Scary stories of stars 1

The term “星合 (Hoshiai)” means the Star Festival, where the two stars of Kengyu and Orihime meet with each other on the night of lunar July 7, only once every year. The Star Festival is still a popular event in the present day, colored with its romantic legend.

On the other hand, the same characters had a totally different meaning in “二星合 (Niseigo)”, “三星合 (Sanseigo)”, etc., where two or three planets among Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn looked closely with each other. Unlike the romantic “Hoshiai”, “Seigo” was worried by people as an omen of something evil.

In the winter night sky, starts look very beautifully in the clear air. However, stars were not always adored for their beauty, but sometimes even caused a terrible confusion, which is the theme of today’s story.

“Tenmondo” was a kind of astrology aimed at telling the fortune of people and trends in society through the movements of stars in the night sky, which was originated in the ancient China and imported into Japan. Tenmondo leaves its trace in the present customs, where people try to read horoscope and make a wish to a shooting star. For people in the ancient Japan, the movements of stars were of much more importance.

In the medieval Japan, Tenmondo was particularly active, with positions dedicated to reading stars established in the bakufu (shogunate) and at the Imperial Court. The mechanisms of astronomical objects were not known to people very well in those days. Niseigo, Sanseigo, a meteor stream, comets, and other extraordinary movements of stars must have appeared extremely eerie to people’s eyes.

Whenever such extraordinary natural phenomenon occurred, the bakufu and the Imperial Court asked temples and shrines to make prayers, so that an evil incident could be avoided. Toji was also often asked to make such prayers. The Toji Hyakugo Archives contains several documents related to such prayers. The following document indicates that an order for prayer was issued from the bakufu to Toji in the winter of 1402, when a large comet appeared in the night sky:

Hirohashi Kanenobu Hosho web page
Item 38 of Box-HO (Katakana),“Hirohashi Kanenobu Hosho”,dated February 11, 1402

In this document, it says “Start prayers for the comet in the 17th. An order to Toji was issued that the prayers should be made particularly carefully, so that the heaven would definitely hear them.”

In those days, the Muromachi bakufu was highly prosperous, with Ashikaga Yoshimitsu exercising an enormous power. Was he afraid of extraordinary star movements despite his powers, or because of his powers?

Look forward to the next story featuring the comet that intimidated Yoshimitsu.