Japan: Izanagi and Izanami (cont.)

Amaterasu is a goddess of great importance in the Shinto religion of Japan. Her complete name, Amaterasu-omikami, mean s"the great august kami (god) who shines in the heaven." As you see int he reading, she is the sister of Susanowo, the god of the sea and of storms, and she is also the sister of Tsukuyomi, the god of the moon. You can learn more about Amaterasu at Wikipedia, which also has articles about Izanagi and Izanami.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Japanese Mythology unit. Story source: Romance of Old Japan, Part I: Mythology and Legend by E. W. Champney and F. Champney (1917).

Izanagi and Izanami (cont.)

Now Amaterasu was passing fair and outshone the very heavens. So Izanagi spake and said: “Child upon child have I fathered, but none of them is like unto thee.”

Then, taking from his shoulders a necklace of precious stones, he gave it to Amaterasu and, leading her to the summit of the mountain and over the Rainbow Bridge, he commanded: “Rule thou henceforth over Takama no hara” (the High Plain of Heaven).

When Amaterasu mounted to her glittering throne in the sun, the Spirits of Heaven rejoiced with exceeding joy, saying: “Forever shalt thou gladden the Eternal Land with the grace of thy celestial light. Clouds shall be thy handmaidens and the Heaven-descending showers thy messengers of mercy to the earth.”

Then Izanagi addressed Susa-no-wo, saying: “Rule thou over the Moon and the multitudinous salt water.”

Unlike his ever smiling sister, the Moon God was morose, turbulent, and sinister. When he waxed wroth, grass withered on the plains, flowers faded, and the Children of Earth perished.

Of her numberless progeny Izanami best loved her Earth Children, and most of all the lords of the Isles of the Dragon-fly. To these she gave eternal dominion over the fairest of lands and bestowed upon them godlike powers: Wisdom, Valour and Craft, Justice, Mercy and Love.

She commanded the Kami to minister to her Earth Children: the River God to water their rice fields, the Mountain God to delve for them his ruddy gold, the God of Trees to fell them timber for their habitations, and the Goddess of Abundance to heap their wains with overflowing fruit.

Whereat the immortal Gods were exceeding wroth and assembled in high council.

“Celestial Mother,” thundered Susa-no-wo, “thou hast elevated thy Earth Children to the rank of Gods, so that even I must needs toil as their slave and harness my storm steeds to their sea chariots!”

Thereupon the divine council were moved with august jealousy and murmured to one another: “She loveth her Earth Children more than us, wherefore let her descend and abide with them!”

To this Izanami made appeal: “Shall my very offspring condemn me though I have done no evil!”

Then spake Ame-no-kami, the August Master Deity, saying: “Izanami, Goddess of Mortals, for that thou hast dragged thine immortal vesture in the mire of Earth shalt thou put off thine immortality and dwell a mortal in the abode of Death!”

Like to a thirsting flower withered the gentle Goddess and withdrew to the solitudes of the mountains, where she bore a son, Kagu-tsuchi—the terrible God of Fire. In her birth throes, she was mortally burned, but ere she perished, Izanami bethought herself: “I have given birth to an evil-hearted child, a menace to the world of men.”

So she bare yet another son, the God of Water, saying: “When the temper of thy brother waxeth violent, do thou assuage it with thy cooling streams.” Whereupon Izanami died and descended unto Yomi, the abode of departed spirits.

Izanagi grieved sorely for the loss of his beloved spouse and resolved to seek her in the domain of the dead.

He descended thither through Ifuya-zaka (a hole in the centre of the earth) and came to the portal of Yomi, whence none may return. Here he perceived the spirit of Izanami waiting to meet him and addressed her saying: “Beloved sister, come thou back I entreat thee, for the land that we created is not yet finished.”

Whereupon Izanami answered: “Alas! thou comest too late. Look not thou upon me, for I have eaten of the bread of Yomi. I would fain return but it may not be!” Thus lamenting she retired within the portal of the underworld.

But the God of the Heavens heeded not the warning of the Goddess of Love, but pressed forward in swift pursuit. Through innumerable tortuous caverns dark and loathly with the odour of death he passed, following the scarce-seen wraith of his fleeing wife. On every hand flitted vague shadowy shapes, and phantom fingers groped after him through the gloom.

He cried to Izanami, and besought her to return, but she gave no response save a pitiful moan. He redoubled his efforts to overtake her and strove with all his might to grasp her fleeting form. After long elusion, in the cavern of Despair at the extremity of the kingdom of Yomi he came upon Izanami writhing in her death agony.

Tenderly he strove to raise her, but her spirit melted to mist in his grasp and vanished forever in the shadowy night.

Izanagi, pursued by the Furies of Remorse, ascended the Earth-stairway and dwelt thenceforth upon the isle of Ahaji, in an abode of eternal gloom.

(800 words)

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