Japanese mythology A to Z

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Japanese Mythology A to Z second Edition

MYTHOLOGY A TO Z African Mythology A to Z Celtic Mythology A to Z Chinese Mythology A to Z Egyptian Mythology A to Z Greek and Roman Mythology A to Z Japanese Mythology A to Z Native American Mythology A to Z Norse Mythology A to Z South and Meso-American Mythology A to Z


Japanese Mythology A to Z Second Edition

8 Jeremy Roberts

[ Japanese Mythology A to Z, Second Edition Copyright © 2010 by Jim DeFelice All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information contact: Chelsea House An imprint of Infobase Publishing 132 West 31st Street New York NY 10001 ISBN-13: 978-1-60413-435-3 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Roberts, Jeremy, 1956– Japanese mythology A to Z / Jeremy Roberts. — 2nd ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-60413-435-2 (hc: alk. paper) 1. Mythology, Japanese—Encyclopedias. 2. Japan—Religion—Encyclopedias. I. Title. BL2202.R63 2009 299.5'6—dc22 2009008242 Chelsea House books are available at special discounts when purchased in bulk quantities for businesses, associations, institutions, or sales promotions. Please call our Special Sales Department in New York at (212) 967-8800 or (800) 322-8755. You can find Chelsea House on the World Wide Web at http://www.chelseahouse.com Text design by Lina Farinella Composition by EJB Publishing Services Map by Patricia Meschino Cover printed by Bang Printing, Brainerd, Minn. Book printed and bound by Bang Printing, Brainerd, Minn. Date printed: November, 2009 Printed in the United States of America 10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1 This book is printed on acid-free paper.







Map of Japan 


Map of Asia 


A-to-Z Entries 


Major Shinto Gods and Goddesses  Major Buddhist Deities  Selected Bibliography  Index 







I would like to thank my editors and the production staff at Chelsea House for their help. Debra Scacciaferro provided valuable research and organizational assistance. I would like to thank as well the people and ancestors of Japan for their inspiration. My humble effort is unworthy of their majestic spirit.




Where do we come from? What will happen to us when we die? How should we live our lives? We still ask these questions today. In fact, the desire to ask them may be one of the things that makes us human. All societies ask these questions, but not every society answers them in the same way. In most ancient human societies, the means of answering these important questions was religion. One way that ancient religions tried to answer basic questions about life and what it means to be human was through telling stories, specifically myths. A myth, in the original sense of the word, is a story whose truth is unquestioned.

The History Setting Because myths reflect the culture that produces them, it is often useful to know a bit about that culture when studying them. This is especially true in Japan, where a number of influences came together to produce a rich and complex set of myths, or mythology.

Ancient Japan Archaeologists are still working to discover the very early origins of human culture in Japan. There is definite evidence of humans at least 30,000 years ago, but little information about these people has survived. Probably about 10,000 b.c. people whom we now call the Jōmon were living in Japan. The name Jˉo mon (“ropepattern”) comes from a type of pottery they made. It looks as if rope was pressed onto it to make markings, or it was made by coiling strips of clay. By the fourth century b.c., a new culture emerged in Japan. These people—named Yayoi, after the place where their homes were first found by archaeologists—grew rice and used copper and other metals that earlier inhabitants did not. The gap between 10,000 b.c. and 300 b.c. is vast, and there is considerable debate among scholars about what happened during that time. They are not even sure where the Yayoi came from, though they can offer a good guess. Because of the metal objects and items such as mirrors associated with Yayoi excavations, archaeologists believe that the Yayoi came from China and Korea, or traded with people who did. The exact nature of this immigration or trade is still being studied, as is the culture of the times. But the Yayoi people used sophisticated iron tools and had social and agricultural systems capable of sustaining large populations. Large populations almost always have complex religious and political systems, and this seems to fit with ancient Japan as well. The Yayoi seem to have spread from areas in western Japan eastward. By a.d. 250–350, the inhabitants of the Nara plain in Japan built large burial mounds,


  Japanese Mythology A to Z

A large clay vessel imprinted with the distinctive rope pattern of the Jōmon period of early Japanese history.  (Photo by Kropsoq/Used under a Creative Commons license)

called kofun in Japanese. Historians generally connect the growth and spread of these keyhole-shaped tombs with the spread of the Yamato clan, a large extended family that was prominent in the Yamat region of Kyo¯shū, the main island of Japan, by the early centuries of the first millennium and controlled western and central Japan. Archaeologists also point out that the kofun are similar to mounds in southern Korea. There are several possible reasons for this. One is increased trade between the two areas. Another is the conquest of Korea by the Japanese people. But many anthropologists outside of Japan accept what is known as the horse rider theory, which was suggested by Egami Namio. According to this theory, invaders

Introduction  xi

originally from China settled in Korea and then came to Japan. These people— who rode horses—subdued the early Yamato leaders and substituted themselves as the new rulers. Gradually they took over all of Japan, unifying the many small settlements. Besides archaeological finds, there is support for this theory in early Japanese myths and legends. Horses, for example, begin to appear only in stories known from a certain time. There are parallels or similarities in some of the myths to events known or thought to have happened. Of course, by their very nature, myths are open to interpretation. It would be extremely misleading to base any historical conclusion on myths alone.

A Dotaku bronze bell from the late Yayoi period of Japanese history.  (Photo by PHGCom/Used under a Creative Commons license)

xii  Japanese Mythology A to Z Wherever they came from, the Yamato kings or emperors gradually and steadily extended their rule over the Japanese islands through warfare and diplomacy. Rival states in the Japanese islands were generally organized according to clans or family structures. They were called uji, and an important function of each clan was to honor or venerate ancestral gods. The religion of Japan’s emperor and people is Shinto. It involves the worship of different kami, which can be the spirits of ancestors or the divine essence of natural elements and phenomena, such as the rain or a mountain. To justify their control, the Yamato rulers associated their clan with a story about the beginning of the world that linked them to the gods who had created it. This creation myth, or story about the creation of the world, became central to the Shinto religion. Once writing was introduced in Japan, those oral traditions were recorded in the Kojiki (Book of Ancient Things) and the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan, compiled in the eighth century).

The Introduction of Buddhism The country unified under the Yamato clan was strong enough to invade Korea, but the major Asian power at the time was China. By the fifth century a.d. frequent contact between Japan and China brought many Chinese influences to Japan. This helped spread and introduce Buddhism, an important religion that had begun in India centuries before (see Indian influence). Other Chinese belief systems, such as Daoism and Confucianism (see Confucius), were also introduced to Japan. At the same time, Japan’s government began to model itself along the Chinese model. It became more centralized and bureaucratic.

Medieval Japan Over a period of several hundred years, beginning in the ninth century, the emperor’s power was whittled away. First, powerful families or clans took over as regents, acting as assistants to the emperor and then concentrating their own power. Then, as the central government became weaker, rival families or groups began to assume more authority. Conflicts between the emperor and powerful families led to a bloody civil war between the Minamoto and Taira clans at the end of the 12th century, culminating in a battle at Dannoura in 1185 that resulted in the annihilation of the Taira, also known as Heike. This period and especially these battles gave rise to many legends and popular stories in Japan. In the era that followed, the Shogun, or military leader of Japan, dominated the country, ruling as much in his own name as the emperor’s. Although the emperor and his family lost temporal power, his direct connection to the most important gods in the Japanese Shinto pantheon meant that he retained an important role in society. Others could usurp his authority or rule in his name, but they could not replace him. Nor could they take his place in religious ceremonies. This unique position helped ensure that the imperial family survived the tumultuous times. But it helped the society as well, giving it continuity and meaning. Japanese traditions—many deeply connected to myth—also survived with the imperial family. The period from 1185 to 1868 was dominated by three different shogunates, or military regimes, perio...

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