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Myth / Japanese Mythology

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Izanami and Izanagi

Naturally, modern Japanese anime, manga, video games, etc. often make references to their country's mythology. The Kojiki and Nihon-Shoki, 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 Shinto with 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.


The Creation Myth

In the beginning, there was darkness, stars, and an endless ocean. Amongst the first gods born 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 malformed 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 traveled 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 the 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 to pull 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 honor, 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.

The Serpent

Susanoo was kicked out of heaven for being a jerk, and sometime 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, Kushinada-hime, 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 Mower". Susanoo gave it to his sister as a sign of good faith, though he remained no less of a jerk.

The three sacred artifacts 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 valor, respectively. They are said to have been brought to Japan by Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of Amaterasu and an 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 errors 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, and 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: Izanagi and Izanami pulled Japan and the other islands and continents out of the water using the Ame no Nuhoko (Heavenly Swamp Pike or Heavenly Jeweled Pike). After the creation of the world, however, the whereabouts of the spear is unknown.
  • 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.
    • Izanagi and Izanami are also siblings who have many children together before Izanami's death.
  • 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.
  • Continuity Snarl: Was Amaterasu conceived by Izanagi and Izanami while the latter was still alive? Or was Amaterasu the byproduct of Izanagi washing himself of the filth from Yomi? The Kojiki and Nihon-Shoki both say different things. And say nothing of the myth where she sends her grandson to rule over the world...
  • Cool Sword: Ame-no-Murakumo AKA Kusanagi, the sword Susanoo takes 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 Suseri-hime, 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.
  • Diabolus ex Nihilo: To this day, no one knows how Orochi came into existence. It just appeared, terrorized the earthly deity, get killed by Susanoo, and that's it.
  • 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. Ame-no-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.
  • Dragon Ancestry: Emperor Jimmu, the mythical first Emperor of Japan, was the grandson of Oto-hime, the daughter of the dragon god of the sea Ryujin.
  • Dragons Are Demonic: Orochi, the eight-headed serpent dragon slain by Susanoo, god of thunderstorms, and a being powerful enough to frighten the earthly gods of the area into doing nothing as he eats their daughters.
  • Dragons Are Divine: The god of storms Ryujin, who is depicted as a great dragon. His daughter Oto-hime is considered one of the grandmothers of Emperor Jimmu, the mythical first Emperor of Japan.
  • 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.
  • God of Good: Amaterasu usually holds this position, that there are absolutely no negative or jerky portrayals of her in anything, she's either representing all goodness or portrayed as the sympathetic side. Susanoo, Tsukuyomi or Izanami (and sometimes even Izanagi) usually get portrayed as the bad/flawed side.
  • 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. She also basically saved Japan by using her womanly assets to lure Amaterasu out of her hiding place (technically making ruckus using her womanly assets that Amaterasu got curious and took a peek), enabling others to pull her out and restoring sunlight to Japan.
  • 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 Gods: Susanoo, prior to his exile.
    • 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 countryside 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.
  • Lord of the Ocean: The dragon Ryujin was the god of the sea. He lived in a palace under the ocean and, depending on the legend, has played both heroic and villainous roles, reflecting the ever-changing nature of the sea.
  • 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 Oto-hime: 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.
  • Night and Day Duo: Siblings Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi are the solar and lunar deities, respectively. One legend goes that, after Tsukuyomi killed the goddess of food, Amaterasu was so offended by his violent act she demanded she never see him again. Thus, the sun and the moon rose separately.
  • 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 (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.
  • Solitary Sorceress: The mountain hag Yama-Uba lives in the remote mountains and eats people.
  • Thunder Drum: One of oldest examples with the local thunder god Raijin, who pounds on ring of drums on his back to create thunder and lightning.
  • 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 Jerkass, 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.
  • Visible to Believers: This system is in place for the "kami", the gods/spirits/ancestors that control natural phenomena. In Shinto mythology, the kami are Anthropomorphic Personifications of natural phenomena, objects, or concepts that reside in an "invisible world" outside of human perception, but that is still part of the real world. In order to see them, the first step is to already believe they're there, but that's not the only requirement. Only the Pure of Heart will be able to fully see and interact with them.
  • 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).


Example of: