Japanese mythology

Japanese folklore are heavily influenced by the two primary religions of Japan, Shinto and Buddhism. Japanese mythology is a complex system of beliefs that also embraces Shinto and Buddhist traditions as well as agriculture-based folk religion. The Shinto pantheon alone boasts an uncountable number of kami (deities or spirits). One notable aspect of Japanese mythology is that it provided a creation story for Japan and attributed divine origins to the Japanese Imperial family, assigning them godhood. The Japanese word for the Emperor of Japan, tennō (天皇), means "heavenly emperor."

Japanese folklore has been influenced by foreign literature. Some stories of ancient India were influential in shaping Japanese stories, though Indian themes were greatly modified and adapted to appeal to the sensibilities of common people of Japan. The monkey stories of Japanese folklore show the influence of both by the Sanskrit epic "Ramayana" and the Chinese classic “The Journey to the West.”. The stories mentioned in the Buddhist Jataka tales appears in a modified form in throughout the Japanese collection of popular stories.
(New World Encyclopedia)


Japanese Creation Myth

In the beginning, the world was a chaotic mass, an ill-defined egg, full of seeds. Gradually, the finer parts became heaven (yang), the heavier parts earth (yin). Deities were produced between the two: first, three single deities, and then a series of divine couples.
According to the Nihon shoki, one of the first three “pure male” gods appeared in the form of a reed that connected heaven and earth. A central foundation was now laid down for the drifting cosmos, and mud and sand accumulated upon it. A stake was driven in, and an inhabitable place was created.
Finally, the god Izanagi (He Who Invites) and the goddess Izanami (She Who Invites) appeared. Ordered by their heavenly superiors, they stood on a floating bridge in heaven and stirred the ocean with a spear. When the spear was pulled up, the brine dripping from the tip formed Onogoro, an island that became solid spontaneously.
Izanagi and Izanami then descended to this island, met each other by circling around the celestial pillar, discovered each other’s sexuality, and began to procreate. After initial failures, they produced the eight islands that now make up Japan.
Izanami finally gave birth to the god of fire and died of burns. Raging with anger, Izanagi attacked his son, from whose blood such deities as the god of thunder were born. Other gods were born of Izanami on her deathbed. They presided over metal, earth, and agriculture.

In Japanese mythology, the Japanese creation myth (Tenchikaibyaku, literally "creation of heaven and earth" 天地開闢), is the story that describes the legendary birth of the celestial and earthly world, the birth of the first gods and the birth of the Japanese archipelago.

This story is described first hand at the beginning of the Kojiki and in the Nihon Shoki. Both form the literary basis of Japanese mythology and Shinto; however, the story differs in some aspects between these works, with the most accepted for the Japanese being the one of the Kojiki.

At the beginning the universe was immersed in a beaten and shapeless kind of matter (chaos), sunk in silence. Later there were sounds indicating the movement of particles. With this movement, the light and the lightest particles rose but the particles were not as fast as the light and could not go higher. Thus, the light was at the top of the Universe, and below it, the particles formed first the clouds and then Heaven, which was to be called Takamagahara (高天原, "High Plain of Heaven"). The rest of the particles that had not risen formed a huge mass, dense and dark, to be called Earth.

When Takamagahara was formed, the first three gods of Japanese mythology appeared:
Amenominakanushi (天之御中主神)
Taka-mi-musuhi-no-kami (高御産巣日神) and
Kami-musuhi-no-kami (神産巣日神).

Subsequently two gods emerged in Takamagahara from an object similar to a reed-shoot:
Umashi-ashi-kabi-hikoji-no-kami (宇摩志阿斯訶備比古遅神) and

Ame-no-toko-tachi-no-kami (天之常立神)

These five deities, known as Kotoamatsukami, appeared spontaneously, did not have a definite sex, did not have a partner (hitorigami) and went into hiding after their emergence. These gods are not mentioned in the rest of the mythology.

Then two other gods arose:
Kuni-no-toko-tachi-no-kami (国之常立神) and
Toyo-kumo-no-no-kami (豊雲野神)
These gods also emerged spontaneously, did not have a defined sex, did not have a partner, and hid at birth.

Then, five pairs of gods were born (for a total of ten deities), each pair consisting of a male deity and a female deity:
U-hiji-ni (宇比地邇神) and his younger sister (and wife) Su-hiji-ni (須比智邇神),
Tsunu-guhi (角杙神) and his younger sister (and wife) Iku-guhi (活杙神),
Ō-to-no-ji (意富斗能地神) and his younger sister (and wife) Ō-to-no-be (大斗乃弁神),
Omo-daru (於母陀流神) and his younger sister (and wife) Aya-kashiko-ne (阿夜訶志古泥神) and
Izanagi (伊邪那岐神) and his younger sister (and wife) Izanami (伊邪那美神)

All deities from Kuni-no-koto-tachi to Izanami are collectively called Kamiyonanayo ("Seven Divine Generations", 神世七代).

Following the creation of Heaven and Earth and the appearance of these primordial gods, Izanagi and Izanami went on to create the Japanese archipelago (Kuniumi) and gave birth to a large number of gods (Kamiumi).


Hitorigami (独神) are Shinto deities (kami) who came into being alone, as opposed to those who came into being as male-female pairs. According to the Kojiki, this group includes the "three deities of creation" and the "separate heavenly kami." They are described as hiding themselves away once they achieved awareness. Most are said to have been created from the "male essence" and, as such, are male in gender.

Two hitorigami, Kunitokotachi and Amenominakanushi, summoned the divine pair of Izanagi and Izanami into being and charged them with creating the first land in the swirling salt-water that existed below the heavens

Age of the Gods

In Japanese mythology, the Age of the Gods (神代 Kamiyo or Jindai) is the period preceding the accession of Jimmu, the first Emperor of Japan. The kamiyo myths are chronicled in the "upper roll" (Kamitsumaki) of the Kojiki and in the first and second chapters of the Nihon Shoki. The reigns of Emperor Jimmu and the subsequent monarchs are considered the Human Age (人代 Hitoyo).

Izanagi and Izanami Standing on Amano-Ukihahi Bridge
Izanagi and Izanami Standing on Amano-Ukihahi Bridge
By Ogata Gekkö, c. 1896. (37.4 x 25 cm)
Image source: Honolulu Museum of Art 

Searching the Seas with the Tenkei
Searching the Seas with the Tenkei (天瓊を以て滄海を探るの図 Tenkei o motte sōkai o saguru no zu).
Izanagi with spear Amenonuhoko to the right, Izanami to the left.
Painting by Kobayashi Eitaku, c. 1885 (MFA, Boston).
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org 

According to early mythology, the Japanese islands were created by Izanagi and Izanami, meaning "he who invites" and "she who invites".
They find themselves on a heavenly golden bridge staring down at earth and its oceans. With their jeweled spear, called Amenonuhoko, given by the gods or kami before them, they dip the spear into the ocean, creating the islands of Japan, Onogoro Island (“spontaneous-congealed island”).

Descending down from the skies, Izanagi and Izanami create their home and create a central Heavenly August pillar. Deciding to populate the land, Izanagi circles the left side of the pillar while Izanami circles the right. Meeting each other on the other side of it, Izanami greets her love “oh, what a comely young man.” Izanagi replies with” How delightfully, I have met a lovely maiden.”
Izanami being a woman speaking first to a man, the gods looked at this as inappropriate and cursed the couple by the children they bore. Their first child Hiruko was born hideous and cast out for its atrocity. Trying and trying again, they fail to conceive a proper child.
The gods explain to them both about their curse and decide to give them another chance. Once again Izanagi and Izanami circle the pillar just as before, only Izanagi speaks first. Their mating now was fruitful. Izanami gave birth to the islands of Awaji, Iyo (later Shikoku), Oki, Tsukushi (later Kyūshū), Iki, Tsushima, Sado, and finally Yamato (later Honshū), the largest. They named the land Oyashimakuni, the Land of Eight Great Islands. After that, Izanami gave birth in quick succession to the other minor islands that surround the main ones, and to the main kami of sea and harbor, of wind, trees, mountains, and so on.

Many other kami were born from Izanami’s womb such as Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. She was known as "Heaven-Illumine-of-Great-Deity”, and the Moon God, Tsukiyumi (Tsukuyomi). His silver radiance was not so fair as the golden effulgence of his sister, the Sun Goddess. While both sit atop the heavens, they begin their sibling rivalry, quarreling and fighting, they decide they can no longer see each other face to face, thus creating day and night, separating the two.

The last kami conceived was the fire god, Kagutsuchi. During birth, Kagutsuchi severely burned Izanami and eventually slipped away into the Land of Yomi, the underworld.
“The tears Izanagi shed at the death of his wife brought forth further deities.
Angered by the sight of the newly born fire kami who had been the cause of Izanami’s death, Izanagi drew his sword and decapitated the infant. The blood coalescing on the sword brought forth eight martial kami, including the important Takemikazuchi-no-kami and his peer, Futsunushi-no-kami. Eight more fierce kami of mountains and iron emerged from the infant’s body and limbs.”
In his anguish, Izanagi followed her to the underworld to rescue her and soon discovered the awful truth. Nothing remained of his beloved Izanami but a rotting living-dead corpse. As Izanagi runs away in horror, Izanami shrieks in anger for her loves abandonment, “Everyday I shall kill one thousand people in the lands we created”. Izanagi replies “Every day I shall create one thousand five hundred people”.


Izanagi and Izanami

Izanagi 伊邪那岐, recorded in the Kojiki as Izanagi no kami 伊邪那岐神 and in the Nihon Shoki as Izanagi no mikoto 伊弉諾尊, is a deity born of the seven divine generations in Japanese mythology and Shinto, and his name in the Kojiki is roughly translated to as "he-who-invites"
Izanami 伊邪那美, recorded in the Kojiki as Izanami no kami 伊邪那美神 and in the Nihon Shoki as zanami no mikoto 伊弉冉尊, meaning "she who invites", is a goddess of both creation and death, as well as the former wife of the god Izanagi-no-Mikoto.

Izanagi and his spouse and younger sister, Izanami, gave birth to the many islands of Japan (kuniumi), and begat numerous deities of Shintoism (kamiumi). But she died after giving birth to the fire-god Kagu-tsuchi. Izanagi executed the fire god with the "ten-grasp sword" (Totsuka-no-Tsurugi). Afterwards, he paid his wife a visit in Yomi-no-kuni (the Underworld) in the hopes of retrieving her. But she had partaken of food cooked in the furnace of the Underworld, rendering her return impossible. Izanagi betrayed his promise not to look at her, and lit up a fire, only to behold her in her monstrous and hellish state. To avenge her shame, she dispatched the lightning god Yakusa no ikazuchi no kami (Raijin) and the horrible hag Yomotsu-shikome to chase after him. Izanagi escaped, but the goddess declared to kill a thousand of his people every day. Izanagi retorted that a thousand and five hundred will be born every day.

The first gods summoned two divine beings, the male Izanagi and the female Izanami, and charged them with creating the first land. To help them do this, Izanagi and Izanami were given a spear decorated with jewels, named Ame-no-nuboko (Heavenly Halberd (spear-ax) of the Marsh). The two deities then went to the bridge between heaven and earth, Ame-no-ukihashi (Floating Bridge of Heaven) and churned the sea below with the halberd. When drops of salty water fell from the halberd, they formed into the island Onogoro (Onogoroshima i.e. "self-forming island"). Izanagi and Izanami descended from the bridge of heaven and made their home on the island. Eventually they wished to mate, so they built a pillar called Ame-no-mihashira ("pillar of heaven"; the mi- is an honorific prefix) and around which they built a palace called Yahiro-dono (the hall whose area is eight arms' length squared - one hiro is approximately 1.82 m, so the "eight-hiro-palace" would have been 14.56 m). Izanagi and Izanami circled the pillar in opposite directions, and when they met on the other side, Izanami spoke first in greeting. Izanagi didn't think that this was proper, but they mated anyway. They had two children, Hiruko ("leech-child") and Awashima ("faint island"), but they were born deformed and were not considered deities, but devils.
        [Note: Hiruko (watery child, Ebisu, (恵比須, 恵比寿, 夷, 戎, Yebisu,) or Kotoshiro-nushi-no-kami, (事代主神), is the Japanese god of fishermen, good luck, and workingmen, as well as the guardian of the health of small children and the only one of the Seven Gods of Fortune (七福神, Shichifukujin) to originate from Japan.]

They put the children into a boat and set them out to sea, and then petitioned the other gods for an answer as to what they had done wrong. They were told that the male deity should have spoken first in greeting during the ceremony. So Izanagi and Izanami went around the pillar again, and this time when they met Izanagi spoke first and their union was successful.

From their union were born the Ōyashima, or the "eight great islands" of Japan:

The 8 islands of ancient Japan
The 8 islands of ancient Japan
Image source: en.wikipedia.org 

•Iyo (later Shikoku)
•Tsukusi (later Kyūshū)
•Yamato (later Honshū)
(Note that Hokkaidō, Chishima, and Okinawa were not part of Japan in ancient times.)

They bore six more islands and many deities. Izanami, however, died giving birth to the child Kagu-Tsuchi (incarnation of fire) or Ho-Masubi (causer of fire). She was then buried on Mount Hiba, at the border of the old provinces of Izumo and Hoki, near modern-day Yasugi of Shimane Prefecture. In anger, Izanagi was so angry at the death of his wife that he killed the newborn child, thereby creating dozens of deities.

The gods born from Izanagi and Izanami are symbolic of important aspects of nature and culture, but they are too many to mention here.



The Gods Izanagi and Izanami on the Floating Bridge of Heaven

God Izanagi (伊弉諾尊) and Goddess Izanami (伊弉冉尊)   The Gods Izanagi and Izanami on the Floating Bridge of Heaven

Left: God Izanagi (伊弉諾尊) and Goddess Izanami (伊弉冉尊)
By Nishikawa Sukenobu (西川祐信; 1671–1751 ) Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper (38.1 x 57 cm)
Donated to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York by the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation in 2015.

Right: The Gods Izanagi and Izanami on the Floating Bridge of Heaven 天の浮橋   Larger image  
By Utagawa Hiroshige, c. 1847 - 1852. (25.8 x 37.8 cm)

Izanagi and Izanami were deities who created Japan by swirling a spear into the ocean and lifting it out. The droplets from the spear fell back to the water and created the first land, Onogoroshima. They crossed the floating bridge of heaven and made the island their home. When they decided to mate, they walked around the pillar of heaven and Izanami spoke first. Their first child was a deformed leech child, Hiruko. They asked the gods what to do and the gods said Izanagi should have spoken first. Izanagi and Izanami walked around the pillar of heaven again and this time Izanagi spoke first. They slept together and Izanami gave birth to the islands of Japan. A text of the story is provided along with captions for Izanami (left), Izanagi (right), and the Floating Bridge of Heaven. Land floats along the sides, signaling that Izanagi has already dipped the spear into the water.

Onokorojima Shrine and Izanagi Shrine

Onokorojima Shrine   Izanagi-jingu Gate

Left: Onokorojima Shrine (Onokorojima-Jinjya 自凝島神社) in Awaji-shima(island).
This shrine protects the whole of Awaji Island with its monumental torii gate.
According to the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, the gods Izanagi and Izanami stood on the “floating bridge of heaven and stirred the blue expanse of the sea with a spear. When they drew the spear, up the brine dripping from the end of the spear hardened into an island. The island was called “Onokoro Island.” The two gods descended to the island, exchanged wedding vows and the nation was born. The first island created was Awaji Island, after which the other islands came into being one by one. Japan was thus created.
Right: Izanagi-jingu Gate (伊弉諾神宮 鳥居)   View additional images of Izanagi Shrine.
Izanagi Shrine (Izanagi Jingu, 伊弉諾神宮) is a Shinto shrine located in Awaji, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. It is dedicated to the kami Izanagi and Izanami.
In addition to Onokorojima Shrine, numerous other shrines on Awaji Island enshrine Izanagi and Izanami. Of these, Izanagi Shrine (Awaji City Taga), where the gods have been worshipped as the gods of the Awaji island since ancient times, is said to be the place where Izanagi no Mikoto spent the remainder of his life after charging Amaterasu Omikami with uniting the country and establishing Kakuri Shrine.

Meoto Iwa (夫婦岩), or the Married Couple Rocks

Meoto Iwa, the wedded rocks, 'husband and wife cliff 夫婦岩' in Futami, Japan   Meoto Iwa. At low tide the sea recedes from around the rocks.

Left: Meoto Iwa, the wedded rocks, "husband and wife cliff 夫婦岩", in Futami, Mie, Japan (三重県二見浦にある夫婦岩).
Right: Meoto Iwa. At low tide the sea recedes from around the rocks.

Meoto Iwa (夫婦岩), or the Married Couple Rocks, are a couple of small rocky stacks in the sea off Futami, Mie, Japan. They are joined by a shimenawa (a heavy rope of rice straw) and are considered sacred by worshippers at the neighboring Futami Okitama Shrine (Futami Okitama Jinja (二見興玉神社)). According to Shinto, the rocks represent the union of the creator of kami, Izanagi and Izanami. The rocks, therefore, celebrate the union in marriage of man and woman. The rope, which weighs over a ton, must be replaced several times a year in a special ceremony. The larger rock, said to be male, has a small torii at its peak.


Yomi, the Shadowy Land of the Dead

Izanagi lamented the death of Izanami and undertook a journey to Yomi or "the shadowy land of the dead." Izanagi found little difference between Yomi and the land above, except for the eternal darkness. However, this suffocating darkness was enough to make him ache for the light and life above. Quickly, he searched for Izanami and found her. At first, Izanagi could not see her at all for the shadows hid her appearance well. Nevertheless, he asked her to return with him. Izanami spat out at him, informing Izanagi that he was too late. She had already eaten the food of the underworld and was now one with the land of the dead. She could no longer return to the surface with the living.

Izanagi was shocked at this news but he refused to give in to her wishes and leave her to the dark embrace of Yomi. Izanami agreed to go back to the world above, but first requested to have some time to rest and instructed Izanagi not to come into her bedroom. After a long wait, when Izanami did not come out of her bedroom, Izanagi was worried. While Izanami was sleeping, he took the comb that bound his long hair and set it alight as a torch. Under the sudden burst of light, he saw the horrid form of the once beautiful and graceful Izanami. She was now a rotting form of flesh with maggots and foul creatures running over her ravaged body.

Crying out loud, Izanagi could no longer control his fear and started to run, intending to return to the living and abandon his death-ridden wife. Izanami woke up shrieking and indignant and chased after him. Wild shikome, or foul women, also hunted for the frightened Izanagi, instructed by Izanami to bring him back.

Izanagi, thinking quickly, hurled down his headdress which became a bunch of black grapes. The shikome fell on these but continued pursuit. Next, Izanagi threw down his comb which became a clump of bamboo shoots. Now it was Yomi's creatures that began to give chase, but Izanagi urinated against a tree, creating a great river that increased his lead. Unfortunately, they still pursued Izanagi, forcing him to hurl peaches at them. He knew this would not delay them for long, but he was nearly free, for the boundary of Yomi was now close at hand.

Izanagi burst out of the entrance and quickly pushed a boulder in the mouth of the cavern that was the entrance of Yomi. Izanami screamed from behind this impenetrable barricade and told Izanagi that if he left her she would destroy 1,000 living people every day. He furiously replied he would give life to 1,500.

And so began the existence of Death, caused by the hands of the proud Izanami, the abandoned wife of Izanagi.

Sun, Moon and Sea

As could be expected, Izanagi went on to purify himself after recovering from his descent to Yomi. As he undressed and removed the adornments of his body, each item he dropped to the ground formed a deity. Even more gods came into being when he went to the water to wash himself. The most important ones were created once he washed his face:
•Amaterasu (incarnation of the sun) from his left eye,
•Tsukuyomi (incarnation of the moon) from his right eye, and
•Susanoo (incarnation of storms and ruler of the sea) from his nose.

Izanagi divided the world among them, with Amaterasu inheriting the heavens, Tsukuyomi taking control of the night and moon and the storm god Susanoo owning the seas. In some versions of the myth, Susanoo rules not only the seas but also all elements of a storm, including snow and hail.

Land of Yomi

Izanagi then decided to bring back Izanami and goes to Yomi-no-kuni, the underworld. Crossing the gates to that world, he met Izanami and says to her:
“The countries that you and me have created have not been completed yet. Let us return!
Izanami replied:
“Too bad you did not come before, for I have eaten in the country of Yomi! [By eating food in the land of Yomi, one ends up stuck being a resident of Yomi. This concept is called, "Yomotsu Hegui (黄泉戸喫)."]... however, I will consult with the gods of Yomi. Under no circumstances you may look at me!

On saying this, Izanami entered the palace of these gods. However, time passed and she did not return and Izanagi began to despair. So he broke one of the tines of his ornamental comb mizura that he wore in the left bun of his hair, lit it in order to light the place and decided to enter the world of dead.
He manages to find Izanami but is surprised to see that she lost her beauty and had become a rotting corpse, covered with maggots. Of her body were born the eight Gods of thunder, which were:
1.Ōikazuchi (大雷), from the head of Izanami;
2.Honoikazuchi (火雷), from her chest;
3.Kuroikazuchi (黒雷), from her abdomen;
4.Sakuikazuchi (折雷), from her genitals;
5.Wakaikazuchi (若雷), from her left arm;
6.Tsuchiikazuchi (土雷), from her right arm;
7.Naruikazuchi (鳴雷), from her left foot;
8.Fusuikazuchi (伏雷), from her right foot.

Izanagi, shocked, decided to return home, but Izanami was embarrassed by his appearance and commanded the Yomotsushikome (黄泉丑女 lit. "horrible women from the world of darkness") to chase Izanagi.
In his flight, he took the head-dress from his head, and threw it to the ground where it turned into a bunch of grapes. The Yomotsushikome started to eat them but kept chasing the fleeing Izanagi. So he broke the tine of the comb that he wore in his right bun, and as he threw it to the ground it became bamboo shoots, prompting the Yomotsushikome to eat them and enabling Izanagi to flee.

However, Izanami decided to release the eight gods of thunder and 1,500 warriors from Yomi to continue the pursuit. Izanagi drew and brandished his Totsuka-no-Tsurugi sword to continue his flight. As they pursued him, Izanagi reached the Yomotsu-hirasaka (黄泉比良坂), the slope that descends from the land of the living to Yomi. He took three peaches from a tree that had grown in that place and threw them at his pursuers and they fled.

Izanagi commented:
“Assistance to all people when they are tired and face difficulties.“
These peaches were called Ohokamuzumi-no-mikoto (意富加牟豆美命?). Finally, Izanami pursued Izanagi, but he lifted a rock that a thousand men could not move and placed it to block the slope. At that moment, their eyes met for the last time.

Izanami said:
"If you behave in this way, I will strangle and kill one thousand men of your land in one day!"
Izanagi replied:
"If you do this, I will in one day set up 1,500 parturition houses. So in one day indeed 1,000 men will die and indeed 1,500 are going to be born."

These words justified the circle of life and death in humans. For the same reason, Izanami is also called Yomotsu-ohokami (黄泉津大神) or Chishiki-no-ohokami (道敷大神) and the boulder that covers the entrance to the world of the dead is known as Chikaeshi-no-ohokami (道返之大神) or Yomido-no-ohokami (黄泉戸大神) and is today known as slope of Ifuya (伊賦夜坂) in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture.



FROM the glorious clouds of High Heaven, from the divine ether, the vital essence, and the great concourse of eternal deities, there issued forth the heavenly pair Izanagi, His Augustness, the Lord of Invitation, and with him, Izanami, Her Augustness, the Lady of Invitation.

Together they stood upon the Floating Bridge of High Heaven, and they looked down to where the mists swirled in confusion beneath their feet. For to them had been given power and commandment to make, consolidate and give birth to the drifting lands. And to this end the august powers had granted them a heavenly jewelled spear. And the two deities, standing upon the Floating Bridge of Heaven, lowered the jewelled spear head-first into chaos, so that the mists were divided. And, as they waited, the brine dripped from the jewels upon the spear-head, and there was formed an island. This is the island of Onogoro.

And His Augustness, the Lord of Invitation, took by the hand Her Augustness, the Lady of Invitation, his lovely Younger Sister, and together they descended to the island that was created. And they made the islands of Japan; the land of lyo, which is called Lovely Princess; the land of Toyo, which is called Luxuriant Sun Youth; the land of Sanuki, which is called Good Prince Boiled Rice ; and Great Yamato, the Luxuriant Island of the Dragon Fly ; and many more, of which to tell were weariness.

Furthermore, they gave birth to many myriads of deities to rule over the earth, and the air, and the deep sea ; and for every season there were deities, and every place was sacred, for the deities were like the needles of the pine trees in number.

Now, when the time came for the Fire God, Kagu-Tsuchi, to be born, his mother, the Lady Izanami, was burned, and suffered a change; and she laid herself upon the ground. Then Izanagi, the Prince who Invites, asked, "What is it that has come to thee, my lovely Younger Sister? “

And she answered, weeping, "The time of my departure draws near ... I go to the land of Yomi."

And His Augustness Izanagi wept aloud, dropping his tears upon her feet and upon her pillow. And all his tears fell down and became deities. Nevertheless, the Lady Izanami departed.

Then His Augustness, the Prince who Invites, was wroth, and lifted his face to High Heaven, and cried, "O Thine Augustness, my lovely Younger Sister, that I should have given thee in exchange for this single child! “

And, drawing the ten-grasp sword that was girded upon him, he slew the Fire God, his child; and binding up his long hair, he followed the Lady Izanami to the entrance of Yomi, the world of the dead. And she, the Princess who Invites, appearing as lovely as she was when alive, came forth to greet him. And she lifted up the curtain of the Palace of Hades that they might speak together.

And the Lord Izanagi said, "I weary for thee, my lovely Younger Sister, and the lands that thou and I created together are not finished making. Therefore come back."

Then the Lady made answer, saying, "My sweet lord, and my spouse, it is very lamentable that thou earnest not sooner unto me, for I have eaten of the baked meats of Yomi. Nevertheless, as thou hast dearly honoured me in thy coming here, Thine Augustness, my lovely Elder Brother, if it may be, I will return with thee. I go to lay my desire before the Gods of Yomi. Wait thou here until I come again, and, if thou love me, seek not to look upon me till the time." And so she spoke and left him.

Izanagi sat upon a stone at the entrance of the Palace of Hades until the sun set, and he was weary of that valley of gloom. And because she tarried long, he arose and plucked a comb from the left tress of his hair, and broke off a tooth from one end of the comb, and lighting it to be a torch, he drew back the curtain of the Palace of Yomi. But he saw his beloved lying in corruption, and round about her were the eight deities of Thunder. They are the Fire Thunder, and the Black Thunder, and the Cleaving Thunder, and the Earth Thunder, and the Roaring Thunder, and the Couchant Thunder, and the Young Thunder. And by her terrible head was the Great Thunder.

And Izanagi, being overawed, turned to flee away, but Izanami arose and cried, "Thou hast put me to shame, for thou hast seen my defilement. Now I will see thine also."

And she called to her the Hideous Females of Yomi, and bade them take and slay His Augustness, the Lord who Invites. But he ran for his life, in the gloom stumbling upon the rocks of the valley of Yomi. And tearing the vine wreath from his long hair he flung it behind him, and it fell to the ground and became many bunches of grapes, which the Hideous Females stayed to devour. And he fled on. But the Females of Yomi still pursued him; so then he took a multitudinous and closetoothed comb from the right tresses of his long hair, and cast it behind him. When it touched the ground it became a groove of bamboo shoots, and again the females stayed to devour; and Izanagi fled on, panting.

But, in her wrath and despair, his Younger Sister sent after him the Eight Thunders, together with a thousand and five hundred warriors of Hades; yet he, the Prince of Invitation, drew the ten-grasp sword that was augustly girded upon him, and brandishing it behind him gained at last the base of the Even Pass of Hades, the black mouth of Yomi. And he plucked there three peaches that grew upon a tree, and smote his enemies that they all fled back ; and the peaches were called Their Augustnesses, Great Divine Fruit.

THE LAND OF YOMI, Illustrated by Warwick Goble
THE LAND OF YOMI, Illustrated by Warwick Goble, 1910
Izanaki sealed the entrance to the land of death with a giant rock.
From "Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales", by Grace James, 1910.
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org 

Then, last of all, his Younger Sister, the Princess who Invites, herself came out to pursue. So Izanagi took a rock which could not have been lifted by a thousand men, and placed it between them in the Even Pass of Hades. And standing behind the rock, he pronounced a leave-taking and words of separation. But, from the farther side of the rock, Izanami called to him, "My lovely Elder Brother, Thine Augustness, of small avail shall be thy making of lands, and thy creating of deities, for I, with my powers, shall strangle every day a thousand of thy people."

So she cried, taunting him.

But he answered her, "My lovely Younger Sister, Thine Augustness, if thou dost so, I shall cause, in one day, fifteen hundred to be born. Farewell."

So Her Augustness, the Lady who Invites, is called the Queen of the Dead.

But the great lord, His Highness, the Prince who Invites, departed, crying, "Horror! Horror! Horror! I have come to a hideous and polluted land." And he lay still by the river-side, until such time as he should recover strength to perform purification.


Artistic illustrations of the scenes in the Land of Yomi

Izanami, the goddes of creation and death   Izanami, the goddes of creation and death  

Left: Izanami, the goddes of creation and death, Before and After.
Right: Digital art: Izanami, the goddes of creation and death, standing in the Yomi ( Hell ) covering with blood and dragons (8 deities of Thunder).

Izanaki sealed the entrance with a giant rock.   Izanami in the Land of Yomi covering with dragons (8 deities of Thunder)

Left: Izanaki sealed the entrance with a giant rock.
After losing his wife to the underworld , Izanaki ventured into the underworld to attempt to lure his beloved wife back to the land of the living. His attempts to do so eventually only infuriated his wife when he looked upon her decaying, worm-eaten body injuring her pride and breaking his promise of not trying to look at her.
Izanami mounted a full-fledged attack upon him along with her army of little ugly women demons. To flee from her Izanaki threw off the decorative vines he had in his hair to stave off their pursuit. Doing so, the vines turned into grapes which the little ugly women demons stopped to eat. Gaining a bit of time he next threw the bamboo kushi he had used as a decoration in his hair which turned into bamboo sprouts further gaining him some time as the little ugly women demons stopped to devour them.
Safely gaining access to the world of the living he only now had to repel his once beloved wife, Izanami and seal the entrance to the underworld. To do so, he threw peaches, known to have anti-demonic powers at his dead wife and her army and then sealed the entrance with a giant rock.
Right: Izanami in the Land of Yomi covering with dragons (8 deities of Thunder).

Yomotsu Hirasaka (Tourist attraction)

Yomotsu Hirasaka   The rock of Chikyu (Chibi)

Left: Yomotsu Hirasaka, the gate to the ‘Land of the Dead.
Yomotsu Hirasaka is the slope that leads to Yomi.
"Hell's Hirazaka" as tourist attraction in Higashiizumo, Shimane Prefecture, Japan.
Right: According to Kojiki, the entrance to Yomi lies in Izumo province and was sealed off by Izanagi upon his flight from Yomi, at which time he permanently blocked the entrance by placing a massive boulder (Chigaeshi no ōkami 道反の大神) at the base of the slope that leads to Yomi (Yomotsu Hirasaka 黄泉平坂 or 黄泉比良坂). Upon his return to Ashihara-no-Nakatsukuni, Izanagi noted that Yomi is a "polluted land" (kegareki kuni). This opinion reflects the traditional Shinto association between death and pollution.




Amaterasu (天照), Amaterasu-ōmikami (天照大神/天照大御神/天照皇大神) or Ōhirume-no-muchi-no-kami (大日孁貴神) is a part of the Japanese myth cycle and also a major deity of the Shinto religion. She is seen as the goddess of the sun, but also of the universe.
The name Amaterasu derived from Amateru means "shining in heaven". The meaning of her whole name, Amaterasu-ōmikami, is "the great august kami (god) who shines in the heaven". According to the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in Japanese mythology, the Emperors of Japan are considered to be direct descendants of Amaterasu.

She became the ruler of the sun and the heavens along with her brother, Tsukuyomi (月読の命 or 月夜見の尊), the god of the moon and ruler of the night. Originally, Amaterasu shared the sky with Tsukuyomi, her husband and brother until, out of disgust, he killed the goddess of food, Uke Mochi, when she pulled "food from her rectum, nose, and mouth". This killing upset Amaterasu causing her to label Tsukuyomi an evil god and split away from him; separating night from day.

Amaterasu Omikami (‘the great divinity illuminating heaven’) is the sun goddess, the most important deity of the Shinto religion and ruler of Takama no Hara (the High Celestial Plain), the domain of the kami or spirits.

Also known as Oho-hir-me-no-muchi or Amaterasu-oho-hiru-me, Amaterasu is the daughter of Izanami and Izanagi who made their daughter ruler of the sky. When her father Izanagi escaped from his visit to the underworld he had to perform a cleansing ritual in the river Woto and it was then, from the god’s left eye, that Amaterasu was born. She is also the elder sister of Susanoo (or Susa-no-wo) the storm god. Amaterasu constantly quarrelled with her mischievous younger brother and finally having enough, she exiled him from heaven.
(www.ancient.eu/Mark Cartwright)

THE LAND OF YOMI, Illustrated by Warwick Goble
The Legend of Amaterasu (天照), Who Locks Herself Inside the Rock-Cave of Heaven (天の岩戸)
Diptych of hanging scrolls, By Kōno Bairei (幸野楳嶺; 1844–1895)
Image source: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection Donated to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015 

Amaterasu and Susanoo

Amaterasu, the powerful sun goddess of Japan, is the most well-known deity of Japanese mythology. Her feuding with her uncontrollable brother Susanoo (须佐之男), is equally infamous and appears in several tales. One story tells of Susanoo's wicked behavior toward Izanagi. Izanagi, tired of Susanoo's repeated complaints, banished him to Yomi. Susanoo grudgingly acquiesced, but had to attend to some unfinished business first. He went to Takamagahara (heaven, 高天原, the dwelling place of the Kami, believed to be connected to the Earth by the bridge Ama-no uki-hashi, the "Floating Bridge of Heaven".) to bid farewell to his sister, Amaterasu. Amaterasu knew that her unpredictable brother did not have good intentions and prepared for battle. "For what purpose do you come here?" asked Amaterasu. "To say farewell," answered Susanoo.

But she did not believe him and requested a contest as proof of his good faith. A challenge was set as to who could bring forth more noble and divine children. Amaterasu made three women from Susanoo's sword, while Susanoo made five men from Amaterasu's ornament chain. Amaterasu claimed the title to the five men made from her belongings, and therefore, the three women were attributed to Susanoo.

Both gods declared themselves to be victorious. Amaterasu's insistence on her victory drove Susanoo to violent campaigns that reached their climax when he hurled a half-flayed pony, an animal sacred to Amaterasu, into Amatarasu's weaving hall, causing the death of one of her attendants. Amaterasu fled and hid in the cave called Iwayado. As the sun goddess disappeared into the cave, darkness covered the world.

All the gods and goddesses in their turn strove to coax Amaterasu out of the cave, but she ignored them all. Finally, the “kami” of merriment, Ama-no-Uzume (天鈿女命), hatched a plan. She placed a large bronze mirror on a tree, facing Amaterasu's cave. Then Uzume clothed herself in flowers and leaves, overturned a washtub, and began to dance on it, drumming the tub with her feet. Finally, Uzume shed the leaves and flowers and danced naked. All the male gods roared with laughter, and Amaterasu became curious. When she peeked outside from her long stay in the dark, a ray of light called "dawn" escaped and Amaterasu was dazzled by her own reflection in the mirror. The god Ameno-Tajikarawo pulled her from the cave and it was sealed with a holy shirukume rope. Surrounded by merriment, Amaterasu's depression disappeared and she agreed to return her light to the world. Uzume was from then on known as the kami of dawn as well as mirth.


Japanese Sun goddess Amaterasu emerging from a Cave

Japanese Sun goddess Amaterasu emerging from a Cave  

Japanese Sun goddess Amaterasu emerging from a Cave.
Title: "ORIGIN OF IWATO KAGURA DANCE" (岩戸神楽ノ起顕,いわとかぐらのきけん).
By Utagawa Kunisada (歌川 国貞; also known as Utagawa Toyokuni III (三代歌川豊国); date: 1857, 安政4年

Amaterasu and Susano-O

Susano-O was a mischief maker, playing wicked pranks and constantly upsetting his elder sister. Moreover, he appeared unable to accept the tragic death of his mother. His constant weeping and wailing caused the forests to wither on the mountains and the rivers and streams to dry up (Kojiki 51). Finally, his father Izanagi ordered him to leave the terrestrial realm and go down to Yomi. Before his departure, however, Susano-o decided to visit his sister one last time. As he approached, he made a great deal of noise, shaking the mountains and rivers. On meeting Amaterasu, he told her that he meant no harm, he just wanted to say good-bye before going to the realm where their mother Izanami was. Susano-O proposed that as a seal of their friendship they should produce offspring, which they did, she by chewing and spitting out pieces of the sword he gave her, and he by doing the same with her jewels. This act created various gods and goddesses including Ame no Oshi-ho-Mimi no Mikoto (Truly-I-Conquer-Swiftness-Heaven-of-Great-August-Person), who later became the ancestor of the Japanese imperial line (Kojiki, 54).

Susanoo neglected his duties in the realm of the sea, and caused every sort of disturbance on the land, which Amaterasu had previously ruled with benevolence and wisdom. Susanoo ignored his sister’s pleas and destroyed rice-fields, uprooted trees, and even leveled sacred buildings. As a final provocation, he broke a hole in the roof of the hall where Amaterasu was sitting and watching other deities weaving heavenly garments, and threw in the body of a dead horse. The goddesses who were weaving were so shocked that many were injured and some died. Amaterasu withdrew, either out of embarrassment or out of fear, into a deep cavern in the center of the earth, the Rock Cave (Ama-no-Iwato), and refused to come out, causing darkness to fall upon the world.

The other 800 gods begged her to come out, to no avail. Then they collected roosters, whose crowing precedes the dawn, and hung an eight-handed mirror (Yata no Kagami) and jewels on a sakaki tree in front of the cave. The goddess Ama-no-Uzume began to dance on an an upturned tub, partially disrobing herself, which so delighted the assembled gods that they roared with laughter. They laughed so loudly that Amaterasu became curious. As Amaterasu opened the door slowly and softly to peek outside, the cocks saw her light and began to crow. The Magatama jewels glittered, and the mirror hanging on the tree reflected her light. She saw her own reflection and thought to herself that there must be someone or something equal to herself illuminating the world. As she opened the door a little wider, the deity Ama no Tajikara-wo no Kami, who was waiting behind the door, pulled Amaterasu out of the cave and (the gods Nakatomi no Kami and Imibe no Kami) quickly threw a shimenawa, or sacred rope, before the entrance to prevent her return to hiding. (Kojiki 65; Nihongi 49).

Amaterasu agreed to remain in the visible world and never again to withdraw. To punish Susano-O, the gods cut off his beard and moustache, tore out his fingernails and toenails, and kicked him out of heaven. Chastened, he landed in the region of Izumo where he conquered the Orochi Dragon, who had been pillaging the region of Izumo for a long time. When the victorious Storm God found in the monster's tail a marvelous sword, Kusanagi no Tsurugi (meaning "Grass-Cutter"), he gave it to Amaterasu as a propitiatory offering to make amends for his misdeeds.

An image of the Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu emerging from a cave

An image of the Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu emerging from a cave  

An image of the Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu emerging from a cave. date: Meiji 20 (= 1887) Title: ’Iwato kagura no kigen’ (岩戸神楽之起顕) - ’Origin of Music and Dance at the Rock Door’. Signed: ’Shunsai Toshimasa’ (春斎年昌),


Heavenly Rock Cave (Ama no iwato 天岩戸)

An image of the Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu emerging from a cave   Ama no iwato 天岩戸 (Heavenly Rock Cave)  

Left: Stone gate to Amaterasu's cave (Ama no Iwato). View a photograph by Padre Art at FineArtAmerica.com
Print shows a woman, possibly Countess Kami dancing on an overturned washtub with a group of gods facing her and a large fire behind her; in the background a warrior (Tajikara-o ?) moves the stone gate to the Ama no iwato cave. The purpose of the dance was to lure Amaterasu out of her heavenly cave so that the sun would again shine on the world. A rooster waits in anticipation for her success. From an original 19th century (1880) woodcut by unknown artist.
Right: Ama no iwato 天岩戸 (Heavenly Rock Cave)
Painting, hanging scroll. Tajikarao-no-kami having dragged aside the rock, the sun goddess Amaterasu emerges from the cave, with Okame dancing upon a drum outside, surrounded by other deities. Ink and colours on silk. Date: 1800-1880

Dance of the Gods at the Heavenly Cave

Dance of the Gods at the Heavenly Cave, Part 1   Dance of the Gods at the Heavenly Cave, Part 2  

Dance of the Gods at the Heavenly Cave (Ama no iwato kami kagura no zu) (天の岩戸神かぐらの図)
Part 1         Part 2
Japanese, Edo period, about 1808–13 (Bunka 5–10), Artist Katsushika Hokusai.

Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto (天宇受売命/天鈿女命)

Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto (天宇受売命/天鈿女命)  Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto (天宇受売命/天鈿女命)  Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto (天宇受売命/天鈿女命)  Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto (天宇受売命/天鈿女命)

Left: Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto takes in her hand a spear wreathed with Eulalia grass and dances.
Ame-no-Uzume-no-mikoto (天宇受売命 / 天鈿女命), or Uzume or for short. Her name means “heavenly alarming female”, and she’s the goddess of dawn, mirth and revelry.
In the story of how Amaterasu fled to a cave, depriving the world of sunlight. All the Heavenly Kami worked together to bring about the return of the source of light. All the myriads of Kami assembled and it was then that Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto kindled many sacred bonfires, wrapped heavenly club moss around her as the Obi/sash, made the Kazura/head dress from the spindle tree, made the Sasa-ba/bamboo grass leaves into a bouquet, took into her hand a Hoko/spear wreathed in eulalia grass and danced the 1st archetypal Kagura on a sounding board (overturned wash tub) outside the door of the rock dwelling.
Middle Left: Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto (天宇受売命/天鈿女命)
Ame-no-Uzume is the goddess of dawn and revelry in Shinto. Susano'o had vandalized her sacred buildings and brutally killed one of her maidens due to a quarrel between them. In turn, Amaterasu became terrified of his wrath and retreated into the Heavenly Rock Cave. The world, without the illumination of the sun, became dark and the gods could not lure Amaterasu out of her hiding place. The clever Uzume overturned a tub near the cave entrance and began a dance on it, tearing off her clothing in front of the other deities. They considered this so comical that they laughed heartily at the sight. Amaterasu heard them, and peered out to see what all the fuss was about. When she opened the cave, she saw her glorious reflection in a mirror which Uzume had placed on a tree, and slowly emerged from her hiding spot. (Reference: tumblr.com)
Middle Right: This Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto scroll was created by Sen Sen Dai Guji Yamamoto Yukiteru, the 95th High Priest of Tsubaki.
Right: This Sarutahiko-no-O-Kami scroll was created by Sen Sen Dai Guji Yamamoto Yukiteru the 95th High Priest of Tsubaki Grand Shrine.
Inn the Nihon Shoki, Sarutahiko Okami ((猿田毘古) is the one who greets Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of Amaterasu, the Sun goddess, when he descends from Takama-ga-hara. Sarutahiko Okami is depicted as a towering man with a large beard, jeweled spear, ruddy face, and long nose. At first he is unwilling to yield his realm until persuaded by Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto, the kami of dance and the arts, whom he later marries. (Reference: Wikipedia: Sarutahiko Okami)

Founding of the Nation (建国 Kenkoku) and The Goddess Uzume with Rooster and Mirror

Founding of the Nation by Kawamura Kiyoo   The Goddess Uzume with Rooster and Mirror

Left: Founding of the Nation (建国 Kenkoku) by Kawamura Kiyoo (川村清雄)
a 1929 oil painting; 148 centimetres (58 in) by 74 centimetres (29 in). The painting resides at the Musée Guimet in Paris, where it is known as Le coq blanc or The white cockerel.
The work draws heavily on Japanese mythology, in particular the episode of the sun goddess Amaterasu's withdrawal into a cave due to her brother Susanoo's improprieties, depriving the land of light.

In the Kojiki version, after the assembled kami took counsel, "the long-singing birds of eternal night" (generally understood as a periphrasis for "the barndoor fowl") were enticed to crow, the mirror Yata no Kagami and string of curved jewels Yasakani no Magatama were commissioned, divination was performed using the shoulder blade of a stag and the bough of a cherry tree from Mount Kagu, and the mirror, string of jewels, and blue and white cloth offerings were hung from an uprooted sakaki tree. Uzume then decked herself out before performing a lewd dance upon a sounding-board; the ensuing hilarity finally succeeded in provoking Amaterasu's curiosity. Opening the door to her cave, she was presented with a mirror; opening it further, she was drawn from it by her hand as well as by rope. Later a penitent Susanoo presented to her the third of the Three Sacred Treasures, the sword Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi.

Replete with allusions to this story, Kawamura Kiyoo's painting features a mirror, magatama, sword, suzu, sakaki with blue, white, and red cloth cords, cherry blossoms, a blue-grey Sue ware footed ritual vessel adorned with a deer, and an enza or circular woven straw mat. At its centre is a white cockerel with a brilliant scarlet crest. The cockerel that crows at dawn has obvious associations with the sun goddess; a rite at Amaterasu's great shrine at Ise Jingū sees priests crow "like a rooster" before entering. Here it ushers in a "golden dawn". Contemporary notices in the French press describe it as a "Gallic cock greeting the rising sun of Japan", a symbol of Franco-Japanese friendship.

Right: The Goddess Uzume (天鈿女命) with Rooster and Mirror
Harvard Art Museums
Edo-period woodblock print; Uzume's dance is linked with the origins of kagura (神楽, かぐら, "god-entertainment"); here she wields kagura suzu (bell).

Amanoiwato Shrine (Amanoiwato-jinja 天岩戸神社)

Torii (gate) at Ama-no-Iwato Shrine, Takachiho, Miyazaki Prefecture   The statue of Ame-no-Uzume at Amanoiwato Shrine (Amanoiwato-jinja 天岩戸神社)

Left: AmanoiwatoTorii: Torii (gate) at Ama-no-Iwato Shrine, Takachiho, Miyazaki Prefecture
Amanoiwato shrine (Amanoiwato-jinja 天岩戸神社) is a Shinto shrine located in Takachiho, Miyazaki prefecture, Japan. It is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu and sits above the gorge containing Ama-no-Iwato, the cave where, according to Japanese legend, the goddess hid after battle with her brother, plunging the world into darkness until lured out by the spirit of merriment Ame-no-Uzume.
Right: The statue of Ame-no-Uzume (天鈿女命) at Amanoiwato Shrine (Amanoiwato-jinja 天岩戸神社)   Close-up view


Susanoo and Yamata-no-orochi

According to Kojiki, the god Susanoo (須佐之男 スサノオ) encountered a grieving family of kunitsukami ("gods of the land") headed by Ashinazuchi (足名椎) in Izumo Province. When Susanoo inquired of Ashinazuchi, he told him that his family was being ravaged by the fearsome Yamata-no-Orochi, an eight-headed serpent of Koshi, who had consumed seven of the family's eight daughters and that the creature was coming for his final daughter, Kushinada-hime (奇稲田姫). Susanoo investigated the creature, and after an abortive encounter he returned with a plan to defeat it. In return, he asked for Kushinada-hime's hand in marriage, which was agreed. Transforming her temporarily into a comb (one interpreter reads this section as "using a comb he turns into [masquerades as] Kushinada-hime") to have her company during battle, he detailed his plan into steps.

He instructed the preparation of eight vats of sake (rice wine) to be put on individual platforms positioned behind a fence with eight gates. The monster took the bait and put one of its heads through each gate. With this distraction, Susanoo attacked and slew the beast (with his sword Worochi no Ara-masa). He chopped off each head and then proceeded to the tails. In the fourth tail, he discovered a great sword inside the body of the serpent which he called Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, which he presented to the goddess Amaterasu to settle an old grievance.

Susanoo, exiled from heaven, came to Izumo Province (now part of Shimane Prefecture). It was not long before he met an old man and his wife sobbing beside their daughter. The old couple explained that they originally had eight daughters who were devoured, one by one each year, by the dragon named Yamata-no-orochi ("eight-forked serpent," who was said to originate from Kosi—now Hokuriku region). The terrible dragon had eight heads and eight tails, stretched over eight hills and was said to have eyes as red as good wine. Kusinada or Kushinada-Hime (rice paddy princess) was the last of the eight daughters.

Susanoo, who knew at once of the old couple's relation to the sun goddess Amaterasu, offered his assistance in return for their beautiful daughter's hand in marriage. The parents accepted and Susanoo transformed Kushinada into a comb and hid her safely in his hair. He also ordered a large fence-like barrier built around the house, eight gates opened in the fence, eight tables placed at each gate, eight casks placed on each table, and the casks filled with eight-times brewed rice wine.

Orochi arrived and found his path blocked; after boasting of his prowess he found that he could not get through the barrier. His keen sense of smell took in the sake - which Orochi loved - and the eight heads had a dilemma. They wanted to drink the delicious sake that called to them, yet the fence stood in their way, blocking any method of reaching it. One head first suggested they simply smash the barrier down...but that would knock over the sake and waste it. Another proposed they combine their fiery breath and burn the fence into ash, but then the sake would evaporate. The heads began searching for an opening and found the hatches. Eager for the sake, they were keen to poke their heads through and drink it. The eighth head, which was the wisest, warned his brethren of the folly of such a thing and volunteered to go through first to make sure all was well. Susanoo waited for his chance, letting the head drink some sake in safety and report back to the others that there was no danger. All eight heads plunged through one door each and greedily drank every last drop of the sake in the casks.

As the heads finished drinking, Susanoo launched his attack on Orochi. Drunken from consuming so much sake, the great serpent was no match for the spry Susanoo, who decapitated each head in turn and slew Orochi. A nearby river was said to have turned red with the blood of the defeated serpent. As Susanoo cut the dragon into pieces, he found an excellent sword from a tail of the dragon that his sword had been unable to cut. The sword was later presented to Amaterasu and named Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi (later called Kusanagi). This sword was to feature prominently in many other tales.
(New World Encyclopedia)

Susanoo no Mikoto slaying Yamata no Orochi

Susanoo encountered a grieving Ashinazuchi, his wife, and his daughter Kushinada-hime   Kushinada-hime  

Left: Susanoo encountered a grieving Ashinazuchi, his wife, and his daughter Kushinada-hime
An 1886 CE print by Toyohara Chikanobu of Susanoo, the Shinto storm god. Here he is about to rescue the beautiful Kushinada Hime from the serpent monster Yamato-no-Orochi.
Right: This wall painting of Kushinada-hime (also called princess Inata) is over a thousand years old, located at Yaegaki Shrine (八重垣神社 Yaegaki Jinja), formerly known as Sakusa Shrine (佐久佐神社 Sakusa Jinja), a Shinto shrine in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Japan.
In Shinto mythology, Kushinadahime or Kushi-nada-hime (Japanese : クシナダヒメ ; Kojiki : 櫛名田比売, Nihonshoki : 奇稲田姫, Kushiinadahime , "wondrous Inada princess") is a goddess (kami) of rice and the wife of the god Susanoo .
View 2012 Japanese special stamps to celebrate the 1300th Anniversary of the "Kojiki". These stamps include images of Susanoo (bottom left) and Kushinada-hime (bottom right)

Susanoo no Mikoto slaying Yamata no Orochi

The dragon was coming after beautiful Kushi-nada   Susanoo no Mikoto slaying Yamata no Orochi  

Left: The dragon was coming after beautiful Kushi-nada Susanoo placed eight cups filled with extra strong sake at each of the doorways of the house
Right: Susanoo no Mikoto slaying Yamata no Orochi (须佐之男杀八歧大蛇)

Susanno & The Eight-headed Dragon

Takehaya Susanoo-no-Mikoto (建速須佐之男命) or Susanoo is the storm god of the Shinto religion. Younger brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu, he is infamous for his mischievous and sometimes destructive behaviour and therefore has a reputation as being something of a trickster. He is also associated with the wind and the sea and in more recent times has become associated with love and marriage.

The god was born when his father Izanagi washed his nose in the river Woto whilst performing ritual cleansing rites following his experience in the underworld. Initially, Susanoo ruled the Takama no Hara (High Celestial Plain) with his sister Amaterasu but from the very beginning, Susanoo caused trouble by destroying forests and mountains and killing local inhabitants down on earth. For this reason he was banished from heaven.

Giving a last farewell to his sister, the storm god once again caused great destruction on his way to the palace of the sun and even the very mountains trembled in his wake. At this, Amaterasu was convinced her brother was up to no good but when challenged, Susanoo claimed he merely wanted to say goodbye and to prove his good intentions he said that if he could miraculously bring into the world five new deities and they turned out to be male, it would prove his honesty. Susanoo then took the 500-jewel necklace of his sister, ate them and spat them out as a mist from which five male deities were born. These new gods or kami, along with three female gods produced when Amaterasu performed a similar feat by eating Susanoo’s sword and spitting out three deities, became the ancestors of the Japanese nobility.

Full of exuberant joy at having won his challenge with his sister, Susanoo went on another wild rampage in celebration. Once again, trees were destroyed and so too many rice-fields. Then, to add insult to injury, in a rather tasteless joke Susanoo flayed a divine horse and threw it through the roof of the palace where Amaterasu was quietly weaving. Furious at her brother’s outrageous behaviour, the sun goddess shut herself in a cave and only came out again after much palaver and enticements from the other gods. Susanoo, perhaps not unjustly, was immediately exiled from heaven. In some accounts Susanoo took up residence with his mother Izanami in Yomi, the underworld, in other versions he rules the realm of the seas.

Descending to the earthly realm, Susanoo landed at Tori-kami in the province of Izumo and whilst wandering along the river Hi, the god was arrested by the sound of weeping. Investigating further, Susanoo found three pitiful figures - an old man and woman and their beautiful young daughter - all sobbing uncontrollably and absolutely terrified by something. On enquiry, they told the god that their distress was caused by a gigantic serpent (known as Yamato-no-Orochi or the Koshi) which came to terrorize the region every year and every visit ate one of the aged couple’s daughters.

Now the distressed parents were down to their last daughter, Kusha-nada-hime. Susanoo struck a bargain with them that if he killed the monster he could marry the beautiful girl. Agreeing to this, the parents followed the god’s instructions and placed eight cups filled with extra strong sake at each of the doorways of their house. After a while, the monstrous serpent duly arrived with fire spitting from each of his eight heads. When the fearsome creature smelt the sake, it could not resist and each head drank from one of the cups. Consequently, the serpent collapsed completely drunk and Susanoo nonchalantly stepped out from his hiding place and lopped off each of the serpent’s heads with his sword. Then opening the creature’s belly, Susanoo discovered the special sword, the Kusanagi or ‘grass-cutter’ (in other versions of the story he extracts it from the serpent’s tail). This sword, he presented to his sister, no doubt by way of apology for his earlier misdeeds. The sword was then given by Amaterasu to her grandson Ninigi who was the first ancestor of the Japanese imperial family and it became a part of the imperial regalia, preserved in the temple of Atsuta near Nagoya.

Susanoo slaying the Yamata-no-Orochi

Susanoo slaying the Yamata-no-Orochi ca. 1870s by Toyohara Chikanobu

Susanoo slaying the Yamata-no-Orochi by Toyohara Chikanobu, ca. 1870s

Despite his reputation as a bit of a bad boy amongst the Shinto gods, Susanoo is credited with giving certain cultural gifts to mankind, including agriculture. He is also credited with founding the ruling dynasty in Izumo, through his son-in-law Oho-kuni-nushi. It is also the location of a major Shinto shrine which is dedicated to the god. In Japanese art, Susanoo is most often depicted with wild hair blowing in the winds, wielding a sword and fighting the eight-headed monster Yamato-no-Orochi.

The Serpent With Eight Heads

The Serpent With Eight Heads   The Serpent With Eight Heads

The Serpent With Eight Heads
Japanese Fairy Tale Series, No. 9. ca 1889, Hasegawa, T. (Publisher), Sensei Eitaku (Illustrator)


Ninigi Reigning The Earth

Amaterasu’s son is Ama-no-Oshiho-mimi who was requested by his mother to reign over the terrestrial kingdom. However, when he stood on Ama-no-hashidate, the bridge which linked heaven to earth, and saw the disorder amongst the earthly deities he rather petulantly refused the role.
At this Amaterasu asked the advice of Taka-mi-Musubi and consequently a council of all the gods was convened. The decision of this council was to send Ama-no-Hoki down to earth and properly assess the situation.
However, after a period of three years there had still not been any word from Ama-no-Hoki and so a second council was called. This time the gods sent Ame-waka-hiko armed with his divine bow and arrows. He too, though, proved a less than reliable envoy when he was distracted by and married Shita-teru-hime (the daughter of Oho-kuni-nushi) so that he forgot completely his original mission.
After eight years without any news the gods finally sent the pheasant Na-naki-me to find Ame-waka-hiko. The latter though, on seeing the pheasant, took the bird for a bad omen and swiftly shot the poor creature on the spot with one of his arrows. However, as the arrow was a divine one, it shot straight through the unlucky pheasant and carried on straight up to heaven, landing finally at the feet of Taka-mi-Musubi. The god, rather unimpressed no doubt, promptly threw the arrow back down to earth where it landed rather unfortunately in the chest of Ame-waka-hiko and killed him outright.

These events necessitated a third council of the gods to be called and it was decided to send Take-mika-zuchi, the god of thunder, and Futsu-nushi, the god of fire, armed with their swords to negotiate with Oho-kuni-nushi, the earthly ruler, and persuade him of the wisdom of recognising Amaterasu’s claim to sovereignty over the earth as well as heaven.
Oho-kuni-nushi, understandably reluctant to hand over his power without a fuss, consulted his two sons. The eldest son Koto-shiro-nushi counselled his father to concede peacefully but his younger son Take-minakata advised resistance. The latter then unwisely fought with Take-mika-zuchi but he was no match for the thunder god and was easily defeated. Seeing the hopelessness of his position, Oho-kuni-nushi graciously gave up sovereignty to Amaterasu and left to rule the underworld instead.

Ninigi (瓊瓊杵尊)
Image source: Wikimedia

Now that things were finally sorted out down below, Amaterasu once again asked her son Ama-no-Oshiho-mimi, to govern the earth.
For a second time he refused but nominated in his place his son Ninigi-no-Mikoto (瓊瓊杵尊). To this Amaterasu agreed and gave Ninigi three gifts to help him on his way.
These were the Yasakani, a jewel (or pearls), source of the ancient quarrel between Amaterasu and Susanoo; Yata, the mirror from the cave episode; and Kusanagi, the sword Susanoo had plucked from a monster’s tail. These would become the three emblems of Ninigi’s power (sanshu no jingi) and became the imperial regalia of his descendants, the emperors of Japan.
Indeed, the first emperor, Jimmu (r. 660-585 BCE), who founded the Japanese state in 660 BCE was said to be a direct descendant of Amaterasu. This belief allowed successive emperors to likewise claim divine ancestry and so exercise absolute authority.


Ninigi-no-mikoto statues

Ninigi-no-mikoto statues   Ninigi-no-mikoto statues

Left: Takachiho-gawara Furumiya-ato Shrine in Kirishima, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan. Here is a Sacred ground of the descent to earth of Ninigi-no-Mikoto (the grandson of Amaterasu).
高千穂河原 古宮址、天孫降臨神籬斎場。 鹿児島県霧島市。
Right: Ninigi-no-mikoto statues at Kunimigaoka Viewpoint, Takachiho, Miyazaki, Japan


Ninigi-no-Mikoto, or simply Ninigi, is the grandson of the supreme Shinto deity Amaterasu, the sun goddess. He is the son of Ama-no-Oshiho-mimi and, descending to earth as the first just ruler, he brought with him gifts from Amaterasu as symbols of his authority which remain part of the Japanese imperial regalia today. Ninigi became the great-grandfather of Japan’s first emperor, the semi-legendary Emperor Jimmu, and so established a divine link between all subsequent emperors and the gods.

In Japanese mythology, the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami asked her son Ama-no-Oshiho-mimi to descend from the heavens to rule the world of the mortals. Twice refusing this honour after seeing the general chaos that prevailed in the world, Ama-no-Oshiho-mimi nominated his son Ninigi-no-Mikoto (full name: Ame-Nigishi-Kuninigishi-Amatsu-hiko-no-ninigi-no-mikoto) to go in his place. To this Amaterasu finally agreed, and she gave Ningi three gifts to help him on his way. These were the Yasakani, a fabulous jewel (or pearls or magatama beads), source of the ancient quarrel between Amaterasu and her brother Susanoo, the storm god; the Yata, the mirror which had been made by the gods and successfully used to tempt Amaterasu out of the cave which she hid in following some typical bad behaviour from Susanoo; and Kusanagi, the great sword Susanoo had plucked from a monster’s tail. These would become the three emblems of Ninigi’s power (sanshu no jingi), and they became the imperial regalia of his descendants, the emperors of Japan, starting with his great-grandson Emperor Jimmu (r. 660-585 BCE). Thus, all subsequent emperors were able to claim a direct descent from the gods and so legitimise their authority to rule Japan.

Amaterasu also gave Ninigi some specific instructions regarding the Yata mirror: "Consider this mirror as thou wast wont to consider my soul, and honour it as myself" (Hackin, 395). Eventually, the mirror would indeed become an object of worship or shintai and end up in the Ise Grand Shrine in the Mie Prefecture, dedicated to Amaterasu and still today Japan’s most important Shinto shrine.

Ninigi, carrying his three precious goods, and accompanied by three gods (including Ame-no-uzume, the dawn goddess, and Sarutahiko-no-kami, the god of crossroads) and five chiefs, landed on earth at the top of Mt. Takachiho, in the south of Kyushu. From there, after first building himself a palace, he went to the temple of Kasasa in Satsuma province where the five chiefs set about laying down the principles of the Shinto religion, creating a priesthood and organising the building of temples. The chiefs would pacify the land and establish the clans which would dominate Japanese government for centuries to come such as the Fujiwara clan. In this capacity, the five became the ancestral deities of these clans, the ujigami.

Ninigi quickly found romance on earth when he bumped into the girl Sakuya-hime, and he immediately proposed marriage. The girl faltered, telling Ninigi she first had to have permission from her father. The god obliged and went to the girl’s home nearby. The father (who in some versions is the mountain god Oyamatsumi-no-kami) gave a rather cryptic response to Ninigi’s request and offered him the choice of his two daughters or both. The other girl, Iwanaga-hime, was not quite the stunner her younger sister was, and so Ninigi stuck with his first choice. The father, angered that he had chosen the weaker of his two girls, anyway consented but not before he set a curse on the offspring of the couple that they would be mortal, a detail which explains why all emperors are both divine but 'short-lived'.

Before very long a baby was on the way, but Ninigi had doubts as to whether he was the child’s father. A haughty Sakuya-hime assured her husband the child was his and to prove her point locked herself away in a hut. In a dramatic gesture, she then set fire to the hut and they both survived, thus proving the child was of divine birth. Ninigi’s son was given the name Hoderi-no-mikoto. Sakuya-hime, also known as Konohanasakuya-hime, later became the goddess and resident kami of Mount Fuji.

The god would have two more sons: Ho-suseri and Hoho-demi. The latter would have a son with Toyo-Tama-bime (daughter of the sea god Wata-tsu-mi) but the child was abandoned and brought up by his aunt Tama-yori-bime who then married him. They had four sons and the youngest, Toyo-mike-nu (aka Kamu-Yamatoihare-hiko-no-mikoto), would become Japan’s first emperor, his posthumous title being Emperor Jimmu Tenno, who traditionally reigned from 660-585 BCE, thus establishing a royal line which could claim divine descent.


Imperial Regalia: The Three Sacred Treasures:

Amaterasu ordered her grandson Ninigi (Ninigi no Mikoto, 瓊瓊杵尊), the son of Ame no Oshihomimi no Mikoto and great-grandfather of Emperor Jimmu, to rule over the ground and plant rice, and gave him the Three Sacred Treasures:
•the magatama necklace of Magatama - Yasakani no magatama (now situated in the Tokyo imperial palace);
•the bronze mirror of Yata no kagami (now in the Grand Shrine of Ise); and
•the sword Kusanagi (a possible replica of which is now in Atsuta Shrine, Nagoya).

The first two were made to lure Amaterasu out of Amano-Iwato. The last was found in the tail of Orochi, an eight-headed dragon. Of these three, the mirror is the token of Amaterasu. The three together constitute the Imperial Regalia of Japan.

Ninigi and his company went down to the earth and came to Himuka, there he founded his palace.

三神器, Artist's impression of the Imperial Regalia of Japan

三神器, Artist's impression of the Imperial Regalia of Japan

三神器, Artist's impression of the Imperial Regalia of Japan
A sword, a mirror, and a curved jewel.

Yata no Kagami

Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡) is a sacred mirror that is part of the Imperial Regalia of Japan. It is said to be housed in Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture, Japan, although a lack of public access makes this difficult to verify. The Yata no Kagami represents "wisdom" or "honesty," depending on the source. Its name literally means "The Eight Hand Mirror," a reference to its octagonal shape. Mirrors in ancient Japan represented truth because they merely reflected what was shown, and were a source of much mystique and reverence (being uncommon items). Japanese folklore is rich in stories of life before mirrors were commonplace.

In the Japanese mythology, this mirror was forged by the deity Ishikoridome; it and the Yasakani no magatama were hung from a tree to lure out Amaterasu from a cave. They were given to Amaterasu's grandson, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, when he went to pacify Japan along with the sword Kusanagi. From there, the treasures passed into the hands of the Imperial House of Japan.

In the year 1040 (Chōkyū 1, 9th month), the compartment which contained the Sacred Mirror was burned in a fire. Whether that mirror was irrevocably lost or not, it is said to be housed today in Ise Grand Shrine, while a replica is enshrined in Three Palace Sanctuaries of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Yasakani no Magatama

Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊勾), also (八尺瓊曲玉) and (八坂瓊曲玉), one of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan. The Yasakani no Magatama is stored at the Kashiko-dokoro (賢所), the central shrine of the Three Palace Sanctuaries at the Tokyo Imperial Palace, and is used in the enthronement ceremony of the Emperor of Japan.

Daniel Clarence Holtom stated in 1928 in Japanese enthronement ceremonies; with an account of the imperial regalia that the Yasakani no Magatama is the only one of the three regalia that exists in its original form; post-World War II scholarship supports the claim. Replicas of the sword and mirror were made as early as the 9th century, with the originals entrusted to other shrines.

Amaterasu emerging from the cave holding a magatama necklace and a sword  Magatamas in Kofun period  Magatama necklace

Left: Artist's rendition of Amaterasu emerging from the cave holding a magatama necklace and a sword
Middle: Magatamas in Kofun period, Tokyo National Museum. 古墳時代の勾玉。東京国立博物館
Right: Magatama necklace


Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (草薙の剣) is a legendary Japanese sword and one of three Imperial Regalia of Japan. It was originally called Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi (天叢雲剣, "Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven"), but its name was later changed to the more popular Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi ("Grass-Cutting Sword"). In folklore, the sword represents the virtue of valor.

Susanoo discovered the great sword inside the body of the dragon which he called Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, and he presented the sword to the goddess Amaterasu to settle an old grievance.

Generations later, in the reign of the twelfth Emperor, Keikō, Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi was given to the great warrior, Yamato Takeru as part of a pair of gifts given by his aunt, Yamatohime-no-mikoto the Shrine Maiden of Ise Shrine, to protect her nephew in times of peril.

These gifts came in handy when Yamato Takeru was lured onto an open grassland during a hunting expedition by a treacherous warlord. The lord had fiery arrows loosed to ignite the grass and trap Yamato Takeru in the field so that he would burn to death. He also killed the warrior's horse to prevent his escape. Desperately, Yamato Takeru used the Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi to cut back the grass and remove fuel from the fire, but in doing so, he discovered that the sword enabled him to control the wind and cause it to move in the direction of his swing. Taking advantage of this magic, Yamato Takeru used his other gift, fire strikers, to enlarge the fire in the direction of the lord and his men, and he used the winds controlled by the sword to sweep the blaze toward them. In triumph, Yamato Takeru renamed the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi ("Grasscutter Sword") to commemorate his narrow escape and victory. Eventually, Yamato Takeru married and later fell in battle with a monster, after ignoring his wife's advice to take the sword with him.

Although the sword is mentioned in the Kojiki, this book is a collection of Japanese myths and is not considered a historical document. The first reliable historical mention of the sword is in the Nihonshoki. Although the Nihonshoki also contains mythological stories that are not considered reliable history, it records some events that were contemporary or nearly contemporary to its writing, and these sections of the book are considered historical. In the Nihonshoki, the Kusanagi was removed from the Imperial palace in 688, and moved to Atsuta Shrine after the sword was blamed for causing Emperor Tenmu to fall ill.

During the Edo period, while performing various repairs and upkeep at Atsuta Shrine, including replacement of the outer wooden box housing the sword, the Shinto priest Matsuoka Masanao claimed to have been one of several priests to have seen the sword. Per his account, "a stone box was inside a wooden box of length 150 cm, with red clay stuffed into the gap between them. Inside the stone box was a hollowed log of a camphor tree, acting as another box, with an interior lined with gold. Above that was placed a sword. Red clay was also stuffed between the stone box and the camphor tree box. The sword was about 82 cm long. Its blade resembled a calamus leaf. The middle of the sword had a thickness from the grip about 18cm with an appearance like a fish spine. The sword was fashioned in a white metallic color, and well maintained." After witnessing the sword, the grand priest was banished and the other priests, except for Matsuoka, died from strange diseases. The above account comes from only survivor: Matsuoka.

In The Tale of the Heike, a collection of oral stories transcribed in 1371, the sword (it was a replica for rituals placed in the royal palace, the original is still staying in Atsuta Shrine) is lost at sea after the defeat of the Heike clan in the Battle of Dan-no-ura, a naval battle that ended in the defeat of the Heike clan forces and the child Emperor Antoku at the hands of Minamoto no Yoshitsune. In the tale, upon hearing of the Navy's defeat, the Emperor's grandmother led the Emperor and his entourage to commit suicide by drowning in the waters of the strait, taking with her two of the three Imperial Regalia: the sacred jewel and the sword Kusanagi. The sacred mirror was recovered in extremis when one of the ladies-in-waiting was about to jump with it into the sea. Although the sacred jewel is said to have been found in its casket floating on the waves, Kusanagi was lost forever. Although written about historical events, The Tale of the Heike is a collection of epic poetry passed down orally and written down nearly 200 years after the actual events, so its reliability as an historical document is questionable.

Another story holds that the sword was reportedly stolen again in the sixth century by a monk from Silla. However, his ship allegedly sank at sea, allowing the sword to wash ashore at Ise, where it was recovered by Shinto priests.

Kusanagi is allegedly kept at Atsuta Shrine but is not available for public display. Due to the Shinto priests' refusal to show the sword, and the rather unreliable nature of its historical references, the current state of, or even the existence at all of, the sword as a historical artifact cannot be confirmed.
The last report of the sword was in 1989 (or 1993) when Emperor Akihito ascended to the throne.

Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya   Susano-O no Mikoto cutting the tail of a dragon for a sword

Left: Atsuta Shrine (熱田神宮本宮) in Nagoya dates back to c. 100 CE during the reign of Emperor Keikō and houses the Kusanagi sword.
Right: Standing screen depicting Susano-O no Mikoto cutting the tail of a dragon for a sword Japan, Meiji period, by Toyohara Chikanobu, ca. 1870s
Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dallas, Texas, United States.


Statue of Yamato Takeru in Kenrokuen, Kanazawa
Statue of Yamato Takeru in Kenrokuen, Kanazawa
(Levitation is photoshopped)
Image source: Wikimedia 

Yamato Takeru dressed as a maid servant
Yamato Takeru dressed as a maid servant, preparing to kill the Kumaso leaders.
Woodblock print on paper. Yoshitoshi, 1886.
Image source: Wikimedia 

Yamato Takeru

Yamato Takeru (ヤマトタケルノミコト Yamato Takeru no Mikoto), originally Prince Ōsu (小碓命 Ōsu no Mikoto), was a Japanese legendary prince of the Yamato dynasty, son of Emperor Keikō, who is traditionally counted as the 12th Emperor of Japan. His name written in kanji can vary, in the Nihon Shoki it is spelled 日本武尊 and in the Kojiki it is 倭建命.

The story of his life and death are told principally in the Japanese chronicles Kojiki (712) and Nihon Shoki (720), but also mentioned in Kogo Shūi (807) and some histories like the Hitachi no Kuni Fudoki (常陸国風土記) (721). One of his sons became Emperor Chūai, the 14th Emperor of Japan.

His history is uncertain but based on the chronicles his life can be calculated. He was born circa 72 and died in 114. Details are different between the two books, and the version in Kojiki is assumed to be more credible to the original legend.

Prince Ōsu slew his elder brother Ōsu (小碓命 Ōsu no Mikoto). His father, the emperor Keikō, feared his brutal temperament. To keep him at a distance, the father sent him to Izumo Province, today the eastern part of Shimane Prefecture, and then the land of Kumaso, today Kumamoto Prefecture. However, Ōsu succeeded in defeating his enemies, in the latter case by cross-dressing as a maid attendant at a drinking party. One of the enemies he defeated praised him and gave him the title Yamato Takeru, meaning The Brave of Yamato. But Emperor Keikō's mind was unchanged.

Keikō sent Yamato Takeru to the eastern land whose people disobeyed the imperial court. Yamato Takeru met his aunt Princess Yamato-hime, the highest priestess of Amaterasu at Ise Grand Shrine (in Ise Province) and grieved, "my father wishes I would die?" Princess Yamatohime-no-mikoto showed him compassion and lent him a holy sword named Ame no Murakumo no tsurugi (Kusanagi no tsurugi), which Susanoo, the brother god of Amaterasu, found in the body of the eight-headed great serpent, Yamata no Orochi. Yamato Takeru went to the eastern land. He lost his wife Oto tachibana-hime during a storm when she sacrificed herself to soothe the anger of the sea god. He defeated many enemies in the eastern land, and legend has it that he and a local old man composed the first sedōka in Kai Province with Mount Tsukuba (now in Ibaraki Prefecture) as its theme. On his return he blasphemed a local god of Mount Ibuki, which sits on the border of Ōmi Province and Mino Province. The god cursed him with disease and he fell ill.

The story above is found in the Kojiki. In the Nihonshoki version, the father and Yamato Takeru keep a good relation.

According to traditional sources, Yamato Takeru died in the 43rd year of Emperor Keiko's reign (景行天皇43年). The possessions of the dead prince were gathered together along with the sword Kusanagi; and his widow venerated his memory in a shrine at her home. Some time later, these relics and the sacred sword were moved to the current location of Atsuta Shrine.

Yamato Takeru is believed to have died somewhere in Ise Province. According to the legend, the name of Mie Prefecture was derived from his final words. After death his soul turned into a great white bird and flew away. His tomb in Ise is known as the Mausoleum of the White Plover. A statue of Yamato Takeru stands in Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, Ishikawa.

Yamato Takeru

The statue of Yamato Takeru at Ōtori Taisha
Bronze statue of Yamato Takeru at Ōtori Taishathe Shrine, Sakai, Osaka, Japan
Image source: Wikimedia

Prince Yamatotakeru, originally Prince Ousu was a legendary prince of the Yamato dynasty, son of Keikō of Yamato, the legendary twelfth Tenno or Emperor of Japan. The tragic tale of this impressive figure is told in the Japanese chronicles Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. One of his sons later became Emperor Chuai, the fourteenth Emperor of Japan. His historical existence is uncertain. Details are different between the two books and the version in Kojiki is assumed to be loyal to the older form of this legend. Prince Ousu slew his elder brother Ōusu, and his father, the emperor Keikō, feared his brutal temperament. The father plotted to have his son die in battle by sending him to the Izumo Province, (today the eastern part of the Shimane Prefecture) and the land of Kumaso, today Kumamoto Prefecture. But Ousu succeeded in defeating his enemies, in the latter case by dressing as a maid servant attendant at a drinking party (see image right). One of the enemies he defeated praised him and gave him the title Yamatotakeru, meaning The Brave of Yamato.

Emperor Keikōs mind was unchanged, and he sent Yamato Takeru to the eastern land whose people disobeyed the imperial court. Yamatotakeru met his aunt Princess Yamato, the highest priestess of Amaterasu in Ise Province. His father attempted to kill him with his own hands, but Princess Yamato showed him compassion and lent him a holy sword named Kusanagi no tsurugi which Susanoo, the brother god of Amaterasu, had found in the body of the great serpent, Yamata no Orochi. Yamato Takeru went to the eastern land. He lost his wife Ototachibanahime during a storm, when she sacrificed herself to soothe the anger of the sea god. He defeated many enemies in the eastern land, and, according to legend, he and a local old man composed the first renga in the Kai Province, on the theme of Mount Tsukuba (now in Ibaraki Prefecture). On his return, he blasphemed a local god of Mount Ibuki, on the border of Ōmi Province and Mino Province. The god cursed him with disease and he fell ill. Yamatotakeru died somewhere in the Ise Province. According to the legend the name of Mie Prefecture was derived from his final words. After death his soul turned into a great white bird and flew away. His tomb in Ise is known as the Mausoleum of the White Plover.

Ninigi-no-mikoto statues   Statue of Yamato Takeru on the peak of Mount Ibuki, Maibara Shiga

Left: Comic Picture of Yamato Takeru in "A Mirror of Famous Generals of Japan" (大日本名将鑑) 1876-1882 by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (月岡芳年)
Compiled Album from Four Series by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japan, 1839-1892) and Morikawa Chikashige (Japan, active second half 19th century): (1) A Mirror of Famous Generals of Japan; (2) Comic Pictures of Famous Places in Civilizing Tokyo; (3) Twenty-four Accomplishments in Imperial Japan; (4) Twenty-four Hours in Shinbashi and Yanagibashi
Right: Statue of Yamato Takeru on the peak of Mount Ibuki, Maibara Shiga prefecture, Japan.


Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan

Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇 Jinmu-tennō) was the first Emperor of Japan, according to legend. His accession is traditionally dated as 660 BC. According to Japanese mythology, he is a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, through her grandson Ninigi, as well as a descendant of the storm god Susanoo. He launched a military expedition from Hyuga near the Inland Sea, captured Yamato, and established this as his center of power. In modern Japan, Jimmu's accession is marked as National Foundation Day on February 11. Nihon Shoki gives the dates of his reign as 660–585 BC. In Japanese mythology, the Age of the Gods is the period before Jimmu's accession.

Both the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki give Jimmu's name as Kamu-yamato Iware-biko no mikoto (神倭伊波礼琵古命 / 神日本磐余彦尊).

According to the chronicles Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, Jimmu's brothers were born in Takachiho, the southern part of Kyūshū in modern-day Miyazaki Prefecture. They moved eastward to find a location more appropriate for administering the entire country. Jimmu's older brother, Itsuse no Mikoto, originally led the migration, and led the clan eastward through the Seto Inland Sea with the assistance of local chieftain Sao Netsuhiko. As they reached Naniwa (modern day Ōsaka), they encountered another local chieftain, Nagasunehiko ("the long-legged man"), and Itsuse was killed in the ensuing battle. Jimmu realized that they had been defeated because they battled eastward against the sun, so he decided to land on the east side of Kii Peninsula and to battle westward. They reached Kumano, and, with the guidance of a three-legged crow, Yatagarasu ("eight-span crow"), they moved to Yamato. There, they once again battled Nagasunehiko and were victorious.

In Yamato, Nigihayahi no Mikoto, who also claim descent from the Takamagahara gods, was protected by Nagasunehiko. However, when Nigihayahi met Jimmu, he accepted Jimmu's legitimacy. At this point, Jimmu is said to have ascended to the throne of Japan. Upon scaling a Nara mountain to survey the Seto Inland Sea he now controlled, Jimmu remarked that it was shaped like the "heart" rings made by mating dragonflies, archaically akitsu 秋津. A mosquito then tried to steal Jimmu's royal blood but since Jimmu was a god incarnate emperor, akitsumikami 現御神, a dragonfly killed the mosquito. Japan thus received its classical name the Dragonfly Islands, akitsushima 秋津島.

According to the Kojiki, Jimmu died when he was 126 years old. This emperor's posthumous name literally means "divine might 神武" or "god-warrior". It is undisputed that this identification is Chinese in form and Buddhist in implication, which suggests that the name must have been regularized centuries after the lifetime ascribed to Jimmu. It is generally thought that Jimmu's name and character evolved into their present shape just before the time in which legends about the origins of the Yamato dynasty were chronicled in the Kojiki.
The traditional site of Jimmu's grave is near Unebiyama in Kashihara.


Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan

Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan   Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan

Left: Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan
Right: Comic Picture of Yamato Takeru in "A Mirror of Famous Generals of Japan" (大日本名将鑑) 1876-1882 by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (月岡芳年)
Depiction of a bearded Jimmu with his emblematic long bow and an accompanying wild bird.
Compiled Album from Four Series by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japan, 1839-1892) and Morikawa Chikashige (Japan, active second half 19th century): (1) A Mirror of Famous Generals of Japan; (2) Comic Pictures of Famous Places in Civilizing Tokyo; (3) Twenty-four Accomplishments in Imperial Japan; (4) Twenty-four Hours in Shinbashi and Yanagibashi

Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan

Emperor Jimmu (Jinmu Tennō; also known as: Kamuyamato Iwarebiko; given name: Wakamikenu no Mikoto or Sano no Mikoto), (born according to the legendary account in the Kojiki on the first day of the first month, 660 B.C.E., and died, again according to legend, on the eleventh day of the third month, 585 B.C.E.; both dates according to the traditional Japanese calendar), was the mythical founder of Japan and is the first emperor named in the traditional lists of emperors. The Imperial house of Japan traditionally based its claim to the throne on its descent from Jimmu.

The name "Emperor Jimmu" is treated as the posthumous name of this mythical figure. In fact, being Chinese in form and Buddhist in implication, it must have been awarded centuries after the lifetime ascribed to him, as part of the compilation of legends about the origins of the Yamato dynasty known as the Kojiki. "Jimmu" literally means "divine might."

Mythic records in the Kojiki and Nihonshoki tell us that Jimmu's brothers were originally born in Takachiho, the southern part of Kyūshū (in modern day Miyazaki prefecture), and decided to move eastward, as they found their location inappropriate for reigning over the entire country. Jimmu's older brother Itsuse no Mikoto originally led the migration, and they move eastward through the Seto Inland Sea with the assistance of local chieftain Sao Netsuhiko. As they reached Naniwa (modern day Ōsaka), they encountered another local chieftain Nagasunehiko (lit. the long-legged man"), and Itsuse was killed in the ensuing battle. Jimmu realized that they had been defeated because they battled eastward against the Sun, so he decided to land on the east side of Kii Peninsula and battle westward. They reached Kumano, and with the guidance of a three-legged bird, Yatagarasu (lit. eight-span crow), moved to Yamato. There they once again battled Nagasunehiko and were victorious. In Yamato, Nigihayahi no Mikoto, who also claims to be a descendant of the Takamagahara gods, was protected by Nagasunehiko. However, when Nigihayahi met Jimmu, he accepted Jimmu's legitimacy, and Jimmu ascended to the throne.


Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan  

Emperor Jinmu
Stories from "Nihonki" (Chronicles of Japan), by Ginko Adachi. 1891 Woodblock print depicting legendary first emperor Jimmu, who saw a sacred bird flying away while he was in the expedition of the eastern section of Japan

Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan   Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan

Left: Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan By Nobukazu (1874 - 1944).
Right: Unebi Goryō, the mausoleum of Jimmu in Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture. 神武天皇陵への道。奈良県橿原市.

Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan   Jimmu, The first legendary Emperor of Japan

Left: Statue of Emperor Jimmu at Tokushima-shi, Tokushima Prefecture , 徳島県徳島市の眉山にある神武天皇像
Right: Bronze statue of Emperor Jimmu at Ushi-ishigahara Clearing, Nara, Japan 牛石ヶ原に建つ神武天皇(じんむてんのう)の銅像.



Shinto (神道 Shintō), also called kami-no-michi, is the ethnic religion of Japan that focuses on ritual practices to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past.

Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written historical records of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in the 8th century. Still, these earliest Japanese writings do not refer to a unified "Shinto religion", but rather to a collection of native beliefs and mythology. Shinto today is a term that applies to the religion of public shrines devoted to the worship of a multitude of gods (kami), suited to various purposes such as war memorials and harvest festivals, and applies as well to various sectarian organizations. Practitioners express their diverse beliefs through a standard language and practice, adopting a similar style in dress and ritual, dating from around the time of the Nara and Heian periods (8th–12th century).

The word Shinto ("way of the gods") was adopted, originally as Jindō or Shindō, from the written Chinese Shendao (神道 shén dào), combining two kanji: "shin" (神), meaning "spirit" or kami; and "tō" (道), meaning a philosophical path or study (from the Chinese word dào). The oldest recorded usage of the word Shindo is from the second half of the 6th century. Kami are defined in English as "spirits", "essences" or "gods", referring to the energy generating the phenomena. Since the Japanese language does not distinguish between singular and plural, kami refers to the divinity, or sacred essence, that manifests in multiple forms: rocks, trees, rivers, animals, places, and even people can be said to possess the nature of kami. Kami and people are not separate; they exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity.

Shinto is the largest religion in Japan, practiced by nearly 80% of the population, yet only a small percentage of these identify themselves as "Shintoists" in surveys. This is because "Shinto" has different meanings in Japan: most of the Japanese attend Shinto shrines and beseech kami without belonging to an institutional "Shinto" religion, and since there are no formal rituals to become a member of "folk Shinto", "Shinto membership" is often estimated counting those who join organised Shinto sects. Shinto has 81,000 shrines and 85,000 priests in the country.

Types of Shinto

Shinto religious expressions have been distinguished by scholars into a series of categories:

  *   Shrine Shinto (神社神道 Jinja-Shintō), the main tradition of Shinto, has always been a part of Japan's history. It consists of taking part in worship practices and events at local shrines. Before the Meiji Restoration, shrines were disorganized institutions usually attached to Buddhist temples; in the Meiji Restoration, they were made independent systematised institutions. The current successor to the imperial organization system, the Association of Shinto Shrines, oversees about 80,000 shrines nationwide.
  *   Imperial Household Shinto (皇室神道 Kōshitsu-Shintō) are the religious rites performed exclusively by the imperial family at the three shrines on the imperial grounds, including the Ancestral Spirits Sanctuary (Kōrei-den) and the Sanctuary of the Kami (Shin-den).
  *   Folk Shinto (民俗神道 Minzoku-Shintō) includes the numerous folk beliefs in deities and spirits. Practices include divination, spirit possession, and shamanic healing. Some of their practices come from Buddhism, Taoism or Confucianism, but most come from ancient local traditions.
  *   Sect Shinto (教派神道 Kyōha-Shintō)is a legal designation originally created in the 1890s to separate government-owned shrines from local organised religious communities. These communities originated especially in the Edo period. The basic difference between Shrine Shinto and Sect Shinto is that sects are a later development and grew self-consciously. They can identify a founder, a formal set of teachings and even sacred scriptures. Sect Shinto groups are thirteen, and usually classified under five headings: pure Shinto sects (Shinto Taikyo, Shinrikyo and Izumo Oyashirokyo), Confucian sects (Shinto Shusei-ha and Taiseikyo), mountain worship sects (Jikkokyo, Fusokyo and Mitakekyo or Ontakekyo), purification sects (Shinshukyo and Misogikyo), and faith-healing sects (Kurozumikyo, Konkokyo and its branching Omotokyo, and Tenrikyo).
  *   Koshintō (古神道 Ko-shintō), literally "Old Shinto", is a reconstructed "Shinto from before the time of Buddhism", today based on Ainu religion and Ryukyuan practices. It continues the restoration movement begun by Hirata Atsutane.

Many other sects and schools can be distinguished. Faction Shinto (宗派神道 Shūha-Shintō) is a grouping of Japanese new religions developed since the second half of the 20th century that have significantly departed from traditional Shinto and are not always regarded as part of it.