East Asian Mythology: China and Japan

The Creation: Izanagi and Izanami

What is the Japanese creation myth?

The Kojiki and the Nihon shoki tell how the universe existed in a state of chaos or undifferentiated matter with no sound until the spontaneous movement of particles created a huge cloud, the top of which became heaven (Takamagahara), marked by the light, or yang, and the bottom of which remained dark (yin) and unformed with no terra firma. Three gods (kami) emerged spontaneously in heaven and then, from a reed, two more gods emerged. Next, two more gods emerged and then five male-female pairs of gods, including Izanagi and Izanami. The original five gods instructed Izanami and Izanagi to continue the work of creation and gave them a beautiful jeweled spear to help them in their work.

Izanami and Izanagi made their way to the Floating Bridge of Heaven that connected heaven and the unformed earth and gazed at the primal waters below. They thrust the spear into the waters and when they removed it, drops of liquid from it formed the island of Onokoro, to which the two deities descended. There they built the Heavenly August Pillar and a magnificent palace. Izanami noticed that one part of her body remained empty and Izanagi noticed that one part of his had grown excessively. He suggested that by joining his excessive part with her empty one, they might create new land. Izanami agreed and the couple proceeded to carry out a marriage ceremony. They walked in opposite directions around the pillar and when they met, Izanami said, “What a handsome young man,” and Izanagi replied, “What a fine young maiden.” The result of their union, however, was badly formed offspring, which they abandoned to the primal waters. The five original deities suggested that the problem had arisen from the fact that the woman had spoken first in the pillar ceremony. So the couple repeated the ceremony, this time with Izanagi speaking first, and soon the Japanese islands were born.


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