Archive of discussion on the PMJS mailing list (February, 2000).

mokkan (wooden tablet)

  • mokkan (wooden tablet)
  • Zhong Kui/Shouki
  • "Kyuu kyuu nyo ritsuryo" invocation
  • for other kanji see alternative version of this page.
  • Question raised by Wayne Farris

    Discussants: Richard Bowring, Royall Tyler, Paul Atkins, David Pollack, David Olson

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    From: Wayne Farris
    Date: Sun, 6 Feb 2000
    Subject: Mokkan from 737

    Dear all,
    I am currently struggling with a wooden tablet unearthed from Nara in the Nijo oji batch, usually attributed to the household of Fujiwara no Maro, one of the famous "Fujiwara four" who died in the smallpox epidemic of 735-737. The mokkan reads:

    "Under the southern mountain (NANSAN), there is water that does not flow. In it there is a great snake with nine heads and one tail. It does not eat left-overs (AMARU MONO). But it consumes Chinese (T'ang) demons (oni). In the morning it eats 3,000 and in the evening it eats 800. KYUU KYUU RITSURYOO NO GOTOSHI."

    Now there is no doubt that this mokkan is what is called a majinai
    mokkan, in other words, a charm, to ward off the disease. The KYUU KYUU RITSURYOO NO GOTOSHI is a dead (excuse the pun) giveaway, as this phrase appears on other mokkan to ward off sickness.
    My questions are;
    1) Does anyone know about the reference to NANSAN? Upon peremptory examination, the term seems to be associated with longevity.
    2) How about a nine-headed, one-tailed snake?
    3) Finally, anyone know anything about "T'ang demons"? (TOOKI)
    Any ideas welcome.
    Best wishes,
    Wayne Farris

    From: Richard Bowring
    Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2000
    Subject: Mokkan from 737

    An initial comment on the mokkan. This whole thing sounds terribly Korean, with the reference to Tang demons etc. Nansan doesn't refer to the sacred mountain just outside the Silla capital of Kyongju, does it?
    Richard Bowring

    From: Royall Tyler
    Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2000
    Subject: Mokkan from 737

    NANSAN could be the Omine mountains. There was once a terrible nine-headed serpent in Omine that stopped all water flowing, I think; and a monk whose biography I once read destroyed it. Who was the monk, though? (It was a long time ago, in another life.) Maybe Rigen Daishi, the chuukoo ("reviver") of Omine shugendo after En no Gyoja, often shown sitting beside En no Gyoja in Omine iconography.

    Royall Tyler

    From: Paul S. Atkins
    Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2000 10:24:01 -0700
    Subject: Mokkan from 737: Zhong Kui?

    Dear Prof. Farris,

    The snake is a complete stumper, but how does this sound? The
    demon-eating, coupled with the reference to Tang reminds me a great deal of the Chinese legendary figure Zhong Kui (J. Shouki, 鍾馗). He was a scholar from Zhong Nan Shan 終南山 who failed one of the imperial exams and subsequently killed himself. Later he appeared in (Tang) Emperor Xuan-zong's dream and promised to defend the realm. His main activities are stopping epidemics and killing demons. I think he prefers to eat them. There is a noh play called _Shouki_, which is believed to be by Komparu Zenchiku. Zhong Kui is also a favorite topic for painters.

    On looking up "Nanzan" in my electronic _Koujien_, I foundthat it is
    another name for Zhong Nan Shan, the place Zhong Kui hails from. Another definition is "to celebrate long life," and is based on the phrase "Nanzan no ju". (read kotobuki for ju) That is a phrase from the _Shi jing_, which describes a person's achievements as being as eternal as Zhong Nan Shan, which will never crumble. It then came to serve as a phrase celebrating long life.

    I'm not quite sure if I have got all the Pinyin right, nor do I know if
    this information fits, but if you would like titles of sources, etc.,
    please contact me.

    Paul S. Atkins
    Assistant Professor of Japanese

    Department of Modern Languages & Literatures
    Montana State University

    From: David Pollack
    Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2000
    Subject: Mokkan from 737: Zhong Kui?

    re mokkan 737:

    Paul Atkin's response certainly appears to hit the mark, and all the Chinese imagery would seem to point to a Chinese serpent -- but it also sounds a bit like the mythical Yama no orochi of Japanese myth (though as I recall that particular snake had eight heads?). I also have a vague recollection of some such serpent in the Shanhaijing (W-G: Shan-hai Ching). Sorry about not investigating, and my Japanese fonts evaporated recently...

    David Pollack

    From: Wayne Farris
    Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2000
    Subject: Mokkan from 737: Zhong Kui?

    Dear Royall, Richard, Alexander, and Paul,
    I'm a bit of a novice, since I have never been a member of a list or
    discussion group such as this one.

    I'm grateful to all four of you for your suggestions.
    Royall's tying in Mt. Oomine and En no gyooja is interesting, but would the timing work? And isn't En no gyooja kind of a shadowy figure? But worth following up. I doubt that NANSAN refers to the famous mountain overlooking Kyongju, although that was my first thought, too. I was just in Kyongju last October, and the view of the checkerboard plan from Nansan is remarkable. But I think that Paul is right, and given that this is a reference to the smallpox epidemic, Nansan probably refers to longevity.

    I thought of the nine-headed snake in the Mutsu Waki, too. But how to tie it to disease?

    Paul seems to have the basis of the story, referring to Zhong Kui, etc. I'll check this out further soon.

    Meanwhile, I should tell you that I have asked (via fax--I couldn't get his e-mail to go through) Tateno Kazumi at Nara kokuritsu bunka zai kenkyuujo for his opinion. He first brought the relic to my attention last fall, but I was so busy looking into medieval population that I forgot what he said. I'll pass along Tateno-san's view as soon as I have it.

    I don't know how many of you do mokkan or are interested, but
    Tateno-san is a really handy fellow to know. He can get you guided tours of the Palace site at Nara and is dying to have more foreign members of MOKKAN GAKKAI, the organization devoted to study these "critters," as Michael Cooper once called them.

    Any way thanks for the hints. Further observations are welcome. I
    hope I have responded appropriately.
    Best wishes,

    From: Wayne Farris
    Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2000 19:27:08 -0500
    Subject: Mokkan from 737: Zhong Kui?

    Dear Paul,
    Would you mind terribly describing or otherwise telling me what the
    characters are for Zhong Kui? My computer does not have Japanese-language software. If you don't mind, I'd also like to have any information you have on sources.
    Your ideas have been a real help!

    From: Paul S. Atkins
    Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 11:39:01 -0700
    Subject: Sources for Zhong Kui/Shouki

    Dear Wayne,

    Here are some of the sources I used for Zhong Kui/Shouki in my
    dissertation, which was on the Zenchiku's noh plays:

    Fong, Mary H. "A Probable Second 'Chung K'uei" by Emperor Shun-chih of the Ch'ing Dynasty." _Oriental Art_ 23: 4 (Winter, 1977) 423-37.

    Lee, Sherman E. "Yen Hui: The Lantern Night Excursion of Chung K'uei."
    _The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art_ 49: 2 (Feb. 1962) 36-42.

    Werner, E.T.C. _A Dictionary of Chinese Mythology_. New York: Julian
    Press, 1961.

    I also found material in:
    _Japanese ghosts & demons : art of the supernatural_ / edited by Stephen Addiss ; essays by Stephen Addiss ... [et al.]. New York : G. Braziller in Association with the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, 1985.

    Also, here is a museum exhibit in Taiwan:

    Zhong is written with the metal radical and the left and "omoi" (as in heavy) on the right. Kui is written with a "kyuu" (nine) having the tail extended and "kubi" written on top of the tail. My edition of _Koujien_ has Zhong Kui as the 22nd, or last entry, under "Shouki."

    Hope this is of some use to you and of interest to other members on the list.


    From: Wayne Farris
    Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2000 16:51:34 -0500
    Subject: Sources for Zhong Kui/Shouki

    Dear Paul,
    Many thanks for your help. I'll follow up your leads asap.
    I should also add, in case members of the list are interested in this
    problem, that Tateno-san has notified me by e-mail that he will responding soon with his interpretation. Poor guy, being the point man for Japan's mokkan finds keeps him busier than I can imagine.
    When I hear from Tateno-san, I'll pass along his interpretation.

    From: Wayne Farris
    Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2000 17:53:46 -0500
    Subject: Sources for Zhong Kui/Shouki

    Dear folks,
    I have received a fax from Tateno-san, my friend at Nara National
    Cultural Properties Research Institute. He says there is a fair amount of debate over this mokkan among Japanese scholars, but the following points appear to be clear:
    The locus classicus for this quotation was probably a Tang medical text called the QIAN JIN HUAN FANG ("thousand gold wheel treatise"), written by Sun Si-miao, ?-682. According to most interpretations, a snake was begged to consume the Tang demons. On Tang demons, there is apparently a lot of speculation that the character should be GYAKU, also read OKORI, meaning malaria or fever. So the author of the tablet was invoking the power of a nine-headed single-tailed snake to gobble up "fever demons." Of course, since a high fever is a symptom of smallpox, and the tablet is dated as no later than 738 or 739, then it's a pretty good guess that it was a part of the epidemic of 735-37.

    A reference to a nine-headed single-tailed snake can be found in the CHU TZU, from a region located in southern China where malaria and other fevers were common. Tang sources say that the snake had a red head and a yellow tail.

    As for Nansan, there are some who believe that it refers to Mt. Yoshino, but it was associated in Chinese folklore with the southern extremity of the world.

    I'll give you an example of a Chinese invocation:

    "At the southern mountain there is a land. In the land, there is a
    viper with a red head and yellow tail. It does not consume the five grains. It simply consumes 'fever demons.' In the morning it eats 3,000 and in the evening it eats 800. KYUU KYUU RITSURYOO NO GOTOSHI."

    And now you know what to do the next time you or someone in your family has a fever! Let me know if you have further thoughts, particularly on how Paul's suggested interpretation might fit in. Since the KYUU KYUU RITSURYOO NO GOTOSHI dates back to Han times, this whole tradition might be older than the Tang. Perhaps Paul has a different piece of the puzzle.

    From: David Olson
    Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2000 18:03:07 -0700
    Subject: Sources for Zhong Kui/Shouki

    A footnote on the Mokkan/Nanzan/Zhong Kui thread.

    From the Schocken paperback edition of Fukuzawa Yukichi's _Autobiography_, p. 191 (translated by Kiyooka Eiichi):

    At the time of the expedition against Choushuu [1864], many foreigners in the country showed much interest in the affair. One of them, an American or an Englishman, wrote a letter to the government, asking for the reasons of the expedition and the crimes the Choushuu clan had committed. The elder statesmen must have held a special session to frame a reply, for they returned a long letter. Anyone might have expected some reference to the Choushuu clan's antagonism to foreigners, or their firing on foreign vessels at a time when Japan was formally concluding treaties with the
    peoples of the world. But the letter showed no such reasoning at all. It said that the Choushuu clan had "disturbed the peace in Kyouto, disregarded their Emperor's wish, disobeyed the orders of the Shougun, and that their crimes were more numerous than the bamboos on Nanzan..."

    Kyuukyuu ritsuryou no goshiically yours,

    David Olson

    From: Paul S. Atkins
    Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 15:47:25 -0700
    Subject: Kyuu kyuu nyo ritsuryo

    Regarding the invocations, I'd certainly defer to Tateno-san; it sounds as if he has seen them before. It's fascinating. Zhong Kui was just my shot in the dark, but my hunch is that the invocations against illness (and the nine-headed snake, etc.) are linked with the Zhong Kui legend in some way--perhaps the legend drew on existing motifs from folklore on demon-quelling.

    It's really quite amazing what one can do with a _Koujien_ and little else. I entered the phrase "kyuu kyuu" on a lark and came up with this entry:


    kyuu kyuu nyo ritsuryou

    (meaning, "do it quickly, and as severely as the ritsuryou [legal system]") an invocation to expel demons.

    It's really quite interesting that people would invoke the legal system as a metaphor for severity in performing exorcisms.

    There is a book titled _Chuugoku no oni_, published in 1995, that I had a glance at in Tokyo. It is a translation of a book by a Chinese author. Might be worth a look.

    Paul Atkins

    From: Wayne Farris
    Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 21:18:19 -0500
    Subject: Kyuu kyuu nyo ritsuryo

    Dear Paul,

    Thanks for your note. The KYUU KYUU RITSURYOO NO GOTOSHI phrase
    is still used in Japan today to keep away demons. There's a really good book, which you may know, entitled DOOKYOO TO HIGASHI AJIA, edited by Fukunaga Mitsuji. It includes an article on this phenonemon by a scholar named Maeda Ryooichi.

    This invocation is really Daoist--it has little to do with the law codes per se, except in that they became a sort of magical symbol in later East Asian culture (also Korea, by the way). Thanks for your help again.

    page edited 2001/01/27

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