A Retelling of Shinto Myths 1: Izanagi and Izanami

Updated on January 5, 2018
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Japanophile Yong survived 10 solo trips to Japan. His visits now focus on discovering the country’s lesser known attractions.

Izanagi and Izanami, the divine progenitor gods of Shintoism, during better times.
Izanagi and Izanami, the divine progenitor gods of Shintoism, during better times.

“I told you not to light a fire,” Izanami whispered. “You never do listen to me.”

“That is not true. I lit a fire because I dislike like drinking in the dark.”

“Yet your cup remains untouched. You have not touched it because you know you would be as I am, the moment the sake passes your lips.”

Izanagi said nothing. He kept his gaze on the dance flames, which reflected the ghastly state of his wife, but mercifully kept the worst of her from direct sight. “Yes,” he muttered. “Like you, I would be a prisoner of Yomi-no-Kuni forever. Doomed to wander its plains for eternity. Forbidden to leave.”

“How is he?”

“He?”

“Kagu-Tsuchi.”

“In my rage, I beheaded him and dismembered his body into eight parts. But like you and I, he is a god. He lives on in another form. A phenomena of the floating world to be known as volcanoes. In the same way he burned you to death, he will scotch the land with his sorrow and fury.”

“The mighty Izanagi. Progenitor of the gods. Who does as he pleases, to whoever he wishes.” Izanami rose from where she knelt. As she smoothened her robes, a cascade of maggots fell from within her. Gently, she scooped up a handful, and stroked them as a loving mother would. “I cannot leave this land. Just as I cannot change your unspoken disgust at my condition. However, I will do all I can to stop you from leaving, my husband. Your love for me brought you to this ghastly kingdom in hope of reviving me. My love for you, doubly as strong, will be the chains that keep you beside me forever.”

Izanagi eyed the shadowy forms behind his wife. Till then, the duo had said nothing, nor moved, but he had no doubt that these two would be the first to attack once his wife gives the order. Would he be able to best them in combat? To outrun them? The taller one, Raijin, was the embodiment of lightning. As for the half rotten one with the scaly claws, Izanagi didn’t even want to imagine what she, it, was capable of. “I am Izanagi,” he said as he too rose. “I am the creator god of the eight million. Neither you, nor your henchmen, can hope to restrain me.”

“We will try, regardless. And should we fail, I will kill a thousand of your mortal creations each day. I will continue doing so till you find it in your heart to return to me. To accept me for what I now am.”

“Should you do so, I will create a thousand and five hundred each day to replace those taken by you.” Izanagi braved a direct glance at his wife. His first since entering the hut. What he saw chilled his chest, and steeled his resolve to leave. “I will create new gods too. By myself. They will rule over the lands we rose from the sea. It will be a glorious kingdom. One as splendid as the rising sun. That, I promise you.”

He moved to leave. The rotten one raised a bony arm but Izanami stopped her, muttered something in the language of the dead. As Izanagi stepped into the underworld night, the muttering morphed into a frantic chittering. The cacophony of a thousand insects ravaging the carcasses of the dead. Soon, he knew, he would be running. He would have to do all he could to flee from this deathly nightmare. Would he succeed? Likely. But truly flee from Izanami? His eternal consort, whom he had once loved more than anything in existence?

He did not know the answer to that. Yet, within him, he already knew the dreaded reply.

Izanagi braced himself.

Footnotes

  • Izanagi (伊邪那岐) and Izanami (伊邪那美) are not the oldest Shinto gods. However, they were the ones who rose the islands of Japan from the sea and created a large number of Shinto gods.
  • According to legend, Izanami died while giving birth to Hi-no-Kagu-Tsuchi (火の迦具土), who emerged as a ball of fire. Izanagi journeyed to the land of the dead to retrieve his consort, but was horrified afterseeing her decomposed state.
  • In the original tale, upon leaving the underworld, Izanagi blocked the entrance with a huge boulder. An infuriated Izanami then howled the infamous curse of a thousand per day.

  • After fleeing Yomi-no-Kuni (黄泉の国), Izanagi performed elaborate rituals to cleanse himself. While washing his eyes and nose, he birthed Amaterasu (天照), Tsukuyomi (月詠) and Susanoo (素戔嗚). Amaterasu and Susanoo would become the most important deities in the Shinto pantheon.
  • The Izanagi Shrine in Awaji, Japan, is dedicated to this ancient couple.
  • The eternal feud between the two progenitors of the gods have inspired numerous manga, anime, and games.

Picture References

Izanagi Jingu, located on Awaji Island.
Izanagi Jingu, located on Awaji Island.
Concept art for Izanagi in the Atlus game, Persona 4. The end boss in this game is Izanami.
Concept art for Izanagi in the Atlus game, Persona 4. The end boss in this game is Izanami.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Kuan Leong Yong

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