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A Retelling of Shinto Myths 5: Sukuna Hikona, Advisor of the Land

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

The ancient land of Izumo is home to many important Shinto myths. Such as that of Sukuna Hikona, the diminutive advisor.

The ancient land of Izumo is home to many important Shinto myths. Such as that of Sukuna Hikona, the diminutive advisor.

Moshiwake gozaimasen! Aniki!” The newly minted Ruler of Izumo, Okuninushi, bowed as deeply as he could. “Forgive me for belittling … for suspecting the worth of your …”

“Oh, cut the pretense!” Sukuna Hikona snapped. “You still aren’t over my height yet, are you? You, who used to consult rabbits.”

Technically, it was only one rabbit, not a whole burrow. And back then, White was purely rambling after some sake, rather than dispensing any serious advice. But Okuninushi knew better than to further incense his domestic advisor. Grimly, he withdrew his sword and held it above his right pinkie. If words cannot assuage the wrath of the tiny one, perhaps an actual painful act of contrition would …

“For goodness’ sake!” Sukuna Hikona cried, whacking away the blade with his miniature staff. “Why is it so difficult for you to look beyond my size? Or my cloak? I’ve explained numerous times! There are divine purposes for this appearance. Reasons that involve the future prosperity of this country!”

“It is not your size, Aniki,” Okuninushi mumbled. “As you highlighted, I did use to consult … converse with rabbits. The issue here is with what you are, err, telling us to use to enrich the soil.”

“And what’s so wrong with that? Do you not wash your vegetables before eating? Before cooking?”

“You are telling us to use human waste.”

It was all Sukuna Hikona could do not to groan. Okuninushi has recently been conferred many titles, but god of knowledge was clearly not one of those. “In time, my young ruler, you will learn that agriculture is a circle of life,” he explained as patiently as he could. “It is like a song that’s glorious at the beginning, sickeningly sweet in the middle, and once more magnificent at the end. Master this circle and I promise you, the people of Izumo will never go hungry again. Master it well and you will even have excess. Excess we both know is necessary for survival, in the event that father-in-law of yours comes for a visit again.”

“I … Hai, Aniki. I understand and will do my best to … manage the waste.”

“Good! Now, what about those seeds from yesterday? Have you planted those?”

“Yes. The task was completed this morning.”

“They will grow into shrubs with a unique fragrance. The leaves will be most useful against those awful bugs your wife complained about yesterday. They will also make for a good feed for your livestock.”

“Suseri is personally overseeing the cultivation. Aniki, regarding the excavation you requested last week. I regret to inform we discovered no new boiling water sources. Forgive me for angering you once more but I truly do not see the point of this excavation. We already have enough clean drinking water.”

“Drinking water?” Sukuna Hikona resisted another compulsion to groan. Must everything be explained thrice to this new ruler? “When did I say it’s for drinking?”

“I presumed that’s the only reason. You wanted a new source of water for boiling tea.”

“Tea? TEA? Argg! Have you smelled yourself of late? Why do you think I wrap my cloak around my face when I speak to you? This water is for a new way of bathing! A new way of reenergizing your bodies after a tough day of work too! In time, our country will be celebrated for this revolutionary new method of rejuvenation, and I, the great Sukuna Hikona, will be remembered as the master of it! Now, shoo! Be gone! Enough with the inane questions already. You have a nation to build. You are not going to get anywhere bowed before me the entire day.”

Footnotes

  • In Shintoism, Sukuna Hikona (少彦名命) is revered as a god of nation-building and medicine. He is also associated with agriculture, sake-making, knowledge, hot-springs, and the netherworld.
  • Sukuna Hikona is said to have met Okuninushi while the latter was building his kingdom at Izumo. Sukuna Hikona appeared as a tiny man donning a cloak made of goose feathers and riding a small boat made of bark. He bit Okuninushi on the cheek but the two, nonetheless, became allies.
  • Most of what is known today about Sukuna Hikona comes from Kojiki (古事記) and Nihon Shoki (日本書紀), two much debated collections of Japanese myths, history, and traditions compiled in the 8th century. He is also mentioned in other ancient text such as the Harima no Kunifudoki (播磨国風土記).
  • According to Nihon Shoki, Sukuna Hikona left the mortal world at Awaji Island. He used a millet stalk to propel himself into the netherworld.
  • Sukuna Hikona is part of the Kaitaku Sanjin Trinity (開拓三神), the other two deities being Okuninushi and Okunitama (the spirit of a nation). The trinity represents the reclamation/prospecting of Hokkaido. Today, the main shrine of the trinity is Hokkaido Jingu in Sapporo.
  • Other than Hokkaido Jingu, there are numerous Shinto shrines dedicated to Sukuna Hikona throughout Japan.
  • Though one of the most popular and beloved Shinto deities, Sukuna Hikona is relatively unknown outside Japan. A quick search in Google mostly yielded results related to the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona video games, in which the miniature god often appears as an ally. In these games, his appearance alternates between traditional and futuristic.
  • Other than video games, the diminutive god has also appeared in various manga and anime series.

Picture References

Hokkaido Jingu in Sapporo.

Hokkaido Jingu in Sapporo.

Depiction of Sukuna Hikona in the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona game series.

Depiction of Sukuna Hikona in the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona game series.

A more traditional depiction of Advisor Sukuna Hikona from the Truth in Fantasy book series.

A more traditional depiction of Advisor Sukuna Hikona from the Truth in Fantasy book series.