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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