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A Retelling of Shinto Myths 1: Izanagi and Izanami

A Japanophile who has survived 15 solo trips to Japan. His visits focus on discovering the country’s lesser-known attractions.

The Shinto myth of Izanagi and Izanami. As tragic as it is symbolic.

The Shinto myth of Izanagi and Izanami. As tragic as it is symbolic.

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

“That is not true. I did so because I dislike 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 that sake passes your lips.”

Izanagi said nothing. His gaze remained on the hearth before him, the flames of which reflected the ghastly state of his beloved Izanami but mercifully kept the worst aspects from direct sight. “Yes,” he admitted. “Should I drink this sake, I will forever be a prisoner of Yomi-no-Kuni. Doomed to wander these barren plains for eternity. Forbidden to leave.”

“How is he?”

“He?”

“Kagu-Tsuchi.”

“In the fury, I beheaded him with my sword 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 the writhing mess as a loving mother would. “I cannot leave this land. Nor can I soften your disgust at my condition. However, I will still do all that I can to stop you from leaving, my husband. Your love for me brought you to this ghastly kingdom in hopes 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. For hours, the duo had said nothing, nor moved, but he had no doubt that these two would lunge the moment 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 scaly claws, Izanagi didn’t even want to imagine what she, it, was capable of. “I am Izanagi,” he declared as he too stood. “I am the creator god of the eight million. Neither you, nor your henchmen, can ever hope to restrain me.”

“We will try, regardless. Should we fail, I will kill a thousand of your mortal creations each day. I will keep 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 stolen by you.” Izanagi braved a direct glance at his wife, his first since entering the hut. What he saw chilled his chest but also steeled his resolve to leave. “I will create new gods too. By myself. They will rule over the lands we raised from the sea. It will be a glorious kingdom. One as splendid as the rising sun. That, I promise you.”

He moved. The rotten one immediately raised a bony arm but Izanami stopped her, muttering something in the language of the dead. As Izanagi exited the hut into the underworld night, the mutterings morphed into a frantic chittering, the cacophony of a thousand insects ravaging the carcasses of the dead. Soon, Izanagi knew, he will have to run. He will have to do all that he could to flee from this deadly nightmare.

Would he succeed? With his godly powers, 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 truth.

Izanagi braced himself.

Footnotes

  • In Shintoism, Izanagi (伊邪那岐) and Izanami (伊邪那美) are not the oldest 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 Shinto legends, Izanami died giving birth to Hi-no-Kagu-Tsuchi (火の迦具土), because the latter emerged as a ball of fire. Izanagi later journeyed to the land of the dead to retrieve his consort but was horrified after seeing 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 deaths per day.
  • The above-mentioned entrance to the underworld is believed to be in the Iya area of Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture.
  • 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 eventually 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 Izanagi and Izanami, progenitors of the Shinto gods, have inspired numerous manga, anime, and games. For example, Atlus’ Persona 4.

Picture References

Izanagi Jingu, located on Awaji Island.

Izanagi Jingu, located on Awaji Island.

Concept art for Izanagi in the PlayStation 2 video game, Persona 4. The end boss in this game is Izanami.

Concept art for Izanagi in the PlayStation 2 video game, Persona 4. The end boss in this game is Izanami.

© 2016 Yong Kuan Leong

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