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Ame No Koyane


AME NO KOYANE is one of the four deities (kami ) enshrined at Kasuga Shrine in Nara. The deities worshiped at Kasuga Shrine, who were venerated by the Fujiwara (formerly, Nakatomi) clan, include Takemikazuchi no Mikoto, Iwainushi no Mikoto (Futsunushi no Mikoto), and Ame no Koyane no Mikoto and his wife, ancestral kami of the Fujiwara clan.

According to a myth recorded in the Nihonshoki, Takemikazuchi and Iwainushi were commanded by Amaterasu Ōmikami (the sun goddess and the ancestral kami of Japan's imperial house) to descend from the Heavenly Plain to earth and subjugate the Japanese domain. At the descent of Ninigi no Mikoto, a grandson of the sun goddess, Ame no Koyane was directed by Amaterasu to thenceforth attend and protect her descendants (tennō ), who were to live in the palace hall with the sacred mirror (yata no kagami ), one of her divine regalia, and to worship it. By enshrining the four kami mentioned in the above myth at their clan-shrine at Kasuga, the Fujiwara attained religious authority to receive supreme political power at the imperial court.

By the end of the Heian period the entities enshrined at Ise (Amaterasu), Hachiman (Hachiman), and Kasuga (the four deities mentioned above) Shrines came to be referred to as the "kami of the three shrines" (sanja no kami ) as a sign of special respect. During the Muromachi period the "three shrine oracle" (sanja ta-kusen ) was popularly venerated. Ame no Koyane's prestige as a mythic figure was enhanced during the thirteenth century with the publication of the Gukanshō, an interpretive history of Japan by the Tendai abbot Jien, himself a member of the Fujiwara line. The Gukanshō, marrying certain eschatological notions found in Buddhist scripture with the myths of the founding the Japanese state, declared that during the so-called era of the True law (shōbō ), Amaterasu had formulated a system of government in which there was direct administration by the tennō, but that in the subsequent eras of human history other forms of political organization had been sanctioned by her. During the era of the Counterfeit Law (zōbō ), Amaterasu had collaborated with Ame no Koyane to create the regent-chancellor system, in which the tennō was assisted by a regent from the Fujiwara clan (the descendants of Ame no Koyane herself). For the era of the Latter Days of the Law (mappō ), the Gukanshō continues, when human institutions have degenerated from their original integrity, Amaterasu consulted with Ame no Koyane and Hachiman to establish the regent-shogun system (combining the institutions of regent and shogun), in which the tennō is assisted by the regent-shogun of the Fujiwara clan, the descendants of Ame no Koyane.

Thus, until the end of World War II Ame no Koyane served as a legitimizer of the imperial system. Kasuga Shrine, which honors her, was accordingly revered by the imperial house and protected by the majesty and power of the state.

See Also

Amaterasu Ōmikami; Japanese Religions, articles on Religious Documents, The Study of Myths; Jien; Mappō.


Brown, Delmer, M., and Ishida Ichirō, eds. The Future and the Past: A Translation and Study of the Gukanshō, an Interpretive History of Japan Written in 1219. Berkeley, 1979.

Ishida Ichirō. Shintō shisōshū. Tokyo, 1970.

Ishida Ichirō. Kami to Nihon bunka. Tokyo, 1983.

Ishida IchirŌ (1987)

Translated from Japanese by Jenine Heaton

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