Thursday, July 15, 1999

How Japan Was Born

This is the story of how Japan was born. A long long time ago, it all began with the goddess Izanami and her brother Izanagi, who descended from heaven across the Celestial Bridge, the Milky Way, stirred the watery chaos, and, once it settled down and solidified, came to earth. The first thing that happened was that Izanami spoke first, praising her husband. As a result, their first child was born without arms or legs. This angered Izanagi, so he arranged to redo the whole event, and this time he spoke first.

The god brother and sister team did the naughty and produced a number of offspring. These included the sea, other islands, rivers, mountains, vegetation, and many other gods. First born of the gods was Amaterasu, who was born from a tear of the left eye of Izanagi. Amaterasu taught people to plant rice and to weave cloth.

Izanami continued to give birth to other deities. After birthing the sea, the mountains, and the eight islands of Japan, she gave birth, finally, to the god of fire. His birth burned her lower body so badly that she fell desperately ill and died. But before she did, other gods rose from her vomit, urine, and excrement.

Izanagi, enraged, seized his sword and cut off the head of his son, the fire-god, and from the blood, other spirits were born.

When Izanami had finished giving birth to all the gods, she retired to the underworld to build herself a castle. This distressed Izanagi, who missed her companionship, so he went into the underworld to find her and bring her back. Izanami refused to return, saying she needed time to be alone, and shut herself up in a room in her castle. Impatient, Izanagi followed her there, only to discover she had reverted to a more primitive form. The look of her frightened him, as did the Shikomes, eight thunder demons who surrounded her, and he fled, to be pursued by the Shikomes as well as 1500 assistant devils and Izanami herself. When they reached the Even Pass, the place between the Upper World and the Underworld, they stopped to talk things over, after which Izanagi went on to the upperworld, and Izanami returned to her castle in the Underworld.

Now Amaterasu (her full name is Amaterasu Omikama – “heaven-shining great goddess”), born from a tear (as opposed to a twinkle) in her father’s eye, had a brother. His name was Susano, and he was the Storm God. One day, Susano sought his father, Izanagi’s permission to go visit his sister. The story is recorded in the Kojiki, the “record of ancient matters,” the earliest text of Japanese writing. Susano’s visit, so the story goes, so frightened Amaterasu, that she hid in a cave, taking with her the light of the world.

There was good reason for her to hide. Susano had long been a trouble maker. He had broken down the divisions Amaterasu had placed to separate one rice field from another, had filled in the irrigation ditches, and had fouled her home. At first, Amaterasu had forgiven him, attributing such behavior to drunkenness, which we all know, is forgivable in Japan. But one day, while she was weaving, Susano came in and threw a horse over his head, killing one of her maids.

So here she is, Ms. Omikami, in the cave, and try as they may, the eight million spirits of the Plan of Heaven tried everything cannot entice her back out again. They assemble trees in front of the cave, cover them with jewels, light bonfires, and laugh and shout, apparently so she will think she’s missing a really fun party and want to join in. They set nocturnal birds near the entrance to the cave and make them sing. In unison, they recite liturgical orations. Finally, when nothing else works, so they decide to call on a female spirit called Uzume to perform an obscene dance. Uzume stomps the ground, bares her breasts and drops her skirt in a lascivious and provocative dance that causes the gods to burst out laughing. Now to modern thinkers, this suggests either that Amaterasu Omikami kept some of her horses in the Lesbian stables, or maybe, since the guys were laughing so much, that lascivious doesn’t mean today what it did then, but in any case, it seems to have worked. Curious at the commotion, Amaterasu peeked out. The assembled gods held out a mirror before her. She had never seen a mirror before, and came out for a closer look, thus bringing light back to the world. The gods tied a rope across the entrance of the cave to prevent her from reentering, and since that time the sun has dazzled the earth each day.

Susano fled to earth to live in exile, and to this day Amaterasu is worshiped at the great shrine in Ise, the center of all Shinto worship. She is known by other names, including Ohirume, Shimmei, and Tenshoko Daijin.

Now you folks who think this is all a bit off color, I ask you to consider how rebuilding the world with only one male and one female of each animal species after Noah’s flood, covering Job with boils to win a poker game with the devil, limiting folks’ language acquisition skills just because they want to build a building so tall they can see you better, and slaying you dead just because you spit your seed into the sand sounds to the Japanese.

But why go there? There’s so much more to the Amaterasu story. Check out Mythical Genitals, for example…

July 15 , 1999

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