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Kōshin

Kōshin (Sino-Japanese pronunciation of the signs for ‘metal’ and ‘monkey’ in Chinese sexagesimal system of calendrical reckoning). A Japanese folk deity whose original impetus was Chinese folk belief (loosely, Taoist), but which by accretion has taken on both Shinto and Buddhist associations. The Chinese believed in three malevolent deities (literally ‘three worms’) who inhabit every human body, inflicting it with various ailments, and who on the nights of the six Kōshin days each year would escape to heaven to report to the gods the moral transgressions of their hosts, thus shortening their lives. This idea was spread in Japan in the Heian period by wandering Onmyō-ji (‘yin-yang masters’). It was thought that by keeping awake on Kōshin nights, the worms would be unable to escape to make their reports, hence the aristocratic custom of keeping Kōshin vigils and whiling away the hours in poetry-writing, musical entertainments, and games.

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