Ōkuninushi No Mikoto

views updated


ŌKUNINUSHI NO MIKOTO , also known as Ōkuni or Ōnamuchi, is one of the major deities, or kami, in Japanese mythology. The earliest chronicle of Japan, the Kojiki (712 ce), refers to him as "the kami of the Great Land." According to legend, Ōkuni came to the land of Inaba with his brothers to court a Yakami beauty. Because his brothers made him carry their heavy bundle, he reached the shore of Inaba long after they did. On the beach Ōkuni found a white hare crying, and he asked the reason for the animal's distress. The hare replied that he had been bitten by a shark and that Ōkuni's brothers had advised him to bathe his wounds in salt water, but the treatment had only aggravated his pain. Ōkuni told him to use fresh water and apply sedge pollen to the wound. The hare was cured and in gratitude promised that the beautiful maiden of Yakami would marry none but Ōkuni.

Rebuffed by the Yakami maiden, Ōkuni's brothers learned of the hare's promise, and tried to kill Ōkuni. Twice he was crushed to death, first by a rolling boulder and later by a falling tree, but on both occasions his mother, Kami-musubi, came to his rescue and restored him to life.

Ōkuni then decided to leave Inaba and go to Izumo, where he met Suseri, daughter of the Sun Goddess's brother Susano-o. Suseri fell in love with Ōkuni, but to gain her hand he had to submit to many tests. After successfully passing all the ordeals, he was admitted to Susano-o's house and waited there for a chance to steal away with Susano-o's possessions. An opportunity came when Susano-o was lulled to sleep as Ōkuni picked lice from his hair. Ōkuni stole Susano-o's weapons and his koto (a zitherlike musical instrument that was sometimes used for sorcery) and carried Suseri away on his back.

Ōkuni married Suseri, but he had a roving eye and courted beautiful maidens from lands as far away as Koshi and Yamato. Although Suseri was jealous, she could do nothing about his liaison with other women, many of whom helped him to attain power and wealth.

Ōkuni allied himself with Sukunahikona, a dwarf god who had crossed the sea to Izumo in a bean-pod boat. Shortly thereafter the forces of Amaterasu reached Izumo's frontiers, and a power struggle ensued. After long negotiations Ōkuni renounced his political power and retired to Kizuki Shrine (later known as Izumo Shrine). He did, however, retain spiritual power over Izumo.

Ever since these legends were incorporated into the Kojiki, the high priest (kuni no miyatsuko ) of Izumo Shrine has enjoyed the privilege of presenting congratulatory prayers upon the accession of each sovereign. Legend has it that Ōkuni meets with other deities from all over Japan once per year in Izumo during the tenth lunar month, usually the season of the first crop-tasting festivals. He is revered as the guardian of good marriages and god of agricultural fertility, and is the principal deity of Izumo Taishakyo, a Shintō sect whose headquarters are located in the town of Kizuki, Shimane Prefecture.

See Also

Japanese Religions, article on The Study of Myths.


Aoki, Michiko Yamaguchi. Ancient Myths and Early History of Japan. New York, 1974. A comprehensive cultural and anthropological study from the dawn of Japanese civilization (c. 300 bce) to the rise of the civil government (700 ce). Ōkuninushi is identified here as Ashihara no Shikowo ("ugly man of the reed field").

Izumo fukoki. Translated and with an introduction by Michiko Yamaguchi Aoki. Tokyo, 1971. Ōkuninushi's role in the Izumo mythic cycle is related here.

Michiko Yamaguchi Aoki (1987)