A Retelling of Shinto Myths 4: Ōnamuji Becomes the Lord of the Land
“No,” Susanoo, God of Storms, said.
“Otosan! Please …”
“I said no.”
“You say no to every boy I talk to! You do nothing but say no the whole day!”
“My dear daughter, this is a lowly god you’re talking about. He comes from a huge family. Seventy-nine brothers! With him being the youngest! Think of all the housework you have to endure with him for eternity! Moreover, this Ōnamuji is stupid beyond belief. Who chases after a heated boulder, thinking it’s a boar, and dies from it? Who is thereafter resurrected, only to die again from walking into a tree trap, just because the same conspirators told him to do so?”
“Muji-kun is just a bit too, too trusting of his brothers. He’s really kind and sweet, you see. Remember what I told you about that skinned rabbit? His brothers told the rabbit to bathe in seawater just to see it suffer more. But Muji-kun taught the poor creature how to roll in catnip to acquire a new fleece. And, and that, that princess he went to meet. She chose him too. Over all his brothers! She also felt he was gentle and kind and worthy.”
“If I were gentle and kind, I would not have remained the storm god. How is he going to be the son-in-law of the storm god by being gentle and kind?”
“Otosan, you are being impossible! You, you are finding fault with Muji-kun over everything!”
“ … … Very well. If I must prove it to you, Suseri. I shall test him and if he survives my trials, he can have your hand in marriage. You are also free to assist him during these trials with those little scarves of yours. Go ahead and help him. I permit that for I am certain he will fail!”
“Otosan! I know what you are up to! You are going to do horrible things like tell him to go sleep with snakes and centipedes and wasps. Or search for some stupid object in a burning field! I will help him! I will! His, his animal friends will help him too! He has many, many, animal friends! And if you go back on your word after everything, we will … we will, we will tie your hair to the pillars then run away together! We will take all your weapons too. You wouldn’t be able to stop us!”
“Hah! As if the wimp would ever have the courage to step near me. I’d like to see him do that! Why, if he dares to, I will permit your marriage immediately. I will even show him how to get rid of those brothers of his and build him a palace. Make him Ōkuninushi, Lord of the Land. Hah! Ōkuninushi indeed. As if he would ever have the calibre.”
“Just you see, Otosan! Ōnamuji and I will survive all your trials. And don’t you go ask mother to trim your hair just to cheat. We want it easy to tie. Just you see! Ōnamuji will show you. He will be Lord of the Land, with your blessing.”
Ōkuninushi (大国主), originally named Ōnamuji, is one of the most famous and beloved deities in Shintoism. The name, or rather title, translates to Lord of the Land.
- Ōnamuji was the youngest in a clan of eighty brothers. Together, they journeyed from their home province of Izumo (出雲) to Inaba (因幡) to seek the hand of Princess Yakami (八上比売).
During the journey, the brothers encountered the wretched Hare of Inaba (因幡の白兎). The poor creature was skinned after trying to con some crocodiles during a river crossing. Ōnamuji’s brothers then bullied the rabbit by telling it to bathe in seawater, further increasing its agony. Ōnamuji, on the other hand, taught the rabbit how to acquire a new fleece.
The Hare of Inaba then predicted Ōnamuji’s success in winning the hand of the princess, which turned out to be. Jealous of his victory, Ōnamuji’s brothers schemed and caused his death.
Ōnamuji was resurrected by his mother and sent to the underworld to seek advice from Susanoo, God of Storms. There, he met and fell in love with Susanoo’s daughter, Suseri-Hime (スセリヒメ),much to the disgust of the storm god.
Susanoo repeatedly schemed to rid his daughter of Ōnamuji, all of which failed. Ōnamuji then tied Susanoo’s hair to a pillar and ran away with Suseri. This surprisingly impressed Susanoo and the storm god thereafter assisted the young god to become the ruler of Izumo.
Today, the most prominent shrines for worship of Ōkuninushi are Izumo-Taisha (出雲大社) and the Jishu Shrine (地主神社) within Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) of Kyoto. Both are very popular with lovers. Izumo itself is also renowned for various other famous Shinto myths.
- Ōkuninushi is one of the most important Kunitsukami (国津神) in Shintoism. The title roughly translates to Gods of the Land, with their rivals being the Amatsukami (天津神), the Gods of the Sky/Heaven. A popular trope in Japanese games and manga is the eternal rivalry between the two groups of gods. Frequently, the Amatsukami is portrayed as taking over control of Japan from the Kunitsukami, after descending from heaven.
- The rivalry of the Amatsukami and Kunitsukami likely referenced how the Yamato tribe subjugated other indigenous tribes of Japan to gain control of the whole country. In mythology, Ōkuninushi lost Izumo to Ninigi (瓊瓊杵), the grandson of Sun Goddess Amaterasu.
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