Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Creation Myth in Japan

Much like the book of Genesis in the Holy Bible, and other religions all over the world, Japan has its own myth of Creation. The beginning of Japanese history appears in two prominent historical books, one of them being "Kojiki", which is generally translated as "The Record of Ancient Matters"; this is the oldest historical record in Japan. The other book is "Nihon Shoki", which translates into English as "The Chronicles in Japan". According to Kojiki, there was chaos before the sky and earth divided. After the earth separated from sky, the first seven gods were born. The last two gods born were the male god Izanagi and the female god Izanami.

As Izanagi and Izanami stood at the bridge between the sky and earth, Izanagi used his pike to stir the mud of chaos below them. When he lifted his pike, eight drops of mud fell back to earth, becoming the eight islands of Japan. The two gods, Izanagi and Izanami, went to one of the islands created by the mud and married. Izanami gave birth to gods of stone, wood, ocean, water, wind, and fire. When the god of fire was born, Izanami was burned while giving birth and died. Izanagi was so saddened by this that he traveled to the land of the dead in an attempt to take his wife back.

When Izanagi found Izanami, she agreed to go back with him. However, she asked her husband to not look back at her on their way out. Izanagi took his wife's hand and walked. As they approached the exit of the land of the dead, Izanagi broke his promise and looked back at Izanami, finding his wife's body half rotted. More than half of her skin and flesh was melted with her bones sticking out; she was a zombie.

Izanagi, shocked, ran away. Izanami chased after him and cursed him, saying that she would kill 1000 of his people. Izanagi responded back that he would have his people give birth to 1500 babies. Izanagi closed the exit from the land of the dead with a large and heavy rock, making it impossible for people to travel to the land of the dead in the future. Izanagi purified his body and soul and formally divorced Izanami. This was the first divorce in Japanese history. Later, he remarried another goddess and gave birth to the goddess of the sun, who became the first ruler of Japan.

This story is close to the story of Orpheus in Greek mythology. As with Greek mythology, Japanese mythology describes the gods as being like human beings. However, Orpheus' wife simply disappeared when Orpheus broke his word and looked back at his wife as he was taking her from the land of the dead. The Japanese version seems fresher and more vivid.

It is also interesting that the first ruler in Japanese history is a shaman woman, who used the power of the sun to exercise her magic power.

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