interact to produce the five elements or phases/agents (j. gogyo): metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. in the Japanese context, I have sometimes seen “wood” referred to as “tree”, “metal” as “gold”, and “earth” as “soil”. As my research on elementary japan continues, I look forward to discovering more about these nuances. my post on yinyang in japan delves into inyo and gogyo for those interested in learning more.

the book ‘history of feng shui’ by stephen skinner, a highly respected authority, includes a three quarter page description of japan and fusui. It focuses on selected aspects of Fusui rather than providing an overview like Catrien Ross does. In short, the main topics covered in the “history of feng shui” are: how the application of fusui to Japanese Taoist gardens has preserved more detail than the extant Chinese classics on the subject; how the Japanese approach uses a ne-sw orientation instead of the feng shui n-s orientation; and a reference to the nine-star ki, a modern variant of basic feng shui popularized by michio kushi (who also promoted the macrobiotic food movement). Skinner’s coverage of Fusui is interesting both for its brevity and its selective content. In contrast, the section on Australia is four and a half pages long, although feng shui has a much shorter history and lesser acceptance there. Perhaps the difference in level of detail is due to the paucity of consolidated information on Fusui in English for Skinner to rely on? it would be interesting to know.

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As I’ve explored further, it’s clear that the material available on fusui in English is highly variable. Only two out of three of these feng shui “bibles” illustrated above refer to the practice of Fusui in Japan. ‘feng shui for dummies’ notes that the Japanese used a method related to ‘vastu shastra’, the Indian ‘art of placement’ (which is based on a different set of five elements). This is the first time I’ve heard that comparison. ‘the feng shui bible’ goes into a bit more detail, saying that the Japanese developed traditional Chinese compass-based feng-shui in the school of eight directions. fusui is not mentioned in ‘the practical encyclopedia of feng shui’.

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The almost complete absence of fusui in these supposedly complete books illustrates the low profile and limited understanding of Japanese practice in the Western world. To date I have not discovered any book in English that provides detailed coverage of the history and practice of fusui. I hope they will be written one day. or if one or more books already exist, I’d appreciate details.

Another topic relevant to fusui, covered in numerous scholarly articles, is onmyodo, the path of yinyang (and by association the five Chinese elements/phases). In 2012, a special volume of the cahiers d’extrême-asie magazine was published entitled ‘The path of yin and yang: divinatory techniques and religious practices’. there are many other papers available. Since they are not easily accessible to the general public, my plan is to summarize their key findings regarding fusui.

In Japan, yinyang is known as inyo or onmyo. the yinyang office (onmyoryo) functioned for about 1,000 years and the onmyoji (onmyo/yinyang masters) who worked there had considerable influence. it seems that their main function was to judge the auspicious or harmful signs present in the natural world, based on a series of arts. One of the ways onmyo masters used fusui was in the placement of cities, houses, and tombs.

By far the most famous practitioner of Onmyodo is Abe no Seimei, who lived between 921 and 1005 AD. Wikipedia has a helpful introduction to this intriguing man. If you happen to be in Kyoto, Seimei Shrine is well worth a visit. there are many pentagrams (representing the abe family crest and, it is said, the five chinese elements/phases) as well as references to yinyang/inyo at the shrine which has an active schedule of events and videos online. there are several other shrines and at least one temple (shinnyodo temple in kyoto that sells an ema with a red pentagram) that have links to seimei.

Popular interest in seimei has been revived through books, anime, manga, video games, and two movies (image below). the pentagram appears in many of the modern representations of seimei. some say he developed the symbol independently in the 10th century. others claim that seimei “borrowed” the symbol from Daoist rituals associated with the five phases. Whatever the origin, the pentagram is reported to have become the mark of the onmyoji.

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The constant popular references to seimei described in the examples above help keep onmyodou, the five Chinese elements, and arts such as fusui, alive in the minds of the Japanese public. I understand that visits to the seimei shrine in kyoto, especially by young girls, have increased considerably since yuzuru’s performance.

elsewhere, in tokyo, kyomei hashimoto defines himself as “the last master of yinyang”, a bold and possibly disputed claim. it would be interesting to interview him about where fusui fits into his practice. In contrast, the Japanese branch of the International Feng Shui Association has nearly 40 members. They use modern techniques and tools recently imported from Hong Kong, with apparently limited interest in the approach developed in Japan over many centuries. As with many arts in Japan, “location art” has appeared in multiple guises throughout its long history.

Some clarity on at least one type of instrument used by the original onmyoji comes from a 2013 article on rituals to make rain in shinsen’en, the divine spring garden created in 800 AD in heian-kyo ( now kyoto). Steven Trenson points out that the most widely used divination board in medieval Japan was called a Rikujin. using it was a complex process that was based on Chinese concepts such as yinyang and the five phases. A stylized image of the instrument, shown below, is illustrated in the Seimei Shrine. the rain-making ceremony, which is covered in detail in the document, makes for fascinating reading. compare divination tables and ritual, it involves dragons and is very elemental. I really want to read it again with ‘fusui eyes’.

(During the ‘big break’ in 2020 I explored yinyang and the five phases (inyo/gogyo) in japan in more detail in this post. doing the associated research was an eye opener).

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While English sources related to fusui are fragmented and can be difficult to access, a large number of modern books have been written in Japanese on the application of fusui principles, including the five elements/phases, in homes or business. i would like to thank my friend kaori okushima for opening my eyes. the illustrations in the books remind me of the many English feng shui titles in my library. Just as feng shui has been adapted for a western audience in many of these books, modern practitioners of fusui in japan, such as dr. glass, have reformulated the concepts for popular consumption. The approach must be attractive since, according to his website, Dr Copa has sold 450 million copies of books written on the Zen Feng Shui style that he espouses. That’s a lot of books!

another aspect of fusui related to the elements is the use of pa kua/bagua (eight symbols), an essential tool in most schools of feng shui. the eight symbols are trigrams representing different combinations of in and yo (yinyang) and an associated element. bagua appears in modern “self-help” books on fusui, though sometimes in a simplified form. the bagua also appears in the two onmyoji movies and is mentioned in some texts i have read in onmyodou. I have also seen the bagua in at least three omamori (charms sold at temples and shrines) while traveling in japan. there’s more digging to do here.

The books described so far deal primarily with the application of Fusui principles within a home or business. On a landscape scale, the Tree of Heaven in Tokyo has attracted considerable attention in relation to its design and location. this iconic building has been criticized for being mal fusui, compared to a poisoned arrow. the designers have defended the tower saying it represents a five-element (buddhist) pagoda that will protect tokyo’s prosperity for years to come. Like Nara, Kyoto, and Kamakura, the original city layout of Tokyo (then called Edo) was based on Fusui principles.

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Edo’s original design, by expert fusui tenkai, is reported to have been based on a spiraling water channel centered on the castle. I first found the information in a book about mount fuji and the four seasons by ohyama and yamashita (2011) and then found a more detailed article in the first edition of wattention tokyo (2014). that’s where the illustration above comes from. the purpose of the great spiral of water was to collect and increase the ki (energy) of mount fuji. I find that fascinating. Four hundred years later, the “art of placement” still resonates in the intriguing city of Tokyo, as illustrated by the Tree of Heaven. in april 2018 i was finally able to visit this amazing tower with my sister ruth. there was obviously nothing related to fusui there, at least not in english. however, there was some informative material on the earthquake resistance of the skytree – another dimension of the elements.

ruth and i also visited dr copa fusui store in ginza in april 2018. i have a photo to prove it! (see below). the shop took some finds and it was not what i expected when we got there, with the fusui stuff hidden on the third floor. my most exciting discovery was a book called ‘kaso & fusui. the complete works of dr copa’ (also shown below). now I just need to translate it.

There is much more I could write about fusui. is an exciting and key topic for my research on elementary 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 inside and outside of our bodies. Exercising control over the different energies that enter our own energy fields can influence the way we feel. Over the centuries, fusui has been used in Japan to influence these energies on a local and landscape scale.

To continue with fusui, there are scholarly articles on onmyodo to read and posts on the onmyoudou facebook site to explore. other avenues of research include investigating reports that fusui is more pragmatic in its application than feng shui and that “bad” direction on the landscape scale differs in the two systems. The book ‘Invisible Armor’ by Serge Mol (2008) posits that the decisions made by Tokugawa Ieyasu regarding the location of their graves and those of their enemies, all heavily influenced by Fusui, may have had a great impact on the families in those who reigned for a long time. Japan. Intriguing theories and clues abound!

There is also more to discover about the practice of fusui in okinawa (where it is known as funshi), the Japanese island chain near Taiwan. From what I understand, feng shui was introduced to okinawa later than japan and still has a strong presence today. the village recreated in the charaumi aquarium (image above) demonstrates the traditional placement of houses and the surrounding vegetation in okinawa, all heavily influenced by funshi principles. A series of scholarly articles on okinawa ‘feng shui’ villages and their associated trees should provide some insights.

The Chinese Five Elements/Phases have remained a fundamental component of Fusui from the time it was first introduced to Japan centuries ago through contemporary practices. during that period, the determination of favorable and unfavorable directions has been a feature. Fusui is alive and well in Japan, expressing himself in many ways. its application and evolution is a captivating and complex story. Although the practice is derived from feng shui, some adaptations seem to have been made in Japan. the next step is to create a fusuimind map to capture these different dimensions and help weave the various threads together. I’ll let you know when the opportunity to put pencil to paper arises. 🙂

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