If there is a God revered by all Japanese people, one of them is undoubtedly the goddess Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess and mythical figure of the Rising Sun and, therefore, of the country itself and its flag.
Amaterasu, Japanese sun goddess and Shinto religion (天照)
Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, is the main deity of the Shinto religion. In Japanese mythology, the deity of heavenly light is known by legend to have hidden in a cave, plunging Japan into darkness and misery.
The legend of Amaterasu is directly related to the imperial family, since the Japanese emperors would be descendants of this goddess or Japanese deity. Many places of worship in Japan are dedicated to her, the Japanese sun goddess, including the Ise Jingu shrine, one of the most sacred in the archipelago.
Japanese sun goddess, the highest deity of Japan (天照)
The Japanese mostly worship the sun goddess, who brings light and warmth from the first light of dawn until the sun sets at dusk.
The birth of Amaterasu, the Japanese Sun Goddess (Izanami and Izanagi)
According to the legend of Amaterasu’s birth, long ago, when the world did not yet exist, two Kami (Japanese gods) appeared, the creators of the universe: Izanagi and Izanami.
While Izanagi bathed to purify herself from the Realm of Death and washed her left eye, she gave birth to the beautiful Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu. Her brothers Tsukuyomi and Susanoo were born from the creator deity’s right eye and nose.
The Japanese sun goddess was calm and luminous in temperament, unlike her brother Susanoo, god of the sea and storms, who was unstable, fiery and impulsive.
Okami Amaterasu had been sent by her father to rule the high plain of paradise or Kingdom of the gods, called Takama ga hara. The heavenly queen was the origin of the cultivation of rice, wheat and silkworms. Thanks to the Japanese sun goddess, Japan was bathed in light and crops grew in abundance.
A famous Japanese myth tells how the Japanese sun goddess protected herself from her ruthless brother Susanoo by hiding in a cave.
- Curiosity: This will please those who watch anime: It has concordance with the anime Naruto, Itachi and Sasuke Uchiha’s technique is called Amaterasu, and Sasuke also activates Susanoo. So this anime has hidden many Japanese legends, such as the Japanese sun goddess and the Japanese god of the sea, among others.
The legend of the sky cave of Amaterasu, the Japanese goddess of the sun
Legend has it that while Amaterasu peacefully ruled the kingdom of the Kami (Japanese deities), her brother Susanoo was banished from Takama ga hara by the god Izanagi. Extremely jealous of his sister’s privileges, the Japanese storm god went to visit her with the intention of challenging her.
Thereafter, a great and fierce struggle began between them. Susanoo, full of rage, ravaged the kingdom of the Japanese sun goddess, destroyed the rice fields, scattered his excrement and skinned a divine horse, spreading its blood as well. This was too much for the goddess Amaterasu who, faced with the excesses of her young brother, decided to lock herself in a cave.
Ama no Uzume, Japanese goddess of joy helped with the plan to get the Goddess Amaterasu out of the cave.
It is unknown how long the Japanese sun goddess was hidden in the cave in the sky. During that time, all of Japan was plunged into darkness and chaos. A solution had to be found to bring back the light. And so, the council of Japanese gods hatched a plan to make the goddess Amaterasu appear. They had to provoke her curiosity by dancing and laughing. To do so, they organized a party with the Japanese goddess of joy, Ama no Uzume, as the guest of honor.
Attracted by the noise and the party, the Japanese goddess of the Sun, at first wary, let her curiosity get the better of her and went to see what was going on outside, pushing the heavy stone that enclosed her cave. However, a mirror had been placed right in front of her cave and the deity was immediately dazzled by her own reflection.
And so it was that the Japanese gods brought her out of her hiding place. And the light returned to illuminate Japan.
Susanoo’s punishment and reconciliation with the goddess Amaterasu
As punishment for what he had done to Japan, Susanoo was exiled to Earth, a miserable planet according to him. He defeated the dragon Yamata no Orochi, the monster that made him so famous. Later, he managed to reconcile with his sister the Japanese sun goddess, giving her a sacred sword.
Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu and the Imperial Family
In the past, the Japanese emperor was regarded by the Japanese people as a true god. He was said to be a descendant of the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu, which, by extension, gave him the divine right to rule Japan. This belief was widespread until the end of World War II.
The 3 Sacred Treasures of Japan and the Goddess Amaterasu (Kojiki Chronicles)
According to the Kojiki chronicles (which is a collection of ancient myths about the origins of Japan), the Japanese goddess of the Sun, would have sent her grandson, the famous Ninigi, the ancestor of the entire imperial dynasty, to Earth to reign there.
Amaterasu gave him a sword, a mirror and a jewel. Objects that became the 3 sacred treasures of Japan.
Each emblem has a particular symbolism.
- The sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi, offered by Susanoo to the Goddess Amaterasu, symbolizes sharing.
- The mirror, called Yata no Kagami, is the object that brought the goddess out of her cave, it embodies wisdom.
- The jewel or magatama represents goodness and teaching.
These sacred objects were passed down to the 1st emperor and son of Ninigi, named Jinmu, and were perfectly preserved.
In addition to being the Japanese goddess of the sun and mother of the imperial lineage, Amaterasu also embodies order, one of the fundamental precepts of the Shinto religion in Japan.
Naturally, she became the emblem of the nation. It also appears on the Japanese flag in the form of a red circle representing the sun.
Places of worship of the Japanese goddess of the Sun
Among the many places of worship dedicated to the Japanese goddess of the Sun, we can mention the most famous, the shrine of Ise, located in the south of the island of Honshu.
Composed of Naiku (inner shrine dedicated to the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu) and Geku (outer shrine dedicated to Toyouke), this place is completely rebuilt once every 20 years, according to an ancient Shinto tradition.
It is said, that the Ise temple houses the famous Yata no Kagami mirror that saved Japan from the darkness of Susanoo.
Amano Yasugawara Shrine in Takachiho, on the island of Kyūshu, is also dedicated to the Japanese sun deity, Amaterasu Omikami. It is said to contain the famous cave in which the deity hid. A legend says that if you place a pile of stones there and make a wish, it will come true.
Appearances of the goddess in pop culture and anime
Amaterasu is the most important deity in Japanese mythology, as we said before. It is therefore not surprising that pop culture and anime are also inspired by her. References to the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu appear regularly in manga, anime and video games, in the form of characters, superheroes, powers or even machines.
- Videogame Okami Amaterasu: Amaterasu, represented by a white wolf, in the videogame Okami
- In the Noragami manga: Amaterasu is the sovereign goddess of all deities.
- In the manga and anime Naruto: The Japanese goddess of the Sun, Amaterasu, is a warrior technique that uses fire in the Naruto manga by Sasuke and Itachi.
- In the anime Fire Force: Amaterasu is the name of the factory that supplies energy to Tokyo.
Although Amaterasu is not the first Japanese creator goddess of Japan, she remains the most famous deity of the Shinto religion. Revered by the Japanese as a spiritual entity and as an ancestor of the imperial family, this Japanese sun goddess holds an important place in the culture of Japan.
What would the Land of the Rising Sun be without her celestial light and the imperial family? What do you think about the history of this Japanese deity?