Amaterasu Picture

Amaterasu with the head of Susanoo

Ink on watercolor paper

Amaterasu, the powerful sun goddess of Japan, is the most well known deity of Japanese mythology. Her feuding with Susanoo, her uncontrollable brother, however, is equally infamous and appears in several tales. One story tells about Susanoo's wicked behavior toward Izanagi, who, tired of Susanoo's repeated complaints, banishes him to Yomi. Susanoo grudgingly acquiesces, but has first to attend some unfinished business. He goes to Takamagahara ("heaven") to bid farewell to his sister, Amaterasu. Amaterasu knows that her unpredictable brother does not have good intentions and is prepared for battle. "For what purpose do you come here?" asks Amaterasu. "To say farewell," answers Susanoo.

But she does not believe him and requests a contest for proof of his good faith. A challenge is set as to who can bring forth more noble and divine children. Amaterasu creates three women from Susanoo's sword, while Susanoo makes five men from Amaterasu's ornament chain. Amaterasu claims the title to the five are attributed to Susanoo.

Both gods declare themselves to be victorious. Amaterasu's insistence in her claim drives Susanoo to violent campaigns that reach their climax when he hurls a half-flayed pony (an animal sacred to Amaterasu) into Amaterasu's weaving hall and causes the death of one of her attendants. Amaterasu, angered by the display, hides in the cave called Iwayado. As the sun goddess disappears into the cave, darkness covers the world.

All of the gods and goddesses strive to coax Amaterasu out of the cave, but she ignores them all. Finally, the kami of merriment, Ame-no-Uzume, hatches a plan. She places a large bronze mirror on a tree, facing Amaterasu's cave. Then, Uzume clothes herself in flowers and leaves, overturns a washtub and begins to dance upon it, drumming the tub with her feet. Finally, Uzume sheds the leaves and flowers and dances naked. All of the male gods roar with laughter, and Amaterasu becomes curious. When she peeks outside, a ray of light called "dawn" escapes and Amaterasu is dazzled by the beautiful goddess that she sees, this being her own reflection in the mirror. The god, Ameno-Tajikarawo, pulls her from the cave, which is sealed with a shimenawa. Surrounded by merriment, Amaterasu's depression disappears, and she agrees to return with her light. Uzume is then known as the kami of dawn as well as of mirth.
Continue Reading: Sun