A Retelling of Shinto Myths 2: Sun Goddess Amaterasu Hides Herself in a Cave
“What’s wrong with smashing the boulder?” Tajikarao demanded. “That solves everything, doesn’t it? I could get it done in a jiffy.”
“We already explained why that wouldn’t work,” Uzume snapped. “What happens if she gets even more annoyed and retreats into another cave? What happens if she adds that to her list of grievances and decides to stay off the job for good?”
“Tajikarao-San, I think we have long established that the crux of the matter is neither the boulder nor how to get her ladyship to leave the cave. It’s how to convince her to resume her duties willingly.” To ensure Tajikarao fully abandon the idea of using brute force, Omoi-Kane stared at him with all his eyeballs till the God of Strength glumly nodded. “There are eight million of us. Do you honestly think we can’t pull out one sun goddess from a dank cave if we need to?”
“How about getting, you know, him, to go talk to her?” Uzume suggested carefully. She winced when Omoi-Kane’s many eyes glared. “I heard from Mika-kun he’s really sorry this time. He knows he crossed the line.”
“The Impetuous Male feeling sorry?” Tajikarao gasped in disbelief. “The unforgiving Lord of the Storm feeling sorry for wreaking disaster and havoc?”
“Stop calling him that! You know, he behaves this way because you guys keep saying things like that! Seriously, he’s not as bad as everyone says. You just need to give him some space, and time. You have to understand too that that he has a more aggressive sense of humour compared to us, and that …”
“My dear,” Omoi-Kane tapped Uzume’s hand gently. “While you aren’t completely wrong, I believe personal space, time or empathy are all irrelevant in the face of this crisis. For that matter, let us also not waste time debating the reason for this meaningless feud between her ladyship and her younger brother. Our concern is how to get the ladyship to resume her duties. I have a plan in mind.”
Omoi-Kane straightened himself. In the shuddering, rippling way only a magical floating blob of brain could. “As I mentioned, our objective is to convince Lady Amaterasu to resume her duties willingly. We could try reasoning with her, and given her gracious nature, I suppose she would eventually agree. However, with the world freezing as we speak, that solution takes too long. We need something faster.”
“Then get to the point,” Tajikarao growled. “The way you speak, we would all be frozen solid by the time you finish.”
“Very simply, let’s use a humourous situation as the conduit. Let’s put everybody, including her ladyship, into a raucous mood. During which it would be unbecoming for her to say no when we invite her to resume her duties.”
“Wait a minute,” Uzume interrupted. “You’re saying we make her … laugh? And she’d agree to anything afterward?”
“Yes. To do so, let’s have a festival! In the future, mortals would call this … a matsuri! Yes! A matsuri! We would set up a splendid Sakaki tree outside the cave and we would dance around this, while wearing our gayest! On the tree, let’s also hang magnificent jewels and a beautiful, beautiful mirror. When her ladyship is curious about the ruckus, she would peep from the cave and upon seeing her own glorious reflection in the mirror, she would be so mesmerised, she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from wandering to it. We can then quickly seal the darn cave.”
Tajikarao stared. So did Uzume. When the heavenly dancer spoke again, her voice was pressed from the effort not to snap. “You think a plan like that would work, oh great God of Supreme Intelligence. Our Sun Goddess would be dumb enough to fall for something as ridiculous as that.”
“Did you not hear what I was saying? Of course it is ridiculous. It is meant to be ridiculous! Besides, what’s going to convince her ladyship to leave, is something else.” Omoi-Kane snaked over a tentacle to whisper into Uzume’s ear. Before he was halfway through, Uzume seized the tentacle and squeezed with all her godly might.
“How dare you suggest that!” she spat. “You writhing slimeball! You slithering mess of impure thoughts! I always knew there’s a reason why you have so many eyes!”
“What? What?” Tajikarao leapt between them. “Uzume, let go of him! He’s turning …”
Hissing a little, Omoi-Kane whispered the plan to Tajikarao with another tentacle. The God of Strength went red in the face right away. “Erm, I see. Erm,” he chewed his lips, not daring to look at Uzume. “I … I guess it might work. At, at the very least, it demonstrates to Lady Amaterasu how desperate we are for her to be back ...”
“Never!” Uzume cried. “Oh screw you, Taj! If you think the idea is great, why don’t you do it?”
“Because every god would be disgusted if Tajikarao does it,” Omoi-Kane croaked. “You have to be the one, great Uzume! Only you can achieve the intended effect! In return, humanity will forever honour you as their saviour! The great persuader who returned the Sun Goddess to …”
“I rather burn!” Uzume screamed.
“I, I really think it might work.” Tajikarao hastily retreated as Uzume started grasping for Omoi-Kane’s other tentacles. “I’d go tell the other gods to get ready. Erm, thanks for doing this, Uzume. I promise, I … I wouldn’t stare during the dance. I will … erm … Thanks for saving our world.”
Like many mortal siblings, Sun Goddess Amaterasu (天照) did not get along with her brothers, Tsukuyomi (月詠) and Susanoo (素戔嗚). Her relationship with Susanoo was particularly bad, the latter being the destructive God of Storms.
During one confrontation, Susanoo went berserk, destroyed Amaterasu’s rice fields, and dumped a flayed horse on her loom. The sight of the ghastly carcass shocked the Sun Goddess so badly, she accidentally cut herself on the destroyed loom. Outraged, Amaterasu fled into Ama-no-Iwato (天の岩戸), the Heavenly Rock Cave, and blocked the entrance with the eponymous boulder. As a result, the world was plunged into freezing darkness. No matter how the other gods coaxed, Amaterasu refused to emerge too.
As per the retelling above, the gods adopted Omoi-Kane’s (思兼) plan to lure Amaterasu out with a ruckus. Amenouzume (天宇受売) also performed an outrageous striptease to add to the hubbub. When Amaterasu peeped from the cave to investigate the din, she was utterly mesmerized by her own dazzling reflection. Tajikarao (天手力男) then yanked her out while the other gods sealed the cave magically.
The mirror that captivated the Sun Goddess is now one of the three sacred Imperial Regalia of Japan. Known as the Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡), it is enshrined at Ise Grand Shrine. It is not available for public viewing at all times.
Another of the three regalia is the jewel, Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊勾玉). This was one of the jewels on the Sakaki tree that lured Amaterasu out. Currently, it is kept at the Kashiko-dokoro (賢所), the central shrine of the Three Palace Sanctuaries of Tokyo Imperial Palace. Like Yata no Kagami, it is not available for public viewing.
Ama-no-Iwato, the cave the Sun Goddess fled into, is located at Tachihiko, near the heart of Kyushu. Unfortunately, the cave can only be viewed from an observation deck at the shrine opposite the cave.
- Tachihiko itself is famous for Yokagura (夜神楽), the sacred dance of Shintoism. Supposedly, this was inspired by the dance Amenouzume used to lure the Sun Goddess out of hiding. (There’s no stripping in the religious version, in case you’re wondering)
The tale of Sun Goddess Amaterasu hiding herself in Ama-no-Iwato is the most important story in Shintoism.
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© 2016 Kuan Leong Yong