Constellation Legendry in Japanese Mythology (Book Review)

It is perceived as general knowledge that there is no constellation mythology in Japan. This classical belief emanates from the fact that there are hardly any words about stars in the sky in Japanese legendry as mentioned in the Kojiki (『古事記』 Records of Ancient Matters, 712) and the Nihon Shoki (『日本書紀』 The Oldest Chronicles of Japan, 720). When asked why Japanese mythology has so few references to stars, some typical explanations are tendered by Japanese scholars. Unlike nomads who rely on stars for directions, the ancient Japanese were an agricultural people and, thus, were not concerned with the stars. The Japanese wanted to sleep early, and actually slept early, because of their exhaustion from farm work in the daytime and, hence, they did not care about the stars. The ancient Japanese were afraid of evil spirits in the dark sky of night, and, thus, were not inclined to deify stars like the Greeks or to find in them the opportunity to study the astronomical almanac like the Chinese. The unclear air due to the humidity of the climate of Japan hindered people from clearly seeing stars in the night sky. In reality, these observations cannot explain the existence of various dialects and traditions relating to stars all over Japan, which proves that the ancient Japanese were definitely interested in the stars. Thus, it is too facile to say that there is no constellation legendry in Japan, even if there are almost no words in Japanese mythology that literally and directly refer to the stars in the sky.


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