4 divine beasts eyed to protect Tokyo ward

4 divine beasts eyed to protect Tokyo ward
PHOTO: Japan News/ANN

As part of efforts by Tokyo's Koto Ward to become a new "power spot," the last of a series of monuments to four divine beasts was recently erected in the Toyosu district, in the hope it will boost the ward with its spiritual energy.

In ancient China, four fictional creatures known in Japanese as Shijin - the seiryu (blue dragon), byakko (white tiger), suzaku (vermilion bird) and genbu (snake-coiled turtle) - are believed to have stood guard at east, west, south and north to remove negative energy and bring prosperity into enclosed areas.

This belief is said to have been reflected in the construction of Japan's ancient capital Heiankyo in Kyoto: Geographical features of a river and a mountain are said to have been interpreted as each of the guardians, encircling the capital.

Building monuments to the four animals in Koto Ward has taken more than 20 years overall. It is hoped the guardians will bring spiritual benefits and draw more visitors to the area.

The ward built the first monument in 1992, when a project was proposed to make the area a sub-centre of Tokyo. To boost the regional economy of the Kameido district, the ward office constructed a "winged turtle" monument in the district, as the "kame" of Kameido is written with a kanji character meaning turtle.

The monument is named "Hanekame," in the hope that the area would take off. This first turtle later came to be recognised as the snake-coiled turtle genbu, but at the time the ward office was not thinking of the creature as one of the four divines.

That came five years later, when the ward office was going to build a monument in an open area in front of Higashi-Ojima Station on the Toei Shinjuku subway line that was being renovated under a redevelopment project.

The office noticed by chance that the turtle monument in Kameido looked like genbu, the guardian of the north, which resembles a turtle with a snake wrapped around it. Also, Kameido is located in the north of the ward.

Taking advantage of that coincidence, the ward office decided to set up a monument of a blue dragon, the guardian deity of the east, in front of the station. Since then, the turtle monument in Kameido has been called genbu.

In 2006, the management of part of Wakasu Seaside Park was transferred from the Tokyo metropolitan government to the Koto Ward Office, and the area was opened as Koto Ward Wakasu Public Park.

To commemorate the opening, the ward thought "There's nothing [better] that could be built as a symbol and monument than suzaku (vermilion bird), a guardian deity of the south," a ward official is quoted as having said.

The last creature, a white tiger, made its appearance at the opening of the multipurpose Toyosu Civic Center on Sept. 24. Located on the premises of the facility, the monument cost about ¥19 million, including design and construction fees.

Midway through this project, the ward government hit on the idea of using the four divine creatures to boost tourism, and embedded a plate displaying the four animals on a map of Koto Ward in the foundation of the tiger monument.

"We want visitors to enjoy the ward with its different landscapes - the old town in the north, the riverside in the east, nature in the south and the waterfront in the west - while visiting the four divine animal monuments," said a ward official in charge, hoping that the divine forms serve to encourage tourism in the ward.

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