The mythology of Japan has an epic history (including that of the Samurai!), beginning from 2,000 years ago. It embraces two major religious traditions, the Shinto and Buddhist traditions; moreover, folk religion was used as an agricultural base.
Japanese mythology contains quite a few numbers of gods, goddesses, and spirits. In fact, most of the myths are related to the creation of the world and the foundation of different islands in Japan. In the same way, it also tackles the distinct activities of humans; as well as some magical creatures, animals and deities.
There are stories in Japanese mythology that describe the characters and events in a very remarkable manner. Furthermore, some stories were even set in legendary locations, including the heavens and the underworld in particular.
Subsequently, different Japanese myths are arguably famous in the mainstream today.
What has been the basis of Japanese Mythology?
Kojiki, the Nihon Shoki, and some complementary books became the basis of Japan’s mythology.
The Kojiki is the oldest surviving source of Japanese mythology, legends, and history. It is recognized by many as the “Record of Ancient Matters”.
The purpose of the study of the Kojiki is to trace the imperial ancestry from the foundation of Japan.
On the other hand, the religious traditions Shinto and Buddhism have two different perspectives. The Shintōshū tells about the origins of Japanese deities. However, it is from the perspective of Buddhism. While the Hotsuma Tsutae holds different versions of the mythology that are essential.
One of the most notable features of Japanese myths is its explanation of the Imperial Family’s origin. It is utilized to designate godhood to the imperial lineage. Indeed, it has been a massive influence.
The narrative of Japan’s creation has two parts; the Kamiumi or the “birth of the deities” and the Kuniumi, the “birth of the land”.
Japanese Creation Myth
The first deities came into existence during the creation of the universe. And they are the Kotoamatsukami.
Following them and the formation of heaven and earth are the seven generations of Kami. They are known as Kamiyonanayo or the “Seven Generations of the Age of the Gods”.
The first two generations were the Hitorigami; they are individual deities. While the five generations after them came into being as male/female pairs of Kami, they were surprisingly brothers and sisters that were also married couples.
The Kamiyonanayo comprises 12 deities in total in this chronicle.
On the contrary, The Nihon Shoki mentioned the Kamiyonanayo group was first to appear before the Kotoamatsukami.
In their mythology, everything in nature has a Kami or a deity. However, there were those significant deities that surely have the most significant roles in Japanese mythology.
Here is a list of some of the most remarkable and major deities and characters of Japanese mythology:
Number one: Izagani and Izanami
They both are siblings that are the two most important creator deities. They made the eight great islands of Ancient Japan. These are the following:
They were also the reason behind a lot of gods and goddesses’ existence, especially Izagani, who was the one who literally made a massive number of deities. He was even the creator of the sun, moon, and storms’ deities.
Sun, Moon, and Storms (The story behind its creation)
After recovering from his descent to Yomi, Izagani went on to clean himself. As he was undressing and removing adornments from his body, each item that drops will then form into a deity. Even more gods and goddesses came into being when he went to the water to wash. However, the most important ones were born once the water made contact with his face:
- Amaterasu, the incarnation of the sun – it was from his left eye.
- Tsukuyomi, the incarnation of the moon – it was from his right eye.
- Susanoo, the incarnation of the storms – it was from his nose.
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Number Two: Amaterasu
The sun goddess Amaterasu is perhaps one of the most famous among all of them. Amaterasu is the ancestor of the imperial family. She is the one who provides light to the world and is the one responsible for fertility. And one of the most important shrines in Japan is her shrine.
Number Three: Tsukiyomi
Tsukiyomi is the god of the moon. He is one of the two brothers of Amaterasu. Tsukiyomi isn’t as famous as his siblings, but he still has his own responsibility as a god. He was responsible for taking control of the night and the moon.
Number Four: Susanoo
Susanoo is the god of the storms. He is the brother of Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi. Although when it comes to popularity and significance, he comes second after his sister Amaterasu. He is the one who owns the sea. However, in other versions of the story, Susanoo governs not only the seas: he also rules all the elements of a storm, including snow and hail – even the sand, but in very rare cases.
Number Five: Prince Okuninushi
Okuninushi represents the power structure in the Izumo area. He is Susanoo’s descendant.
Number Six: Inari
The appearance of god Inari is lesser than any other deity, but he is just as important. That is because of his association with the growing of rice – the major food crop in Japan. Moreover, Inari is the patron of merchants and sword makers to bring prosperity.
Japanese mythology still includes a vast number of other deities. Many of these deities have even used unfamiliar weapons that made them unique.
These deities, therefore, are native to Japanese beliefs and religious traditions – may it be a major or minor deity.
Mythical Creatures of Japan
Yamata no Orochi – is the eight-headed and eight-tailed Japanese serpent-dragon. His body can reach across eight valleys and eight hills. He was killed by Susanoo because he always devours the daughter of the couple whom he met. That was all after he was exiled from the heavens.
Yatagarasu – the crow with three legs, is a raven or a jungle crow. The appearance of the bird explains the will of Heaven. And also the divine intervention in human affairs. The crow is a mark of rebirth and rejuvenation in Japan.
Kinshi – the golden kitten that is literally blindingly bright. It was the one who aided Jimmu, and it may be a double of the Yatagarasu.
Watatsumi – the legendary water deity in Japanese mythology. The deity rules the upper, middle, and lower seas, respectively. Also, he is the sea god – often called Ryujin or the Dragon god.
Ōnamazu – the giant catfish; it dwells in the underground world that causes earthquakes. The catfish was put down by the god Takemikazuchi.
Shinigami – the Japanese god of death or simple “death spirit”. They are gods of supernatural spirits that invite human towards death. The Shinigami’s image is similar to monsters and helpers, creatures of darkness. Yet, they are also said to be some “fallen angels”. But there are a lot of cultures which describe the Shinigami as “death” themselves.
Why is Japanese mythology important?
Mythology plays a significant role in the lives of everyone – may it be Japanese or not. These Japanese myths and legends have become the basis of the Japanese tradition.
Moreover, the Japanese mythology transcends within the Japanese arts, dramas, and literature. A lot of people just find gods and goddesses fascinating.
Despite the historic diverseness, Japanese myth is still essential. It tells the story of how the Imperial family began – which still exists today.