Japanese mythology is full of epic tales of adventure coupled with profound reflections on existence and life. Learning about different Japanese traditions, cultures, and history is also useful for students of cultural studies, oriental studies, or Eastern mythology.
Before we delve into more about Japanese myths, know that Japanese mythology includes stories based on old folk belief and contains elements of Buddhism and Shinto mythology.
Passed from generation to generation through scriptures and traditions, these anecdotes and old tales deal with virtually every aspect of life.
General themes in Japanese mythos include royalty, nature, and deities. The deities are referred to as Kami, and as per the Japanese lore, the number of gods exceeds 7.5 million.
With such diverse characters, it's not surprising that many engaging Japanese stories are woven together throughout its culture and tradition.
Therefore, we have rounded up three timeless Japanese legends to provide you with a hint of their larger-than-life narratives and spiritual lessons!
3 Celebrated Japanese Legends In Japanese Mythology
Here are the three most famous Japanese legends and myths:
The Japanese 'creation myth' originates from Kojiki, referred to as "An Account of Ancient Matters" or "Records of Ancient Matters."
It is the earliest Japanese chronicle of legends, myths, genealogies, songs, oral traditions, and historical accounts going back to 712 AD. The contents concern the descent of the Kami, archipelago, and imperial line.
Apart from the Kojiki, Nihon Shoki (also called Nihongi) is the second oldest book in Japanese history completed in 720 AD. Together these two form the basis of the famous 'creation myth.'
The story begins in the shapeless chaos of the silent, dark universe. Over the next several eons, particles started moving and creating sound.
Some of the lightest particulates rose and formed the heavens where three deities named Ame-no-Minaka-Nushi-no-Mikoto, Takami-Musubi-no-Mikoto, and Kammi-Musubi-no-Mikoto showed up.
The remaining particles descended to form a mass called "the Earth"; however, it took one million years to solidify.
And once the Earth was formed, another two deities appeared on it, growing from the reed.
Besides them, many other gods emerged over time. However, all of them were limited with their inclusion in the creation of the world as the universe remained in chaos.
With time, Two gods – Izanami and Izanagi – were summoned and informed to go down to Earth and rule creation. Henceforth, life on Earth began!
The Sun, Moon, And Wind
In Japanese myths, the two gods, Izanagi and Izanami, have created the land housing Japan and other gods who governed it.
According to the myth, Izanagi and Izanami hovered on the heavens' bridge, shaking the primordial ocean with their jeweled spear.
As they lifted their spear, some of the drops fell into the ocean and created the first known solid land called Onogoro.
Izanagi and Izanami then descended to Onogoro and started living as husband and wife. They gave birth to their first child; however, it was deformed. Some of the other deities claimed that this happened because Izanami spoke before Izanagi at the marriage ceremony.
Therefore, the two performed a new wedding ceremony and this time correctly. The result of this union was eight charming children who went on to become Japan.
The couple then created many other goddesses and gods to represent valleys, mountains, streams, waterfalls, winds, and Japan's various iconic sceneries.
However, while giving birth to Kagutsuchi – the fire god – Izanami experienced fatal burns. While she was on her death bed, she continued giving birth to deities.
Simultaneously, a few other deities appeared from the tears of the bereaved Izanagi. Izanami died and went to the Yomi-tsu Kuni.
At that moment, Izanagi vouched to go to the place of death and darkness and bring back his beloved wife, and he set out to do that. Upon arriving there, Izanami greeted her husband from-the-shadows of darkness and death as Izanagi approached the gates to Yomi.
She requested Izanagi not to look at her in this state and said she would attempt to free herself from the deities of Yomi. Despite the warning, Izanami, who was desperate to see his wife, lit the torch and peeked at her. Petrified to see Izanami as the rotting-corpse, he fled from Yomi.
Furious that her husband hadn't honored her wishes, she sent horrible and monstrous female spirits, a force of ferocious warriors, and about eight thunder deities to chase Izanagi.
However, Izanagi survived the hunt and managed to block the passage between the living and Yomi with a gigantic boulder. After a protracted conflict, both of them met and agreed to end their marriage
At the end of the conflict, Izanagi decided to purify himself. While he was undressing and removing ornaments from his body, every item that dropped turned into a god. More deities followed as he went on to clean himself.
The most important deities were formed when he washed his face:
- Amaterasu – sun goddess – from the left eye
- Tsukuyomi – moon god – from the right eye
- Susanoo – wind god – from the nose
In the end, Izanagi divided the Earth among the three: Amaterasu inheriting heavens, Tsukuyomi taking charge of the moon and night, and the wind deity Susanoo took the seas and the oceans.
Amaterasu & The Cave
Amaterasu Omikami – the sun goddess – is the leader of "Takama-no-Hara," the highest Celestial Plains and the Shinto religion's most important deity. She was also famously known as Amaterasu-oho-hiru-me or Oho-hir-me-no-muchi.
Perhaps one of the most well-known Japanese myths related to her is when Amaterasu locked herself in the cave following the argument with her brother, Susanoo (wind god). The fight began when he shocked his sister with a horrific flayed horse as she was calmly weaving with her sister Waka-hiru-me.
As a result of her disappearance, the whole world sank into complete darkness, and many angry spirits came forth.
The deities did everything they could to convince the distressed goddess to come out of the cave. On the guidance of Omohi-Kane, several roosters were placed outside of the cave. This was done, hoping that the roosters' presence would convince the deity that dawn had arrived.
The deities also placed a colossal Sakaki tree and adorned it with shining jewels, a mirror, and numerous fine clothes.
Moreover, the deity Ama-no-Uzeme or Amenouzume danced wildly, and the resulting laughter finally stirred the curiosity in Amaterasu to leave the cave.
Opening her cave slightly enough to look at what was happening, Amaterasu got distracted by her remarkably gorgeous reflection in the placed mirror. As she was stunned by her beauty, the powerful deity, Ame-no-tajikara-wo pulled out Amaterasu from the cave.
After which, Tuto-Tamu held the pole of braided straw against Amaterasu and ordered that the goddess could no longer hide inside the cave, and the Earth once-again bathed in the radiant sunlight.
Today, this fantastic Japanese story is fondly remembered through traditional theatrical performances in Japan.
Want To Delve Deeper In Japanese Mythology?
Japanese myths provide a certain mysticism and charm that is enhanced when you learn about the culture and language properly.
Most contemporary Japanese traditions can be traced back to ancient Japanese folktales and stories. Therefore, learning the Japanese language will help you delve into these timeless tales and life lessons.
Apart from complete immersion, the ideal and most appropriate way to enhance your Japanese language understanding is Japanese lessons.
These lessons are the perfect way to connect to your favorite characters and learn about legendary folktales from tutors and classmates.