Early Myths of Japan:
A Paraphrase of the Creation Myths in the Kojiki and the Nihon
of a mass of vague and contradictory details emerged a mythical picture
of the creation of Japan and its people. For generations the story
was transmitted orally and finally written down. It begins thus:
Now when Chaos had begun to condense, but force and form were
not yet manifest, and there was naught named, naught done, who
could know its shape? Nevertheless, Heaven and Earth first parted
and the Three Deities performed the commencement of Creation; the
Passive-Active Essences then developed and the Two Spirits became
the ancestors of all things.(2)
[These] last two were Izanagi, the Male-Who-Invites, and his younger
sister Izanami, the Female Who-Invites. Upon Izanagi and Izanami
the command was laid:
to make, consolidate, and give birth to this drifting land. So the
two deities standing upon the Floating Bridge of Heaven pushed down
the jeweled spear and stirred with it; whereupon when they had stirred
the brine until it [curdled] and drew the spear up, the brine that
dripped down from the end of the spear piled up and became an island.(3)
Fourteen islands the pair created — eight great islands and six
lesser ones. The island with one body and four faces was called the
Lovely-Princess. Others were called by such names as Prince-Good-Boiled-Rice,
brave-Good-Youth, Luxuriant-Sun-Youth. Last born was Great-Yamato,
the Luxuriant-Island-of-the Dragonfly.
Having given birth to the islands of Japan, the creative pair produced
numerous gods and goddesses... The last of these was known as the
Deity of Fire. After his birth Izanami retired to Hades, leaving
the process of creation to be carried on by Izanagi alone. From his
sword, [belt], and other articles of clothing were born various deities.
The three most illustrious among them were... the Sun Goddess, the
Moon Goddess, and the God of Force, or Impetuous Male... Little more
is written of the moon Goddess, but the Sun Goddess and her brother,
Impetuous Male, carried on the task of creation by biting off and
crunching parts of the jewels and swords which they wore and blowing
them away. From the fragments were formed numerous gods and goddesses
who became the heads of various clans. Thus was man created to inhabit
Finally, the Sun Goddess and her brother quarreled violently. The
climax of the quarrel came when Impetuous Male broke a hole in the
roof of heaven, over the place where his sister and her celestial
weaving maidens were sitting at work. Through the hole he let fall
a piebald (black and white) horse. The Sun Goddess, infuriated, retired
into a cave, and darkness prevailed over all the universe. "The
Plain-of-High-Heaven was obscured, and all the Central-Land-of-Reed-Plains
The eight hundred deities, terrified at the darkness, undertook
to placate the Sun Goddess. For this purpose they met in assembly.
They ordered iron to be taken from the Heavenly-Metal Mountains.
Then they called in the smith, charged the Again Forging-Old-Woman
to make a mirror, and commanded His-Augustness-Grand-Jewel-Ancestor
to produce a string eight feet long of five hundred curved jewels.
They hung the newly wrought mirror and the jewels, together with
white... and blue... offerings, upon the branches of a tree. His-Augustness-Grand-Jewel
Ancestor recited [rituals] concerning Her Highness, the Sun Goddess
and danced wildly. Amused at his antics, the eight hundred deities
shook the Plain-of-High-Heaven with laughter. The Sun Goddess was
thus surprised out of her seclusion, and came forth asking how it
was that, with all heaven and earth darkened, the deities could indulge
in laughter. They answered that they rejoiced because there was a
deity more beautiful than Her Augustness; but, while they were speaking,
the mirror was brought forward for her to see this most beautiful
one. When she looked, she was so surprised at the beauty of the goddess
mirrored there that she came forth from the cave. ... The-Plain-of-High-Heaven
and the Central-Land-of-Reed-Plains (Japan) were again light. Thus
were light and darkness created.
For his misdeeds, Impetuous Male was banished from heaven. He wandered
on the earth and begged food of the Deity-Princess-of-Great-Food,
who took all sorts of things from her nose, her mouth, and other
parts of her body, and turned them into food for him. Thinking she
was offering him filth, however, he killed her. After her death the
Deity-Producing-Wondrous-Ancestor commanded that these useful things
born from her body be used propagate food and clothing — silkworms
from her head, rice seeds from her eyes, millet from her ears, beans
from her nose, barley from her torso.
Besides looking for food, the Impetuous-Male-Deity performed many
wondrous deeds while wandering about on earth... At one time he came
upon an old man and an old woman who were crying. Inquiring the cause
of their sorrow, he found that the eight-forked serpent of Hoshi
had been visiting them each year, and on each visit had devoured
one of their eight daughters, until now only one was left, and they
were full of apprehension about the fate of their last daughter.
When Impetuous Male heard the story, he asked for the hand of this
last daughter in marriage. Having been granted his request, he turned
the girl into a comb which he stuck in his hair. He then lay in wait
for the coming of the eight-forked serpent whom he overpowered and
cut in pieces; but when he cut into the middle tail, the edge of
his sword broke. When he looked to see the cause of this accident,
he found concealed in the serpent a sharp great sword, over which
he marveled, and then presented it to the gods of heaven. This became
known as the Herb-Quelling-Great-Sword, which still serves as one
of the emblems in the regalia of Japanese emperors.
Thus do the myths account for the symbols of the imperial [power]
— the mirror, the jewels, and the sword.
Finally, Impetuous Male sought a permanent [home] upon the earth.
It is said that he "sought in the land of Izumo for a place
where he might build a palace. Then he arrived at a place [called]
Suga, and said: 'On coming to this palace, my august heart is pure,'
and in that place he built a palace to dwell in. So that place is
now called Suga." His descendants continued to live in Izumo
until the descendant of the sixth generation was vested with the
sovereignty of Japan.
This position he was not allowed to hold, however, for the Sun Goddess,
who had never forgiven her brother for his pranks and [misbehavior],
felt that none of his children should rule the Central-Land-of-Reed-Plains,
in spite of the fact that they had so long been wandering in them.
She therefore decided to send a grandson of her own who should rule
the earth. For this task she chose a prince..., giving him as parting
gifts the eight feet of curved jewels and the mirror which had lured
her from the cave, and, also, the Herb-Quelling-Great-Sword which
her brother had presented to the gods of heaven.
After receiving [these, the] prince... left the heavenly rock seat...
and descended to the peak of a mountain... on the island of Kyushu.
Then began the struggles between the grandson of the Sun Goddess
and the descendants of Impetuous Male. The conflict ended when the
god... retaining spiritual power only gave up his temporal power
to the Sun Goddess' grandson. From the latter descended a prince
who is known as the first emperor of Japan — Jimmu — whose
reign the Japanese have fixed as beginning in 660 BCE. Thus was
created a divine sovereign who is still worshipped as the first in
succession unbroken for ages eternal."
(1) With the exception of the footnoted passages,
the text is from
Kodo: The Way of the Emperor by Mary A. Nourse, pp. 14-18.
©1940 by The Bobbs-Merrill Company Inc. The text is copied as
it appears in Japan: Selected Readings by Hyman Kublin,
pp. 25,34-38. © 1968 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
(2) Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), translated
by B. H. Chamberlain (Kobe: J. L. Thompson and Company Ltd. 1932,
with permission of the Asia Society of Japan), 4.
(3) Ibid., 5.