Japan: Izanagi and Izanami

These stories are told in a mixture of prose and verse translated from Japanese. The opening lines of poetry come from the Kojiki-Den, an ancient chronicle of the myths of Japan. You can find out more about the Kojiki at Wikipedia.

I would urge you to read the poetry out loud! You will get so much more out of it that way.

[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

Ere the beginning of Time, Izanagi, the God of the Heavens,
High in the uttermost realms of the limitless chaos above,
Far in the vaporous vast of the infinite twilight of even,
Took unto wife Izanami, the beautiful Goddess of Love,

Out of her plenteous womb sprang the numberless worlds in commotion;
Sprang generations of gods, in unending miraculous birth,
Sprang generations of men and the beasts and the fish of the ocean,
Issued the fathomless sea and the mountainous reaches of earth.

She from the firmament first, to mankind in her mercy descending,
Water and knowledge of Fire and the wonderful vision of Light
Brought, and ordained every part of the life-giving earth never ending,
Then, in her death throe, gave birth to the Isles of the Dragon-fly bright.


BEFORE the beginning of Time, ere yet were heavens or earth, sun or moon, or the multitudinous waters, all was gloomy chaos.

Out of this infinite void rose a cloud, floating upon the sea of silent space. In its hidden depths sprouted a bud, which shot like an iris-stalk into the air. As it rose it put forth leaves and blossomed, growing ever more pure and bright, till the wonder-flower mounted to Taka-ma-no-hara (the high plain of heaven), where it bloometh ever, the bright-shining Sun.

At the same time there fluttered downward from the heavenly firmament a night-blooming flower, which slowly unfolded its translucent petals and became the Moon.

Out of the hearts of these blossoms sprang a score of gods and goddesses, the last of whom were Izanagi (all-powerful-God-of-the-Air), and Izanami (Fair-Goddess-of-the-Clouds). From them issued all life: the eight hundred myriad deities of heaven, the countless generations of man, and the beasts and the birds and the trees.

Izanagi and Izanami stood upon the “Floating-Bridge of Heaven,” a vast, aerial arch, which spanned the abyss between the realms celestial and the lower world. Izanagi spake to his heaven-born sister, saying:“Needs must be that beneath us lies a kingdom. Let us descend and visit it.”

Whereupon he plunged his sacred jewelled spear into the seething caldron of the sea. When he had stirred it about, vainly groping for land, he withdrew the lance and from its point fell drops of liquid which became congealed into the island of Onogora.

Stirring once more, he heaped up a vast and lofty mountain, to the summit of which he attached the Floating Bridge, and thereupon the Earth-Makers descended.

When they alighted upon the island, Izanagi turned to the right and skirted the base of the “Pillar of Earth,” while Izanami turned to the left.

When they met, the “Goddess of the Clouds” addressed her brother saying: “Who art thou, fair and lovely youth?”

Thereupon the heart of the “God of the Air” was wroth within him and he retorted, “I, that am a man, should have been the first to speak, whereas thou, a woman, didst address me. This is ill-omened. That our wedding may be auspicious, let us begin anew.”

Thus it came to pass that, as again the two deities skirted the base of the “Pillar of Earth,” Izanagi exclaimed at their meeting: “Who art thou, fair and lovely maiden?” and Izanami replied enraptured: “How delightful! I have met with a fair and lovely youth!”

Whereupon they clasped hands, and their marriage was accomplished.

Now when they had dwelt long time on the isle of Onogoro in love and happiness, to Izanagi and Izanami were born the eight islands of Japan. First the great Yamato (the Flowery Isle of the Dragon-fly), then Tsukushi (the White Sun Youth), Iyo (the Passing-fair Princess), Tsushima (the Stepping Stone), Ahaji (the Isle of Grieving), Shikoku (the Pearl of the Inland Sea), Oki (the Islet of the White Hare), and Lado (Gold Maid of the North).

Out of the foam of the billows were born numberless islets and from the clouds of the heaven they created Korea, Cathay, and the uttermost realms of the earth. Then were born the Kami — the Ruler of the Rivers, the Monarch of the Mountains, the Deity of the Trees, and the Deities which preside over the miracles of Nature.

Now the “God of the Heavens,” looking upon his kingdom, found it exceeding fair and spake to the “Goddess of Love,” saying: “All that now wanteth is a sovereign to rule over this great realm.”

Whereupon were born to them a daughter, the Bright-Shining-Amaterasu, and a son, Susa-no-wo-no-mikoto.

Then Izanagi rejoiced greatly, saying: “Many are the generations I have begotten, but of all my multitudinous offspring the fairest are these.”

(800 words)

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