Japanese mythology and all that it entails is derived from the traditional folklore of Shinto, which is one of the major religions of Japan. It is a complex structure of faith that incorporates Buddhist traditions as well. What’s most interesting, the stories and folklore have a lengthy past dating back to more than two thousand years.
A majority of the stories revolve around the creation of the world and the actions of gods, men, spirits, and magical creatures. They have been passed down through the ages in the form of spoken word and scriptures, and these age-old tales touch nearly every facet of life.
We will look at some of the most essential and exciting deities, their role in Japanese mythology and immerse ourselves in a few engaging tales.
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7 Interesting Gods and Goddesses in Japanese Mythology
In Japanese mythology, the gods were referred to as kami. There were also various spirits, monsters, and magical creatures that were heavily included in the myths.
Let’s take a closer look at seven deities in Japanese mythology as we delve into the meaning of their names and get to know more about them.
One of the most notable kami in Japanese mythology, Amaterasu, is the goddess of the sun and is also the center of Japanese spiritual life.
This goddess is also known as Amaterasu-Omikami ( 天照大神) in the Kojiki or Ohirune-no-Muchi-no-Kami (大日孁貴神) in the Nihon Shoki, which are the earliest literary texts of ancient Japan.
The name Amaterasu literally translates to “illuminating the heavens.” Moreover, the name is derived from the words “ama,” meaning “sky” or “heaven” and “teru,” which means “to shine.”
She is the daughter of deities Izanagi and Izanami, who are creators of the world in Japanese myths. Even better, being a personification of the rising sun, she is the queen of the gods and ruler of the universe.
Though she did not create the universe, she is also revered in Japanese culture as the goddess of creation, an attribute she inherited from her father, Izanagi.
#2. Izanagi and Izanami
In Japanese mythology, these mystical beings are the creators of the islands of Japan and are the universal parents of various deities in the Shinto pantheon.
The name Izanagi (イザナギ) translates to “He who invites” while the name Izanami (伊邪那美) translates to “She who invites.”
Legend has it that Izanagi dipped his spear decorated with jewels to stir the sea between heaven and earth. Each time a drop of water fell from the tip of his spear, an island was created.
They gave birth to over eight hundred kami, thereby giving a structure to the eight islands of Japan. During the process of birthing Kagutsuchi, the Japanese fire god, Izanami succumbed to her wounds and was sent to the land of the dead, also known as Yomi.
Izanagi is also the father of a large number of Japanese rituals, including marriage and misogi. The latter practice is a core element of Shinto beliefs and uses water to wash away one’s impurities.
Owing to his violence and contradictory code of conduct, the Japanese god of the moon is often viewed as a negative figure in Japanese mythology. He is the husband of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and in Japanese mythology, his conflicts with her are the origins of day and night.
The name Tsukuyomi (ツキヨミ) comprises old two words from old Japanese. The first word is tsuku which means “moon month,” and the second is Yomi, which translates as “reading.”
Another perception is that the name is a sequence of the words tsukiyo, which means “moonlit night,” and mi which means “looking or watching.”
Moon-reading was a prominent practice in the imperial courts of pre-modern japan, where members would recite poetry while gazing at the moon.
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Also known as Susanoo-no-Mikoto, Susanoo is a kami and the younger brother of the goddess Amaterasu and the moon god Tsukuyomi.
A temperamental god in Shinto folklore, he is the god of seas and storms.
The name Susanoo (スサノオ) has been derived from the verb “susabu” or “susamu” which means “to be violent” or “to be impulsive” and is of ancient Japanese origin.
However, the name has been subjected to various English translations due to the double o’s at the end of his name. Older adaptations of the name include Susano-O, Susa-no-O, and Susanowo.
This god of seas was born when Inazagi bathed in a river to cleanse himself after returning from the underworld. In Japanese mythology, Susanoo is often celebrated as a champion for defeating the heinous dragon Yamata-no-Orochi. He is also known for recovering and wielding the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, which is a renowned sword in Japanese culture.
Contrastingly, he is also illustrated in a negative aspect, specifically when it comes to a challenge that turned sour with his sister Amaterasu which fuelled Susanoo to burn down her rice fields and kill one of her maids. Consequently, he was banished from the heavens and sent to earth.
One of the seven lucky gods in Japanese mythology, depicted with a lofty smile and a loud laugh, Ebisu is the god of luck and prosperity and represents the sea’s bounty.
Due to his affable nature, he is also called laughing Ebisu.
The name Ebisu (えびす) can be literally translated as “a favorable yield in perpetuity.” He is known by several other names like Yesibu or Kotoshiro-nushi-no-kami, which means “chief deity of business time.” However, in most myths, he is referred to as Hiroku, translating to “leech child.”
Ebisu was born as Hiroku, the first child of Izanagi and Izanami. Due to aberrations in the marriage rituals and complications during consummation, Hiroku was born as a deformed child without bones. Disgusted by his appearance, his parents disowned him and cast him out to the sea, where his boneless body floated for some time before he washed on an unknown shore. Funnily enough, he is often associated with jellyfish due to him being a boneless body floating through the sea.
Taken in and raised by a group of nurses from the Ainu tribe, Hiroku, transformed into the happy god as shown in Japanese mythology. Perpetually grateful for the kindness and luck that saved his life, Hiroku started calling himself Ebisu and began radiating luck and spreading happiness, rubbing it off on all those he encountered.
The god of thunder and storms was born from his mother’s rotting corpse, Izanami after she plummeted to Yomi, the land of darkness. Instructed by his father, Raijin followed Izanagi out of Yomi, and as a result, the god of thunder came into the world.
In Japanese folklore, Raijin is often depicted standing on top of a cloud holding a drum with a gleefully destructive smile on his face. However, he is also commonly pictured with a traditional Buddhist halo. Even though he has a relation to the land of the dead, he is a popular kami in Shinto as well as Buddhist lore with multiple monikers such as Kaminari-sama (雷様), Raiden-sama (雷電様), and Raikou (雷公).
The name Raijin ( 雷神) is derived from the Japanese words kaminari (雷), which means “thunder” and kami, which means “god” or “spirit.”
Raijin is illustrated in Japanese mythology as a trickster rather than a malevolent figure, with stories of him being reluctant to listen to priests and monks. However, he is also the protector of temples and shrines, a bringer of rain, and a blessing to farmers. Thus, Raijin is a warrior-protector bringing both destruction and giving life. In Japanese lore, it is said that the harvest would be bountiful if it was struck by Raijins lightning.
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Also known by the names Inari Okami or O-Nari, the Inari are compound deities in Japanese mythology who are the gods of prosperity, rice, and protector of foxes often portrayed as male or female. One of the most popular deities in Japan, they have the most number of shrines dedicated to them.
The name Inari (大稲荷) is derived from ancient Japanese words “稲” and “荷” which mean “rice” and “cargo” respectively. Another moniker is Ta-no-Kami which translates as “god of the paddy fields.”
Regarding Buddhist context in Japanese mythology, Inari may be linked with a specific person on the path to enlightenment, known as a bodhisattva, as a result of taking on the secondary names associated with that bodhisattva.
The most significant symbol of Inari is the fox, also known as Kitsune. Foxes are one of the most dynamic supernatural creatures in Japanese mythology. These foxes are cunning female spirits who either aid or abuse humans around them.
According to Japanese mythology, Inari was said to have come to Japan during a time of a bitter famine. She cascaded from the skies on a white fox carrying grains of rice. This resulted at the end of the famine.
In conclusion, even today, Japanese mythology plays an influential role in the lives of Japanese people. A majority of traditional art, drama, and literature is heavily based around Shinto folklore.
These myths tell tales of the creation of Japan, various gods, and their journeys. There are countless gods in Japanese folklore, and now you know the names as well as a few tales of the seven most interesting gods in Japanese mythology.