Japanese Mythology

Legendary Characters and Popular Tales of Japanese Mythology 

Japanese mythology is rich with epic stories of adventure and serious philosophical musings. Learning about Japanese history and culture is also a good idea.

Japanese mythology is made up of stories based on traditional folk beliefs, and it combines parts of Shinto mythology and Buddhism. Several old tales have been passed down through centuries through both spoken word and writing. These tales cover almost every area of existence. Deities, monarchy, and nature are common motifs in Japanese mythology. In Japanese mythology, gods and goddesses are popular as kami, and many of them! With such a wide array of personalities, it’s no surprise that Japanese culture has so many intriguing stories weaved throughout it. We’ve chosen five of the most famous old Japanese myths and stories for you to experience for yourself their amazing beauty!

Kojiki Japanese Mythology
Credit: KCP International

Japanese Creation Myth

The origin storey is based on the Kojiki “Record of Ancient Matters,” Japan’s earliest book and the Nihon Shoki. The narrative begins in the dark, quiet universe’s endless, formless chaos. Then, particles begin to move and produce sound after many millennia. Finally, the heavens emerged as the lightest particles rise to construct the skies when the first three gods — the Three Creating Deities — emerge.

The leftover particles fall to the ground and form a mass known as “Earth,” but it takes millions of years to solidify. Two other deities appear instantly, this time on Earth, springing from a reed. Many more gods appear, but they serve no purpose other than to exist while the cosmos continues in turmoil. Finally, Izanagi and Izanami, two gods, are called and commanded to descend to the ground to preside over creation. As a result, life on Earth began.

The Sun, the Moon, and the Wind

Japanese mythology character Izanami dies during labour shortly after her birth. Izanagi, distraught, travels to Yomi, the home of the dead, to bring her back. But Izanagi is too late. Izanami’s body has already begun to decay. So, as Izanagi descends to Earth to purify himself, other deities arise, including Amaterasu, the sun goddess, Tsukuyomi, the moon deity, and Susanoo, the wind god.

Amaterasu and the Cave

Amaterasu is the most well-known Japanese deity, and her rivalry with her brother SusanO-O is central to Japanese mythology. After another confrontation with SusanO-O, Amaterasu retreats in the most famous storey cave. As a result, the world plunged into severe darkness, and terrible spirits roamed the Earth.

The gods ultimately lure her out of the cave when Ame-No-Uzume, the goddess of joy, dresses in flowers and dances on an inverted washtub. The male gods laugh hysterically as the blossoms fall from her body. Then, finally, Amenotejikara pulls Amaterasu from the cave as she peeks out, and light returns to the world. In Japan today, this Shinto mythology narrative is frequently recalled through theatrical performances.

Hare of Inaba

The Japanese mythology story has two versions. Let us focus on the most popular one. This ancient Japanese fable is a metaphor for how civilisation fought savagery to become the country of Japan. The storey goes that a hare fools a crocodile into creating a bridge so that he may pass to an island. Unfortunately, the crocodiles find out the ploy and join forces to strip all of the hare’s fur. At the same time, a few guys who look familiar like the king’s son pass the hare. The hare screams out to them, pleading for assistance. The brothers recommend that the hare washes in seawater and dry in the sun.

Unfortunately, the salt from the saltwater makes the hare even more uncomfortable, and the hare cries out in pain as it lies in the field. Soon later, another brother instructs the hare to bathe in clean water and roll in cattail pollen. After the cure, the hare compensates the brother, the fairy Okuni-nushi-no-Mikoto, after telling him that he would marry Princess Yakami. The Inaba hare is honoured for bringing contemporary Japan to life through his portrayal in festivals, artwork, and temples. It is one of Japan’s most well-known tales.

Emperor Jimmu
Credit: Japan Travel

Emperor Jimmu

Jimmu, the great-grandson of the goddess Amaterasu, is Japan’s mythological creator and the country’s first ruler, according to traditional traditions. As per legends, he was born in 711 BCE and died in 585 BCE, making him 126 years old at the time of his death. However, a lack of proof obscures Jimmu’s existence. In reality, current experts think that Suizei, Jimmu’s successor, was the only one of the nine emperors who survived. Despite this factual inconsistency, this old Japanese mythology remains significant because it relates the account of how the Imperial Family, which still exists now, came to be.

Kintarō

Kintaro, a youngster of exceptional strength, was nurtured on Mount Ashigara by a mountain ogress. He developed friends with the mountain’s animals and subsequently became Sakata no Kintoki, a warrior and devoted disciple of Minamoto no Yorimitsu. It is a Japanese custom to display a Kintar doll on Boy’s Day, hoping that the family’s boys would be as courageous and powerful.

Momotarō

His name technically translates as Peach Tar; because Tar is a common Japanese boy’s name, it translates to Peach Boy. Momotar is also the title of several novels, films, and popular works that depict this hero’s storey. According to the current version of the storey (dating from the Edo Period), Momotar arrived on Earth inside a giant peach that was discovered floating down a river by an elderly, childless lady washing laundry. When the mother and her husband attempted to open the peach to eat it, they discovered the kid. The boy said that Heaven had sent him to be their son.

The couple called him Momotar, a combination of momo (peach) and tar (dog) (eldest son in the family). Years later, Momotar abandoned his parents to go to the island of “Onigashima” to eliminate the roving oni (demons or ogres) who lived there. Momotar encountered and befriended a talking dog, monkey, and pheasant along the way, who volunteered to assist him in his mission. Finally, Momotar and his animal companions infiltrated the demons’ fort at the island and forced the demons’ commander, Ura, and his army to surrender. After that, Momotar went home with his new pals, and his family lived happily ever after.

"<yoastmark

Urashima Tarō

Urashima Taro was fishing one day when he came upon a turtle that looked to be in distress. He gently saved the turtle, and when I returned, the turtle whisked Urashima away to the Dragon Palace, far beneath the sea. Urashima met a charming princess there and spent a few days beneath the water (with the gills bestowed by the magic of the turtles).

However, he was unaware that time moved considerably more slowly in the Dragon palace than on land and that three hundred years had passed on land during those few days underwater. When Urashima expressed a desire to return to dry land, the princess presented him with a box holding his real age but did not reveal what was inside. She forbid him to open the box. When he arrived home, he saw that his whole family had perished. Grieving, he opened the box, releasing a cloud of white smoke that caused Urashima to age and die.

Issun-Bōshi

An elderly couple lived alone and without children. Despite her advanced age, the elderly mother longed to have a kid, even if he was only one inch tall. The older woman’s request came true. Issun-bshi was the name given to the small kid (One-Inch Boy). Despite his diminutive size, the boy was well cared for by his parents. However, the youngster discovered one day that he would never grow taller than one inch and embarked on a long journey to discover his place in the world.

Issun-bshi, who saw himself as a small warrior, was given a sewing needle for a sword, a rice bowl watercraft, and chopsticks for oars. He floated down the river to the capital, where he applied for a position with the government. Issun-bshi then visited the house of a wealthy daimyo, the daughter of a beautiful princess. He faced mockery for his little stature there, yet he was nevertheless assigned to escort the princess as her companion. They were travelling together when abruptlyaccosted by an Oni (or an ogre in some translations). The youngster used his needle to defeat the monster, and the Oni dropped his magical Mallet of Luck. The princess utilised the power of the mallet to enlarge him to full size as a prize for his bravery. Issun-bshi and the princess became close friends and finally married.

Bunbuku Chagama
Credit: Wikimedia

Bunbuku Chagama

Japanese mythology “Bunbuku Chagama” translates approximately as “happiness bursting up like a teapot.” The storey is about a poor guy who discovered a tanuki (raccoon dog) trapped in a trap. He released the animal since he felt terrible for it. That night, the tanuki paid a visit to the poor man’s home to express his gratitude for his generosity. The tanuki morphed into a chagama and instructed the guy to sell him for money.

The merchant sold the tanuki-teapot to a monk, who carried it home and boiled water in it after vigorously cleansing it. The tanuki teapot, unable to withstand the heat, developed legs and fled in its half-transformed state. Tanuki returned to the impoverished guy with a new plan. The man would put up a ‘roadside attraction’ (a small circus-like setup) and charge admission to watch a teapot walk a tightrope. The scheme succeeded, and both parties benefited: the guy was no longer impoverished, and the tanuki found a new buddy and a home.

Hanasaka Jiisan

The legend of the older man who caused the flowers to blossom. An elderly couple with no children adored their dog. It dug in the garden one day and discovered a box of gold coins. A neighbour assumed the dog could uncover treasure and arranged to borrow the dog. Unfortunately, the dog only found bones when it dug in his garden, so he killed it. He informed the couple that the dog had died. They wept and buried it beneath the fig tree where they had discovered the wealth.

One night, the dog’s master dreamed that the dog commanded him to cut down the tree, create a mortar out of it, and pound rice in the mortar. He told his wife, who told him they had to do what the dog suggested. When they did, the rice in the mortar transformed into gold. A neighbour borrowed the mortar, but his rice turned into foul-smelling berries, so he and his wife smashed and burnt it.

That night, the dog commanded his master in a dream to take the ashes and sprinkle them on particular cherry trees. When he did, the cherry trees bloomed, and the Daimyo (feudal ruler) who was passing by amazed and lavished him with presents. The neighbour tried the same way, but his ashes blew into the Daimyo’s eyes, so he placed him in prison; after he was released, his village would not allow him to live there again, and he couldn’t find a new home with his filthy ways.

 Susanoo and Orochi

Japanese mythology character Susanoo, who had been expelled from heaven, arrived at Izumo Province (now part of Shimane Prefecture). It was not long until he arrived at an elderly father and his wife, crying by their daughter. The elderly couple recounted that they had eight daughters consumed one by one each year by the dragon Yamata-no-Orochi (eight-forked snake). The terrifying dragon had eight heads and eight tails, spread across eight hills, had eyes the colour of fine wine. Kusinada, or Kushinada-Hime was the eighth and final daughter.

Susanoo recognised the ancient couple’s connection to the sun goddess Amaterasu right away and offered his help in exchange for their lovely daughter’s hand in marriage. Susanoo converted Kushinada into a comb and carefully concealed her in his hair after the parents agreed. He also had a massive fence-like barrier erected around the home, eight gates opened in the fence, eight tables set at each gate, and eight barrels loaded with eight-times brewed rice wine placed on each table. Orochi came and found his route obstructed; despite bragging of his power, he could not pass past the barrier. His excellent sense of smell detected the sake, which Orochi adored, and the eight heads were caught off guard. They wanted to sip the wonderful sake that beckoned to them, but the gate stood in their way, preventing them from getting there.

Susanoo and Orochi
Credit: Blog

 Susanoo and Orochi

One person advised simply smashing the barricade down. However, doing so would knock over the sake and waste it. Another suggestion was to combine their flaming breath and burn the fence to ash, but the sake would evaporate. The heads began looking for an opening and discovered the hatches. They were eager to push their heads through the hole and sip the sake. The smartest head, the eighth, advised his colleagues of the stupidity of such a thing and offered to walk through first to ensure everything was in order. Susanoo waited his turn, allowing the head to drink some sake in safety and report to the others that there was no risk.

Finally, each of the eight heads went through one door and drank every last drop of the sake in the barrels. Susanoo unleashed his attack on Orochi as soon as the heads completed drinking. The big snake, drunk from so much sake, was no match for the spry Susanoo, who beheaded each head in turn and slaughtered Orochi. A nearby river turned crimson with the blood of the vanquished serpent. Susanoo discovered a great blade from the dragon’s tail that his sword had been unable to cut when he sliced the monster into pieces. The sword eventually went to Amaterasu. He got the name Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi (or Kusanagi).

Conclusion

One important component of Japanese mythology is that it supplied a genesis tale for Japan and credited divine origins to the Japanese Imperial line, conferring godhood upon them. Mythology is mysterious, and mystic Japan adds to the enchantment!

 

Leave a Reply