Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": The Appearance Of A White Pheasant

A favourable omen in ancient Japan


('Nihongi,' II, 237-9)

The Emperor said: 'When a sage ruler appears in the world and rules the Empire, Heaven is responsive to him, and manifests favourable omens. In ancient times, during the reign of Ch'eng-wang of the Chou Dynasty, a ruler of the Western land (i.e., China), and again in the time of Ming Ti of the Han Dynasty, white pheasants were seen. In this Our Land of Japan, during the reign of the Emperor Homuda, a white crow made its nest in the Palace. In the time of the Emperor 0-sazaki, a Dragon-horse appeared in the West. This shows that from ancient times until now, there have been many cases of auspicious omens appearing in response to virtuous rulers. What we call phoenixes, unicorns, white pheasants, white crows, and such like birds and beasts, even including herbs and trees, in short all things having the property of significant response, are favourable omens and auspicious signs produced by Heaven and Earth. Now that wise and enlightened sovereigns should obtain such auspicious omens is meet and proper. But why should We, who are so empty and shallow, have this good fortune? It is no doubt wholly due to Our Assistants, the Ministers, imperial Chieftains, Deity Chieftains, Court Chieftains and Local Chieftains, each of whom, with the utmost loyalty, conforms to the regulations that are made. For this reason, let us, from the Ministers down to the functionaries, with pure hearts reverence the Gods of Heaven and Earth, and one and all accepting the glad omen, make the Empire to flourish.'

Again he commanded, saying:

'The provinces and districts in the four quarters having been placed in Our charge by Heaven, We exercise supreme rule over the Empire. Now in the province of Anato, ruled over by Our divine ancestors, this auspicious omen has appeared. For this reason We proclaim a general amnesty throughout the Empire, and begin a new year-period, to be called White Pheasant. Moreover We prohibit the flying of falcons within the limits of the province of Anato.'


Adapted from Aston's translation, by Wm. Theodore de Bary (ed.), Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), p. 80

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