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Japan's History

Japanese Mythology: The Disappearance of the Sun

Susanoo, the kami of the seas, was neglecting his duties and cried about how he longed to see his mother, Izanami, in the underworld. So, his father, Izanagi, sent him to go live in the underworld. Prior to leaving, Susanoo decided to visit his sister, Amaterasu, to say goodbye. She knew of Susanoo’s reputation as a troublemaker, so when she heard Susanoo was coming, she armed herself for battle. Susanoo was insulted that his sister did not trust him and they got into a big disagreement. To settle the argument, he challenged her to a contest. Amaterasu agreed.

Amaterasu asked for Susanoo’s sword. She then broke it into three pieces. Then she chewed them up and spat them out, creating three new kami. Susanoo then asked Amaterasu for her jewels. He chewed them up and spit out five new kami. Susanoo won the contest.

Susanoo then began to gloat over his victory. In his raucous celebration, he destroyed farmland and property. He flayed a horse and threw it at Amaterasu’s loom, inadvertently killing one of her maidens.

At this insult, Amaterasu went into a cave and shut herself in with a boulder. With the kami of the sun gone, the earth was plunged into darkness. Chaos ensued. The rest of the kami convened to see what they could do to convince Amaterasu to come out of the cave. They brought forth a large mirror. The kami Ame no Uzume, The Great Persuader, danced naked before a cheering crowd.

Amaterasu peeked out from the cave to see why everyone was cheering and celebrating. Ame no Uzume told her an even better and more beautiful kami than Amaterasu had come. They held up the mirror, showing Amaterasu her reflection. Amaterasu pushed the boulder back further to get a better look when one of the kami pulled Amaterasu out of the cave. Another kami pushed the boulder back over the opening to the cave and sealed it shut with a sacred rope called “shimenawa,” so she could not go back in.

Now that Amaterasu and her light returned to the world once again, the other kami approached Susanoo. As punishment for his behavior, they required him to provide 1,000 tables full of offerings to them. They shaved his beard, removed his nails, and cast him out of heaven.

Categories
Japan's History

The Japanese Creation Myth

Before there was land, the world was covered by an enormous sea. There were two kami (god or spirit) siblings named Izanagi and Izanami. These names translate literally into “he who invites” and “she who invites,” respectively. They received orders from the other kami to solidify the shape of the Earth. Together, they thrust a jeweled spear into the water and churned it. Mud congealed on the tip of the spear. When they lifted the spear from the water, the mud fell into the sea forming an island. 

Izanagi and Izanami went down to live on the island. They fell in love and married one another. They had eight children, which became the eight main islands of Japan. They gave birth to many more kami after that, such as the Kamis of wind, mountains, and rivers. When Izanami gave birth to the kami of fire, however, she was badly burned. Izanagi knelt beside his dying wife/sister in tears. As his tears fell, each tear created a new kami.

Izanami died and was sent to the underworld. In his grief, Izanagi went to the underworld to find her. Izanami told him that she would ask the kami of the underworld to release her but warned Izanagi not to look at her. After a time, curiosity got the better of Izanagi. He lit a torch so he could see his beloved Izanami once more. He was horrified to see that she was now a hideous, rotting corpse. In terror, he ran. Izanami chased him. 

When Izanagi returned to the land of the living, he placed a giant boulder in front of the entrance to the underworld. From behind the boulder, Izanami yelled that she would kill 1,000 people every day if he left her. Izanagi replied that in that case, he could create 1,500 people every day. This explained why every day many people die and still more people are born. 

Izanagi took a bath to purify himself. When Izanagi washed his left eye, the kami of the sun, Amaterasu, was created. When he washed his right eye, the kami of the moon, Tsukiyomi, was created. When he washed his nose, the kami of storms and the sea, Susanoo, was created. Amaterasu became the most important kami. All emperors of Japan claim to be descendants of this sun goddess. 

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