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A Retelling of Shinto Myths 2: Sun Goddess Amaterasu Hides Herself in a Cave

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

Sick and tired of the violent pranks of her brother, Sun Goddess Amaterasu resigns from her job.

Sick and tired of the violent pranks of her brother, Sun Goddess Amaterasu resigns from her job.

“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 willingly resume her duties.” To ensure Tajikarao fully understood the futility of using brute force, Omoikane stared at the mighty God of Physical Might with all his eyeballs till the latter glumly nodded. “There are eight million of us, Tajikarao-San. Do you honestly think we can’t pull out one unhappy sun goddess from a dank cave if we wanted to?”

“How about getting, you know, him to go talk to her?” Uzume carefully suggested. She winced when Omoikane’s many eyes glared in her direction. “I heard from Mika-kun he’s genuinely sorry this time. He knows he crossed the line.”

“The Impetuous Male feeling sorry?” Tajikarao snorted. “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 space and time. You have to understand too that he has a more aggressive sense of humor compared to us, and that …”

“My dear girl,” Omoikane gently tapped Uzume’s hand. “While you aren’t completely wrong, I believe personal space, time, or empathy, are all irrelevant in the face of this crisis involving our dear Sun Goddess Amaterasu. For that matter, let us also not waste time debating the reason for this meaningless feud between her ladyship and Susanoo. Our concern is how to get her ladyship to resume her duties! I … already have a plan in mind.”

Omoikane straightened himself. In the shuddering, rippling way only a magical floating blob of brain could. “As I mentioned, our objective is to convince her ladyship to willingly resume her duties. 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 takes too long. We need a faster solution.”

“Then get to the point!” Tajikarao growled. “The way you speak, we would all be frozen solid by the time you’re done.”

“Very simply, let’s use a humorous situation as the conduit. Let’s put everybody, including her ladyship, into a raucous mood. After 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 accomplish that, 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 it while wearing our gayest! On the tree, let’s also hang magnificent jewels and a beautiful, beautiful mirror. Intrigued by the ruckus, her ladyship would peep from the cave and upon seeing her own glorious reflection in the mirror, she would be so mesmerized, 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 again spoke, her voice was pressed from the effort not to snap. “You think a plan like that would work, oh great God of Wisdom and Intelligence. The great Amaterasu, supreme goddess of the Heavenly Plains, would be stupid enough to fall for something as ridiculous as that?”

“Did you not hear what I was saying? It is indeed ridiculous. It is meant to be ridiculous! Because what’s going to convince her ladyship to leave is something else.” Omoikane snaked over a tentacle to whisper into Uzume’s ear. Before he was halfway through, Uzume seized the tentacle and squeezed with all her divine might.

“How dare you suggest that!” she spat. “You writhing slimeball! You slithering mess of impure notions! I always knew there’s a reason why you have so many eyes!”

“What? What?” Tajikarao leaped between them. “Uzume, let go of him! He’s turning …”

Hissing a little, Omoikane whispered the plan to Tajikarao with another tentacle. The God of Physical Might went red in the face right away. “Etto … Sou desu ne … he chewed his lips. “I … I guess it might work. At, at the very least, it demonstrates to Lady Amaterasu how desperate we are for her to return. As in, the extent we will go to …”

“Never!” Uzume cried. “Oh screw you, Taj! If you think the idea is great, why don’t you do it? I’m sure everyone would love to see you drop your pants.”

“Because every god would be disgusted if Tajikarao does it,” Omoikane croaked. “You have to be the one, great Uzume! Only you can achieve the intended effect! In return, humanity will forever honor 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 Omoikane’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.”

“Never! NEVER!”


  • Like many human siblings, Sun Goddess Amaterasu (天照) did not get along with her brothers, Moon God Tsukuyomi (月詠) and Storm God Susanoo (素戔嗚). Her relationship with Susanoo was particularly bad as the storm god was destructive and wild by nature.
  • 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 a seamstress of the Sun Goddess so badly, she accidentally cut herself and died. Outraged, Amaterasu then fled into Ama-no-Iwato (天の岩戸) i.e. 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, the Shinto Sun Goddess refused to emerge.
  • As per the retelling above, the gods adopted Omoikane’s (思兼) plan to lure Amaterasu out with a ruckus, with Amenouzume (天宇受売) also performing an outrageous striptease to add to the hubbub. When Amaterasu peeped from the cave to investigate the din, she was utterly mesmerized by her dazzling reflection in a mirror. Tajikarao (天手力男) then yanked her out, followed by which the other Shinto gods magically sealed the cave.
  • The mirror that captivated Sun Goddess Amaterasu is now one of the three sacred Imperial Regalia of Japan. Known as the Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡), it is currently enshrined at Ise Grand Shrine. It is not available for public viewing at any time.
  • 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 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 Takachiho, 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 in Ama-no-Iwato is the most important story in Shintoism. The Japanese refer to themselves as the nation of the sun because the Japanese Yamato royal family is believed to have descended from the Shinto Sun Goddess.

Picture References

The entrance to Ama-no-Iwato, the Heavenly Rock Cave in Kyushu where Sun Goddess Amaterasu once hid herself.

The entrance to Ama-no-Iwato, the Heavenly Rock Cave in Kyushu where Sun Goddess Amaterasu once hid herself.

Artist's impression of the Imperial Regalia of Japan.

Artist's impression of the Imperial Regalia of Japan.

Yokagura performance at Takachiho in the 90s.

Yokagura performance at Takachiho in the 90s.

Omoikane, brilliant strategist of the gods, as visualized in the Shin Megami Tensei game series.

Omoikane, brilliant strategist of the gods, as visualized in the Shin Megami Tensei game series.

© 2016 Ced Yong

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