Monday, August 14, 2017

The Myth of Izanami and Izanagi

Izanami and Izanagi creating Japan with the Heavenly Spear Ame-no-nu-boko. Painting by Kobayashi Eitaku. Source: Wikimedia Commons 

In my novel, At Yomi’s Gate, the source of main character Sakura’s transformation is the Spear of Creation which merges her with the fire deity Kagu-tsuchi-no-kami. But where did this god and the divine spear come from in the first place?

Both have their origins in ancient Japanese mythology, specifically in the creation of the islands of Japan by the deities Izanagi and Izanami.  In my book the priest Izu briefly summarizes this story for Fumito, Ikuko and Sakura, but I thought readers might be interested in a more detailed account of the myth.

The most famous record of the Japanese creation story comes from the Kojiki, or “Record of Ancient Things”. The book was written in 712 AD under the direction of the imperial court as a legendary account of the origins of the Japanese people and, especially, the divine ancestry of the ruling clan.  
According to the Kojiki, the land that would become Japan was originally nothing more than a floating oil-slick that “drifted like a jellyfish” (actual translated words. Not necessary to the story, but I love the image of proto-Japan as a big, blobby jellyfish). Seeing that the land was incomplete, the  divine husband and wife Izanagi and Izanami dipped the Heavenly Jeweled Spear (Ame-no-nu-boko) into the briny oil and stirred it up. When they withdrew the Spear, the liquid dripping off its tip piled up to form the Japanese archipelago.

Once the islands were formed, Izanagi and Izanami descended to Earth and had sex after some rather, uhm, talkative foreplay. To quote the Donald L. Phillipi translation of the Kojiki:

“Then Izanagi-no-mikoto said:

‘My body, formed though it be formed, has one place which is formed to excess. Therefore, I would like to take that place in my body which is formed to excess and insert it into that place in your body which is formed insufficiently, and thus give birth to the land. How would this be?’

Izanami-no-mikoto replied, saying:

‘That will be good’”


During their love-making, Izanami orgasmed first and cried out in pleasure. This annoyed Izanagi, who thought it improper for the woman to climax before he did (Nice, bro. Though at least he acknowledged that women DO orgasm, which I don’t think most Western men figured out until, like, the 1960s).

As a result of Izanami’s impropriety, she gave birth to Hiruko the Leech Child, who was born without bones, arms or legs. The couple sent him away in a reed boat, not considering him one of their proper children due to his deformity.

If you’re feeling bad for poor Hiruko, don’t worry.  He struggled through many hardships but eventually managed to grow a skeleton and became the god Ebisu, patron deity of fisherman and luck, and also one of the Seven Gods of Fortune, some of the most popular Japanese deities. So in the end he did all right for himself.

Anyway, after Izanagi and Izanami’s first failed attempt at procreation they tried again, this time with the male god climaxing first. Apparently that was the magic formula because Izanami gave birth to a ton of deities. Just an absolute ton, you guys. The names go on for like eight pages.  Born at the very end, however, was Kagu-tsuchi the fire god, who burned Izanami’s womb so badly during labor that she died. Izanagi, filled with rage, chopped off Kagu-tsuchi’s head and dismembered him.

In our world, Kagu-tsuchi is still worshipped, often under the names Ho-musubi or Hi-no-kami. He is seen as a purifier who cleanses and renews with his flames, but also as a destroyer. Fire is never very far from people’s minds in a volcanic land like Japan.  Particularly in the past when buildings were made entirely of wood and having your entire house burn down was expected at least once in your life.

Kagu-tsuchi’s fate in the world of the Magma Sea, however, is a bit different...

Also, Izanagi eventually tried to visit Izanami’s spirit in the underworld of Yomi. But the account of that journey will have to wait for a future post.

Also also, hopefully if you're reading this, you know about my novel, At Yomi's Gate. But just in case, you can get it from Createspace here.

Or in Paperback and Kindle from Amazon.


Kojiki Translated by Donald L. Philippi. Published by University of Tokyo Press