East Asian Mythology: China and Japan

The Japanese Buddhist and Shinto Pantheons

Are there Japanese mythic heroes?

As in Chinese mythology, the heroes of Japanese mythology—figures who are not specifically deities but who represent sacred values in their actions—tend to be emperors.

The supernatural sometimes plays a role in the lives of these figures, a fact which establishes their identity as true heroes, backed by the divine powers. Otohime, the grandmother of the first emperor Jimmu, for instance, turns into a dragon after giving birth to the hero’s father, and Jimmu, guided by a three-legged crow, succeeds in his battle to rule Japan when he attacks his enemies with the sun—that is, Amaterasu—at his back. Like many heroes in world mythology, Jimmu dies at an unusally old age. In general, however, Japanese mythology is concerned with deities rather than human heroes.


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