AMATERASU OMIKAMI (the Sun Goddess)

The Japanese founding myths are collected in a volume known as the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters, 712). The stories tell of the formation of the Japanese islands and the founding of human society. One of the most important stories in this set of tales is the story of the Sun Goddess who is still the most important deity in Japan and the ancestor of the Imperial family. As you read the story below, think of what it says about female power and relations to others.


A long, long time ago, there was the female deity known as Amaterasu. One account says she was born from the god Izanagi when he used water to purify his left eye after a visit to the netherworld. Another says she was born after intercourse between Izanagi and Izanami (Nihon Shoki 720). She was the sun goddess and assigned to rule the High Celestial Plain (Takamagahara). Later she sent her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto, to pacify the Japanese islands, having given him the sacred mirror, sword and jewels that became the Imperial Regalia. His great-grandson became the first Emperor Jimmu. She had a beautiful garden in heaven. When she was around, birds sang merrily and flowers bloomed happily. She had a younger brother, Susanoo, who was a storm deity and very mischievous.

One day Susanoo looked around his sister's garden, and finding no one around, had a bad idea to show off what the could do. He blew strong winds and scattered Amaterasu's beautiful flowers all over the area. Having seen her garden totally ruined by his misdeeds, Amaterasu was deeply saddened, and hid herself in a cave behind a thick, heavy rock door. The whole world became completely dark and very cold. Days and weeks passed without sun, and everybody became sick and depressed. One day a female deity said, "I cannot stand this anymore. I will dance to cheer you all." So she started dancing a lewd dance. Then musicians started playing enticing music with drums and instruments. The dance and the music were so outrageous that everyone began laughing out loud. It turned out to be a big party in the darkness.

Meanwhile, behind the rock door in the cave, Amaterasu heard the strange noises outside and wondered what they were. She approached the door, and found that the noise was music. She felt that something interesting must be going on outside, so she came even closer to the door. Outside, the strongest deity was awaiting for that moment. as soon as he saw the first line of light coming through the rock door, he pulled on the door with his full strength. Amaterasu came out and shined again and order was restored. The was the beginning of the country of Japan.

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