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[Soul of Japan] Amano-Iwato, the Celestial Cave




Many of Japan’s traditions and ideas are unfamiliar to those outside of Japan. Therefore, JAPAN Forward and Jinja Honcho have collaborated to bring readers an explanation of the key concepts of kami, matsuri, shrines, myths, and many other traditions and beliefs which form the core of Japanese culture. 

The “Soul of Japan” series provides an introduction to Shinto and Ise Jingu, focusing in this segment on one of the earliest recorded stories of the tales of the kami.


The story of Ama-no-Iwato begins with the tale of the divine couple, Izanagi-no-kami and Izanami-no-kami, who give birth to the Japanese islands and various other kami in the time after heaven and earth become separated. 


Among their descendants were three venerable kami: 



  • The first, Amaterasu-Omikami — whose name literally means “great kami who lights the heavens” — is associated with Takamanohara, the Celestial Plain. 
  • The second, Tsukiyomi-no-kami, is associated with the moon and the night. 
  • The third, Susano’o-no-kami, is associated with the sea.


Of these three, Susano’o-no-kami did not properly tend to his duties and abandoned the sea, despite being admonished. He then ascended to Takamanohara, where he caused much mischief.


Amaterasu-Omikami could not bear Susano’o-no-kami’s troublemaking, and took refuge by hiding herself in a celestial cave. 


Bereft of Amaterasu-Omikami’s natural brilliance, the celestial and terrestrial world became dark and gloomy, and there was much confusion in the land.


The kami gathered to discuss how they might work together to solve this grave problem. To coax Amaterasu-Omikami out of the cave, they fashioned a jewel, the Yasakani-no-magatama, and a mirror, the Yata-no-kagami, and decorated a tree with these sacred objects.



Then they held a matsuri and performed a sacred dance in front of Amaterasu-Omikami’s cave. Intrigued by the merriment, she peeked outside and eventually agreed to return to the world, bringing back her peaceful light that harmony and order might be restored.


Susano’o-no-kami, regretting his mischief, descended to earth and slayed the Yamata-no-orochi, a monstrous, eight-headed serpent, freeing many from its devastation. After the serpent’s death, Susano’o-no-kami dedicated to Amaterasu-Omikami a special sword he discovered in the serpent’s tail, the Ameno Murakumo-no-tsurugi.



Source: Jinja Honcho 



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