Susano-o no Mikoto

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SUSANO-O NO MIKOTO , one of the major deities in Japanese mythology, offspring of Izanagi and Izanami, and brother of Amaterasu. The meaning of the word susano-o is interpreted as either "a terrible man," or "the man of Susa," with susa read as a place-name. (Mikoto is a suffix used for a respected person or deity.) The character of Susano-o is extremely complex because he is an amalgam of several local and national deities. Although this deity personifies evil, several of his acts have an unmistakably beneficent character.

Susano-o caused the most dramatic event in Japanese mythology when he angered Amaterasu. He first aroused her wrath by emptying his bowels in the palace. But when Amaterasu was injured as a result of Susano-o's misbehavior she forthwith entered the Rock Cave of Heaven, and having fastened the Rock Door, dwelt there in seclusion. Eight hundred myriad deities then gathered to consider how to lure her out and restore light to the world. Their solution was to have Ame no Uzume, a female deity, perform an erotic dance in front of the cave. This caused laughter among the deities, and Amaterasu, curious about the noise outside, opened the door a crack and peered out. Then Tajikara no Kami (god of strength) took her by the hand and led her out, and the radiance of the supreme deity filled the universe. For his role in provoking this event, the deities punished Susano-o on the sacred ground. They cut off his beard and his fingernails and toenails, and expelled him from the heavenly world. Because of the banishment of Susano-o, the evil deity, a good crop was expected in the coming new season.

In this myth, Susano-o plays a negative role, but his later activities are more positive. Following his expulsion from the realm of the gods, Susano-o descended to the province of Izumo, which was located in western Honshu, the main island of Japan. There he learned that an eight-headed serpent appeared in Izumo each year to devour a young girl. Susano-o intoxicated the serpent with liquor and killed it. As he cut into the serpent's body, the blade of his sword broke. Thinking this strange, he cut open the flesh and discovered a sword within. The sword, called Kusanagi no Tsurugi, became one of the Three Imperial Regalia. After this incident, Susano-o became the ancestor god of Izumo.

Susano-o is also the most important deity of northern Kyushu. Three female descendants of Susano-o were enshrined at Munakata, a religious center of that region. Thus there is a link between the Munakata and Izumo shrines, not only because Susano-o was the ancestor god of the female deities but also because Ōkuninushi, the son of Susano-o, married Takiribime, one of the three Munakata deities. The Munakata deities also had ties to western Honshu, for the deity enshrined at Itsukushima, near present-day Hiroshima and south of Izumo, is Itsukushima-hime, one of the three Munakata deities.

This geographical pattern suggests that Susano-o and his children were the deities of northern Kyushu and the western tip of Honshu. In sharp contrast, Amaterasu was originally the goddess of Yamato Province in central Japan. Susano-o and Amaterasu might therefore represent two separate political forces before the emergence of a unified Japanese kingdomthe one centered in northern Kyushu, the other in Yamato. When the rival forces merged, the myths were combined as they are found today in the Nihongi and the Kojiki. The Kojiki states that when Susano-o went to the heavenly world, there was consternation and alarm. Amaterasu said of the ascent of Susano-o that there was "surely no good intent. It is only that he wishes to wrest my land from me." Her reaction is understandable if the two deities were rivals before they were united as brother and sister.

Susano-o was also the god of the sea. Itsukushima-hime, one of his three daughters, was also enshrined at Okinoshima, located in the Tsushima Strait north of Kyushu. In ancient times, when the government sent missions to Korea or China, prayers for a safe voyage were offered at Okinoshima. This supports the Nihongi' s description of Susano-o as ruler of the sea.

See Also

Amaterasu Ōmikami; Izanagi and Izanami; Japanese Religions, article on The Study of Myths.


Aston, W. G., trans. Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A. D. 697 (1896). Reprint, 2 vols. in 1, Tokyo, 1972.

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Philippi, Donald L., trans. Kojiki. Princeton, 1969.

Kakubayashi Fumio (1987 and 2005)