Top 10 Japanese Gods and Goddesses
From the stories in the mythology of Shinto religion lie deep and spectacular myths about the various Japanese gods and goddesses. Shinto, which means “The Way of the Gods”, refers to the traditional religion of ancient Japan. In some cases, the religion was called Kami-no-michi.
Largely drawn from the ancient texts – “Kojiki” (c. 700 AD) and “Nihonshoki” (c. 730 AD) – worldhistoryedu.com presents to you the 10 most famous Japanese gods and goddesses:
According to the myth, Amenominakanushi was a primordial god who emerged from the chaotic waters of the universe at the beginning of time. Amenominakanushi had no gender. He had a companion called Kunitokotachi, who also had no gender. The two deities had their thrones atop a nine-level cloud in the sky. Amenominakanushi and his companion later created Izanami and Izanagi.
Amenominakanushi has been sometimes called the “Heart of the Universe”. The god was the revered as the first kami (holy spirits/powers). Both Amenominakanushi and Kunitokotachi were seen as the light of the universe or the “gods who came into being alone”.
He is a member of the five kotoamatsukami – the first distinguished heavenly gods – that were born in Takamagahara (dweling place of the gods). The five Kotoamatsukami were Amenominakanushi, Takamimusubi, Kamimsubi, Umashi’ashikabihikoji, and Amenotokotachi.
The worship of Amenominakanushi was prevalent among some Shinto sects during the Meiji period (1868 – 1912).
Also called Kuninotokotachi-no-Kami, this god rose from the primordial soil of the universe. It is believed that Kunitokotachi emerged with Amenominakanushi during the chaotic days of the earth.
According to Nihon Shoki, Kunitokotachi is one of the three primordial deities. The myth states that he came out of reddish substance that grew in between heaven and earth.
Kuninotokotachi’s dwelling place was on Mount Fuji. Many ancient Japanese myths claim that Kunitokotachi is a genderless deity. However, that has not stopped some people from describing Kunitokatachi as a male deity; hence, his famous epithet, “God Founder of the Nation”.
After he was created, the god Izanagi was commanded by Kunitokotachi and Amenominakanushi to create the land and other gods. He was to complete this task along with his sibling the goddess Izanami. The two gods then proceeded to create a host of islands. They famously created the Japanese archipelago.
After completing the task assigned to him, Izanagi went on to become the god of light and heaven. His sphere of control also included the sky. After his wife, Izanami, was burnt to death by their son Kagutsuchi, Izanagi travelled to the underworld in a bid to bring back Izanami. However, before he could get back, he was tempted into eating in the Underworld and could not escape the realm. He remained there for eternity and became the god of the Underworld.
A different account states that Izanagi did return from the underworld and bore the children Amaterasu, Tsukiyomi and Mikoto.
Created by supreme deities Kunitokotachi and Amenominakanushi, Izanami helped her brother Izanagi in creating the land and other subsequent Japanese gods. Izanami’s name means “she who invites you to enter”. Contrary to Izanagi, Izanami represents the earth and night.
Izanami and her companion Izanagi gave birth to a number of different gods and goddesses, including the Japanese god of fire Kagutsuchi (Hinokagutshuchi). Sadly, Izanami was burnt to death by Kagutsuchi.
Shinto sun god Amaterasu was the offspring of Izanagi. She emerged from the left eye of Izanagi. Commonly called the “shining in the Heaven”, Amaterasu had immense abilities. As a sun deity, she was seen as the one exalted above everyone. She was the bringer of day, warmth and sunshine. Her presence nourished everything on the earth. Amaterasu shrines were common in 5 AD with most of those shrines built on the Isaru River.
After her brother Susanoh burnt down her crops, Amaterasu locked herself in a cave. She hid the sun for days until she was eventually pacified by the dance of the goddess Uzume.
Emerging from the right eye of his father Izanagi, Mikoto went on to become the god of the moon. In some cases, he has been called Tsukiyomi no Mikoto.
In order to get to Takamagahara (heaven), he once embarked on a very strenuous exercise of climbing the celestial ladder. Upon arriving, he married his sister Amaterasu.
The god Susanoh was known as the god of the sea. He is believed to have be born out of the nose of Izanagi, the god of the sky.
Susanoh had dominion over the seas, oceans and rivers. He was also the god of rain, lightning and thunder. After getting into a scuffle with his sister, the goddess Amaterasu, Susanoh found himself evicted from heaven. He exacted revenge by razing Amaterasu’s rice fields to the ground. Filled with rage, he even killed one of Ameterasu’s priests. Amaterasu responded by hiding the sun from view for a while.
Due to his erratic nature and temper, Susanoh was also seen as the god of the Underworld, particularly the god of snakes and dragons.
Ninigi is commonly seen as the grandson of Amaterasu. After a council of the gods in heaven, it was decided that Ninigi be sent down to earth to rule in a just and fair manner. It was from Ninigi’s lineage that some of the first emperors of Japan emerged. It for this reason many called Ninigi the Father of Emperors.
Ukemochi was the deity in charge of fertility, agriculture and food. She was known for preparing the most amazing dishes across the universe. The goddess once made a feast for the god Mikoto. She did this by facing the seas and then spitting up a fish. After that, she went to the forest and spat out a sumptuous wild game. Finally, she went to the rice fields and came back with a bowl of rice. Feeling enraged, Mikoto killed Ukemochi and buried her body in the land. And even in her death, Ukemochi’s body continued to feed the people with rice, silkworms and beans.
The goddess Uzume was generally associated with merry making and laughter. She was arguably the best dancer in heaven. In Shinto mythology, it was believed that Uzume spreads bliss, abundance health and laughter wherever she went. She could also turn the gloomiest of days in heaven into a sunny one. She once came to the aid of the grieving goddess Amaterusu who had locked herself in a cave, along with the sun. Amaterusu was saddened by the death of her assistant. In order to cheer Amaterusu up, Uzume performed an exquisite dance. Shortly after, Amaterusu came out of hiding, effectively bringing back the sun.
Other interesting facts about Japanese gods
- Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism had a tremendous influence on the mythical stories of Japanese gods and goddesses.
- The god Fukurokuji was believed to be the reincarnation of Hsuan-wu, a Taoist deity. He was associated with good luck, happiness and long life.
- In some Buddhist sects, Benten – the goddess of eloquence and patron of geishas – was associated with the Hindu goddess Saraswati (goddess of wisdom/knowledge and learning). Saraswati was part of a trio of mother deities in Hindu mythology. They other two goddesses were Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and beauty) and Kali. (the goddess of power).
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