The imperial families of Japan were passionate followers of the customs and conventions associated with the Buddhist and Shinto heritage. In the Shinto tradition, special gods or divinities called Kami are fervently celebrated and revered. It is believed that Kami is the first form that humans take after their death.
The Kami spirits have the ability to transform into both human beings as well as non-living entities. These sacred powers can also turn themselves into different elements of nature such as rain, rivers, trees, mountains, and fertility. So, it is said that a kami is situated, pretty close to natural landscapes.
Most gods and goddesses in Japanese mythology and their folklores are associated with the Shinto traditions. But some of them also originate as a result of a blend of two major religions widely practiced in South and Southeast Asia, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Do you know that Japanese gods are believed to produce new gods and goddesses from their tears or by taking a bath?
Nihon Shoki and Kojiki are the two most prominent codified compilations. They document interesting Japanese mythology gods, goddesses, and popular folklores about them. This article will help you explore the top six gods and goddesses belonging to the Japanese pantheon.
Let’s dive right in!
The Six Most Influential Japanese Gods and Goddesses
Amaterasu was an incredibly powerful and influential goddess in Japanese mythology. She is well-known as the great ancestress of the Japanese Imperial family who shines from the heavens. She was revered and enjoyed the status of “loved and worshipped by all,”. This reveals her ardent following and veneration among all Japanese gods and goddesses. She was the sister of god Susanoo and was also called the sun Kami or the goddess that symbolized the sun.
It is also widely believed in Japanese mythology that Amaterasu was a creation made from the left eye of Izanagi. And she was even humanity’s first mother, Izanami, reborn and risen from the underworld.
Amaterasu is worshipped and honored in her abode along with the other gods of the Japanese pantheon. Their home is called Takamagahara, also known as the plain of heaven. It is said that Takamagahara is connected to the earth with a suspended bridge called the Ama-no uki-hashi.
Legend has it that enraged Amaterasu got into a huge fight with her brother and the Japanese storm deity, Susanoo. After which she went into hiding and completely isolated herself from all, causing darkness in the world, missing her radiance. Later, the Japanese gods and goddesses hatched many plans to convince Amaterasu to leave her cave. This was done to bring back sunlight to the land. And it was only after a lot of persuading that Amaterasu finally agreed to come out of isolation to guide and illuminate the world yet again.
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2. Susanoo no Mikoto
Susanoo no Mikoto was the younger sibling of Amaterasu and also created two children with her using his sword and Amaterasu’s necklace. He was born to Izanagi and the god of the moon, named Tsukuyomi. Susanoo no Mikoto as a god in Japanese mythology had both positive as well as negative connotations.
The reason is his moods or qualities were considered dual in nature as he possessed both good and bad in him and displayed two extremes. He was not only known as the ferocious and spontaneous god representing storms and seas. But he also put up a heroic fight to end the ten-headed sea serpent called the Yamata-no-Orochi. And then ended up earning the popular sword called Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi. But he was also revered for being the god of abundance and harvest. According to some beliefs, he is also associated with representing death, illness, and disease.
He was known for his super unpredictable mood swings that would yo-yo from positive to negative without any warning. Susanoo no Mikoto went on a destruction spree after his fight with the sun goddess, Amaterasu. He wreaked havoc by tearing down her rice farms and even murdering the field workers in rage.
Susanoo no Mikoto had massive strength that could not only control the storms. But could also easily obliterate any obstacle against him. According to one famous folklore in Japanese mythology, Susanoo no Mikoto even managed to take down the Yamata Dragon with his sword. This sword was special as it belonged to the Japanese imperial family treasure. This myth is based on an old, ancestral sword that is treasured inside a Shinto temple in Japan, even to this day.
3. Izanami and Izanagi
In Japanese mythology, Izanami and Izanagi were the ancient primeval pair of siblings. They produced the other gods and goddesses of the Japanese pantheon.
Together they gave birth to god Hiroku. He was also known as god Ebisu. A god with an appearance that resembled a heavily bearded, fat man wielding a fishing rod in one of his hands and a red snapper fish in the other. The fish was his symbol, and the red snapper indicated good luck for fishermen. Ebisu basically represented fate and was one of the seven gods of luck called the Shichi-fuku-jin.
This brother-sister doublet was the very first to create a landmass named the island of Onogoro. They stopped the violent chaos in the seas under heaven. They also used Ama-no-hash-date, the stairway that bridged the heaven and the earth, to bring peace to the seas. And subside chaos within it with a spear studded with precious stones and crystals.
It is believed that Kagutsuchi, the Japanese fire god was also an offspring of Izanagi and Izanami. Izanami was attacked and badly injured with huge lacerations by Kagutsuchi. Maggots started taking over her festering wounds when she got trapped in the underworld. It was called Yomi, where the dead are sent as part of their afterlife. Izanagi, however, tried rescuing his sister and even requested the older gods to bring her back. But that seemed impossible as Izanami had already eaten from the land of Yomi.
Refuse to back down, Izanagi attempts to save Izanami once more, but the enraged Kami of thunder chases him away. Izanagi, therefore, leaves Yomi and comes back to his original realm of gods to give birth to even more gods and goddesses. This ritual was called cleansing in Japanese mythology. And is still practiced before visiting the holy temples and shrines in Japan.
Kuninotokotachi, or Kuninosokotachi no Mikoto, was the Japanese god who originated from the chaos that surrounded the earth. He was believed to have been born from a reed shoot. According to the Nihon Shoki, Kuninotokotachi lived on top of Mount Fuji.
He is usually considered a male god. However, another account from the Kojiki states that he was created without any gender (hitorigami). And was given birth after heaven and the earth came into being. The Shinto beliefs say that Kuninotokotachi was the actual primeval god of the Universe. He is also, therefore, called the supreme god of the land.
Kuninosokotachi no Mikoto had the privilege of being the first god to be mentioned in Kojiki’s The Primordial Seven. As per Ise Shinto, he was venerated as the root god or the guardian god of the nation of Japan. And had several shrines located across multiple prefectures in Japan.
Kagutsuchi or Homusubi was the Japanese god of fire and also the child of Izanagi and Izanami, as seen before in the article. He was born to Izanagi and Izanami after they produced several kami spirits and islands in Japan. He was infamous for murdering his own mother, Izanami, and driving her to a brutal death in Yomi, the Netherland, in Japanese mythology. His birth was, in a way, responsible for his mother’s unfortunate and painful demise.
Despite Izanagi’s constant effort to save Izanami, she could not be rescued and was left to rot in the underworld. The furious Izanagi came back to seek revenge and decapitated Kagutsuchi. The act was so violent that the blood resulting from severing his head led to the birth of several more kami spirits.
Therefore, it is rightly believed that Kagutsuchi was the ultimate progenitor of many powerful kami gods. They included gods such as the mountain god, the god who represented thunder, the dragon god, etc.
Kagutsuchi’s fire is said to have massive destructive powers. So, many followers of the Shinto traditions conduct rituals specifically in houses made of wood. This is done to ward off Kagutsuchi’s fire and its catastrophic abilities.
Believed to be the child of Susanoo no Mikoto, Inari was one of the highly-respected dual-gendered gods. She symbolizes a nine-tailed fox and was believed to have the power to destroy a dragon to death. Because Inari is a deity with two genders, her depictions vary. In one of the representations, she is believed either to be a fox-headed woman or a woman followed and supported by a pack of foxes. Another interpretation of Inari’s appearance states that she was an old, feeble man.
She is the primary god/goddess protecting the rice fields. And is also called the deity representing plenty, abundance, and prosperity.
Inari was even held in high esteem by the community of businessmen, tradesmen, and merchants. They worshipped her with all their hearts for sustaining their occupations. It was their firm belief that praying to her, singing her praises, and venerating her brought them extreme riches, luxury, and good fortune.
According to Buddhist beliefs, Inari is the savior or protector of all Japanese temples. But the Shinto traditions consider Inari, the goddess of food or grains.
In modern times, Inari can also be associated with the name of one of the varieties of a food item called sushi, popularly eaten in Japan. This particular type of sushi is also known as fox sushi.
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Japan is home to over 80,000 shrines. These shrines are based on Shinto or Buddhist cultures widely practiced in the country. Also, they are based on mind-blowing myths associated with some of the above-mentioned popular gods and goddesses. Their dominance is quite impactful and evident since their worship and rituals are alive even today. This is our list of the most powerful gods and goddesses in Japanese mythology. Hope you found this article helpful. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.