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Naturally, the ancient mythology of Japan is often referenced in modern Anime, Manga, Video Games, etc. that are produced in Japan (i.e. nearly all of it). The Kojiki and Nihon-Shoki, early historical records containing detailed accounts of Japanese folklore, act as the sources for many famous tales of heroes and legendary beasts. This, combined with the spiritual traditions of the Shinto religion and its vast pantheon of gods and demons, plus Buddhist influences, creates an abundant mythos. Here are summaries of some of the most well-known stories.
The first gods were two siblings called Izanagi-no-Mikoto (male) and Izanami-no-Mikoto (female). They came down from heaven and summoned a house out of the sea with a giant spear, and after that they got married and made some babies. The first of these babies was the fishing god. The next eight were the islands of Japan. They had many more children, however Izanami died giving birth to the god of fire Kagutsuchi, and was sent to Yomi, the shadowy underworld. Izanagi mourned his wife and followed her there through a cave. When he finally found her, she agreed to return with him, but warned her husband not to look at her. But of course he disobeyed, and saw that she was now a ghastly, rotting corpse. Izanagi freaked out and ran away, rolling a boulder in front of the cave entrance in order to escape Izanami's wrath. Izanami promised that she would kill 1000 people every day in revenge. Izanagi countered that he would create 1500 people every day.
(Compare and contrast: Orpheus and Eurydice)
The Three Great Gods
Purifying himself after escaping Yomi, Izanagi washed his face and from his left eye came Amaterasu-Oomikami, goddess of the Sun and ruler of heaven; from his right came Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto, god of the Moon and ruler of night; and from his nose came Susanoo-no-Mikoto, god of storms and ruler of the sea.
Susanoo didn't like his siblings or his job and grew ever more jealous, until one day Amaterasu tricked him into losing a bet. In retaliation he threw a pony that was skinned alive at Amaterasu while she was sewing, killing another goddess. So Amaterasu ran away and hid in a cave, plunging the world into darkness. No one could get her to come out, until Ame-no-Uzume, goddess of merriment, hatched a cunning plan. She put a sacred mirror and jeweled necklace (the Yata no Kagami and the Yasakani no Magatama, respectively) on a tree outside the cave and danced around naked making lots of noise to get attention. When Amaterasu poked her head outside to see what the commotion was about, she saw her own beautiful self in the mirror. Another god pulled her out of the cave and blocked the entrance, the sun returned and Amaterasu was filled with joy from the naked dancing. And who wouldn't be?
Tsukuyomi meanwhile became bored and made a ladder to heaven, where he lived with Amaterasu (and in some versions, married her). Things were going well until he went to a banquet in Amaterasu's honour, which was hosted by Uke Mochi, the goddess of food, who provided the feast by vomiting and/or defecating everywhere. Tsukuyomi was sickened and offended by this so he killed her. However this upset Amaterasu so much she vowed never to look at Tsukuyomi again, running away whenever she saw him, which is why the Sun and Moon cannot be together. Clearly she was very sensitive.
Susanoo was kicked out of heaven for being a jerk, and some time later went to a village where he met a crying family. They explained that a giant eight-headed serpent called Yamata no Orochi had eaten all their daughters but one. Susanoo agreed to slay Orochi in return for the last daughter, Kushinadahime, as his wife. He killed the beast by laying out giant casks of saké for each head and cutting them off when they all became drunk. He found a sword in one of its tails that could cut anything, and called it Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi ("Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven"). It was later named Kusanagi, which means "Grass Cutter". Susanoo gave it to his sister as a sign of good faith, though he remained no less of a jerk.
The three sacred artifacts in the above myths, the mirror, the necklace, and the sword, are known as the Japanese Imperial Regalia, symbols of the divinity of the Emperor. They represent wisdom, benevolence, and valour, respectively. They are said to have been brought to Japan by Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of Amaterasu and ancient ancestor of the Imperial Family.
This mythology contains examples of:
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Is there anything that doesn't have its own kami? Oh, right, kami technically means "spirit", so everything in existence has its own particular kami, even inanimate objects.
- Back From the Dead: Izanami, with disastrous results. Also Okuninushi, twice.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Okuninushi was Nice Guy until Emperor Suujin's reign, when he caused a plague and demanded a new temple to end it. Doing so stopped the plague, but then made the next emperor's son dumb, requiring the emperor to build another temple to him.
- Big Beautiful Woman: Uzume is often depicted as being very cute and chubby. Even the leaner versions tend to have a softer look than the other main goddesses.
- Big Badass Wolf: Amaterasu is sometimes depicted as a white wolf.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Most gods were related somehow, but prominently Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi.
- Not just brother and sister - Okuninushi, a distant descendant of Susanoo, married Suseri-hime, the daughter of Susano-o. Literally eight million kami to choose from and the guy thinks "Better marry my great great great great great great aunt". And all of this when he already had a wife.
- Also Izanagi and Izanami.
- Cains and Abel: Okuninushi has eighty cruel brothers who kill him twice. When his mother revives him for second time, she has Okuninushi hide in the underworld where he meets Susanoo and Suseri-hime (see Overprotective Dad below). After the incident, Susanoo gives Okuninushi his Totsuga no Tsurugi and tells him to defeat his brothers and become ruler of Izumo.
- The conflicts between Amaterasu, Susanoo, and Tsukuyomi deserve special mention.
- Cool Sword: Ame no Murakumo AKA Kusanagi, the sword Susanoo makes from one of Orochi's tails. Also Totsuga no Tsurugi, which Susanoo use to slay Orochi and later give it to Okuninushi.
- Cue the Sun: When Amaterasu hid in a cave the world was plunged into darkness, thus getting her out of the cave caused this.
- Distracted by My Own Sexy: When Susano'o tried to commit Grievous Harm with a Body on Amateratsu by throwing the body of one of her maidens at her she fled and hid in a cave, Uzume got her back out by dancing naked for the other gods and by leaving a mirror in a nearby tree. When Amateratsu emerged to find out what all the noise was about the combination distracted her long enough for the mouth of the cave to be barred with a magical rope.
- Divine Parentage: The Japanese Imperial Family claims lineage from Amaterasu herself.
- Fidelity Test: When Konohanasakuya got pregnant just one night after marriage to Ninigi, Ninigi suspected that it might not be his child. Konohana was enraged at Ninigi's accusation and entered a doorless hut which she then set fire to. She vowed that the child would not be hurt if it were truly the offspring of Ninigi. She, along with the three sons she gave birth to, emerged unscathed.
- Gender Bender: There are some tales featuring Amaterasu as a man.
- O-Inari can take the form of either a wise old man or an attractive young woman.
- Tsukuyomi has also been depicted as a goddess.
- God in Human Form: Susanoo, after he gets kicked out of Heaven.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Ame-no-Uzume. She uses her womanly assets to get a lot of things she wants, but she's not evil or malicious about it, and she even snagged her husband this way.
- Idiot Hero: Izanagi. Obviously the best thing to do when you are being chased by demons is to throw your hat and your comb and then pee. Even if it worked for him, would YOU try THAT?
- Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
- Immortal Immaturity: Susanoo, who basically spent most of the time acting like a drunken college frat boy with cosmic power.
- Innocent Flower Girl: Konohanasakuya, princess of blossom and wife of Ninigi.
- Jerkass God: Susanoo.
- Also, Raijin and Fuujin, the gods of thunder and wind.
- Light Is Good: Amaterasu. Then again, her husband, Tsukuyomi belongs in the other ballpark.
- Light Is Not Good: Tsukuyomi killed Uke Mochi after she provided him and Amaterasu a banquet from her nether regions. (In some versions it was Susanoo who did this, which makes more sense.)
- Les Yay: When Amaterasu finally came out of that cave, she did spend most of her time not looking at her reflection looking at Uzume (who was doing a stripper routine at the time).
- Ms. Fanservice: Ame no Uzume performed a strip dance to lure Amaterasu from her hiding. Later, when Ninigi no Mikoto was prevented from going to the Earth by the god of pathways Sarutahiko, Uzume convinced him to let Ninigi pass by... taking off her robe. Sarutahiko was so impressed by her boldness (also a few other things...) that he proposed marriage to Uzume, which she agreed to.
- Naked Goddesses Are Funny When Uzume danced about naked on an upturned tub while Amaterasu was hiding in a cave what got her interest was the other Gods laughing at the sight.
- Offing the Offspring: Izanagi killed Kagutsuchi in fury of losing Izanami.
- Overly Long Name: Ame-nigishi-kuni-nigishi-amatsuhi-kohiko-ho-no-ninigi-no-Mikoto, better known as Ninigi-no-Mikoto or simply Ninigi.
- His father, Masaka-Akatsu-Kachihayahi-Ame-no-Oshihomimi-no-Mikoto, is not any better. Again, he's better known as Ame-no-Oshihomimi-no-Mikoto or simply as Oshihomimi.
- Basically ALL the gods have ridiculously long names. The ones used frequently are nearly always dramatically shortened.
- Overprotective Dad: Susanoo tried to kill Okuninushi, who fell in love with his daughter, three times. He actually approved Okuninushi afterward though.
- Power of the Void: The Amatsu-Mikaboshi, kami of the Primordial Chaos and the stars.
- Primordial Chaos: The "primordial chaos" from which the Gods came from (and created the Heavenly Plains and later Earth) is described as dark, cold and jelly-like. The Star God Amatsu Migaboshi is usually associated with the pre-Earth chaos.
- Sibling Rivalry: Amaterasu and Susanoo. He threw a pony at her.
- They seem to have gotten over it after Susanoo gave her
the lawnmowerthe Kusanagi sword.
- They seem to have gotten over it after Susanoo gave her
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Sarutahiko and Ame no Uzume.
- Widget Mythology: Any country will have some odd myths, but Japanese mythology is particularly notable for how frequently scatological it is. Susano-o gets thrown out of heaven for defecating in a temple; Izanagi stops when running away from the Legions of Hell to urinate (and creates another kami that way). And that's not even mentioning some versions of the story of Momotaro feature a cowpat kami.
- World's Most Beautiful Woman: Amaterasu was the most beautiful goddess. Konohanasakuya was the most beautiful woman of her generation.
- Youngest Child Wins: Okuninushi. This may be a remnant of ancient Japanese succession rules, which were based on ultimogeniture (youngest child inherits) rather than primogeniture (eldest child inherits).