Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

5.3: Japanese Creation Story

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Japanese Creation Story

    The islands of Japan are the subject of a particularly colorful creation myth. Standing on the bridge or stairway of heaven (known as Ama-no-hashidate , which connected heaven — Ama — to earth ), the two gods Izanami and Izanagi used a jewel encrusted spear to stir the ocean. Withdrawing the spear, salt crystallized into drops on the tip and these fell back into the ocean as islands.

    The first island to be created was Onogoro-shima and the gods immediately used the island to build a house and host theirwedding ceremony . The ritual involved circling around a pillar (or in some versions the spear) with the two gods moving in opposite directions. However, during this sacred marriage ritual Izanami , the female deity , wrongly spoke first when they passed each other and as a consequence of this impiety their first child was a miscarriage and born an ugly weakling without bones. This was the god Hiruko (later Ebisu) who would become the patron of fishermen and one of the seven gods of good luck. Hiruko was abandoned by his parents and set in a basket for the sea to take it where it would.

    The second child was the island of Awa but Izanami and Izanagi were still not satisfied with their offspring and they asked their parents the seven invisible gods the reason for their misfortune. Revealing that the reason was their incorrect performance of the marriage ritual, the couple repeated the ceremony, this time making sure Izanagi , the male deity , spoke first. (33)

    The couple then continued to create more auspicious offspring, including the eight principal islands of Japan — Awaji, Shikoku, Oki, Tsukushi (Kyushu), Iki, Tsu, Sado, and Oyamato.

    Also created were a prodigious number of kami. Other notable children were Oho-wata-tsu-mi ( god of the sea ), Kuku-no-shi ( god of the trees ), Oho-yama tsu-mi ( god of the mountains ) and Kagutsuchi ( god of fire ), often referred to in hushed tones as Homusubi during ritual prayers. (33)

    Illustration of Izanami (female deity) and Izanagi (male deity) creating the islands of Japan with their spear.
    Figure 5-2 : Illustration of Izanami and Izanagi by Kobayashi Eitaku resides in the Public Domain .
    described in caption and text.
    Figure 5-3 : Meotoiwa or Wedded Rocks (“husband and wife cliff”) Futami, Japan by Taku resides in thePublic Domain .The wedded rocks known as Meotoiwa are located in Japan near Ise jingu. They represent the two creator gods of the Shinto religion, Izanami and Izanagi.

    In Japanese art the two gods are most often depicted standing on Ama-no-Hashidate stirring the ocean with their spear. The heavenly couple is also famously referenced in the shrine of the wedded rocks of Meotoiwa , on the coast of Futami. Here, two large rocks stand in the sea and are attached by a sacred long rope ( shimenawa ) of plaited rice straw weighing over a ton, symbolic of the matrimonial bond between the two deities. Atop the larger rock, which represents Izanagi, there is a white gate or tori, which marks the site as a sacred shrine. Due to the obvious humidity of the site, the shimenawa is replaced several times a year with great ceremony. (33)

    Contributors and Attributions

    CC licensed content, Shared previously

    This page titled 5.3: Japanese Creation Story is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lumen Learning.

    • Was this article helpful?