Religious Beliefs

Are there creation stories or other mythic elements in Shinto tradition?

Two of the earliest of Shinto’s foundational documents recount the story of the divine origins of Japan and its people. In variant accounts, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki tell of how Japan came into existence, but the myth is not so much a narrative of creation as it is of Japan’s unique sacred history. The basic myth goes like this: In the beginning, Heaven and Earth were as one, positive and negative unseparated. In a primal egglike mass dwelt the principles of all life. Eventually the purer, lighter element rose and became Heaven, while the heavier descended to form Earth. A reed shoot grew between Earth and Heaven and became the “One who established the Eternal Land.” After some aeons, two kami formed by spontaneous generation. Descending to Earth on the Floating Bridge of Heaven, Izanagi (the Male Who Invites) and Izanami (the Female Who Invites) came into the world. In an image of sexual procreation, Izanagi stirred the ocean depths with his spear and created the first lands. On the eight Japanese islands the union of the Male and Female produced the mountains and rivers, and thirty-five other kami. Last to be born was Fire, the kami of heat, who burned his mother fatally during his birth. Izanagi slew Fire with his sword, creating numerous additional kami in the process.

The Female fled to the underworld, the Land of Darkness, desperate to prevent her husband from seeing her corrupted state. When the Male followed and lit a fire so that he could see, she chased him out and blocked the entry to the underworld. Returning to the surface, the Male immediately purified himself ritually, ridding himself of the underworld’s pollution. Corruption from his left eye formed the sun goddess Amaterasu, who rules the High Plain of Heavens, and from his right, Tsukiyomi, the moon, whose province is the oceans. From his nostrils he created the storm kami, Susanowo, Withering Wind of Summer and ruler of the Earth. Susanowo soon made trouble for his sister, the Sun, who took refuge in a rock cave. Needing the sun to return, the eight hundred thousand kami discussed how they might entice her from her cave. At length they resorted to enlisting the Terrible Female of Heaven to dance and shout obscenities to rouse Amaterasu’s curiosity. They then offered her blue and white soft offerings, a mirror, and a bejeweled Sakaki tree. She finally came out and dispatched her grandson Ninigi to rule the world. In turn, his son Jimmu Tenno became the first human emperor at age 45, on February 11, 660 B.C.E.


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