Four Defenders of Japanese Festivals

At Japanese festivals, four banners with the pictures of the four divine beings are sometimes displayed.

You might have also seen them at a ceremony at the imperial palace.

They are the defenders of Shin’iki (神域 しんいき) or the sanctuary of the shrine.

These four defenders are: Blue Dragon (青龍 せいりゅう Seiryu; the defender of the east), White Tiger (白虎 びゃっこ Byakko; the defender of the west), Vermilion Bird (朱雀 すざく Suzaku; the defender of the south), and Black Tortoise (玄武 げんぶ Genbu; the defender of the north; usually entwined together with a snake).

Together these four flags are called “Four Godly Flags/ Banners” (四神旗 しじんき Shijinki).

But in the Edo period (1603-1868), they were also called “Four Godly Swords” (四神剣 しじんけん Shijinken) in the Tokyo area as they put swords at the tips of the flags.

There is a hilarious rakugo story that involves a set of “Four Godly Swords”, which is based on a true story that happened at a restaurant called Momokawa (百川 ももかわ).

Unfortunately, it is one of those stories that would get lost in translation, but I will attempt explaining it another time!

See you next time!

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