Amaterasu

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Image:Amaterasu cave.JPG
The Sun goddess emerging out of a cave, bringing sunlight back to the universe.

Amaterasu (天照), Amaterasu-ō-mi-kami (天照大神 or 天照大御神) or Ōhiru-menomuchi-no-kami (大日孁貴神) is in Japanese mythology, a sun goddess, and perhaps the most important Shinto deity (神, kami). She was born from the left eye of Izanagi as he purified himself in a river, and went on to become the ruler of the Higher Celestial Plane (Takamagahara) and was also considered to be directly linked in lineage to the Imperial Household of Japan and the Emperor, who were considered Descendants of the Kami themselves.

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[edit] History

[edit] Story of Amaterasu

Amaterasu is described in the Kojiki as the Sun goddess which was born from Izanagi, who was also accompanied by her sibling, Susanoo, the storm deity. In the Kojiki, Amaterasu is described as the god from which all light emanates, and is also often referred to as the sun goddess because of her warmth and compassion for the people who worshipped her; an interpretation of "light" or "heat" as passion, or purity. This is thought of as a likely interpretation, as upon seeing the actions of her brother, Susanoo, she fled to the cave, Ama-no-Iwato in embarrassment, obscuring the light she emanated and plunging the world into darkness.

Despite the fact that several interpretations list Amaterasu to have acted in embarrassment, it is listed in several places to have been triggered due to fear of reprisals from her brother. According to one interpretation[1], Amaterasu, when visited by her brother, was fearful because of her brother's use of power; using lightning and storms to manipulate the earth so as to allow him easier passage to meet her on the plane of high heaven (高天原, Takamagahara), which subsequently caused all living beings to go into hiding.

Upon seeing the use of Susanoo's power, Amaterasu took precautions and readied a bow and quiver at her side. Despite the fact that this may be seen as a somewhat rash decision, prior to meeting Amaterasu, Susanoo was persistent in meeting his late mother in the underworld. However, it is detailed that Susanoo was in fear of becoming lost, as he had learnt of the disturbing nature of the underworld, and so it is possible that Amaterasu feared Susanoo had visited the underworld, and returned somewhat jaded or changed.

The other gods begged her to come out, to no avail. Then the goddess Ama-no-Uzume had an idea. She hung a mirror (鏡, Kagami) on a nearby tree, organized a celebration and performed an erotic dance before the cave. It made the other gods laugh so loud that Amaterasu became curious and peeked out. She saw her own reflection in the mirror, which startled her so much that the other gods were able to pull her out and convince her to return to the sky.

Later she sent her grandson Ninigi-no-Mikoto to pacify Japan: his great-grandson became the first emperor Emperor Jimmu. With him he had a sacred sword (Kusanagi), jewel and mirror that became the Japanese imperial regalia.

Amaterasu is also credited with inventing the cultivation of rice and wheat, the use of silkworms, and weaving with a loom. Her most important shrine, the Grand Shrine of Ise, is located in Ise, Japan on the island of Honshū. The shrine is torn down and rebuilt every twenty years. In that shrine she is represented as a mirror, one of the three Japanese imperial regalia.

She is celebrated every July 17 with street processions all over the country. Festivities on December 21, the winter solstice, celebrate her coming out of the cave.

Until forced to recant in the terms of surrender at the end of World War II, the Japanese royal family claimed descent from Amaterasu, and the emperor was officially considered divine.

[edit] Difference in Kojiki and Nihonshoki Myths

In Kojiki and Nihonshoki, the goddess was described with slight difference. Mainly, the story of Kojiki is much better known.

First is the story of her birth. In Kojiki she was born after Izanagi failed to retrieve Izanami from underworld. However, in Nihonshoki, Izanagi and Izanami, who was still alive, together decided to create the supreme deity to reign over the World, and gave birth to Amaterasu.

Episode of sending her grandson to Awara-Nakatsukuni(Japan) is also different in two myths. In Kojiki, Amaterasu commanded her son and other gods to pacify Japan. On the other hand, the main article of Nihonshoki records the myth that it was Takamimusubi-no-Kami who took control of the event and sent his maternal grandson Ninigi to Japan. The role of Amaterasu is ambiguous in the episode.

In both cases, Nihonshoki records similar version of Kojiki episode as "aru-fumi", the alternative episode.

[edit] Amaterasu in popular culture

  • In the video game Ōkami, the main character is Amaterasu incarnated as a wolf, and is constantly referred to as "origin of all that is good and mother to us all."
  • A character in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series is named Amerasu after her.
  • Amaterasu (played by Kira Clavell) features as a character in the Stargate SG-1 television series. In the show, she is an ancient Goa'uld responsible for seeding the Shinto religion on earth thousands of years ago.
  • A character in the popular anime/manga Naruto, Itachi Uchiha, has a technique by the name of Amaterasu.
  • Amaterasu was the name of the main flagship in the anime Starship Operators
  • Amaterasu was also the name of the Asuka City counterpart in Digimon World 3
  • Amaterasu is a character in the manga, Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, in which she is the older sister of Princess Tomoyo (also known as Tsukuyomi) and the Empress of the Nihon/Japan (the world Kurogane came from). She is recognized as Tsubasa's incarnation of RG Veda's Kendappa-ō.

[edit] See also

Shinto

Stories and Myths:
Kojiki | Kwaidan | Nihon Shoki | Otogizōshi | Yotsuya Kaidan
Divinities:
List of divinities in Japanese mythology | Kami & Megami | Seven Lucky Gods
Legendary Figures:
Abe no Seimei | Hidari Jingoro | Kintaro | Kuzunoha
Momotaro | Nezumi Kozo | Tamamo-no-Mae | Tomoe Gozen | Urashima Tarō
Mythical and Sacred Locations:
Horai | Mt. Hiei | Mt. Fuji
Rashōmon | Ryugu-jo | Suzakumon | Takamagahara | Yomi
Religions | Sacred Objects | Creatures and Spirits
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Amaterasu

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