Japanese mythology is a belief system considered complex to understand because it is influenced by other cultures or religions that are adapted and modified to be typical of the country.
This mythology has influenced us to this day in art, manga comics, literature and music. All the elements of Japanese mystical folklore bring us unique ideas and aesthetics. Many of them have been exported to other cultures, Japan has lived in isolation from other cultures for many centuries and this gives it a special character. A culture almost as popular as Greek mythology.
Japanese Mythology, general concepts
Classical Japanese mythology is known as Shinto and is based on the belief in the existence of numerous kami or deities, which can take many forms, from nature spirits to deified ancestors and gods associated with abstract concepts such as creation and death.
Kami are considered local deities that inhabit Shinto shrines throughout Japan and are worshiped by the faithful in ceremonies and festivals. Japanese mythology also includes stories of heroes and gods that are intertwined with Japanese history and culture, many of them confronting fantastic mythological creatures.
Gods of Japanese Mythology
The goddess Amaterasu is known as the sun goddess of Japan. She is one of the most important deities of the Shinto pantheon and is considered the legendary ancestor of the Japanese imperial family.
In Japan she is worshiped for being considered the mother of the imperial house and supreme mythological representation, so in her honor is built the great shrine of Ise and at the entrance of this you can see some horses that are dedicated to this sun goddess, these are dressed and moved to a place of the holy shrine 3 times a month to bow their heads in reverence to Amaterasu.
Under the name of Susanoo we find the divinity known for his brutality who rules the sea, storms and battles, who is the brother of Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi other gods.
Fight against his sister Amaterasu
When confronted with his sister, he wanted to prevent unnecessary injuries, so he challenged her to participate in a contest of creative power.
The same consisted of each creating as many minor divinities that were strong and better than the other’s. This was divided into rounds:
- The goddess broke her brother’s sword, 3 fragments remained and she ate them and created 3 beautiful goddesses.
- Susanoo, wanting to overcome her, took the fertility beads of his sister and from these he created 5 very aggressive gods, so he proclaimed himself the winner, although Amaterasu said that as these belonged to her, she was the winner.
Consequently, furious Susanoo destroyed the sacred spinning mill where the goddess lived, not being this enough butchered and distributed all over the place the body of the celestial horse of the divinity.
Amaterasu was frightened to see him dead and ran to hide in the cave of Yamato Iwato, where he locked himself up, which led to the arrival of eternal darkness.
So, Susanoo was taken to an audience where 800 gods judged him and found him guilty of murdering the celestial horse, frightening his sister and causing eternal darkness, along with the death of Amaterasu’s maidens.
The name Tsukuyomi refers to the moon god who, together with Amaterasu and Susanoo, is one of the “3 noble sons”. He emerged when Izanagi, the god who created the first land Onogoro-shima and washed away his sins after escaping from the underworld and the wrath of his wife Izanami.
This character ascended to the heavens through a celestial ladder, where he lived with his sister Amaterasu, the solar goddess. But this ended when he killed Uke Mochi, divinity of food at a party harming humans, so angry she promised that they would not live together again, or to see each other.
This is the origin of the legend that the sun always hides from the moon and they never meet, because Amaterasu runs away from Tsukuyomi to avoid seeing him.
With the name of Hachiman we find the God of the samurai warriors and archery, this should not be confused with the deity of war.
On the other hand, some different currents of the country also classify him as the deity of agriculture that also protects Japan, since he seeks to maintain peace, as well as prosperity and happiness of its inhabitants.
His name translated means “God of the 8 banners” which represents the 8 banners of the first emperor Ojin.
Consequently, it is believed that sailors, fishermen, farmers and peasants worshipped him because he guided and protected them.
His symbol is the dove who was also his messenger, so it was believed that the spirit of Hachiman dwelled in the sound of traditional Hachiman drums and the clash of swords in battle so during these they made them sound to accompany them.
It should be noted that this character is so relevant in the culture that there are about 25,000 temples that were built in honor within Japan, in addition to several villages, cities and towns, have in their name something that refers to Hachiman.
Japanese mythological creatures
Within the anthology of Japan there is a great variety of characters that for centuries have terrified or pleased the people of Japan, which is why they still believe in these mythical creatures. Likewise, among the most famous are:
The 4 sacred beasts on Japanese Mythology
These represent the four cardinal points that are guarded by the 4 Sacred Beasts, which are considered sacred and divine animals that share features of the Chinese constellations.
In Japanese culture their job is to protect and guard the four sides of the city of Kyoto, so different temples were built to denote their importance in this anthology.
The north is protected by the turtle-like sacred beast with a coiled snake that is represented through the earth and winter.
Guardian of the south who has the appearance of a Phoenix that has fire as its element, and is the only one with a constellation.
Protector of the west who looks like a white tiger symbolizing the wind.
God of the east who looks like a blue dragon, and his element is water.
Shinigami, god of death on Japanese Mythology
Another mythological being from Japan is Shinigami, who is known as the god of death.
He is believed to cause humans to feel feelings and desires of death right on the date when they are destined to die, unconsciously deciding for humans how they will die.
Myths and legends on Japanese Mythology
The following are the most popular myths and legends:
1. Creation of the gods Izanagi and Izanami.
It is thought that the first gods created two divine beings, a god called Izanagi and a goddess called Izanami.
These beings were commissioned to create multiple islands along with new divinities that would come to earth.
This couple had many children but unfortunately when she gave birth Kagutsuchi known as the god of fire died, which devastated Izanagi who did not want to spend the rest of his days without his wife. He decided to travel to the Japanese land of the dead the Yomi.
The search for Izanagi
He set out on his search, but he did not like the darkness and began to feel nervous, so he proceeded to look for his wife, when he found her in the darkness he begged her to return with him, but she spat at him. He did not give up and kept trying to convince her until he succeeded, she asked him to let her sleep for a while, he agreed but went into his room where he saw his beloved deformed.
When she woke up and saw the rejection of her beloved, she became furious and proceeded to chase him with the intention of killing him with the support of the wild Shikomes or disgusting women, but the god managed to flee from a great persecution from which he almost did not manage to get out.
In the end Izanagi managed to arrive exhausted to the door that separated both worlds, where when crossing the threshold he closed the rock that divided them. On the other hand Izanami shouted furious, and cursed her husband and warned him that if he did not let her leave she would kill 1,000 men every day. This annoyed told him that he in return would give life to 1,500 men a day.
This led to the spread of death throughout the earth.
2. Namazu creator of earthquakes and tsunamis
On the Japanese Mythology, the creator of the earthquakes and tsunamis is a mythical being called Namazu, which is a giant catfish that lives underground, which was part of the Yokai, a series of Japanese monsters that are linked to disasters and all kinds of misfortunes.
It is a divinity that has the ability to become a horrible and gigantic fish that rules the waters with great strength.
Kashima the protector
The only one who can control this character is the god Kashima who is in charge of protecting the citizens of his misdeeds by placing his magical powers a heavy and huge stone on Namazu to keep him and his tail still.
It is a difficult and exhausting job that rivals at times with other activities he has to do for other gods and that is when Namazu provoked tremors spreading panic among the population.
When it happens Kashima reacts and presses him back against the stone.
In cases where the god cannot watch over it the one in charge is Ebisu, a calm and peaceful goddess who evokes good luck. Although this is not the most suitable for the job but she tried to control the impulsive movements of the catfish without much success until Kashima arrived. Which for the people represents the explanation of a violent earthquake. Taking into account its aftershocks, and the subsequent disappearance of the aftershocks.