Izanami and Izanagi
Naturally, modern Japanese anime
, video games
, etc. often make references to their country's mythology. The Kojiki
, historical records containing the first detailed accounts of Japanese folklore, act as the sources for many famous tales of heroes and legendary beasts. This, combined with the spiritual traditions of the Shinto religion and its vast pantheon of gods and demons, plus Buddhist influences, creates an abundant mythos. Here are summaries of some of the most well-known stories.
In the beginning, there was darkness, stars, and an endless ocean. The first gods were two siblings named Izanagi-no-Mikoto (male) and Izanami-no-Mikoto (female). They came down from heaven and created the first land by stirring the ocean with a spear, and after that they built a house, got married, and made some babies
. The first of these babies was the fishing god. The next eight were the islands of Japan. They had many more children, however, Izanami died giving birth to the god of fire, Kagutsuchi, and was sent to the underworld. Izanagi missed his wife and travelled there to retrieve her, to which she agreed on the condition that her husband was not to look at her until they reached the surface. Of course, he looked anyway, and saw that she was now a ghastly, rotting corpse. Izanagi freaked out and ran away, rolling a boulder in front of the entrance in order to escape Izanami's wrath. Izanami promised that she would kill 1,000 people every day in revenge. Izanagi countered that he would create 1,500 people every day. And that was the end of their marriage.
(Compare and contrast: Orpheus and Eurydice
The Three Great Gods
Purifying himself after escaping the underworld, Izanagi stripped, and each piece of clothing became a god. Lastly he washed his face in a stream, and from his left eye came Amaterasu-Oomikami, goddess of the Sun and ruler of heaven; from his right eye came Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto, god of the Moon and ruler of night; and from his nose came Susanoo-no-Mikoto, god of storms and ruler of the seas.
The volatile Susanoo didn't like his siblings or his job and grew ever more jealous, until one day Amaterasu tricked him into losing a bet. In retaliation he skinned a pony and threw it at her
while she was sewing, killing another goddess. So Amaterasu ran away and hid in a cave, plunging the world into darkness. No one could get her to come out, until Ame-no-Uzume, goddess of merriment, hatched a cunning plan. She hung a mirror and a necklace (the Yata no Kagami and the Yasakani no Magatama, respectively) on a tree outside the cave and danced around naked
making lots of noise to get attention. When Amaterasu poked her head outside to see what the commotion was about, she was enchanted by her own reflection
, allowing another god pulled her out of the cave and block the entrance. Thus, sunlight was restored, and all thanks to a striptease.
The slightly-less-volatile Tsukuyomi, meanwhile, got bored of perpetual darkness and decided to move in with Amaterasu (and in some versions marry her
). Things were going well until he went to a banquet in his sister's honour, which was hosted by Uke Mochi, the goddess of food, who provided the feast by vomiting and/or defecating
onto the table. Tsukuyomi was sickened and offended by this so he killed her
. Amaterasu was so upset by this that she vowed never to look at Tsukuyomi again, running away whenever she saw him, which is why day and night are separate. Clearly poor Amaterasu had to put up with a lot of abuse from her brothers.
Susanoo was kicked out of heaven for being a jerk, and some time later went to a village where he met a crying family. They explained that a giant eight-headed serpent called Yamata no Orochi had eaten all their daughters but one. Susanoo agreed to slay Orochi in return for the last daughter, Kushinadahime, as his wife. He killed the beast by laying out giant casks of saké for each head and cutting them off when they all became drunk. He found a sword in one of its tails that could cut anything, and called it Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi ("Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven"). It was later named Kusanagi, which means "Grass Cutter". Susanoo gave it to his sister as a sign of good faith, though he remained no less of a jerk.
The three sacred artefacts in the above myths, the mirror, the necklace, and the sword, are known as the Japanese Imperial Regalia, symbols of the divinity of the Emperor. They represent wisdom, benevolence, and valour, respectively. They are said to have been brought to Japan by Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of Amaterasu and ancient ancestor of the Imperial Family.
See also Youkai
This mythology contains examples of:
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Japanese "gods" are actually this. As due to translation error in the past, the closest english word for kami is actually "spirit", but are often mistaken as gods due to western people trying to understand Shinto religion. Likewise everything has a kami in Shinto, from puddles to stones even swords.
- Back from the Dead: Izanami, with disastrous results. Also Okuninushi, twice.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Okuninushi was a Nice Guy until Emperor Suujin's reign, when he caused a plague and demanded a new temple to end it. Doing so stopped the plague, but then made the next emperor's son dumb, requiring the emperor to build another temple to him.
- Big Beautiful Woman: Uzume is often depicted as being very cute and chubby. Even the leaner versions tend to have a softer look than the other main goddesses.
- Blade on a Stick: The Heavenly Jewelled Pike (pictured in the image above), which was used by Izanagi and Izanami to create the world by harpooning the sunken lands and bringing them to the surface.
- Blow You Away: Susanoo. Also the supposed powers of the Kusanagi Sword.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Most gods were related somehow, but prominently Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi.
- Not just brother and sister - Okuninushi, a distant descendant of Susanoo, married Suseri-hime, the daughter of Susano-o. Literally eight million kami to choose from and the guy thinks "Better marry my great great great great great great aunt". And all of this when he already had a wife.
- Also Izanagi and Izanami.
- Cains and Abel: Okuninushi has eighty cruel brothers who kill him twice. When his mother revives him for a second time, she has Okuninushi hide in the underworld where he meets Susanoo and Suseri-hime (see Overprotective Dad below). After the incident, Susanoo gives Okuninushi his Totsuga no Tsurugi and tells him to defeat his brothers and become ruler of Izumo.
- The conflicts between Amaterasu, Susanoo, and Tsukuyomi deserve special mention.
- Canon Immigrant: Bishamonten, also known as Vaisravana in India.
- Cool Sword: Ame no Murakumo AKA Kusanagi, the sword Susanoo makes from one of Orochi's tails. Also Totsuga no Tsurugi, which Susanoo use to slay Orochi and later give it to Okuninushi.
- Creepy Centipedes: During one of Okuninushi's trials to win Suserihime, he has to clean Susanoo's hair... which appears full of roaches, centipedes and spiders..
- Cue the Sun: When Amaterasu hid in a cave the world was plunged into darkness, thus getting her out of the cave caused this.
- Dem Bones: The Gashadokuro, a super sized skeleton created from collecting the skeletons of people who have died of starvation. It is known to bite the heads off humans it encounters and to be forewarned by a ringing in the ears. They often grow up to 15 times larger than a man.
- Distracted by My Own Sexy: When Susanoo tried to commit Grievous Harm with a Body on Amateratsu by throwing the body of one of her maidens at her, she fled and hid in a cave. Uzume got her back out by dancing naked for the other gods and by leaving a mirror in a nearby tree. When Amateratsu emerged to find out what all the noise was about, the combination distracted her long enough for the mouth of the cave to be barred with a magical rope.
- Divine Parentage: The Japanese Imperial Family claims lineage from Amaterasu herself.
- Fidelity Test: When Konohanasakuya got pregnant just one night after marriage to Ninigi. Ninigi suspected that it might not be his child. Konohana was enraged at Ninigi's accusation and entered a doorless hut which she then set fire to. She vowed that the child would not be hurt if it were truly the offspring of Ninigi. She, along with the three sons she gave birth to, emerged unscathed.
- Gender Bender: There are some tales featuring Amaterasu as a man.
- O-Inari can take the form of either a wise old man or an attractive young woman.
- Tsukuyomi has also been depicted as a goddess.
- God in Human Form: Susanoo, after he gets kicked out of Heaven.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Ame-no-Uzume. She uses her womanly assets to get a lot of things she wants, but she's not evil or malicious about it, and she even snagged her husband this way.
- Ho Yay: When Amaterasu finally came out of that cave, she did spend most of her time not looking at her reflection looking at Uzume (who was doing a stripper routine at the time).
- Immortal Immaturity: Susanoo, who basically spent most of the time acting like a drunken college frat boy with cosmic power.
- Incendiary Exponent: Kagutsuchi the Fire God, who was wreathed in flames when he was born, causing his mother's death.
- Innocent Flower Girl: Konohanasakuya, princess of blossom and wife of Ninigi.
- Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: Among several forms Inari could take, dragons are included. There were various dragon gods living in the ocean too.
- Jerkass God: Susanoo.
- Also, Raijin and Fuujin, the gods of thunder and wind.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Susanoo after his exile caused him to mature. He slew the serpent Orochi, made peace with his sister, and protected humanity from a plague. He is still a storm god and prone to tearing up the country side with his mischievous and impulsive nature.
- Light Is Good: Amaterasu. Then again, her brother, Tsukuyomi belongs in the other ballpark.
- Light Is Not Good: Tsukuyomi killed Uke Mochi after she provided him and Amaterasu a banquet from her nether regions. (In some versions it was Susanoo who did this, which makes more sense.)
- Legions of Hell: The monsters chasing after Izanagi.
- Making a Splash: Ryuujin, the Dragon God of the Ocean, who owns the jewels of the tides. Another memorable example is when Izanagi, in order to escape the hordes of Hell, pee against a tree, creating a giant river that stops the monsters.
- Meaningful Name: Amaterasu (Shining Heaven), Ryuujin (Dragon God), Okuninushi (Master of the Great Country) just to name a few.
- Ms. Fanservice: Ame no Uzume performed a strip dance to lure Amaterasu from her hiding. Later, when Ninigi no Mikoto was prevented from going to the Earth by the god of pathways Sarutahiko, Uzume convinced him to let Ninigi pass by... taking off her robe. Sarutahiko was so impressed by her boldness (also a few other things...) that he proposed marriage to Uzume, which she agreed to.
- Naked People Are Funny: When Uzume danced about naked on an upturned tub while Amaterasu was hiding in a cave what got her interest was the other Gods laughing at the sight.
- Never Smile at a Crocodile: Averted with Princess Otohime: after giving birth to her mortal son, she turned into a Wani (alligator) nine fathoms long and crawled back into the ocean, never to be seen again.
- Noble Wolf: Amaterasu is sometimes depicted as a white wolf. While Light Is Good in this case, white is generally associated with death.
- Offing the Offspring: Izanagi killed Kagutsuchi in fury of losing Izanami.
- Overly Long Name: Ame-nigishi-kuni-nigishi-amatsuhi-kohiko-ho-no-ninigi-no-Mikoto, better known as Ninigi-no-Mikoto or simply Ninigi.
- His father, Masaka-Akatsu-Kachihayahi-Ame-no-Oshihomimi-no-Mikoto, is not any better. Again, he's better known as Ame-no-Oshihomimi-no-Mikoto or simply as Oshihomimi.
- Basically ALL the gods have ridiculously long names. The ones used frequently are nearly always dramatically shortened.
- Orochi: The Real deal. Said to be so long and large that he had forests on his back, inhabitated by animals.
- Overprotective Dad: Susanoo tried to kill Okuninushi, who fell in love with his daughter, three times. He approved Okuninushi afterward though.
- Power of the Void: The Amatsu-Mikaboshi, kami of the Primordial Chaos and the stars.
- Primordial Chaos: The "primordial chaos" from which the Gods came from (and created the Heavenly Plains and later Earth) is described as dark, cold and jelly-like. The Star God Amatsu Mikaboshi is usually associated with the pre-Earth chaos.
- Sibling Rivalry: Amaterasu and Susanoo. He threw a skinned pony at her. They seem to have gotten over it after Susanoo gave her the Kusanagi sword.
- Toilet Humor: Japanese mythology is particularly notable for how frequently scatological it is. Susano-o gets thrown out of heaven for defecating in a temple; Izanagi stops when running away from the Legions of Hell to urinate (and creates another kami that way), and that's not even mentioning some versions of the story of Momotaro feature a cowpat kami.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Sarutahiko and Ame no Uzume.
- Unscrupulous Hero: Susanoo is a Jerk Ass, cheater and Spoiled Brat, but he's the god to call when an eight-headed dragon is eating your daughters. He does seem to grow up during his exile, later gifting a sword to Amaterasu.
- War God: At least two: Hachiman and Bishamonten.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Susanoo changes the peasant's last daughter into a comb and hides her in his hair before he goes to face Orochi... and she is never mentioned again. Some stories tell that he marries Kushinada as promised by her parents after defeating Orochi, but she's generally forgotten after they had Yashimashinumo, Okuninushi's ancestor.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Izanami-no-Mikoto. She dies horribly by being burned alive by her own son, and when her husband comes to retrieve her to the world of the living, he flees simply because she is undead. No wonder she gets pissed.
- World's Most Beautiful Woman: Amaterasu was the most beautiful goddess. Konohanasakuya was the most beautiful woman of her generation.
- Youngest Child Wins: Okuninushi. This may be a remnant of ancient Japanese succession rules, which were based on ultimogeniture (youngest child inherits) rather than primogeniture (eldest child inherits).