East Asian Mythology: China and Japan

Amaterasu: The Great Goddess

What is the significance of Amaterasu in the Japanese pantheon?

Amaterasu is the most important god in the Japanese Shinto pantheon. She is the goddess of the Rising Sun, the religious basis of the imperial family and, therefore, of the state itself. According to the ancient sources, after Amaterasu became the dominant god in heaven, she sent her grandson, Ninigi-no-Mikoto to rule the earth. With him she sent the sacred regalia, which still mark the authority of the Japanese imperial family, of which Ninigi is said to be the ancestor. The regalia include a jewel, a sword, and a mirror—all elements of importance in the quarrel between Amaterasu and her brother Susanowa and symbols of the sun goddess’s power. According to tradition, the first emperor of Japan was Jimmu (660–585 B.C.E.), who claimed direct descent from Ninigi and, therefore, Amaterasu. The royal family’s claim of divine ancestry was dropped after World War II.


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