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Izanagi and Izanami

Izanagi and Izanami. The paired ‘male who invites’ and ‘female who invites’ in Japanese mythology. They are of the seventh generation of gods who are required to undertake creation—including, in the Nihongi, Amaterasu. They stand on the floating bridge of heaven and stir up the matter of creation with a spear thrust into the depth of the ocean. Izanami is destroyed in the making of fire and goes to the land of Yomi (death). Izanagi searches for her, and when he finds her, he disobeys her command not to look at her. He lights a torch and sees her decaying body. Yomi tries to catch him so that he cannot return to the living and warn them about death, but he escapes. Izanami threatens in her anger to kill a thousand beings every day, but Izanagi responds by promising to bring one and a half thousand to birth. So begins the process of life and death.

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Izanagi and Izanami

Izanagi and Izanami

In Japanese mythology the two deities Izanagi (The Male Who Invites) and Izanami (The Female Who Invites) are the creators of Japan and its gods. In one important myth, they descend to Yomitsu Kuni, the underworld and land of darkness. Stories about Izanagi and Izanami are told in two works from the a.d. 700S, the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan).

According to legend, after their birth Izanagi and Izanami stood on the floating bridge of heaven and stirred the primeval ocean with a jeweled spear. When they lifted the spear, the drops that fell back into the water formed the first solid land, an island called Onogoro. Izanagi and Izanami descended to the island and became husband and wife. Their first child was deformed, and the other gods said it was because Izanami spoke before her husband at their marriage ceremony.

The couple performed another wedding ceremony, this time correctly. Izanami soon gave birth to eight lovely children, who became the islands of Japan. Izanagi and Izanami then created many gods and goddesses to represent the mountains, valleys, waterfalls, streams, winds, and other natural features of Japan. However, during the birth of Kagutsuchi, the fire god, Izanami was badly burned. As she lay dying, she continued to create gods and goddesses, and still other deities emerged from the tears of the grief-stricken Izanagi.

When Izanami died, she went to Yomi-tsu Kuni. Izanagi decided to go there and bring his beloved back from the land of darkness and death. Izanami greeted Izanagi from the shadows as he approached the entrance to Yomi. She warned him not to look at her and said that she would try to arrange for her release from the gods of Yomi. Full of desire for his wife, Izanagi lit a torch and looked into Yomi. Horrified to see that Izanami was a rotting corpse, Izanagi fled.

Angry that Izanagi had not respected her wishes, Izanami sent hideous female spirits, eight thunder gods, and an army of fierce warriors to chase him. Izanagi managed to escape and blocked the pass between Yomi and the land of the living with a huge boulder. Izanami met him there, and they broke off their marriage.

deity god or goddess

underworld land of the dead

primeval from the earliest times

Izanagi felt unclean because of his contact with the dead, and he took a bath to purify himself. A number of gods and goddesses, both good and evil, emerged from his discarded clothing as Izanagi bathed. The sun goddess Amaterasu appeared from his left eye, the moon god Tsuki-yomi appeared from his right eye, and Susano-ô came from his nose. Proud of these three noble children, Izanagi divided his kingdom among them.

See also Amaterasu; Japanese Mythology; Susano-Ô; Underworld.

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Izanagi and Izanami

IZANAGI AND IZANAMI

IZANAGI AND IZANAMI , in Japanese mythology, are the universal parents and creators who produced the land, mountains, rivers, waves, trees, fields, wind, fog, and the deities ruling these things. According to the early written chronicle of Japan called the Kojiki, they appeared on the Takama no Hara, or High Plain of Heaven, as brother and sister. Standing on the Bridge of Heaven, they churned the ocean's water with a jeweled spear, then drew the spear up. The brine that dripped from the tip of the spear became the first Japanese island, Onogoro. Izanagi and Izanami descended onto the island, erected there a high pillar and a hall, then circled the pillar in opposite directions. When they met, they were united, and thus the islands of Japan were born.

After the birth of the islands, various other deities were born of the two creator-parents. But when the fire god Kagutsuchi was born, the mother goddess Izanami was burned to death by the heat. Like the Greek Orpheus, Izanagi descended to the land of Yomi (the underworld) to bring back his wife. His attempt ended in failure when he peered into a dark room with his torch against Izanami's wishes, only to find there her decaying corpse. Pursued by the enraged Izanami and her subordinate demons, Izanagi fled. Finally, the two deities stood face to face at the entrance of the underworld and agreed upon a divorce. It was decided that Izanagi should rule the living and Izanami the dead (a motif paralleling that of Tane and Hina in Polynesia). Izanagi then returned to the earth, where he purified himself in a stream. From his purified eyes and nose appeared three great deities: Amaterasu (the sun goddess), Tsukiyomi (the moon god), and Susano-o (the violent god). These deities were appointed rulers of heaven, night, and the ocean. Izanagi thereupon returned to the celestial abode, where he remained.

Somewhat different versions of the creation myth are recorded in the other ancient Japanese chronicle, the Nihonshoki. In it, the three great deities are born of both Izanagi and Izanami, not of Izanagi alone. There is no descent to the underworld by Izanagi, who retires permanently to a hidden palace on the island of Awaji in the Inland Sea. Since ancient times, there has been an Izanagi shrine on Awaji, and the divine couple have been worshiped by the fishermen and divers of this and neighboring islands. The myth of kuni-umi ("birth of the islands from the sea") seems to have originated with the Awaji fishermen. In the most primitive form of the story the divine couple created only Awaji and its tiny neighboring islands, but the myth must eventually have grown in scale to include the creation of all the islands of Japan.

The Kojiki as well as the Nihonshoki record that the two deities gave birth first to Awaji. According to another account in the Nihonshoki, the fifth-century emperors Richū and Ingyō went hunting on this island, and through mediums were given oracles by Izanagi, Awaji's guardian deity. Then, as the fishermen migrated to or traded with other areas, their myths and formal worship were diffused. The tenth-century Engishiki records several shrines dedicated to Izanagi and Izanami in the Kinki area (the area enclosed by Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe). The oldest manuscript of the Kojiki describes the worship of Izanagi at the Taga shrine in Ōmi (now Shiga prefecture). In later ages the Taga shrine became the most famous and popular shrine for the worship of the divine couple.

Bibliography

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

Chamberlain, Basil Hall, trans. Kojiki: Records of Ancient Matters (1882). 2d ed. With annotations by W. G. Aston. Tokyo, 1932; reprint, Rutland, Vt., and Tokyo, 1982.

Matsumae Takeshi. Nihon shinwa no shin kenkyū. Tokyo, 1960.

Matsumoto Nobuhiro. Nihon shinwa no kenkyū. Tokyo, 1971.

Matsumura Takeo. Nihon shinwa no kenkyū, vol 2. Tokyo, 1955.

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

Matsumae Takeshi (1987)

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Izanagi and Izanami

Izanagi and Izanami

Nationality/Culture

Japanese/Shinto

Pronunciation

ee-zuh-NAH-gee and ee-zuh-NAH-mee

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

The Kojiki, the Nihongi

Lineage

None

Character Overview

In Japanese Shinto mythology the two gods Izanagi (The Male Who Invites) and Izanami (The Female Who Invites) are the creators of Japan and its other gods. Stories about Izanagi and Izanami are told in two works from the 700s ce, the Kojiki (pronounced koh-JEE-kee) and the Nihongi (pronounced nee-HOHN-gee).

Major Myths

According to legend, the first gods ordered the divine beings Izanagi and Izanami to create the islands of Japan. The two stood on the floating bridge of heaven and stirred the ancient ocean with a jeweled spear. When they lifted the spear, the drops that fell back into the water formed the first solid land, an island called Onogoro (pronounced oh-NOH-goh-roh). Izanagi and Izanami descended to the island and became husband and wife. Their first child was deformed, and the other gods said it was because Izanami spoke before her husband at their marriage ceremony.

The couple performed another wedding ceremony, this time correctly. Izanami soon gave birth to eight lovely children, who became the islands of Japan. Izanagi and Izanami then created many gods and goddesses to represent the mountains, valleys, waterfalls, streams, winds, and other natural features of Japan. However, during the birth of Kagutsuchi (pronounced kah-guh-TSOO-chee), the fire god, Izanami was badly burned. As she lay dying, she continued to create gods and goddesses, and still other deities emerged from the tears of the grief-stricken Izanagi.

When Izanami died, she went to Yomi (pronounced YOH-mee), the underworld or land of the dead. Izanagi decided to go there and bring his beloved back from the land of darkness and death. Izanami greeted Izanagi from the shadows as he approached the entrance to Yomi. She warned him not to look at her and said that she would try to arrange for her release from the gods of Yomi. Full of desire for his wife, Izanagi lit a torch and looked into Yomi. Horrified to see that Izanami was a rotting corpse, Izanagi fled.

Angry that Izanagi had not respected her wishes, Izanami sent hideous female spirits, eight thunder gods, and an army of fierce warriors to chase him. Izanagi managed to escape and blocked the pass between Yomi and the land of the living with a huge boulder. Izanami met him there and, unable to get past the boulder, vowed to take revenge by strangling 1,000 people a day. Izanagi responded by saying he would cause the birth of 1,500 people a day. They broke off their marriage.

Izanagi felt unclean because of his contact with the dead, and he took a bath to purify himself. A number of gods and goddesses, both good and evil, emerged from his discarded clothing as Izanagi bathed. As he washed his face, the sun goddess Amaterasu (pronounced ah-mah-te-RAH-soo) appeared from his left eye, the moon god Tsuki-yomi (pronounced TSOO-kee-yoh-mee) appeared from his right eye, and Susano-ô (pronounced soo-sah-noh-OH) came from his nose. Proud of these three noble children, Izanagi divided his kingdom among them.

Izanagi and Izanami in Context

The tale of Izanami's death and Izanagi's journey to the underworld offers some insight into traditional Japanese ideas about men and women. Izanami is shown to be a creature closely tied to nature and natural processes; she gives birth much like any woman would, and when she dies, her body rots just like a human body. Izanagi, on the other hand, creates children through more supernatural means: through his own tears, and through purified parts of his body while cleansing. This suggests a traditional Japanese view of women as creators of the natural or organic, and men as creators of the supernatural or cultural.

Izanami's error in speaking before her husband during their wedding ceremony was a violation of social order, and resulted in the birth of an unnatural baby. This detail suggests a belief in the ancient Japanese culture that women should defer to men, and that their failure to do so can have bad consequences.

Key Themes and Symbols

Stories in which one-half of a romantic couple dies young and the other half attempts to retrieve the beloved from the underworld appear in several cultures. As in the case with Izanagi and Izanami, the attempt is usually either unsuccessful or only partially successful, indicating cultural beliefs regarding the impossibility of cheating death. Even love cannot conquer death. The transformation of Izanami from a creative force to a destructive one after her separation from Izanagi is an important theme, and mirrors female deities in other cultures who both give and take life.

Izanagi and Izanami in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Izanagi and Izanami appear in both of the main works of Japanese mythology , the Kojiki and the Nihongi. In art, they are usually depicted together, standing in the clouds and stirring the ancient sea with a spear.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Compare the story of Izanagi's journey to the underworld with the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. How are the two stories similar? How are they different? Do you think the similarities are coincidental, or could they represent themes common in many cultures?

SEE ALSO Amaterasu; Japanese Mythology; Underworld

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