Oni kawara

Have you heard of 「Kimon」?

I did a lot of research about auspicious plants and places in connection to Japanese gardens and one term that always appeared was 「Kimon」.
But what is this Kimon?

Kimon (鬼門) can be translated as “Demon Gate”. This term, at least, dates back to the Heian period. It is the place where demons will most likely enter a city or palace. It lies in the Northeastern direction. You can read a little bit more about it in our eBook Auspicious Plants.
Many methods were always known how to protect this area of the property.

The Kyoto Sangyo University published a study where they explored the Kimon in a ricefield district in Kyoto. The name ricefield district comes from the Japanese term 田の字地区. The 田 describes the form of how the ward is laid out. The arrangement of the streets and homes looks like the Kanji for ricefield.
While this study examines how often the Kimon is actually protected with different methods, I want to introduce these methods since it will let you see some corners of Kyoto with different eyes.

In our book “Auspicious plants” I already introduced the possibility of protecting the “omote kimon” with Nanten (Nandina domestica) or Hiiragi (Osmanthus aquifolium). The people in the ricefield district examined in this study, are either planting them directly at the Northeastern corner or, more often, place them in a planter there. You will find more Nanten than Hiigari.

Kyoto Machiya
Kyoto Machiya by Flickr user Japanexperterna.se Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Something you can find at the Imperial Palace but not very often in private homes is the avoidance of a real corner. At the Imperial Palace, the corner ist cut and you have two small edges to the left and right.

Kyoto Gosho by Flickr user Kiwi He Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Very common is a small area in the shape of a square – sometimes also a circle – which is filled with white gravel. I have seen them very often but didn’t know their connection to Kimon until I read the study.

The corner is avoided, plus there is a square with white gravel.

It is interesting that neither Nanten, Hiiragi, nor these white gravel squares are mentioned as demon repellants in most other literature.
Here we find other trees: Japanese plum, Peach, Nashi pear, and Enju (Styphnolobium japonicum). What is also mentioned are Oni kawara (roof tiles in the shape of a demon), placing an elephant (statue), or placing a special demon picture. You can also put a small Inari shrine there. Sometimes you will see these on big properties in Tokyo too.

Oni kawara

I hope you liked this short excursion into the ricefield districts of Kyoto and maybe, on your next trip to the city, you will look-out for the Kimon 😉

This article was first published on Patreon!

Resources: 「鬼門除け」に見られる京都の魔除け習俗の研究 : 「田の字地区」実地調査を事例として

Learn more:
Auspicious plants in Japanese GardensAuspicious plants in Japanese Gardens
Mysterious plants! Did you know…
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