As a fellow viewer of anime, you have probably noticed that many anime movies, and series contain strong mythological, religious, spiritual aspects to them. In the following page I will cover some of the basic creation myths of the Shinto belief system.
Note: Before any of you fellow anime fans write me to say you got this detail or that detail wrong, or I read this or that, and you don’t know what your talking about, please remember that many of the main early Japanese history texts, such as the Kojiki (712CE) and the Nihongi (720CE) were based on the oral story tradition, and they were passed down generation to generation for many years (maybe hundreds of years), and these stories varied from region to region. In my copy of the Nihongi, some passages contain notes giving details on up to eight different versions of the same passage, so for the most part I have chosen to write about the most commonly accepted versions, or the version I felt were the most poetic, mythic, or the most easily understandable.
Above is the ideograms for the term Shinto. If you divide the above ideogram down the middle the one on the left means=shin, and the one on the right means=to in Chinese means spirit way, translated into Japanese it is Kami no Michi or Way of the Gods.
The record of the term’s first use, dates back to 720CE, in the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan) it is a semi historic account of the founding of Japan and a history of its emperors, and Japan’s major clans, this text is a much more scholarly version of the Kojiki.
The Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) 712CE, is a much more mytholigal look at the history of Japan. In the Kojiki are the creation myths of the gods, Japan, divine descent of the emperor, and other mythic tales.
Both texts are available on the Internet for download, but I preferred to purchase published versions, because they come with many translation notes, and other scholarly notes.
Many scholars have identified several sources of influence that make up the Japanese racial stock and they are East Asian, Oceanic, Chinese, Mongol, as well as other groups. So the myths of Japan contain many sources of possible influence in them, as well as the influence of Confucianism, and Buddhism. But on this page I will attempt to only discuss “Native Shintoism”.
The creation myth taken from the Kojiki as follows.
It the begining before the seperation of In and Yo, this is the same thing as the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang, this also mean that heaven and earth, light and dark, male and female had not separated. The entire mass of existence formed a egg with the pure elements rising to the outside forming the heavens, and the impure elements congealing on the inside forming the Earth. The first generation of gods were born in the heavens, and they were called.
Ame no mi-naka-nushi (heaven middle master)
Umashi-ashi-kabi hikoji (sweet reed-shoot prince elder)
The next generation of gods and also the first god to touch the earth was.
Kuni-toko-tachi (land eternal stand of august thing), he formed out of a reed shoot that appeared out of the earth and grew into the heavens. Now I will skip several generation of gods, if you would like to know them consult a copy of the Kojiki or buy a copy of Myths and Legends of Japan by Hadland Davis. Most of the other generations of the gods were born as brother/sister/husband/wife pairs with each generation giving birth to the next generation. Now I will skip to the seventh generation of the gods, the one which has the most influence on Japanese Shintoism.
The seventh generation of the gods was a brother/sister pair called
Izanagi no Mikoto (he who invites)
Izanami no Mikoto (she who invites)
Below is a painting of the couple.
They stood on the floating bridge of heaven overlooking the impure germ which would become the earth, they wanted to find out what was below them so the thrust a giant jeweled spear into the ocean and pulled it out, the spears drippings formed an island called (Onogooro-jima) (some interpret this to be the main island of Japan). The pair then descended to the surface and erected a pillar to the heaven, then Izanami chased Izanagi around the pole and said what a fine male I have found, then they made love, and she gave birth to an monster and it was discarded into the void. Then Izanagi said I am the man and should have spoken first, so he chased Izanami around the pillar and said what a lovely maiden I have found, then they made love, and Izanami gave birth to islands, river, mountains, crops, birds, and so forth (some say that this version establishes the dominance of men over women). After a while they wondered if they should produce the future ruler of this universe, after a while Izanami gave birth to the Sun Goddess (Amaterasu), so great was her light, and brilliance that they sent her up into the high plain of heaven so her light could be spread over the heavens and earth. Next Izanami gave birth to the Moon God (Tuskiyumi), the parents thought he would make a mate for Amaterasu, but she disliked his pale nature, so he was sent to the other side of the high plane of heaven, so they could be separated. Then Izanami next gave birth to the God of Ill Omens/Wind God/Storm God (Susa-no-o), he was eventually banished to the land of the dead (I talk about that later). Later Izanami gave birth to the Fire God (Kagutsuchi) burning herself, and making her ill, so she departed to the land of the dead over the objections of Izanagi. She told Izanagi not to follow her into the impure land, but he missed her so much that he followed her there, she saw him looking at her impure and disfigured body, and grew very angry. She and some demons from the land of the dead chased him out into the world, and in her anger she killed many people, Izanagi told her to stop and that he was sorry, so Izanami returned to the land of the dead, Izanagi then gave birth to many more people than Izanami had killed. After this, Izanagi purified himself giving birth to many more gods, and his job being done he then departed to an island of gloom to hide himself away. In another version of the creation myth the gods (Amaterasu, Tuskiyumi, and Susanoo), are not created until after Izanami’s departure to the land of the dead. In this version the three gods were created as a result of Izanagi purification, with the three gods being created from is eyes, and nose. Thus ends the story of Izanagi and Izanami.
Note. Their story is the basis for the dominance of male over female, life over death, light over darkness, separation of the pure and impure, and the Divine birth of the lands of Japan.
Note there are many different translations, and interpretations of the above story, including differences between the Kojiki and the Nihongi. So, do more reading and researching for yourself.
The story of the quarreling siblings, Amaterasu and Susanoo.
After their creation, each of the three gods were granted a separate dominion by Izanagi. After seeing Amaterasu, Izanagi gave his great jeweled necklace to Amaterasu, and told her to rule to the brilliant high plain of heaven. He then charged Tuskiyumi with the rule of the night world, and last he charged Susanoo with rule of the sea/wind plain. After this Amaterasu, and Tuskiyumi departed to their assigned realms, but Susanoo refused to leave. Susanoo wept and wailed for his lost mother, so much so that it caused great storms, and rivers and lakes dried up. Izanagi grew angry with Susanoo, and asked why do you not rule the realm granted to you? At this Susanoo declared he wanted to be with his mother in the land of the dead, so Izanagi banished him from the high plain of heaven. After Izanagi banished Susanoo he departed forever and hid himself away.
Susanoo travelled up to the high plain of heaven to visit his sister, as he rose the mountains shook, the seas quaked, and the rivers moaned. Amaterasu, upon hearing this uproarfeared Susanoo bad intentions, and made herself ready for battle. Amaterasu tied her hair into two bundles, donned her great neck-less, put on two quivers of arrows, one quiver containing 1000 arrows, and the other containing 500 arrows, cleared a great trench in the earth, raised a great bow, and waited for her brothers attack.
Susanoo told his sister he has no bad intentions, he just wanted to meet with her before his departure. As proof of this Susanoo says that they should swear to each-other and produce children, standing on the other side of the river of heaven Amaterasu told Susanoo to give her his great sword as a sign of trust. Susanoo give her his great sword, she washed it in the well of the heavens, it broke into pieces, she than chewed the pieces and three female gods were born. Then Amaterasu gave Susanoo her great neck-less, he took it and washed it in the well of the heavens, and than chewed the jewels, and five male gods were born from the pieces. Amaterasu declared that the males gods were born from her so she said that they belonged to her, and that the female gods were born from him so they belonged to him. Susanoo seeing the beauty of the female gods felt he had gained the better part of the deal.
Below is a picture of Amaterasu.
Next is a picture of Susanoo.
Amaterasu enters the cave of night, and the banishment of Susanoo.
Susanoo thinking he got the better part of the deal went on to cause a great deal of trouble in the high plain of heaven, ruining the rice fields, throwing excrement in Amaterasu hall, and when Amaterasu was in her weaving hall with her maidens, he then threw a flayed horse down through the roof frighting some of her maidens to death. This angered Amaterasu so much that she retreated into a cave locking herself away. When Amaterasu locked the cave she plunged the high plain of heaven, and the world into complete darkness. The gods gathered at the cave and tried to get Amaterasu to return her light to the world, but she refused to come out. So the gods came up with a plan, so they made a sacred mirror, a great string of curved holy jewels, and they caused a great deal of merrymaking and dancing to occur outside the cave’s entrance. Amaterasu became curious and peered outside the cave’s entrance, as she looked outside the cave, they held the mirror in front of her, when she saw her image she came a little further outside. When Amaterasu came outside the other gods grabbed her and pulled her all the way out of the cave, thus restored her light to the high plain of heaven and the world.
A picture of Amaterasu leaving the cave of night.
The expulsion of Susanoo from the high plain of heaven.
After Amaterasu left the cave of night, and her light was restored to heaven and earth, the eight hundred gods of the high plain of heaven chose to expel Susanoo once and for all. They cut Susanoo’s beard, pulled out his fingernails and toenails, and imposed a fine on him before expelling him from heaven. Before leaving Susanoo begged the Princess of Great Food to give him provisions. So, she created many dishes from her mouth, nose, and other body parts, Susanoo feeling slighted killed the Princess. From her body parts sprang many wondrous things, silkworms, millet, rice seeds, barley, small beans, and large beans. Her husband took these many wonderful things and used then to seed the heavens and the earth. Susanoo was promptly tossed out of the high plain of heaven.
Note. Isn’t it wonderful how from the death of a goddess, sprang many life giving items, in Shinto even death provides life.
The tale of Susanoo and Kushinada-hime (the wondrous inada princess).
When Susanoo was expelled from heaven, he descended to the Japan’s province of Izumo. When he landed he heard an elderly couple crying, he inquired to the nature of their sadness, and they replied that the great eight headed serpent (Yamata no Orochi) had eaten seven of their eight daughters, and all they had left was their last daughter (Kushinada-hime). Susanoo seeing the beauty of the last daughter, made the couple an offer, if they wanted him to slay the serpent they had to grant him their daughter’s hand in marriage, and the couple agreed. Susanoo had the couple brew a huge batch of Saki (rice wine), he then divided the Saki into eight large tubs. Susanoo then placed the tubs near where they knew the serpent would come. The serpent arrived and saw the Saki and proceeded to drink all the Saki, the serpent became drunk and soon feel asleep. Once the serpent was asleep, Susanoo took out his sword and chopped off all the serpent’s heads, he then proceeded to cut the rest of the monster apart, and reaching one of the serpent’s tails struck some thing metal. From the tail of the serpent, Susanoo drew forth a great curved sword, and this sword was called the heaven cloud gathering sword, later called (Kusanagi). After killing the serpent, Susanoo sent the sword up to Amaterasu as a peace offering. Susanoo the retired to Suga, in the province of Izumo, built a castle, and married Kushinada-hime and they had many children. Later one of Susanoo’s sons would almost rival one of Amaterasu grandson’s for control of Japan.
Below is a picture taken from Wikipedia of Susanoo and the serpent.
Note. The items from the above stories would go on to be called the three sacred treasures of Japan.
1. The Sword (Kusanagi) supposedly housed in the Atsuta shrine.
2 The Mirror (Yata-no-Kagami) supposedly housed at Amaterasu’s shrine at Isle.
3. The Holy Jewel/in some other translations these are refered to as white crystal balls ( Yasakani-no-Magatama) are supposedly housed in the imperial shrine in Kokyo (Toyko) in the imperial palace.
The sword is supposed to stand for valor, the mirror is supposed to stand for wisdom, and the jewel is supposed to stand for kindness/caring.
Below is a picture of the three treasures, the items shown are probably reproductions, as the originals are irreplaceable, and priceless.
Note.If your a fan of Japanese movies or anime, you should notice that the three treasures show up in many Japanese movies and anime. The Anime Blue Seed features a lot of the characters, and items from the above stories. Also the anime Sailor Moon features the three sacred treasures in it’s storyline. Also, the are many other movies and anime featuring these items and characters, so keep your eyes open and you’ll see them.
The story of the devine descent of the imperial family.
After a period of time the gods whom lived in the high plain of the heavens became worried about disturbances throughout Japan. The pantheon of Japanese gods sent three heavenly messengers down to Izumo to pacify the land, but the first two never reported back, the third one married and shirked his duty, and was killed by the angry gods. Two later gods were sent down, and this time they did there duty and began to pacify the land making it ready for Amaterasu’s grandchild. Amaterasu presented her grandson Ninigi-no-Mikoto with the three sacred treasures, and sent him and several other gods down to Izumo to rule Japan. Ninigi assumed his duties and feel in love with Princess Kono-Hana, this angered her older sister Princess Iha-Naga whom thought that she as elder sister should marry Ninigi. But, Ninigi still chose to marry Kono-Hana, and this so angered Iha-Naga that she cursed the future children of Ninigi and Kono-Hana. The couple lived happily for a while, then Ninigi grew jealous of Kono-Hana, and this jealousy drove Kono-Hana set a wooden hut that she retreated into on fire. The flames consumed her body leaving behind three baby boys, later the one named Hoori (Fire-shine), would go on to become the grandfather of the first mortal Emperor of Japan, Jimmu Tenno.
Below is a picture of Japan’s first human Emperor Jimmu Tenno.
Note. In the above page I have discussed how Shinto creation myths have founded the basis for many Shinto principles. Such as the domination of male over female, the separation of the pure and impure, the dominance of life over death, the Divine creation of the Japanese lands, the Divine creation of natural things such as rivers and mountains, and the divine right of the Emperors. The Emperor did not renounce his divinity until he was forced to by the allies at the end of WWII. Many of the principles of the Shinto creation myths still affect Japanese culture to this day, such as ritual purification before entering a Shinto shrine.
In the future I will write pages dealing with additional Shinto topics such as, Shinto Kami (place gods/man gods/ancestral gods), Shinto shrine practices, Shinto festivals, and how Shintoism has changed over the centuries (pre-history Shintoism to modern Shintoism). Thanks for reading any comments or questions will gladly accepted.