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Amaterasu and the Rock Cave Explained

In Japanese History, Japanese Mythology, Japanese Shrines & Temples on July 2, 2020 at 7:01 am

天岩戸の説明
Ama no Iwato Shinwa no Setsumei

Explanation of the Creation Myth

AMATERASU IN THE CAVE

Welcome to Japan’s Most Famous Legend

Also, if you haven’t read Amaterasu and the Rock Cave and all of my footnotes, go do that first. Otherwise, none of this will make any sense to you.

The Rock Cave Myth is by far the most famous of all Japanese myths. If we keep in mind that 天武天皇 Tenmu Tennō Emperor Tenmu commissioned the Kojiki in order to emphasize the imperial family’s divine origins[i] and to clarify their position as the rightful rulers of the realm. It also legitimized the ranks and duties of the most noble clans of the 大和朝廷 Yamato Chōtei Yamato Court by illustrating their divine descent as well. In a not unobvious way, the Kojiki describes how the divine ancestors of the courtiers assisted the divine ancestor of the imperial family in the Rock Cave Myth which implies their subservience to the royal family. Furthermore, we see descriptions of Shintō rituals – either the origins of them or hints that these rites and beliefs existed prior to the compilation of these myths in the 7th century.

One thing that I’ve kept coming back to is the precocious and sometimes silly or self-absorbed nature of the heavenly kami depicted in these myths. If these are indeed divine beings, they don’t impart any sort of morality and they rarely – if ever – act as role models. That’s not their role in the universe. They are part of a natural order that are bound by the same rules as the humans who study these stories. As I mentioned in a previous article, Japanese religion is not a system based on authoritative texts like the Torah, the Bible, or the Q’uran. It is a syncretic polytheistic system which requires cultic practices[ii] similar to the Greek and Roman gods. Doing the correct rituals at the right time to appease them or to ask for their help is the most important thing for humans who wish to interact with kami. If Japanese gods teach us anything, it’s how to observe rituals correctly.

So, I’m assuming that you’ve already read my version of Amaterasu and the Rock Cave, so I’ve broken down my exegesis into about four sections going through each part of the myth. If you haven’t, I’m pretty sure none of this will make any sense. If you have, then let’s get right into it!

Further Reading:

616121AB-DFF1-48CF-9843-385A0CF08C45What’s up with Susano’o?

Some have speculated that Susano’o’s obnoxious behavior is a memory of ancient rite whereby people summoned kami by howling and weeping. This might be true, but I think it’s easier to just say gods are self-absorbed and you have to really work at getting their attention. In the Rock Cave Myth, the other kami campout and basically through a party with a stripper just to get Amaterasu’s attention. If you’ve ever visited a Shintō shrine, you’ve probably walked up to the main hall, bowed, and then clapped twice to call the kami over to you. Shrine festivals usually included temporarily enshrining the kami in 御神輿 o-mikoshi a portable shrine which is picked up and carried around town while being shaken nonstop to the sound of chanting parishioners – just to make sure the kami stays present for the whole day.

A lot has been written about Susano’o. In the ancient records, he is depicted as hero god who slays a mythical snake and saves a sexy damsel in distress, but in the Kojiki, he is depicted as a whiny and obnoxious man-baby who throws a bizarre temper tantrum including animal torture and throwing shit all over his sister’s house. In my retelling of the myth, I call him the kami of winds and seas – a common attribution. The great 20th century historian Tsuda Sōkichi thought that Susano’o could be interpreted as a purely political actor in these myths and that he represented a faction of the Yamato Court that rebelled or went rogue, which is why he is portrayed as selfish and destructive[iii].

However, there are scholars who think that the angry 須佐之男命 Susano’o in the Kojiki and the heroic 素戔嗚尊等 Susano’o in the Nihon Shoki are two completely different deities who were assumed by the ancients to be the same (remember, orthography[iv] wasn’t standardized at the time, at least not as it is today). Some have even made the case that Susano’o isn’t a native Japanese kami, but a god imported from the Korean peninsula original worshiped by immigrants from the Kingdom of Silla. There’s no consensus as to Susano’o’s origins, and I’ve based my retelling only of the version in the Kojiki, so I’m not going to get into his character too deeply. Regardless of where he came from, scholar Emilia Gadeleva has suggested that Amaterasu and Susano’o came to form “a pair consisting of a sun-deity and a water-deity” whose worship was critical to the cultivation of rice.

For the purposes of my retelling of this myth, we only see Susano’o briefly. He’s a major player, and one day, I’ll get to him, I’m sure. In the Kojiki, his life unfolds in four parts: 1) as a petulant child who cries incessantly which brings disorder to the world; 2) as a teenager or young man who is rebellious and terrifying (especially to Amaterasu); 3) a mature man who slays a serpent, gets married, and builds a home; 4) as a father, he is the Lord of the Underworld[v] and protective father who harasses his daughter’s suitor[vi]. Today we only see stages one and two, which, let’s be honest, don’t paint him in a very good light.

I’d like to say one more thing about Susano’o before we move on. After bringing devastation to the world by his “weeping and howling,” he tells Izanagi that he wants to go to the Land of his Deceased Mother[vii]. This is strange since his mother died before his birth (which kinda makes her not his mother, technically, right?), but Gadeleva insists that “the land” is his destination, not his mother. And that land is the underworld, which will become his realm later in his life. If this is true, then including Susano’o’s troubled early years is a kind of foreshadowing of his ultimate destiny. But yeah, for the time being he’s just an annoying brat.

Lastly, in support of the theory that Amaterasu and Susano’o were worshipped as a pair of agricultural deities (sun and rain), there is a hint in their actions that is not so obvious upon your first reading. Both Amaterasu and Susano’o accidentally cause great disasters to the Central Land of Reeds. The brother’s incessant crying (storms and rains) made the trees wither and the rivers run dry[viii]. The sister’s retreat into the Heavenly Rock Cave plunged the world in darkness and brought the evil kami out of the shadows. If you don’t believe me that there are parallels between these two deities (I was skeptical myself at first, too), just check this out:

Amaterasu and Susano’o as Divine Foils[ix]

Amaterasu

Susano’o

Female

Male

Disciplined

Undisciplined

Cosmos

Chaos

Order

Disorder

Pure

Impure

Associated with heaven

Associated with Earth, later the Underworld

Establishes the rightful clan at Yamato

Establishes the rival clan at Izumo

Weaver

Warrior

Wears jewels (magatama beads)[x]

Wears a sword

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The Divine Commands

After purifying himself from the contagions he was covered in after leaving the Land of Yomi, Izanagi gives birth to the Three Noble Children. Susano’o is given control of the seas and storms, fitting his character nicely (at least as portrayed in the Kojiki). Tsukuyomi is given control of the night (which is inherently mysterious and fits his character nicely). However, before giving Amaterasu rule over the heavens and earth, Izanagi does something special. He takes off his necklace decorated with magatama beads and places it around his daughter’s neck. He doesn’t do this for the other two Noble Children.

In the text, the necklace is called 御倉板挙之神 Mikuratama no Kami. In that name we have 板挙 tama which is probably ateji for the homophones /tama/ which mean jewel/bead, ball, or soul. In Modern Japanese the kanji /霊 tama conveys the idea of soul while 玉 tama means ball, bead, or jewel. The word appears in the term 勾玉 maga-tama comma-shaped jewels prized by Yayoi and Kofun Period Wajin. One way to read the necklace’s name Mikuratama no Kami is “deity of the treasury of divine spirits” which demonstrates that the necklace isn’t just a necklace, but it is, in fact, a kami in its own right. Furthermore, it implies that this kami protects the souls of the imperial family and its divine ancestors.

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Izanagi shakes the necklace before putting it on Amaterasu. This action is instantly recognizable as a Shintō ritual. It’s reminiscent of cultic practices to pacify spirits called 鎮魂 chinkon, which we will discuss later. Ultimately, the shaking of the beads indicates that this is a sacred act. In the Age of Gods, the rattling sound attracted the attention of nearby kami as witnesses; and in the Age of Man, it beckons both kami and humans.

This is thought to be a prayer for Amaterasu’s longevity, an act Izanagi doesn’t perform for Tsukuyomi or Susano’o. Therefore, I think it’s pretty clear that giving Amaterasu these beads represents a transfer of divine authority from Izanagi the creator kami to the sun goddess[xi]. Make no mistake about it. This is foreshadowing. It reminds us of Amaterasu’s later transfer of divine authority to her grandson who later transfers this sacred rulership to his grandson, thus establishing the imperial line. In European terms, the imperial family can later be seen to rule Dei gratiā by the grace of God[xii].

After being banished, Susano’o storms up to the heavens to – presumably – say farewell to Amaterasu. She immediately thinks he wants to steal her lands. She suits up for battle complete with bow and arrow. She stands ready to confront her immature brother and defend her realm, but oddly, she doesn’t shoot him nor does she reprimand him. To modern minds, Amaterasu seems weak and incapable of protecting herself and standing up to her brother. Even after Susano’o destroys her rice paddies, shits in her dining room, and then throws a dead horse in her weaving room, she forgives him by pretending to misunderstand his intentions. And when things get so bad, she can’t take it anymore; rather than fight, she retreats to the Rock Cave and hides. However, this shouldn’t be seen as weakness, but magnanimity. She is the divine ancestor of the emperors. She may rule during a state of war, but she does not fight herself. Rather, she delegates that power to others and they fight to defend her, just as the Japanese emperors ruled from their palaces and engaged in rituals while warriors fought on behalf of the imperial family[xiii].

SANKISHI

 

The Divine Competition

Upon first reading, this seemed like little more than a cosmic dick waving competition disguised as a super-boring sacred genealogy. Basically, this chapter is an excuse to have Amaterasu and Susano’o pop out some baby kami who the compilers of the Kojiki assumed were the divine ancestors of high-ranking clans in the Yamato Court or at very least kami enshrined at very important shrines of the 6th and 7th centuries. I skipped that entire part of the story because it’s just as boring as any of the ”begats” you read in the Bible or Torah. A lot of scholars get boners for this sort of thing, but I’m not even half-mast about it, so…

Anyhoo, in the Kojiki, Susano’o gives birth to 三貴子 Miharashi no Uzu no Miko the Three Divine Daughters[xiv]. The ancient Japanese name is unwieldy, so I’ll use the Chinese reading San Kishi[xv] if I ever have to refer to them again. These girls’ names are: 多紀理毗売命 Takiri-hime no Mikoto, 市寸嶋比売命 Ichikishima-hime no Mikoto[xvi], and 多岐都比売命 Takitsu-hime no Mikoto. The middle name is the only one important these days. If you’ve ever been to the sacred island of 宮島 Miyajima in Hiroshima, you’ve probably visited the famous shrine 厳島神社 Itsukushima Jinja Itsukushima Shrine (the one with the floating gate). The three daughters are enshrined there and you may have seen their images in the underground passage that leads from 宮島口駅 Miyajimaguchi Eki Miyajimaguchi Station over to the ferries that take you to the island. If the name Ichikishima (sometimes read as Itsukishima) sounds similar to Itsukushima, well, I think you can put two and two together.

Susanoo1
Susano’o Rages with Victory

As the kami of the oceans and storms, Susano’o is seen as a negative and even destructive nature god. This is definitely in line with his popular image, but as I mentioned earlier, my account only includes stages one and two of his character arc[xvii]. Some scholars claim he represents unsuccessful revolts by other kingdoms against a rising Yamato hegemony – or even a rogue faction within the Yamato Court itself, which had to be exiled[xviii]. An older version of this myth, which appears in the Nihon Shoki, states that Susano’o gave birth to three sons reflecting the patrilineal hierarchy of the Kofun Period and later Heian Period. However, the version in the Kojiki, has Susano’o give birth to three females, which some scholars believe remembers a matrilineal monarchy that existed in the earlier Yayoi Period[xix]. Again, this kami is quite the conundrum.

Susano’o commits several significant desecrations of Amaterasu’s palace. First, he destroys rice paddies. Next, he shits in her dining room and throws poo everywhere. Then he flays a horse, throws it into her weaving hall, and kills her weaving maiden.

Now, this is all pretty fucked up stuff. First, I want to say that many scholars from the Edo Period until present day have interpreted the Rock Cave Myth as an allegory comparable to the autumn equinox or even a solar eclipse (death and rebirth of the sun, yada yada yada). If we accept the autumn equinox hypothesis, that puts us in harvest season. 新嘗祭 Niiname no Matsuri the Festival of the First Fruits was an important ritual in which the first harvest was presented to the village headman or local magistrate, or in the case of the capital, to the emperor and his court. Rice paddies take a lot of work to build and maintain, but the payoff is great. Rice is food. Excess rice is income. To destroy someone’s rice paddies is to undo all of the backbreaking hard work invested in feeding people. If the village headman can’t keep the agricultural kami happy, the village starves. If the emperor can’t keep the agricultural kami happy on a national scale, the country starves. Also, he loses money. He loses respect. He theoretically could lose his family’s right to rule. So, destroying rice paddies should be seen as an outrageous sacrilege.

The second desecration is closely related to the first, and is probably equally as impactful to modern minds as it was to ancient ones. Susano’o broke into Amaterasu’s home, proceeded to her “dining hall” which conjures up the imagery of the Festival of the First Fruits, a sacred space to present the harvest that will get the people through the harsh winter and guarantee the stability of the ruling family. Rather than respect this room, the petulant brother takes a crap on the floor and throws shit everywhere. Obviously, this is dirty and disgusting. I mean, it’s just not sanitary. Nobody wants to shit where they eat. But Susano’o deliberately intends to up end the cosmic order by not shitting in proper toilet, rather he does it inside his sister’s house. Human excrement was collected and repurposed as fertilizer, so shit had a monetary value that was being wasted here. Not only did he poop in the wrong place, his poop was just wasted. Well, he already destroyed the rice paddies, so… whatever.

horse susanoo

The Weaving Room & the Flayed Pony

The final desecration is the weirdest one. Despite being armed with a bow and two quivers of arrows, Amaterasu makes excuses for Susano’o’s behavior and hopes he’ll calm down and behave. She quietly retreats to the Heavenly Weaving Room in her palace to oversee the manufacture of sacred, ritual garments by her weaving maiden. We know that during the celebration of the First Fruits Festival at 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine, the center of the Amaterasu cult, expensive new garments were woven by women and presented by women to the goddess[xx]. The original readers of the Kojiki or anyone who heard this myth retold probably would have an instant image in their head of what is going on by placing Susano’o’s final act of sabotage in the Weaving Room. One other image they may have had in mind is the 大嘗祭 daijō-sai Imperial Accession Ceremony which developed out of the Festival of the First Fruits[xxi]. There are ritual elements drawn from the Weaving Room Myth and the Rock Cave Myth.

While Amaterasu is overseeing this important ritual activity to ensure a good harvest and healthy winter for all, her dickhead brother goes out and finds a baby horse and flays it alive. Flaying is the act of removing the skin from an animal[xxii] usually from head to tail which is easier. Instead, Susano’o doesn’t kill the colt first, no. He flays skins the animal alive backwards – ie; from tail to head[xxiii]. This has long been interpreted as a kind of black magic or curse. And as if torturing an innocent animal to death in the most drawn out, agonizing way wasn’t enough; he drags the animal up to the top of the house and then destroyed her thatched roof (very expensive and winter is coming) and tosses the poor creature into the Weaving Hall. The weaving maiden is caught off guard, and accidentally runs the weaving shuttle into her vagina which kills her instantly.

OK, there’s a lot to unpack there. First, why a pony? Well, remember, this is Shintō. These days, many shrines may have some sacred animals on their premises. Roosters and deer are the most common in my experience. Some very important shrines may have stables with some sacred horses – 日光東照宮 Nikkō Tōshō-gū comes to mind[xxiv] – but more often than not, there may be a statue of a white horse in a symbolic “stable.” The horse is meant to represent the kami’s personal steed, so until the Meiji Period, local lords or courtiers would donate expensive horses to shrines as an act of ritual piety. Perhaps this horse was Amaterasu’s personal ride?

The death of the weaving maiden is often thought to be a substitute for the death of Amaterasu and a foreshadowing of her symbolic death in the Rock Cave. First, if the heavenly ancestor of the imperial family stabbed herself in the vagina by accident and died, it wouldn’t be a good look. Right? Therefore, the maiden dies in her place. Claude Lévi-Strauss calls the maiden’s death and Amaterasu’s symbolic death in the cave “a single chord sounded by several notes” which is just a poetic, French way of saying foreshadowing. Why’d the weaver have to get stabbed in the pussy? Your guess is as good as mine, but I suppose it makes a good parallel with Izanami’s death by having her pussy burned to death by Kagutsuchi the fire kami[xxv].

One final comment about the Weaving Room. The act of weaving can be interpreted as bringing order to chaos, and even to the myth-making process itself. In Modern English, we have a phrase “to weave a tale” which means “to create a story” which shows this concept isn’t far removed from us in this day and age. We can think of humans engaging in agriculture as bringing order to chaos, something which Alan Miller has called “cosmic weaving.” If this is the case, then all three of the desecration committed by Susano’o can be seen as related. He undoes cosmic order by destroying the agricultural cycle by “unweaving” Amaterasu’s divine order. He kills her priestess preparing the cultic offering usually given in exchange for a good harvest. That ceremony was the prototype for the ritual of imperial accession, so he threatens the cosmic order brought by the imperial clan. He defiles the purity of the weaving room and therefore the myths and rituals themselves. He craps in her dining hall making it impossible to perform the Festival of First Fruits and wastes much needed fertilizer for the fields by just flinging it around inside the palace. And lastly, he destroys the sacred rice paddies which deprive the people of food and the offerings they need to ask for good luck during the harvest and for the cold winter when resources are scarce – ultimately bankrupting and potentially starving the world.

These are unforgivable transgressions, yet Amaterasu does not seek vengeance. She does not destroy Susano’o. Instead, she hides.

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The Rock Cave Myth

Is the Rock Cave Myth simply a solar myth? Is something similar to the Dying God myths of Western Antiquity? I think there’s good reason to think so. The Festival of First Fruits was held throughout ancient Japan up until the Heian Period. There are records from villages big and small, and the most important festival was based at the heart of the Amaterasu cult, Ise Shrine. Harvest festivals celebrated bountiful food resources to get the people through the winter until the next growing season. They gave thanks to the workers who toiled in the fields, gave honor and praise to the kami that helped them and requested continued support in the next cycle. They ensured a financially stable court and imperial family, who in turn guaranteed safety and prosperity to the common people. It was win-win-win[xxvi].

In order to get that win-win-win, you needed the sun and the rain to cooperate[xxvii], but clearly Amaterasu and Susano’o are not playing well together. Things go so badly, that Amaterasu hides in the Heavenly Rock Cave, thus plunging the world into darkness. This darkness brings misery to both the kami and all other living things. This could represent a solar eclipse, which could be seen as trial run for a real eternal cosmic night[xxviii], or just winter, which could be seen as a metaphorical night. At any rate, bringing Amaterasu out of the cave and restoring order was of utmost importance.

daijosai

The Rock Cave Myth is either a description of existing rituals or a template for new rituals regarding this death/rebirth concept. The two rituals in question are:

鎮魂祭
chinkon-sai

a ritual to pacify spirits;

in Modern Japanese, it refers to ceremonies for the repose of departed souls.

大嘗祭
daijō-sai

originally the First Fruits Festival;

a secret ceremony where a newly ascended emperor offers new rice to Amaterasu, ritually eats with her, then spends the night alone with her in a special temporary building called 廻立殿 kairyūden.

If we accept the interpretation that Amaterasu’s retreat to the Rock Cave is a metaphorical death, then the chinkon-sai comparison is particular apt. Even if we disagree with that interpretation, the ritual elements present in this myth are obviously connected with these rites. However, according to John Breen and Mark Teeuven, it’s unclear whether chikon-sai is a Daoist interpretation of the Rock Cave Myth or an older Japanese ritual reflected in the myth told in the Kojiki. Anyhoo, I think we can all agree the connection is obvious.

If we accept the version in the Nihon Shoki, where it’s Amaterasu who gets banged in the pussy by the heavenly weaving loom and dies (as opposed to Amaterasu’s maiden/priestess), we can see the Rock Cave Myth as the death and burial of the sun-goddess, followed by the other kami performing a ritual correctly in order to resurrect her. This is certainly possible and conforms with Shintō rites and cultic practices of other polytheistic cultures. If we superimpose this onto the daijō-sai, we can imagine the emperor entering the kairyūden just as Amaterasu entered the cave, then reappearing later to bring back cosmic order and prosperity to the land. So, both rituals have death/rebirth elements.

This myth is perpetuated in modern Japan through the imported Buddhist concept of お盆 o-Bon which in Japan, is a syncretic observance of the ancestor cults. You can read about it here, but long story short: all of the kami in Japan return to Izumo Province for a month to re-enact the Rock Cave Myth[xxix], in that time, the ancestors of your clan return home[xxx]. This month, in accordance with the agricultural cycles (and a little modern tweaking) is October which is traditionally called 神無月 Kannazuki the month without kami. Conversely, in Shimane Prefecture (ancient Izumo Province) they call this month 神有月 or 神在月 Kamiarizuki the month with all the gods present.

ise jingu

The Divine Camp Out and Sacred Stripper Party

For narrative purposes, the assembly of deities at the Heavenly River in front of the Heavenly Rock-Cave is just to get everyone together to figure out what to do about Amaterasu. She’s supposed to weave order in the cosmos but instead as created chaos. Most textual analysis of this myth tends to view the encampment of kami as a meeting of the Yamato Court. The divine ancestors of many court families are present, which further legitimizes their status in that government. I’ve heard Mark Ravina say that he thinks this myth illustrates “decision by committee” as a kind of Japanese cultural trait that has persisted since time immemorial[xxxi]. Whether it reflects those ideas or not, the narrative is clear: this is big enough problem that all the kami need to come together and get Amaterasu out of the cave. In other myths, some kami help other kami, but this is the only instance in which every single kami[xxxii] comes to the assistance of just one kami. That makes Amaterasu one pretty important deity, I’ll say.

To coax Amaterasu out of the cave, the assembled kami perform a ritual. If you’re unfamiliar with Shintō practices, it seems like they improvise these actions. If you’re familiar with Shintō, it seems like they engage in very normal activities. This goes back to Breen and Teeuven’s question: are these religious innovations inserted into the myth or are these older rituals incorporated into the myth? My personal opinion is that there were existing similar practices, easily recognizable to the audience of the Kojiki and the Wajin population as a whole, but the “flavor” was distinctly that of Ise Shrine and the Yamato Court. Whether intentional or not, by writing these things down, the compilers of the Kokiki may have inadvertently ushered in an era of nationwide conformity in Shintō under the umbrella of the court’s most important Shrine[xxxiii].

encampment outside the heavenly rock cave

First, the kami bring roosters on to the scene. When the sun rises, roosters crow. Anyone from any agrarian society can tell you this[xxxiv]. This is a kind of sympathetic magic – ie; if the roosters crow, the sun will come up. That’s the natural order of things to primitive minds. That said, the natural order has broken down. Susano’o has wreaked chaos upon the world and Amaterasu’s retreat into the cave has compounded this upending of order. And the people writing these myths weren’t primitive minds. Maybe shitty storytellers, but not primitive lol.

Anyhoo, the rooster didn’t work. So, next the gods try a real ritual. First, they call two very specific kami associated with metal-working: 天児屋命 Ame no Koyane no Mikoto (Amenokoyane) and 布刀玉命 Futo Tama no Mikoto (Futotama). In my article on Japanese Cosmology, I mentioned that these two kami are presented as divine ancestors of two priestly clans, 中臣氏 Nakatomi-uji the Nakatomi Clan and 斎部氏 Imibe-uji the Inbe Clan respectively[xxxv]. The Nakatomi were responsible for chanting magic incantations, and the Inbe were responsible for performing cultic offerings. We see Amenokoyane and Futotama perform these same roles in front of the Rock Cave. The other main kami to feature prominently in the encampment of the kami is 天宇受賣命 Ama no Uzume no Mikoto (Amano’uzume) who is presented as the divine ancestor of 猿女氏 Surume-uji the Surume clan. As you can probably guess, the Surume provided ritual dancers to the court. The dancing style perfected by the Surume eventually evolved into 神楽 kagura shrine dancing[xxxvi]. All in all, seven kami are specifically listed as present at the encampment outside of the Rock Cave, all of them trying to coax Amaterasu to come outside. These seven kami will appear again in the Descent from Heaven Myth, which I’ll write about later. But for the time being, just recognize that the main actors in the Rock Cave Myth are considered ancestors of the highest-ranking members of the Yamato Court at the time these stories were compiled[xxxvii].

yata no kagami

The metal-working kami forge a bronze mirror. Mirrors were considered symbols of the sun because they reflected light. Metal-working, and mirrors specifically, were foreign technologies and at one time were so rare and expensive, that it seems inevitable they were assigned magical and spiritual values. To this day, you’ll still find mirrors in the 拝殿 haiden front hall and/or 本殿 honden main hall[xxxviii] of most Shintō shrines. The tree replanted in front of the Rock Cave is of a variety that is still considered sacred today, and it is decorated with ropes upon which hang a myriad of magatama beads. Now we have two items included in the future imperial regalia mentioned specifically in writing: 八咫鏡 Yata no Kagami the Eight Ta Mirror[xxxix] and 勾玉 magatama the sacred beads. Just as the presence of the divine ancestors foreshadows the Descent from Heaven Myth, I think the presence of these sacred items also foreshadows that same future myth which is critical to the legitimizing the imperial family’s divine right to rule Japan.

Another point that might seem weird about the campsite is the collection of a deer’s shoulder and hahaka wood from Mt. Amanokagu. This is a reference to an ancient type of divination called 占 uranai[xl]. This practice is not unlike divinations performed by haruspicēs and auspicēs in Ancient Rome. The former pulled out livers and organs of sacrificed animals and read them much as a palm reader might look at your hand today, while the latter looked for meaning in the flight patterns of birds. In ancient Japanese, burning a male deer bone over hahaka wood caused cracks to appear in the osseous material which the diviners “read” – again, just like a palm reader “reads” the lines and fingerprints of your hand[xli]. While any information gleaned from these kinds of acts was meaningless, a lot of cultures have considered it valuable for millennia. The Yamato Court found it so valuable, in fact, that they had courtiers who oversaw such rituals and thought it important enough to include in the Kojiki.

go-hei

Two other terms jumped out at me: 青和幣 ao nikite blue cloth and 白和幣 shiro nikite white cloth. These appear to be the precursors of what is as ubiquitous a symbol of Shintō as a 鳥居 torii gate. That is, 御幣 go-hei lightening-shaped pieces of white paper that decorate purified spaces. There are a few interesting things we can learn about the use of these terms ao nikite and shiro nikite. One is that they are quite ancient ritual items that predate the use of go-hei which are only made of white paper today (often of a very low-grade traditional paper). The second is that the custom predates the introduction of 洋産業  yōsangyō sericulture (ie; silk culture), or at least the widespread cultivation of silkworms in Japan. Ao nikite was made from undyed hemp paper which has a naturally blue/green tint. Shiro nikite could be bleached hemp paper, but was more likely made from white mulberry bark which was naturally white[xlii].

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Let’s Wrap Things Up

In the Rock Cave Myth, we see a crystallization of Shintō ritual and Shintō symbolism. The paper streams, the magic ropes, the magatama beads, the sacred mirror; ritual incantations, offerings, and dances; the stories of kami from whom the most elite of the elite members of the Yamato Court claimed descent from[xliii]; and we get hints at a fantasy-world cosmology slowly being consolidated into a national mytho-historic narrative that has clearly placed the sun goddess, Amaterasu, at the top of the spiritual hierarchy.

I’m going to take a break from mythology for a while because, wow… please understand that the research I’m doing into this is way above my pay grade (ps: I don’t have a pay grade. I do this for free, so if you like what I do, feel free to make a donation down below). However, when we return to the Japanese Creation Myths, it’s gonna be just as much fun and just as nerdy. I promise.

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[i] Remember in a previous article I mentioned that emperors used to be called 大君Ōkimi great kings, but since the Tenmu Emperor’s time they we called 天皇 tennō heavenly king (a term modeled on the Chinese 天帝 tentei (actual Chinese reading is tiān-dì heavenly emperor). Both the Japanese and Chinese words are often translated as “son of heaven.”
[ii] Remember, the word “cult” in this sense doesn’t mean Scientology or Jehovah’s Witnesses or anything like that. It is the original meaning of the word, which is intrinsically tied to the Roman concept of cultus deōrum devotion to the gods, observance of divine rituals.
[iii] These days, Tsuda’s take on Japanese mythology seems quite cynical, as he seemed to interpret many characters and actions in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki as mytho-historic political machinations within the Yamato Court.
[iv] Orthography is “spelling.”
[v] Ne no Katasu no Kuni; it’s unclear if this is the same of different than the Land of Yomi.
[vi] The suitor is Ōnamuchi no Kami, who later becomes Ōkuninushi no Kami. We’ll hear about him in the next article.
[vii] 妣國 Haha no Kuni the Land of my Dead Mother.
[viii] I’m still not sure how adding more water makes a river run dry, but nobody asked me.
[ix] This chart is taken directly from Alan Miller’s work.
[x] Amaterasu dons bow and arrow, yet never uses them. Therefore, I see her as a symbolic head of an army, but not a warrior herself. Furthermore, this donning of weaponry and striking a warlike pose (similar to what you see before a bout of 相撲 sumō begins) may hearken back to Amaterasu’s prehistoric male origins. This is not, however, the mythological origins of sumō. We’ll cover that in a later article.
[xi] Remember, the Imperial Regalia of Japan are a sword, a mirror, and magatama beads.
[xii] But let’s be truthful with out Latin, the Japanese imperial family ruled deōrum infīnītōrum gratiā by the grace of the infinite gods.
[xiii] Keep in mind that the word 侍 samurai literally means “servant of the imperial court.” Before the rise of the samurai class, the unrefined warriors were the regional military governors who ruled and fought on behalf of their Kyōto benefactors. That is, until they realized they had all the armies and local villages and the courtiers in Kyōto were just a bunch of pussies who didn’t respect them and ordered them around. Then you got the rise of the samurai class.
[xiv] By the way, the Nihon Shoki claims Susano’o has three sons, not daughters.
[xv] Apparently, Sān Guìzǐ in Chinese.
[xvi] Also written 市杵島媛命 Ichikishima-hime no Mikoto.
[xvii] We’ll probably come back to stages 3 and 4 in a future installment – probably next year.
[xviii] And perhaps was later allowed to return to the court after atonement.
[xix] Compare to Queen Himiko who reigned in the first half of the 3rd century, only appearing in ancient Chinese records.
[xx] Priestesses, not just any ol’ woman off the street, mind you.
[xxi] Among other ceremonies.
[xxii] And by animals, of course, I include humans. You can totally flay a human. If you’re interested in flaying humans, this website shows you how.
[xxiii] This would be excruciatingly painful to the animal causing it make a lot of noise and probably try to fight back or escape. Flaying an animal alive is just horrific.
[xxiv] I mention Nikkō Tōshō-gū because you can still see the descendants of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s sacred horse there today.
[xxv] Keep in mind that at the time these myths were compiled, Confucianism had begun to take hold at the Yamato Court. This philosophy was very male-oriented (dare I say the word? “patriarchal”) and was all about burning vaginas. In fact, to this day, Confucius’ most famous saying is still “Just kiss. Don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Burn ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
[xxvi] The court won, the people won, and the kami won.
[xxvii] This goes back to the theory that Amaterasu and Susano’o originally represented a relatively indivisible pair of agricultural kami.
[xxviii] Or even death.
[xxix] They also decide the 缘结 en-musubi personal relationships of all humans for the next year.
[xxx] Well, technically, they return to their graves and families leave incense and special dolls made from vegetables and chopsticks to guide the spirits back to the family home. Interestingly, all of the kami return to Izumo except for 恵比須 Ebisu a god of good luck. He came to be associated with 蛭子 Hiruko the Leech Child whom Izanagi and Izanami put in the boat and sent off to sea. The idea is that Hiruko was lost at sea during the events of the Rock Cave Myth and so he stays among the humans, who can still pray to him for good luck.
[xxxi] I find this assessment kind of orientalist. I view “Japanese solve problems in groups/act in groups” as weak as “Japanese are good at copying, but not innovation.”
[xxxii] Minus Hiruko/Ebisu, of course.
[xxxiii] The most important shrine being Ise Shrine, obviously.
[xxxiv] When I lived in Italy, I didn’t need an alarm clock. The roosters always woke me up on time.[xxxv] In Old Japanese, Inbe was pronounced Imibe.
[xxxvi] See my article What does Kagurazaka mean? The term Kagura is supposedly derived from 神 kami and 楽 raku/gaku music/entertainment/leisure.
[xxxvii] After Buddhism arrives, all bets are off. These court ritualists eventually disappear…
[xxxviii] Usually, the back hall which is generally off limits to normal people.
[xxxix] Ta is an ancient Chinese measurement. I think eight ta is the equivalent of 64 thumb lengths. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong. I once heard that “eight ta” actually meant eight lines drawn out from the center of a circle, which created a primitive sun with sunbeams – a prototype of modern 菊御紋 Kiku no Go-Mon the Chrysanthemum Crest (coat of arms of the Imperial Family). I don’t think I believe that second theory, but, again, somebody correct me if I’m wrong.
[xl] This was /ɯɾanapʰi̥/ in Old Japanese.
[xli] That is to say, it’s utter horseshit.
[xlii] Or could be bleached to produce a whiter effect.
[xliii] And these “divine ancestors” may just be imaginary gods or actual historical figures with magical names!

Amaterasu and the Rock Cave

In Japanese History, Japanese Mythology, Japanese Shrines & Temples on July 2, 2020 at 7:00 am

天岩戸
Ama no Iwato
The Rock Cave

AMATERASU IN THE CAVE

When you finish reading, check out the details of this woodblock print.

If you thought the Creation Myth was weird, brace yourself. I told you that the kami were self-absorbed and capricious, but things are going to get truly bizarre now. First, we looked at the birth of the universe and the creation of Japan[i]. This time we’ll look at the most famous legend in all of Japan, that of Amaterasu, the sun goddess and divine ancestor of the emperors of Japan. This tale begins with the birth of the sun kami, so if you’re just joining the story in progress, I highly suggest you read the previous articles first. Also, as with the previous myth, I’ve been liberal in my retelling so as to make the narrative more palatable to our modern sensibilities. That said, be prepared. A dude will take a massive dump inside a house and then just fling crap everywhere like Donald Trump throwing a temper tantrum[ii]. I’m not joking.

Anyhoo, this story is divided into three parts. First, it describes the realms given to the Three Noble Children by Izanagi no Mikoto. Next, we experience the petulance of Susano’o. The story concludes with the Rock Cave Myth. All right, let’s get into it!

Further Reading:

SANKISHI

The Three Noble Children and the Three Divine Commands

After cleansing himself of the defilement he received during his journey to the Land of Yomi[iii], the last living creator god, Izanagi, gave birth one last time. “For many years[iv], I’ve been giving birth to kami after kami, but finally I’ve made Three Noble Children[v].” He removed his necklace[vi] which was decorated with 勾玉 magatama comma shaped jewels[vii]. He shook it so that the stones rattled and sounded throughout the land. Then he gave the necklace to Amaterasu Ōmikami the sun goddess. Placing it around her neck, he commanded her to rule the Heavenly High Plains and the Central Land of Reed Plains[viii]. Then, he commanded Tsukuyomi to rule the realm of the night and Susano’o to rule the storms and seas[ix].

Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi were obedient and followed their father’s wishes, worthy of being called “noble.” However, Susano’o was not obedient and disobeyed his father’s commands. Instead, he just threw tantrums and wept and howled until his beard grew down well past his chest[x]. In fact, he cried so much that it caused the green mountains to turn brown and the rivers and seas to dry up[xi]. As a result, the malevolent kami throughout the Central Land of Reeds also began to cry, and they swarmed around everywhere like summer flies causing all kinds of calamities[xii] all over the world.

All of this weeping and wailing was annoying AF to the other kami and all living creatures, so finally Izanagi came to Susano’o and scolded him. “Why are you just weeping and howling like a man-baby when you should be ruling the storms and seas that I entrusted to you?” asked his father. “I wish to go to the land of my mother, Izanami – the Land of Yomi[xiii],” sniffled Susano’o. “That is why I weep[xiv].”

“Are you freaking kidding me?” Izanagi roared. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re destroying the world Izanami and I created. If you can’t rule properly like Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi, then I forbid you from living in my lands!” And with that, Izanagi banished Susano’o from the world.

[And with that Izanagi disappeared from the world[xv].]

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Amaterasu looking bad ass. Notice she is holding a mirror and is wearing the magatama necklace given to her by her father, Izanagi. Her headdress is both sun-shaped and mirror-shaped.

Susano’o Says Goodbye to Amaterasu

Having been expelled from the Central Land of Reed Plains, Susano’o announced that he would say farewell to his sister, Amaterasu. As he ascended to the Heavenly High Plain, the mountains and rivers and all the lands shook violently.

Amaterasu, ruling the heavens, was startled by this and said “This can’t be good. Surely my brother wants to steal my lands in the High Plains of Heaven and in the Central Land of Reeds.” She undid her hair[xvi] and put up it up in buns on her left and right sides. She decorated her hair and arms with long strings decorated with priceless magatama beads. She donned a 1000-arrow quiver on her back and a 500-arrow quiver on her chest. She also put an arm-guard on her left arm and then shook the tip of her bow and stamped her feet on the ground kicking up dust everywhere and let out a war cry.

“Why have you come here?” she asked.

“It’s all good, sis. I swear I have no bad intentions.” Susano’o declared. “Our father, Izanagi, asked why I’ve been weeping and howling for years, and so I told him that I wanted to visit the land of my mother, so he banished me from this land. Therefore, I’ve come here to say goodbye to you.”

“You’re a frickin’ weirdo. Anyways, how do I know your intentions are pure and bright?” Amaterasu asked.

“I propose a competition! Let’s each have a bunch of babies and the person has the most beautiful children wins!” Susano’o suggested.

Despite this being one of the dumbest ideas to prove one’s intentions that I’ve ever heard, Amaterasu agreed to this competition, and so they both immediately squatted down on the ground and began to grunt, pushing really hard in order to squeeze out some kami babies.

The Kokiji then goes on to spend an entire chapter describing the births of all the gods they created. And yes, they each have long-ass names like every other kami we’ve encountered up to this point. Skip!

616121AB-DFF1-48CF-9843-385A0CF08C45

Susano’o

Susano’o Rages with Victory

After Amaterasu babbles on and on about the new genealogies linking herself and Susano’o to the birth of a handful of divine ancestors of the most elite clans of the future Yamato Court, they assess the quality of their respective offspring. Ultimately, Amaterasu popped out five sons while Susano’o popped out three daughters[xvii].

Susano’o bragged, “Look at this! My Three Divine Girls are purer, brighter, and more beautiful than your stupid five sons. Sucks to you be you, bitch!” And therewith he claimed total victory in this asinine competition[xviii]. He proceeded to raged with victory by breaking down the ridges between Amaterasu’s rice paddies[xix] causing them to flood. This destroyed all of her crops which meant there would be no harvest in the fall. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he ran into Amaterasu’s house, pulled down his pants to squat, and just took a massive shit inside her dining hall[xx]. Then he bounced around like a monkey just flinging feces everywhere – on the walls, on the ceiling, even in her cat’s litter box[xxi].

horse susanoo

Amaterasu was all like “WTF?” in her mind, but didn’t complain. No, she took it way better than you or I would. She just looked around her palace inspecting each room and said “Hmmmm. What is all this stuff on the walls, the ceiling, and in my kitty litter box?”[xxii] Susano’o didn’t say anything. “Umm, this stuff that looks like…uh, shit. This must just be vomit from the last time you passed out drunk[xxiii],” she suggested. “And you probably trashed my rice paddies because you thought I wasn’t using my lands correctly.”[xxiv] Susano’o had an out. She literally just gave him an excuse to calm down and move on without consequences, but instead he just got more obnoxious.

After cleaning up the shit her brother smeared throughout her entire palace, Amaterasu went to oversee the making of divine garments in her weaving hall. Susano’o took a “heavenly piebald colt[xxv]” and skinned it alive – yes, you read that correctly, he literally skinned it alive – from the tail up to the head causing the baby horse unimaginable pain. Dragging the dying animal with him, he climbed up her wall, crawled up on her thatched roof, tore open a hole, and tossed the bloody carcass into the weaving hall. As you can imagine, this startled her weaving maiden who was so terrified she accidentally pierced her pussy with the loom’s shuttle and died right there on the spot[xxvi].

WTAF???

encampment outside the heavenly rock cave

After you read the next section, see how many kami and how many sacred items you can identify in this picture.

The Heavenly Rock Cave[xxvii]

As you can imagine, Amaterasu was freaked the fuck out and opened the Heavenly Rock Cave[xxviii], went inside, and locked herself there – plunging the High Plain of Heaven and the Central Land of Reeds into total darkness. The natural order of things was broken and the world continued as if night was now eternal. The millions of other kami were pretty cool about it for a while, but eventually they got tired of walking around and bumping into each other all the time.

The other kami all decided to gather together beside the riverbed of 天安河 Ame no Yasu no Kawa the Tranquil River of Heaven which flowed past the Heavenly Rock Cave. They set up a camp where they could all work together to plead with Amaterasu to come out and restore sunlight to the heavens and earth.

First, the gods gathered together a bunch of roosters to crow in hopes that they could trick the sun into rising again. Then, they brought a large stone to use as an anvil[xxix] from the upper stream of the river and they took metal from 天金山 Ame no Kanayama the Heavenly Metal Mountain (because, of course, they did). The gods then commanded 天津麻羅 Ama tsu Mara and 伊斯許理度売命 Ishikoridome no Mikoto[xxx] to use the metal and anvil to forge a mighty bronze mirror[xxxi]. And finally, they brought out the big guns. They ordered 玉祖命 Tama no Ya no Mikoto the god of jewelry to make a long strings decorated with thousands of magatama beads.

They also ordered two priestly kami, 布刀玉命 Futo Tama no Mikoto and 天児屋命 Ame no Koyane no Mikoto[xxxii], to climb 天香久山 Ame no Kaguyama[xxxiii] Mt. Amanokagu to remove the whole shoulder of a male deer and gather up bird cherry wood[xxxiv] in order to perform divination rituals[xxxv]. They also uprooted a large, verdant evergreen[xxxvi] and brought it to the encampment in front of the cave. The gods tied the long strings of magatama beads to the upper branches. Next, they hung the large sacred mirror on the middle branches. And lastly, on the lower branches, they draped white and blue prayer clothes. After everything was prepared, Futotama held up sacred objects in his hands as a sacred offering while Amenokoyane chanted sacred words. But these rituals were not enough to soften Amaterasu’s heart and coax her out of the Heavenly Rock Cave[xxxvii].

Then 天鈿女命 Ame no Uzume no Mikoto who is the kami of parties and art suddenly had an idea. An idea, as they say, so crazy it just might work. She ordered the god of physical strength[xxxviii] to run up to the Heavenly Rock Cave and hide next to the door. Then she rolled up her sleeves[xxxix] and fixed her hair so she looked sexy and grabbed an overturned wooden tub to make an impromptu stage. Ame no Uzume hopped up on to the tub and began to dance. She stamped her feet upon the stage making sounds that caused the ground to shake, this grabbed the attention of all the kami, including Amaterasu who was hiding in the cave.

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Ame no Uzume dancing on the tub for all the gods

She became divinely possessed[xl] and her dancing became more intense. Each move, each turn entranced the other kami who followed her closely with their eyes. She raised one hand to her breast and slowly opened her shirt exposing her cleavage. The other kami cheered with loud voices, and Amaterasu could here all this from inside the cave. Continuing her dance, Ame no Uzume pulled open her top exposing her nipples which caused the gods to clap and howl, and several gods tossed a few ¥1000 notes on the stage to encourage her to show more. Slowly, she pushed down her skirt past her belly button. All the kami gasped. She pulled it down further exposing her glorious, hairy black bush[xli].

All of the millions of kami lost their shit and started cracking up[xlii].

All of the ruckus outside had Amaterasu’s curiosity piqued. She just had to see what was going on outside, so she nervously peaked out the door of the Heavenly Rock Cave, but couldn’t really see what was happening. She scooted up a little farther to get a better look and saw Ame no Uzume dancing half naked and the millions of other kami falling out of their seat with laughter.

Announcing her presence, Amaterasu shouted, “I locked myself in this cave and thought the High Heavenly Plain and Central Plain of Reeds would be plunged into darkness. And, yet Ame no Uzume is singing and dancing[xliii] and getting nekkid out here and all of you can see it and are laughing! What’s going on?” Adjusting her skirt, Ame no Uzume replied to her, “Just sitting around in the dark was boring, so we’re just having a little fun. Oh, and guess what? We found another kami who is superior to you!”

Just then, Amenokoyane and Futotama grabbed the bronze mirror[xliv] and shined in Amaterasu’s eyes. To her astonishment, she saw what looked like another sun goddess. “Wait, what?” she thought, “how can there be another…?” She crept closer to the entrance of the cave to get a better look when…

3730F09D-AF97-4B71-A137-48360F10DA0E

Tajikarao no Kami, the god of strength hiding next to the door of the Heavenly Rock Cave

The god of strength, who was hiding beside the door, seized her and pulled out of the cave by her arm, and this suddenly brought light back to the heavens and earth. Futotama ran behind her and blocked the entrance with a magical rope[xlv]. “Now you can’t run back into the cave!” he said. And thus, the sun was restored to both the Heavenly High Plain and Central Land of Plain of Reeds, and the natural order of things returned[xlvi].

After that, all the kami had a meeting and decided to kick Susano’o out of the Central Land of Reeds forever.

Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye.

Pretty Nifty Story, Right?

I hope you enjoyed the story of the Rock Cave Myth as much as I did. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, this has become one of the most important of all Japanese myths. While they might not remember all the details and all the names of the various kami, most Japanese people know the basics of Amaterasu hiding in the cave and the striptease that lured her out, thus returning sunlight to the world. That said, the story is dense with deeper meanings, so if you’re curious about that, please check out my next article which dives deep into the significance of this legend.

Further Reading:

 

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[i] ie; the world.
[ii] I’m not joking.
[iii] If you don’t know what the Land of Yomi, you really, really, really read my article on Japanese Cosmogony and the Japanese Creation Myth. Seriously, dude. You’ve been warned.
[iv] This is my insertion. The Kojiki has no sense of time. In a way this annoying to modern readers, but on the other hand, it creates this interesting disconnect between the mundane Age of Men and the mythical Age of the Gods.
[v] The Three Noble Children: Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi, and Susano’o. In Japanese they are called 三貴子 Mihashira no Uzu no Miko. If that name is too long for you, the short form is Sankishi which is by far the easier reading and, of course, easier to pronounce.
[vi] The name of the necklace is 御倉板挙之神 Mikuratana no Kami.
[vii] We talked about magatama in my last article so I’m not going to repeat myself. Look it up in your own.
[viii] Seriously, read the previous articles. I’m not explaining this shit twice.
[ix] Readers have wondered a lot about Tsukuyomi. We’re unsure of this kami’s gender, appearance, and divine duties. Basically, after this mention, we never hear from Tsukuyomi again!
[x] ie; until he matured. Essentially, he was a big ol’ man-baby – just like #BunkerBoy aka Donald Trump.
[xi] Not sure why the rivers and seas dried up since he was incessantly crying. Seems counter-intuitive, if you ask me.
[xii] Calamatitties. Follow me on Twitter, you won’t regret it.
[xiii] Actually, in the Kojiki, it doesn’t say the Land of Yomi, rather 根之堅洲國 Ne no Katasu Kuni the Realm at the Borderland of Roots, and later in the text 妣國 Haha no Kuni the Land of my Dead Mother. Sometimes these are synonymous with Yomi, but other times they seem to be different, but related places.
[xiv] This is weird because Izanami died well before Susano’o was born so she couldn’t possibly be his mother under “normal” circumstances, or perhaps she impregnated her brusband Izanagi before she died, and thus the Three Noble Children are still the genealogically related to both Izanagi and Izanami. Weird shit, huh?
[xv] Remember, I used the term “hide” in the previous articles.
The Kojiki merely states that Izanagi is enshrined at Taga of Awaji. Apparently, this is a gloss and not part of the narrative. It’s a reference to 伊弉諾神宮 Izanagi Jingū Izanagi Shrine which is located in 兵庫県淡路市多賀 Hyōgo-ken Awaji-shi Taga Taga, Awaji City, Hyōgo Prefecture on Awaji Island. Some glosses claim it refers to 多賀大社 Taga Taisha Taga Grand Shrine in 滋賀県犬上郡多賀町 Shiga-ken Inukami-gun Taga-chō Taga-chō, Inukami District, Shiga Prefecture which lies on 旧仲仙道 Kyū-Nakadendō the Old Nakasendō highway. Scholars think glosses mentioning the larger and more famous shrine in Shiga date from the Heian Period when many local shrines on well-traveled routes tried to boost their status by claiming relevance to ancient myths. Gotta get those sweet, sweet pilgrim yen!
[xvi] Which up to this point was apparently done in some other Yayoi style hairdo. Who knows?
[xvii] Susano’o’s three daughters are: Takiri Hime no Mikoto, Ichikishima Hime no Mikoto, and Takitsu Hime no Mikoto. If you’ve ever been to 宮島 Miyajima in Hiroshima, you’ve probably been to the famous shrine 厳島神社 Itsukushima Jinja Itsukushima Shrine. The three daughters are enshrined there and you may have seen their images in the underground passage that leads from 宮島口駅 Miyajimaguchi Eki Miyajimaguchi Station over to the ferries that take you to the sacred island. If the name Ichikishima (sometimes read as Itsukishima) sounds similar to Isukushima, well, I think you can put two and two together.
By the way, the Nihon Shoki claims Susano’o has three sons, not daughters.
[xviii] One wants to say, “oh, wow, he’s such a proud father,” but let’s face it. In the end, Susano’o is just a dick.
[xix] These days, the footpaths between rice paddies are usually called 畦道 azemichi. Long time readers maybe recall that in Old Japanese the word 谷地 yachi was used to describe the same thing, but in the old Kantō dialects near Edo, 瀬田 seta was the common term in the Heian Period. I talked about this in my 2013 article What does Setagaya mean?
[xx] The Hall of First Fruits – this is a reference to a place where harvest festivals were held. In imperial times, the first rice of the harvest would be presented to the emperor in a special ceremony at 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine which was the favored shrine of Emperor Tenmu who ordered the Kojiki to be compiled. Amaterasu is enshrined at Ise and Emperor Tenmu strongly supported her cult.
[xxi] And the cat was PISSED.
[xxii] OK, I have to be honest. I made up the kitty litter box part.
[xxiii] Because who the fuck would take a dump in someone’s dining room and then throw the shit all over the place?? Come to think of it. Why would anyone vomit in every room of someone’s house when they were drunk?
[xxiv] The modern reader gets the impression that Amaterasu isn’t the sharpest knife in the kitchen. I mean, why does she take Susano’o’s bullshit like a chump and not call him out or get angry at him? Who knows? This part of the myth is kinda stupid, if you ask me, so it’s not terribly important. That said, scholars have put some thought in to it – because that’s what they get paid to do. You know, think about shit-flinging deities. Don Philippi suggests it might be an ancient belief that “one could turn evil into good by speaking well of it.” He points out that in the past Japanese people believed in kotodama (kotoba tama) “word-spirit” (a magical power of words) which was used to bring out desired results by speaking them into existence.
[xxv] WTF does “piebald” mean? (Don’t worry, I had to look it up too! The pronunciation, btw, is /ˈpaɪbɔld/). This is an animal – a horse in particular – that is black with white spots. 天斑駒 Ame no Fuchikoma Heavenly Spotted Pony/Horse/Foal is probably meant to evoke the stars dotted across the blackness of the night sky.
[xxvi] Remember that Shintō is obsessed with ritual purity. Having a dead and bloody animal in your home was considered utterly contaminated. Having an actual human death occur inside your home? That was the absolute worst.
[xxvii] Interestingly, the Ainu allegedly have a similar myth where the sun-goddess is kidnapped and the world is plunged in to darkness. Because they don’t know when to waken up, the gods and humans literally sleep themselves to death.
[xxviii] Why this cave has a door is beyond me. It’s often depicted in art a large boulder, similar to the boulder that blocks the Land of Yomi from the Central Land of Reeds.
[xxix] In the Kojiki just calls this stone a heavenly hard rock. I added the anvil bit because that is how the stone is used and that is how it is depicted in traditional artwork.
[xxx] Amatsumara is an obscure kami of iron-working. It’s been suggested that his name means “heavenly one-eyed diviner.” Losing an eye was a common work hazard among blacksmiths. On the other hand, Ishikoridome is much better known as the divine ancestor of the clans who produced ceremonial mirrors for the Yamato Court. Her name means “special woman who is can cast mirrors using stone molds.”
[xxxi] Called 八咫鏡 Yata no Kagami the Eight Ta Mirror. A ta is an ancient Chinese measurement. I think eight ta is the equivalent of 64 thumb lengths. And no, I didn’t just make that up.
Interestingly, in 938, some ladies of the court discovered Ishikoridome’s bronze mirror (Yata no Kagami) in a palace store at Heian-Kyō (the ancient name of Kyōto). This story is interesting for two reasons. First, it sparked renewed interest in the Rock Cave Myth among court nobles and subsequently among Shintō shrines associated with the Yamato Court. Secondly, it implies that perhaps the imperial regalia (the mirror, the sword, and the magatama beads) were not critical to 大嘗祭 daijōsai the ritual of imperial accession prior to the mirror’s rediscovery. I mean, how do you lose an ancient mirror made by the gods before the Yamato Court or its imperial family even existed?
[xxxii] Also, these kami aren’t actually priestly, I just added that to make it easier to understand. They are, however, the divine ancestors of two of the more important priestly families in the Yamato Court.
[xxxiii] Also read as Ama no Kaguyama. This mountain is located in 奈良県橿原市 Nara-ken Kashihara-shi Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture.
[xxxiv] In the text, this is 波波迦 hahaka. And now you know the word for Japanese bird cherry (Prunus grayana).
[xxxv] This divination ritual was performed by placing the shoulder bone over burning bird cherry wood and then “reading” the cracks that formed in the bones.
[xxxvi] The evergreen in question is sakaki (Cleyera japonica) which is sacred in Shintō.
[xxxvii] This isn’t said directly in the text of the Kojiki, but any person in the Kofun Period would have understood the symbolism. They would recognize the rituals performed by these kami as typically Shintō and they would also expect them to be effective, but they are not. Therefore, there is a tension in the original lost on modern readers. We will soon see that, it isn’t going through the motions of using sacred objects and chanting that will coax Amaterasu out of the Rock-Cave, it will be the impromptu striptease that comes up next.
[xxxviii] Ame no Tajikarao no Kami
[xxxix] Well, actually, she bound them up with a cord (Yayoi Period clothing was very loose).
[xl] The Kojiki uses the term 神懸かり kamu-gakari kami-possession (with an emphasis on sudden divine utterances). Shamanism was practiced in ancient Japan, but persisted in many ways up until the Meiji Period when the influence of western organized religion (ie; Christianity) made it look uncool to Japanese elites who saw themselves as purveyors of “modernization.” Traditional Korean religion is still shamanistic, as are many of traditional practices of the Ainu and Okinawans.
[xli] Before you jump all over me for getting graphic here, this is intentional. Exposing the breasts or genitals is pretty much limited to this myth in Japan. Anyone familiar with the extreme formality of most Shintō dance and other rituals immediately will find this shocking. However, in many other cultures, exposing the genitals is often used as a way to drive away evil influences (thru the pussy power? lol) while at the same time amusing the spectators to alleviate the scene. It should also be noted that Japan has traditionally been a very, how shall we say, prurient culture. Pornography, casual public nudity, and 下ネタ shimoneta dirty jokes have enjoyed long popularity right up to present times. In recent years, especially during the 64 Tōkyō Olympics and the 98 Nagano Olympics, great effort was made by the government to shield foreigners and foreign press from the casual presence of the sex industry, even going so far as to shutting down entire red-light districts. As a result, the presence of this vibrant and storied aspect of Japanese culture is very much diminished today on the surface, and only thrives underground or in the seedy parts of town. That said, the caricature of the Japanese “dirty old man” is very much alive and well, and one can image telling this myth and really going to town during Ame no Uzume’s striptease while everyone enjoys another round of sake.
[xlii] Believe it or not, some scholars believe that the gods dying of laughter is a reference to ritual laughter meant to provoke the anger of a kami who is not paying attention to them. By laughing (perhaps even mocking) the kami, you can grab the god or goddess’s attention and then submit your prayer to them.
[xliii] Here’s one for all you language nerds out there. The word for “singing and dancing” is written as (read in Modern Japanese as raku/gaku), but the glosses tell that the kanji should be pronounced as /asobi/ or /utamaɸi/. The first reading is modern 遊び asobi play/playing, the second reading is 歌舞 utamai singing & dancing. Utamai is a rare kun’yomi (Japanese reading) for modern 歌舞 kabu singing and dancing, which is on’yomi (Chinese reading).
[xliv] Remember, mirrors are a symbol of the sun kami.
[xlv] In Japanese, this magic rope is called 尻久米縄 shirikume nawa ass-shroud rope. shiri is butt (not as rough as ketsu ass, which uses the same kanji) and 久米 kume is modern 籠め kome to enshroud, to block off.
[xlvi] I took a lot of liberties with the last handful of paragraphs to make the narrative more palatable to modern audiences. The Kojiki is really choppy and while I try to stay as faithful as I can, sometimes I just have to extend bits to make it flow better. Keep in mind, the texts were compiled from oral traditions, so it’s easy to imagine storytellers embellishing bits here and there to pique the listeners’ interest. The Kojiki itself was meant to establish a basic text that preserved these myths in an efficient manner while emphasizing the parts that legitimized the imperial family’s position and the positions of the most important noble families of their court.

The Japanese Creation Myth Explained

In Japanese History, Japanese Mythology, Japanese Shrines & Temples on June 22, 2020 at 11:02 am

天地開闢神話の説明
Tenchi Kaibyaku Shinwa no Setsumei

Explanation of the Creation Myth

AMATERASU IN THE CAVE

This article is not a standalone affair. It’s the companion piece to my article on the Japanese Creation Myth. Please read that first, then refer to this one. Also, this article is more than twice as long as my version of the story itself, so it’s probably not a very exciting read if you aren’t super familiar with the myth beat by beat. So, please read the original article first and then knock yourself out with this one.

  • Also, if you’re only interested in the myths and not the explanations, I wouldn’t blame you if you skipped this article altogether. 
  • There are more than 50 end-notes. I spent time writing them. Do a brother a favor and read them.

Also, these are myths, so a lot of what we understand about them is speculative. Scholars hotly debate many aspects of these legends. Others point at linguistic, archaeological, and cultural evidence to explain them. Other times, I think people are just taking educated guesses. Non-scholars have also interpreted these stories in all sorts of ways over the centuries. I’ve compiled a chapter by chapter list of explanations and insights that I find really interesting – including some of my own personal theories. Hopefully, you have some insights or come up with personal interpretations of your own. If so, feel free to share them in the comments section!Abrahamic_Religions.svgJapanese Religion vs Your Religion

Before we break down the actual stories in the Creation Myth, we have to get some perspective of what Japanese religion is. If you’re reading this – and I’m sure you are – there is a 90% chance you live in a culture with monotheistic tradition, ie; a religion with only one god. Whether you believe or not, your country’s traditions are probably of that sort (judging by where my readers tend to live[i]).

Japanese religion is very different from most modern western religions. Unlike the so-called Abrahamic Faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam[ii]) which preach that there is only one god and all other god claims are untrue, Japan’s emergent spirituality was polytheistic. There is an infinite number of 神 kami gods, and because polytheism isn’t obsessed with elevating a single deity to the exclusion of all others, this tends to be a more flexible and, in many ways, more tolerant model. Such systems can be so tolerant, in fact, that they easily accept and then include other deities when encountering new belief systems or regional variants. This tendency to blend spiritual traditions is known as syncretism.

While the creation myths of Japan are Shintō at their core, we must keep a few things in mind:

  • Prior to the arrival of 仏教 Bukkyō Buddhism, the word Shintō didn’t even exist.
  • There is no “Shintō Bible” or “Shintō Orthodoxy.”

It wasn’t until Buddhism offered an alternative cosmology, philosophy, and ritual practices that a word was needed to distinguish the native animist beliefs with the exotic, foreign beliefs of Buddhism. Today, it’s hard to imagine Japan without Shintō and Buddhism[iii] because the two systems played well together and coexist harmoniously. There was an infinite number of kami and a (potentially) infinite number Buddhas (ie; people who have reached “enlightenment”). Compare this to the Abrahamic religions and their myths. A claim of a single god at the exclusion of all others is problematic, even antagonist to the syncretic polytheism of Japan[iv]. So, it’s important to try to jettison your own religious context, be it of true faith or just a cultural thing.

Anyhoo, at the time these creation myths were compiled in the 7th century, foreign influences like Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism were making inroads throughout the Japanese archipelago, but they were just that – foreign, unfamiliar, and often strange. Texts like the 古事記 Kojiki and 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki are relatively nativistic, that is, they are Shintō at heart. However, from time to time we’ll see hits of foreign influences appear in the narratives. Buddhism is almost completely unrepresented in these myths because they were definitely seen as foreign at this time. Furthermore, even though Shintō and Buddhism would eventually syncretize, initially Buddhism found a lot of push back from the Shintō priestly caste who saw it as threatening their hereditary ritual authority which derived from their ancestors who were described as illustrious kami who came to Japan in the Age of the Gods.

KAMI TSU MAKI

Cultic Practice vs “Religions of the Book”

Another huge difference between a polytheistic religion like Shintō and a second generation monotheistic religion like Christianity is that Japanese religion is cultic[v] in nature – very much like Greek and Roman religion – whereas Christianity is depended on articles of faith derived from sacred texts (eg; the Old Testament and the New Testament). Cultic religions don’t have authoritative books and they rely on performing rituals correctly, offering sacrifices correctly, and observing important calendar dates. Conversely, Christianity emphasizes belief – especially so-called “correct beliefs”[vi] as dictated by canonical texts and interpretation by ecclesiastical authorities.

Our main sources for Japanese myths are not “authoritative texts” like the Torah, the Bible, or the Qur’an. Shintō myths are descriptive at best[vii], painting verbal pictures of the acts of the gods. They rarely preach morality directly. They usually don’t tell people what to do and how to do it. They don’t prohibit behavior or catalog and categorize “sins.”[viii] They absolutely do not include declarations of faith like the Apostles’ Creed. They don’t contain prayers or regulations regarding the proper observance of rituals[ix]. This is a huge difference between Shintō and western religions. All of that said, once these myths were compiled by the 大和朝廷 Yamato Chōtei Yamato Court, the priestly caste now had texts that had been “corrected” by court authorities. As a result, a hierarchy of 神社 jinja shrines arose subsequently from these stories. It was clear that the most important kami was Amaterasu and the other gods associated with her. Suddenly, local kami with no illustrious tales[x] were seen as less important than the cults of gods who had participated in the creation of the world, the founding of the state, or the ancestors of ancient noble families.

OK, that’s enough of that. Let’s actually dig into the events of the creation myth. I’m going to divide my 釈義 shakugi exegesis[xi] into the same chapter headings that the Kojiki uses because the compilers clearly broke the stories up into bite-sized chunks perfect for discussion[xii]. In my article, The Japanese Creation Myth, I used both the Kojiki and some glosses (and a little creative writing!) to tell the story as coherently as possible and therefore I intentionally ignored the chapter headings.

Further Reading:

Spiral galaxy, illustration of Milky Way

The Beginning of Heaven & Earth

The world begins very much like the Greek Creation Myth. There is nothing, simply χάος chaos a void state preceding creation. The “nothing” before there was “something.” There is some matter, but it separates. We don’t know if the beginning of the story comes from a Jōmon tradition, a Yayoi tradition, or both, but what we can definitely say is that the preliterate people knew that heavy things fell and light things might “float” (be carried away by the wind). They also understood that the sun was always above everything, including the clouds. Therefore, it makes sense that the heavy matter was weighed down and became land, while the lighter matter rose up and became clouds. Already we can see a sort of cosmic geography take place. The sun is above all[xiii]. the heavens form a celestial plain[xiv] upon which the sun can live. The earth, while still shapeless, is burdened by its heaviness forms the ground upon which the people telling these stories currently live.

The Japanese cosmogony isn’t simply heaven and earth, though. Curiously, they call terra firma the Central Land of Reeds[xv] and place it in the middle of the universe. From this we can imply that the Wajin familiar with this story already had a conception of an afterlife and they were fairly certain about where it was located. It was either beneath the earth or it was within the earth. Whether the Land of Yomi was below the Central Land of Reeds or within wasn’t particularly important, though. Jōmon graves and Yayoi graves were in the ground – both below the surface and in the ground[xvi].

There aren’t many details about the Land of Yomi, but we can infer that it is dark. Later in the narrative, when Izanagi and Izanami descend to the underworld, it seems that the world has some aspects that are similar to the inner chambers of 古墳 kofun burial tombs of the time[xvii]. But more about that later.

The first five kami get their own status in the categorization of gods. We’re not sure why. The compilers of the myths must not have known either, nor did they make any attempt to explain it. But their name 別天神 Kotoama tsu Kami does literally mean “separate heavenly kami.” I think it could be read as “kami of a separate heaven” which might refer to them “hiding” and more or less disappearing from the narrative. Since the stories don’t say they died, just hid, they could be hiding in another heaven. However, this is purely conjecture on my part.

I have a final observation about the tripartite cosmology presented in the creation myth[xviii]. I think that there is some memory of clans crossing over from the Asian mainland and settling in Japan recorded in parts of these stories, as well as memories of interacting with advanced kingdoms on the mainland. More than once we see kami descending from the Heavenly High Plain to the Central Land of Reeds. I personally think these recall a time immemorial when Chinese explorers came to the Land of Wa or when related clan members crossed over from the Korean Peninsula to the Land of Wa. Their technology (metalworking and agricultural techniques) would have been advanced. Also, if we can think of China as the Roman Empire of Asia, any philosophies, technologies – hell, even basic things like writing, might have seemed like magic[xix] to the backwards inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago. Therefore, the High Plain of Heaven could sometimes be a reference to advanced cultures overseas and a memory of a former homeland. The Central Plain of Reeds could be a reference to the harsh reality of life in the untamed archipelago. The grass is always greener on the other side, while we toil and die over here.

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The Seven Divine Generations

The final five generations of the Seven Generations of Kami are born as siblings, one male and one female. The females are described as 妹 imō “younger sister” or “spouse.” It’s been suggested that noble families in the Yayoi Period allowed for incestuous marriages, but by the time these stories were compiled the influence of Chinese proscriptions against sibling marriage had taken hold in the Yamato Court. Therefore, the brother-sister pairing was reinterpreted as “ready-made married couple” pairing. Regardless of the origin of the myth or how it was eventually written down, none of these male-female paired generations procreated until the very final pairing, which is Izanagi and Izanami. Even if the previous generations had consummated their marriages sexually and that was ignored in the texts, the Izanagi and Izanami myth is so vital to the story of creation that it couldn’t be overlooked.

Much has been made of the etymology of Izanagi and Izanami. Both names are written in ateji, ie; phonetically 伊邪那岐 Izanagi literally reads “that-wicked-what-branch off” and 伊邪那美 “Izanami that-wicked-what-beautiful.” The Chinese characters are literally meaningless, just used to facilitate pronunciation when reading. The only thing I can say is that the kanji 美 mi/bi at the end of the goddess’ name marks her as clearly feminine by Japanese naming traditions[xx]. The gibberish spelling aside, the length of this couple’s inclusion in the narrative and their importance in the act of creation implies a long and widespread familiarity with their story. Japanese commentators have often said these names derive from 誘う izanau to invite[xxi]. Izanagi = he who invites. Izanami = she who invites. There are other less accepted etymologies that have been proposed. I guess the main argument is that when the couple attempts to marry and then consummate the relationship, Izanami invites Izanagi to fuck first. After they give birth to a disgusting leech baby, they try again and Izanagi invites Izanami to fuck, and then things go well. If this etymology is correct, their names may only foreshadow a Confucian retcon to what we know about Japanese acceptance of female rule in ancient times. Anyways, we’ll get to that in due time.

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Onogoro Shrine on Nushima in Hyogo Prefecture

The Island of Onogoro

The Special Heavenly Kami order Izanagi and Izanami to create the world – even though they were hiding. These are the kind of continuity mistakes that plague these myths. There’s no explanation of why they came out of hiding or where they were when they were hiding or why it was necessary for them to come out of hiding for this to happen at all. I mean, Izanagi and Izanami could have come up with the idea of creation on their own, right?

Well, one clue is that the Special Heavenly Kami give the creator couple a jewel-encrusted spear. If we go with my personal theory that the Heavenly High Plain could sometimes represent the Asian mainland, the first batch of gods went back to the mainland (ie; they were hidden to the kingdoms on the archipelago) and eventually came back with advanced technology, ie; metalworking. And not just metalworking, but weapons! They gave weapons to the settlers in the Land of Wa who proceeded to subdue the native Jōmon people and other Wajin tribes. While there is no hint of military actions of any kind in the creation myth, it’s curious to me that Izanagi and Izanami use a weapon to shape the islands of Japan.

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This spear is decorated with jewels, which is probably a reference to 勾玉 magatama comma shaped gems used for status symbols. We know these stones were not used by the Jōmon people and are specifically associated with the Yayoi/Wajin people. Furthermore, by the time of the compilation of these myths, expensive and exotic mainland technologies like bronze mirrors and swords were treasured by Kofun Period elites. Magatama were also prized in this culture. In fact, to this day, the imperial regalia are a mirror, a sword, and this sort of jewel.

The floating bridge is also interesting. In art and writing, it’s been interpreted as a boat, a bridge of clouds, a stairway, a rainbow bridge, or bridge of stars. If my interpretation of the heavens being a mixed metaphor for the Asian mainland, the boat theory fits very well. However, these are divine beings and so walking across a bridge of clouds is just as valid.

The name Onogoro Island is written using ateji, 淤能碁呂 Onogoro “muddy-talent-captured-territory- spine” in the Kojiki, 磤馭慮 Onogoro “/on/-control-consideration” in the Nihon Shoki.  The kanji are clearly gibberish and don’t give us any information about the island itself. There is a small island called 沼島 Nushima in Hyōgo-ken Hyōgo Prefecture which has a shrine called 自凝神社 Onogoro Jinja Onogoro Shrine which commemorated the creation of Japan by Izanagi and Izanami. This shrine’s name is also ateji (and therefore gibberish) which means “self-lump” and probably reflects a local tradition. This shows that the name of the island and this myth was widespread, but no one knew how to write it because the original meaning had been lost long before the myths were compiled.

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Courtship of the Deities

I don’t know if I’d actually call this a “courtship,” but in addition to being the first kami with personalities and who actually did stuff, they perform the first marriage and the first act of sexual procreation. I’ll be honest, the writers coulda made this scene hotter[xxii], but it is what it is. In my version, I said that Izanagi and Izanami erected a phallus. Well, the texts say they erected a sacred pillar, but it’s pretty clear what that signified. I’d also like to add that as far as I know, the impromptu wedding “ceremony” never played out in future wedding ceremonies, as Shintō never developed standard rites for marriage. In fact, weddings have never really had a religious component in Japan. Even today, getting married is a legal act, not a spiritual one – at least as far as the state is concerned. Shintō shrines do perform weddings now, but that’s a relatively recent economic-driven development in reaction to so-called “Western-style weddings[xxiii]” as a way for shrines to penetrate the wedding market and get some of those sweet, sweet wedding yen.

The first time Izanagi and Izanami walk in a circle around the sacred pillar, she greets him first. At first, it seems like a throwaway line, but Izanagi mentions that something about this doesn’t seem right. Marriage and sex being non-things at this point in “history,” the couple proceeds with the unscripted ritual, despite his gut feeling[xxiv].

When the lovers met on the other side of the long, hard pole, Izanami takes one look at her lover and cries out あなにやし、えをとこを!Ana ni yashi, e wotoko wo! What a wonderful man! Upon seeing his lover, Izanagi similarly exclaims あなにやし、えをとめを! Ana ni yashi, e woto-me wo! What a wonderful woman! These phrases are Old Japanese, but are somewhat famous in Japan among romantic history nerds. The grammar and orthography are quite alien to Modern Japanese readers (the lack of kanji makes it cumbersome to modern eyes) and its written in an extinct southwestern dialect (which makes it cumbersome to anyone unfamiliar with western dialects, especially their ancient versions).

Let’s take a quick language nerd detour, shall we?

あなにやしana ni yashiDon Philippi explains this phrase as “an exclamation of wonder and delight.” Both Izanagi and Izanami use this phrase. Repetition is an attribute of oral storytelling. やし yashi is an ancient western dialectal variant of the modern よし yoshi good which became よい yoi good and finally いい ii in good ol’ Standard Japanese.

Apart from gendering, the second part of these two sentences are also identical:

えをとこ
e woto-ko
いいおとこ
ii otoko
a good guy
えをとめ
e woto-me
いいおとめ
ii otome
a good girl
In modern western dialects “good” is said as ええ ee, while いい ii is the prevalent Standard form.

おとこ otoko is still the standard word for “man” in all of Japan, while おとめ otome girl is only used in Shintō contexts, usually referring to female kami. In the modern Standard, the word otome has long since been replaced with おんな onna woman.

In Modern Japanese, these ancient utterances can be rendered thus:

あなにやし、えをとこを! あー、なんて素敵な男か!
Wow, what a handsome guy!
あなにやし、えをとめを! あー、なんて素敵な女か!
Wow, what a beautiful girl!

I don’t recommend using these as pickup lines because they sound just as ridiculous in Modern Japanese as they do in Modern English. But who knows, maybe if you do some weird hybrid cosplay Shintō wedding, you could include these before you state your vows. If you’re into that sorta thing.

Anyhoo, the lovers get married and consummate the union, ie; they fuuuuuuuck.

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Birth of the Various Deities

Izanami gets pregnant and gives birth to 蛭子 Hiruko, the leech-child. This has been interpreted as a child being born crippled in some way[xxv]. Many ancient cultures practiced infanticide by exposure to the elements a means of disposing of burdensome or unplanned children before birth control or safe abortion techniques. In short, you’d just dump a baby somewhere, hope for the best, then go home and get on with your life.

As horrific as this sounds to our modern sensibilities, in pre-scientific societies child birth was often a dangerous prospect for women[xxvi], but attempting abortion using poisons, magic potions, or straight up physical violence were far riskier to both the mother and the child[xxvii]. As a result, it was considered safer to bring a baby to term and once the situation was stable the parents, family, or society could decide what to do with the child. I can’t say that killing babies is tasteful in any way, but in a world inhabited by gods and magical beings, “exposing” a baby was actually seen as more humane because the child actually had a chance of survival via some sort of divine intervention. As a result, there are myths all over the world about children being exposed to nature and then becoming epic heroes. Some well-known examples from western mythologies are Moses and Romulus & Remus.

Again, it seems so awful and inhumane to leave a helpless baby under a tree, on the top of a mountain, or in this case, on a tiny reed boat set sail upon the turbulent ocean[xxviii]. However, if we understand why this act was seen by ancients as a humane choice, take heart that these people weren’t all diabolical, baby-hating monsters. Clearly, they had serious moral problems with this practice. This is probably why we find massive ancient trash dumps, but rarely do we find massive ancient baby dumps[xxix]. Furthermore, we find myths around the world where good luck or divine actors intervene and spare the abandoned child. After all, in the Jewish myths, Moses became a hero who led his people out of Egyptian captivity[xxx], and Romulus & Remus were central to the mythological Founding of Rome[xxxi]. So too with the Japanese, all is not evil here. Later generations of Japanese would come to believe Hiruko survived and now he’s associated Hiruko with 恵比寿 Ebisu, one of the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin Seven Gods of Good Luck[xxxii]. To this day, Ebisu probably the most easily-recognized and beloved kami in all of modern Japan. There’s even a beer named after him!

After this, Izanagi and Izanami cross the floating bridge and return to the High Plain of Heaven to consult with the Special Heavenly Gods as to what went wrong. The heavenly kami do some rituals and discuss this and return to the creator couple and tell them they go the order wrong in their mating ritual.

Now, this may seem silly or unimportant, but do you remember when Izanagi and Izanami performed their impromptu marriage ceremony? There was that throwaway line where Izanagi thought something wasn’t right. The council of heavenly gods confirmed his suspicions. They deemed that it was inappropriate for a woman to begin matrimonial bonds and initiate sex. The male should do all of that first.

If you’re thinking this sounds kinda misogynistic, you win a prize. We have ancient Chinese records describing life in the Land of Wa centuries before these myths were compiled and the stories that stand out the most are those of a Late Yayoi Period shaman queen known as 卑弥呼 Himiko[xxxiii] (reigned 189-248). whose massive grave may have ushered in the Kofun Period. She was so revered that he huge burial mound[xxxiv] is thought to be an exemplar for the most important future tumuli that characterize this era of Japanese history. The brilliant 20th century historian Tsuda Sōkichi first put forth the idea the ancient Japanese culture didn’t insist on male supremacy over women. In fact, Izanagi’s curious hesitancy about submitting to Izanami’s initiation of sex (which produced deformed offspring) and the requirement that they try again with the male initiating sex (which produced healthy offspring) was probably the influence of Confucian teachings that had later become popular among the imperial court. Sure, some great women may have held the highest political and religious authority in time immemorial, but the natural order – as established by the heavenly kami themselves – was that of male primacy. This peculiar ideological insertion is most likely anachronistic, deemed a necessary “correction” of the existing ancient tales.

oyashima

Once Izanagi and Izanami get the ritual rite[xxxv], they give birth to a bunch of kami, including Japan itself, which is described as 大八洲 Ōyashima the Great Eight Islands. Keep in mind, Japan as we know it today didn’t exist at the time these myths proliferated around the archipelago, nor did it exist at the time these stories were written down. The Great Eight Islands refer to the world of the dominant Wajin kingdoms and the Yamato Court. Some of these locations are insignificant today, but reflect important locations to the people who knew these stories. These islands are:

大八洲
Ōyashima the Great Eight Islands

淡道之穂之狭別島
Awaji no Ho no Sawake Shima
Modern Awaji Island off the coast of Hyōgo Prefecture.
伊予之二名島
Iyo no Futana no Shima
Modern Motoyama City in Kōchi Prefecture[xxxvi].
隠伎之三子島
Oki no Mitsugo no Shima
Modern Oki Islands off the coast of modern Shimane Prefecture.
筑紫島
Tsukushi no Shima
The ancient name of the entire island of Kyūshū.
伊伎島
Iki no Shima[xxxvii]
Modern Iki Island off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture.
津島
Tsu (no) Shima[xxxviii]
Modern Tsu Island, part of Nagasaki Prefecture, but lies between Kyūshū and the Korean Peninsula.
佐渡島
Sado no Shima
Modern Sado Island island off the coast of Niigata Prefecture.
大倭豊秋津島
Ōyamato-Toyoaki tsu Shima
Thought to be the entire main island of Japan, Honshū, including territories yet unconquered at the time of the compilation of the myths.

In my opinion, the inclusion of these kami/islands in the creation myths serves a twofold purpose. The original inclusion probably reflected the geographic competency of earlier generations. If you plot these locations onto a map, you can see trade routes and locations that were critical to the rising Yamato State. By the time these myths were written down, eastern expansion across Japan’s main island was already in progress. The name of the last territory, Ōyamato-Toyoaki no Shima, reflects the ancient attitudes to Honshū (it was just an island) and a kind of Yamato Court Manifest Destiny (this island was way larger than they thought at the time these myths took shape). In short, Ōyamato “Greater Yamato” and Toyoaki “Abundant Autumns.” Yamato was no longer a single kingdom, but a confederation of Wajin kingdoms, one that was taking control of land of rich rice harvests[xxxix].

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Death of Izanami & the Slaying of the Fire-Deity

Ever since Izanagi and Izanami got the sexual ritual right; they’d been popping out kami non-stop. You have to admit, birthing huge swaps of conquered territory was pretty advantageous, as well. This all came to a crashing halt when Izanami gave birth to Kagutsuchi the fire god. He burned her internally and destroyed her genitals.

In my telling of the myth, I presented Izanagi as more sympathetic, emphasizing his love for her. Actually, I emphasized their love from the beginning. The fact is, in the Kojiki, love is never mentioned and there’s no emotional reaction on the either partner’s side. I just wanted a little drama because otherwise, the story is kinda fucking boring. But in the text, Izanami just matter-of-factly dies giving birth to Kagutsuchi.

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Anyhoo, Izanagi is definitely angered by the death of his sister/spouse and reacts violently, as if the fire god murdered her. Remember that ancient cultures often valued a healthy wife of child-bearing age over a deformed child. Therefore, a difficult birth that caused the death of a mother during labor could easily be blamed for the murder of a valuable familial and societal asset (ie; the mother). In the end, Izanagi beheads the baby and cuts it up into eight pieces. Kagutsuchi’s blood and body parts become kami associated with volcanos and hot springs. Some say that the image of Izanagi’s rage, his flashing sword, spurting blood, and fire everywhere point at a possible reference to an ancient volcanic eruption. The presence of fire and a metal sword could also point to the emergence of metalsmithing techniques in the Land of Wa. This technology developed on the Asia mainland much earlier and eventually made its way to the archipelago. Regional kings in the Yayoi Period would have exploited metalsmithing in order to build up caches of weapons to protect their lands and arm their warriors. Since Japan has volcanos, hot springs, and developed a warrior culture in the Yayoi and Kofun Periods, the kami born of Kagutsuchi were probably considered divine ancestors of a handful of early clans.

The big take away is that being pregnant, carrying a baby to term, and birthing a healthy child is extremely valued. You must protect the wife of your child. And whether you are a peasant or a noble or a kami, everyone is affected by death. 18th century scholar and founder of nativist “Japanese Studies” Motoori Norinaga[xl] went so far as to say “Even the great god Izanagi, who formed the land and all things in it, mourned the death of his sister/wife. He sorrowfully wept with all his heart like an infant, and yearning for her, followed Izanami to the Land of Yomi. This is human nature at its core.”

In the compiled texts, Izanami’s death while giving birth feels like a throwaway line (until we get to the next chapter[xli]), but Izanagi’s response, though impulsive, childish, and violent, can be seen in a somewhat sympathetic light. Anyone who’s lost a lover, either through a breakup or even death, has probably wanted to lash out at the world. They might even sink into deep depression as they try to justify their existence and, in some kind of fucked up way, pull themselves through the sadness and darkness and then ultimately find the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – which is exactly what happens next.

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When Izanagi cries, his tears became 泣沢女神 Nakisawame no Kami who was later regarded as a water goddess[xlii]. Some scholars believe her birth occurring between the death of Izanami and her burial as evidence for the custom of hiring female professional mourners at Kofun Period funerals[xliii]. Professional lamenters were a thing in Ancient Rome and it’s my understanding they still exist in Korea and parts of China.

Lastly, if one views Izanami of as Earth Mother Goddess and Kagutsuchi as a volcanic kami, it’s possible to interpret her death as the earth becoming barren after a devastating eruption. The earth can no longer produce crops (a metaphorical death), but after she is buried in ash and volcanic ejecta (ie; descends to the underworld) she is reborn as the Queen of the Underworld. Her rebirth is also reflects in the Earth itself, which slowly returns to normal and again become fecund and life giving. Also, there appear to be many associations of “fire” and “rot or decay” in the Kojiki, which reinforces this interpretation. In the next section, lights a fire to see in the dark, but only sees Izanagi’s nasty-ass rotting corpse, then he throws the burning comb tooth down to the ground.

kofun map

The Land of Hades

In Christian and Islamic cosmology, you have Heaven, Earth, and Hell. This term “hell” is essentially a world of eternal punishment for finite moral infractions. A land where demons torture you forever and ever and ever and ever and ever – lakes of fire, pitchforks, and fallen angels. It’s a veritable horror movie waiting for you after your short life on this earth. This view of an afterlife is quite extreme, and quite rare in cultures throughout the ages. A life after death, as implausible and unrealistic as it is to us moderns, is a fairly common belief among all kinds of modern humans and we see evidence of such beliefs going back to prehistoric times.

The Land of Yomi, as Chamberlain saw it in the 1880’s, was a Japanese version of Hades with Japanese aspects. It was just another world that human souls went to after this one. But let’s go back to the beginning of our understanding of kami. They are infinite, right? After you die, you can become a kami, right? Did the ancient Japanese – or modern Japanese, for that matter – believe that dead people went to another plain of existence? We don’t know. There are no authoritative texts on the subject. What we know from the stories is that kami can hide and/or die. We also know that humans can become kami. We also know that ancestor worship was part and parcel of humans becoming kami. In this world view, an afterworld without punishments and rewards is possible. Therefore, this afterlife is just inhabited by ghosts.

To make things more complicated, the Land of Yomi is really vague in the myths. We know it’s for dead people. We know it’s contaminated and spiritually impure. We also know it’s – for the most part – dark. We also know that it’s the first mythic tale that read like an adventure in the western sense. Everything prior to this part of the narrative is kinda boring. It’s simple AF, but Izanagi’s descent into Yomi and escape makes for fascinating storytelling. The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki are not the origins of Japanese Horror, but they show us that the spiritual framework required to make a unique tradition of scary stories and tales of ghosts and demons had existed generations before the compilers wrote these stories down. Also, please keep in mind, the texts we get these myths from weren’t written in the name of good storytelling. All of this was to collect myths the Kofun Period imperial court thought would back up their divine claims to authority.

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Some have suggested that the description of Izanagi’s descent into the Land of Yomi was influenced by Kofun Period burial practices of the time when these myths were compiled. Kofun were enormous burial mounds that featured stone passageways leading to subterranean stone burial chambers. The height of these tombs symbolized an ascent to the heavens. The ground level was still very much the Central Plain of Reeds, while the act of descent into the depths of the earth where the burial chamber was symbolized Yomi. In fact, Izanagi finds Izanami in a kind of inner chamber. In fact, the entrance to Yomi is guarded by a large boulder, which we’ll discuss later, similar to how kofun tombs were also closed off[xliv].

Izanagi insists that he wants Izanami to return with him to continue their work of creating the world and populating it. I’m not sure if this is significant or just an excuse to further the narrative, but if this myth is a memory of Yayoi invasion of the archipelago or just territorial expansion, the death of a queen could be a traumatic experience for an expanding chiefdom that saw its role as being divinely commanded[xlv]. Izanami says Izanagi is too late because she’s already eaten food prepared in Yomi. I haven’t found a compelling explanation of this seemingly random rule. It may just be a way to show that too much time has passed since she died[xlvi]. Izanami says she’ll petition the gods of Yomi to see if they can make an exception in her case. Mark Ravina thinks this illustrates a Japanese cultural trait of “decision-making by committee,” something he claims is still very much a part of corporate and political culture today[xlvii].

Anyhoo, she asks Izanagi to wait outside her chamber while she consults with the kami, making one very odd request – that he not to look at her. It’s been suggested that this refers to an ancient taboo against looking at corpses. According to this theory, any viewing any contaminated scene was considered ritually impure. Viewing dead bodies, being in the presence of menstruating women, watching a person take a shit, or witnessing a birth were all taboo, thus these acts were separated from the household in special places, for example, special birthing huts in the case of parturition or burying dead bodies in tombs outside of the home or village[xlviii]. Matsumura Takeo has suggested this part of the myth is a reflection of a tradition of entering a tomb[xlix] at regular intervals to see if the deceased person has come back to life. If he is correct, maybe Izanagi checks on Izanami to see if she’s actually not dead, but because she’s been there so long (ie; she’s eaten food prepared in Yomi) she never returns to him from the meeting with the gods. Or maybe both theories have a kernel of truth. The Wajin custom was originally to check on dead bodies regularly, but at some point, a taboo was implemented to “correct” this ritual as it came to be seen as inappropriate.

In my telling of the story, I said that Izanami became 黄泉津大神 Yomi tsu Ōkami the Queen of Yomi[l]. This isn’t exactly true to the text of the Kojiki which is actually inconsistent on this issue. She is clearly subservient to some heretofore unnamed kami of the underworld (I mean, she has to ask them to make an exception so she can return to the Central Land of Reed Plains). However, after Izanagi looks at her, the text describes her as the ultimate authority in the land of the dead. The presence of kami and all manner of beings in Yomi (the hags, the warriors) is probably a glitch in compilation process as this entire myth is pieced together from various oral traditions and clan histories[li] with minimal attention to detail outside of the basic continuity from creation up to the birth of Amaterasu.

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The chase scene is by far the most exciting scene of this entire series of episodes, and in terms of storytelling, it seems to have pretty good pacing. This makes me think that it was a longtime favorite. One can imagine the kids being bored with a lot of these stories, but begging to hear Izanagi’s escape from Yomi again and again. However, the Kojiki betrays the fact that it was so well-known by making a lot of references to things everybody would have known at the time of the compilation, but are totally lost on modern readers.

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To escape, Izanagi throws a bunch of a grapes, a bunch of teeth from his comb, draws his sword and then picks peaches and throws them. His pursuers seem dumb as shit, as they’re immediately distracted by the items that he throws at them, stopping to eat them before continuing their chase. I can’t say much about why these items are significant. However, the grapes are probably a reference to the 角髪 mizura hairstyle of men. The word is thought to derive from  みみづら mimi-zura “hair bunch” and refers to the Princess Leia buns Yayoi Period men wore, the idea being the buns looked like bunches of grapes. Perhaps this was a comedic moment that got big laughs from the kids when they heard it. These buns were bound with strings made of vines and held in place by decorative combs. In an unusual feat of narrative continuity, the compilers record that Izanagi used one comb to light a fire and look at Izanami, and now he uses the other comb to put distance between himself and the Hags of Yomi. To me, this is probably not retconning on behalf of the compilers but evidence of the popularity of this part of the myth, meaning everybody knew about the left comb and right comb[lii]. The peach thing is totally random and may reflect the adoption of some Chinese stories. Apparently, in Ancient China peaches were used to dispel demons or malevolent ghosts… because peaches. Who knows, I’d rather eat a peach than throw one. It seems like a waste of a perfectly delicious fruit.

Finally, Izanagi makes it to the exit of Yomi and slams the boulder shut. This large rock is important to the story because it keeps the beings of the underworld trapped in their cosmic prison, preventing them from bringing their spiritual contagions in to the world of the living. Don Phillipi says, “This boulder is known by such names as 道反の大神 Chigaeshi no Ōkami the great kami of turning-back road,” 黄泉戸の大神 Yomido no Ōkami the great kami of the entrance to the underworld, and 塞坐黄泉戸大神  Sayarimasu Yomido no Ōkami the great kami obstructing the way to the underworld.” The boulder preserves the natural order of the universe. The boulder could reflect the door to a burial chamber of a kofun or it could be a reference to 塞の神 sai no kami a large stone placed at the boundary of a village to protect it from evil spirits. Then again, sometimes a boulder is just a boulder, ie; Izanagi just needed to physically trap Izanami’s ghost in the realm of the dead.

After their divorce, Izanami swears that she will kill a thousand humans a day, to which Izanagi swears that he will create a thousand fifteen hundred humans a day. This is the just-so-story of why people are born and why people die. However, Watanabe Yoshimichi thinks this part of the myth even shows an “awareness of the rapid population increase accompanying the development of agricultural production after the 3rd and 4th centuries” which is pretty cool, if you ask me.

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 The Purification of the August Person

The final episode of the creation is myth is Izanagi’s ritual purification and the birth of the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Izanami (who is now the Queen of Yomi) disappears from the mythology forever – presumably she’s still hanging out in the underworld[liii]. Likewise, after the birth of Amaterasu, Izanagi also just sorta fades away forever[liv]. Anyone familiar with Shintō practices will recognize ritual purification in its many forms. In front of shrines, you will always find 手水舎 temizuya (also called chōzuya) water basins for washing your hands and mouth before entering the shrine precinct. However, full immersion into water – often performed under a natural waterfall – is called 禊 misogi, and this is what Izanagi does in the river.

Today, misogi rituals are generally understood to be spiritual cleansing. However, Edo Period scholar Motoori Norinaga believed that spiritual cleansing was an alien concept to Yayoi and Kofun Period people. He believed that misogi was for purifying polluted bodies – not polluted souls – and as such Izanagi’s ablution in the river was performed in order to remove the 汚れ kegare defilement of Yomi from his physical person. Think of it as taking off your filthy shoes before you track mud all over the carpet after running in from the rain vs. doing a little ritual dance to purify your soul and then tracking mud all over the house. Matsumura Kazuo thought this was a ridiculous idea and suggested that ancient Japanese made no distinction between physical and spiritual purity.

Apparently, misogi rituals are extremely ancient. In fact, the first time we hear about them is a Chinese text, 魏志 Wèi zhì the Records of Wei which were compiled around 297. It records that “when there is a death, they mourn for ten days, during which period they do not eat meat. The chief mourners wail and weep, and the others sing, dance, and drink liquor. After the burial, the whole family goes into the water to bathe, like the Chinese sackcloth-ablutions.” Here, not only do we have a reference to ritual purification by water, but also a possible reference to professional mourners or nakime. Also, anyone who has lived in Japan, know that bathing is a huge part of Japanese culture. Communal bathing in public baths and 音泉 onsen hot springs is extremely popular and, although this is changing these days, the traditional afterwork ritual was to eat dinner with the family, enjoy some 日本酒 nihonshu sake, and then soak in a piping hot bath before going to bed.

In my version of Izanagi’s purification ritual, I only mention the birth of three kami. Because it’s boring and distracting to the narrative, I left out the birth of a bunch of other kami who are listed specifically by name. These kami were important to the compilers of the Kojiki because these offspring of Izanagi are cited by the elite clans of the Yamato Court as their divine ancestors. Our texts aren’t concerned with the histories of those noble families – the imperial family’s illustrious history is more important. However, the Kojiki does give a nod to the pedigree of the other court clans.

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The three main kami that Izanagi births while bathing are the sun goddess, the moon god, and the storm/ocean god. The line that sticks out is when he gives his jeweled necklace to Amaterasu, the sun goddess. This is a not-so-subtle hint that Izanagi is transferring his divine authority to her. Remember, the Special Heavenly Kami commanded him and Izanami to create the world. Now that work was done. Izanagi gives control of the Central Land of Reeds to Amaterasu. This sets up, the next batch of myths in a world that is populated by kami with personalities and actual agency – very different from the actions of the pre-Izanagi/Izanami gods.

Before I wrap up, I want to point out one very curious thing that is missing from the Japanese creation myth in the Kojiki – something that we usually find in all other creation myths around the world. The compiled texts say nothing about the creation of humans. This is omission is weird. Why would that be overlooked or left out? Well, if we accept that there are some ancient “memories” recorded in these stories, the history that we know from earlier Chinese accounts and the archaeology that the Yayoi people were immigrants[lv] to an archipelago already populated by the Jōmon people. Those hunter-gather people may have seemed more primitive or even animal-like to the invaders from the mainland, but they were definitely human. It may be that the question of where did humans come from seemed like a boring thing to wonder about. Afterall, they were already here, fully formed when the Yayoi people arrived. To a highly stratified culture like the Yayoi, the origin of bloodlines was far more important than silly questions like “who created humans?” Their existence may have been self-evident. Humans were just part of the natural word, no different from birds, snakes, and fish. They required no creation explanation.

 

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[i] Don’t be creeped out, but I can see global distribution of my readership lol
[ii] Known to us atheists as Judaism, Judaism 2.0, and Judaism 3.0.
[iii] Throw in a little Taoism and Confucianism for good measure.
[iv] There are a number of reasons why Christianity didn’t “stick” in Japan – mostly political. It’s true that Japan was receptive to Christianity at first (the concept of the Holy Trinity looked just like Polytheism Lite), but the antagonistic nature of monotheism was definitely noted by both 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi and 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu. If you don’t know these guys and their relation to Christianity in Japan, I don’t know why you’re even reading this. But if you must, here’s an article for you.
[v] No, this doesn’t mean cult as in Scientology, Branch Davidians, or the Westboro Baptist Church. The term cult derives from the Roman concept of cultus deōrum devotion to the gods, observance of divine rituals. It refers to religions based on performative acts rather than simple faith in “divine” teachings.
[vi] As opposed to non-orthodox or heretical beliefs.
[vii] Legitimatory at the most cynical.
BTW, I looked it up, “legitimatory” isn’t a word. Sue me.
[viii] In fact, in cultic religions, the concept of “sin” is almost meaningless. The closest concept would be not observing the correct rituals in the appropriate manner. This could displease a deity or genuinely piss them off. They might send you the plague or kill a first born son or something, but they wouldn’t damn you hell to be subjected to infinite torment for a finite infraction of ritual practice. Conversely, cultic religions do not offer “salvation” because there’s nothing to be saved from. Just do the rituals, dude lolololol
[ix] Though they do describe “just so stories” that explain the origins of rituals or were the inspiration for later standardization vis-à-vis foreign religions like Buddhism. After the Meiji Coup in 1868, some mythic acts became justification for further institutionalization of ritual under the government’s highjacking of nativist traditions in the name of 国家神道 Kokka Shintō State Shintō, which devolved into Emperor Worship prior to the end of WWII.
[x] For example, a kami who protected a certain rice field from infestations and had no myths.
[xi] Please tell me you know what exegesis means.
[xii] I’m using the chapter headings as translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain, the first westerner to translate the Kojiki into English in 1919 (Taishō 8).
[xiii] This foreshadows the importance of the sun goddess, Amaterasu.
[xiv] The High Plain of Heaven
[xv] Daniel Holtom translates this word as the “Land of Fresh Rice Ears.” Unfortunately, I only discovered this phrase at the very end of writing this article which is regrettable as I rather like it.
[xvi] “Duh,” you might say, “All graves are in the ground.” Nuh-uh![xvii] Remember, this era of Japanese history is called the Kofun Period.[xviii] I do have to say, the nature of Izanagi and Izanami’s relationship is still hotly debated among scholars. Some insist they are merely husband and wife (therefore no incest), while others insist that they are definitely siblings (therefore incest). The texts, obviously pieced together from multiple sources, are not clear on this. I take the position that they are both because it’s a fucking myth FFS. They can be anything and none of this actually matters.
[xix] Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
[xx] Similar to how -a at the end of many Latinate names usually marks a female name.
[xxi] Remember, kanji are Chinese characters and izanau is a Japanese word, so the kanji doesn’t have anything to do with the etymology of this word or these names – should they be related or not.
[xxii] If the compilers of the texts want to update it, they should contact me. I know some people in the biz.
[xxiii] These are loosely based on Christian weddings that people saw in western movies and TV.
[xxiv] Trust me, we’re coming back to this offhand comment soon.
[xxv] Kokugakuin University’s Encyclopedia of Shintō suggests “a child with arms and legs but without bones.” I have no idea what that means in the real world, but I suppose it could look like a leech or slug or something…
[xxvi] Even in our modern world, giving birth can still cost a woman her life.
[xxvii] As most pre-modern marriages, especially among social elites, were not about love but rather familial/political unions, losing a child was much preferable to losing an elite wife/daughter of childbearing age.
[xxviii] In the case of the ocean, the baby-boat is more likely to wash back ashore where the child will die slowly from starvation, desiccation, or being killed by birds of prey. That, or it would be soon swept under the crashing waves and drowned to death in a matter of minutes…
[xxix] I can’t think of any massive baby dump off the top of my head.
[xxx] BTW, this probably never happened – especially not as presented in the Torah or Old Testament.
[xxxi] This, too, never happened, but the Romans considered it so important to their history that they invented something like the BC/AD or BCE/CE divide we know today. To them AUC was the abbreviation they used. It stood for ab Urbe conditā since the founding of the City (ie; Rome). I’m writing this in 2020 AD/CE which is AUC 2773. And yes, Roman history geeks still use this classical dating system.
[xxxii] That said, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki don’t say anything about Hiruko’s survival. He’s just set afloat and abandoned forever in those texts.
[xxxiii] You can read about her here. The pronunciation of her name in the Proto-Japonic Language of her time and region is uncertain. Many variants have been suggested, but the two most likely reconstructions are /pimiko/ or /pimeko/.
[xxxiv] By tradition, her kofun is said to be 箸墓古墳 Hashihaka Kofun the Hashihaka Kofun in present-day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture.
[xxxv] See what I did there? Eh? I’m so goddamn witty.
[xxxvi] Iyo could also refer to the entire island of 四国 Shikoku.
[xxxvii] Also written 壱岐島 Iki no Shima.
[xxxviii] Also written 対馬島 Tsushima no Shima. There are actually two islands with both spellings. There’s some debate as to which is mentioned in the Kojiki – or if they were both mistaken for the same place.
[xxxix] Rice harvests equaled a strong economy.
[xl] He’s probably the most important scholar when it comes to beginning to understand these myths.
[xli] And even in the next chapter, she becomes a different kami, so she still feels like a throwaway character in the drama.
[xlii] She’s enshrined throughout Japan, but her main enshrinement is thought to be 畝尾都多本神社 Uneo Tsutamoto Jinja Uneo Tsutamoto Shrine in Nara. In fact, locals use an easier, more ancient name and call this place 哭沢神社 Nakisawa Jinja Nakisawa Shrine and the main object of worship is 泣沢井戸 Nakisawa Ido the Well of Nakisawame.
[xliii] In Old Japanese, these professional lamenters were called 泣女 nakime crying women. In Modern Japanese, they are called 泣き女 naki onna, also crying women. This tradition died out with the arrival of Buddhism. The Buddhists probably found it cheesy and annoying.
[xliv] One scholar, Matsumura Kazuo, believes that at this time the Land of Yomi was understood to be inside mountains, only accessible by caves. Therefore, the kofun tomb model mimicked a mountain and the stone passage and burial chamber mimicked a cave.
[xlv] I hate to use the term again, but a kinda Japanese Manifest Destiny.
[xlvi] The crazy thing is that in the Kojiki, there are only a handful of sentences between Izanami’s death and this conversation, so to modern readers it feels as if very little time has actually passed.
[xlvii] I’m not sure if I buy into this interpretation. My experience with business meetings in Japan is: 1) the boss comes in and says what he wants to do, 2) everyone agrees that’s a good idea, 3) everyone gets drunk together at the end of the week and subordinates throw out ideas, 4) another meeting takes place where the boss says they’ll use so-and-so’s new idea. Or all steps are condensed into a single game of じゃんけん jan-ken rock, paper, scissors.
[xlviii] And before you say, Marky, every culture keeps dead bodies out of the house. This tradition changed in Japan after the arrival of Buddhism. Wakes came to be held in homes until funerals could take place. Actually, this still happens in the countryside. In some cultures, people keep corpses for weeks or years in their homes and let the kids play with them.
[xlix] Actually, they built a temporary structure called a 喪 mogari in which the body was laid out until it began rotting. After it started to putrefy, the body would be buried.
[l] In Old Japanese, Yomi tsu was read as /yömötsu/.
[li] Most of which were also probably oral.
[lii] Plus, this was the standard hairstyle for men, so people would spot such a plot hole quickly.
[liii] Also, remember how it was considered inappropriate for a woman to initiate sex and we think this wasn’t a native Japanese concept, but a Confucian patriarchal idea borrowed from China? Writing Izanami out of the next few lines of the Kojiki probably lends itself to making Izanagi the patriarch of all the elite court families of the Kofun Period.
[liv] Presumably he dies or “hides” like many kami before him.
[lv] And sometimes invaders.

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