Geomantic Korea

Konrad at Muninn is really on a roll with the long, interesting and heavily-researched posts these days. Earlier this week he put up excerpts from the Taengniji (擇里誌 or 택리지), a "classic work on Korean geography and geomancy" from the mid-18th century. Japan doesn't come off very well.

"From the south-east of Taegu city to Tongnae are eight towns. Although the soil is rich these are not desirable places to live because of their proximity to Japan." (45, the original for this last phrase is 土雖沃, 近倭, 不可居)
"Japan has many miasmal springs which cause endemic diseases. (Original: 倭一國, 多瘴泉而有土疾)"

Note the absence of 日本, Nippon/Nihon, Japan's modern name. Instead it uses 倭, China's (and therefore Korea's, when they wrote in Chinese characters) name for Japan in the Olden Days. 倭 is the Wa in that phrase "Land of Wa" you sometimes see in translations of old Chinese texts. Opinions are divided on the subject of exactly what China meant by this 倭 -- maybe "small", maybe "far away", maybe "obedient", maybe something entirely different.

In Japanese, the character was read Yamato, which was what they called their own country, but later on they grew to dislike 倭 and started to write Yamato 大和: 和 ("peace") because it had the same sound as 倭, and 大 ("big, great") for effect. Then, just for good measure, they also invented and started using the entirely new and different name 日本.

For (a lot) more on all this, check out this page about the Gishi Wajinden (apparently notes for an upcoming book, which I for one will be buying -- if he can persuade his publishers to include the originals in there with his translations.)

Anyway, 倭 still beats the other Chinese name for Japan, 東夷 ("Eastern Barbarians").

Popularity factor: 2


Thanks for the mention! Actually, I was also curious what they would call Japan (which was why I dug up the original classical Chinese in an old '70s edition they had in the library's deep basement.

Funny enough, though, in our next reading for class, a long over-100 page essay on the history of Korean cartography, most of the map references to japan used 日本 or 日本国 instead, including a map from 1402.


Yeah, I was kind of surprised they were still using 倭 that late. I mean, I never did any hard academic research on the subject or anything, but I'm pretty sure that even Europe was all about the "Zipang" by then.

Comment season is closed.