Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": THE SUN GOD AMATERASU AND THE STORM GOD SUSA-NO-O

('Nihongi,' 1, 40-5)

In Japanese tradition, Amaterasu and Susa-no-o were the two most important among many offspring of the primordial pair, Izanagi and Izanami.

After this Susa-no-o Mikoto's behaviour was exceedingly rude. In what way? Amaterasu [the Heaven-shining Deity] had made august rice fields of Heavenly narrow rice fields and Heavenly long rice fields. Then Susa-no-o, when the seed was sown in spring, broke down the divisions between the plots of rice, and in autumn let loose the Heavenly piebald colts, and made them lie down in the midst of the rice fields. Again, when he saw that Amaterasu was about to celebrate the feast of first-fruits, he secretly voided excrement in the New Palace. Moreover, when he saw that Amaterasu was in her sacred weaving hall, engaged in weaving garments of the Gods, he flayed a piebald colt of Heaven, and breaking a hole in the roof-tiles Of the hall, flung it in. Then Amaterasu started with alarm, and wounded herself with the shuttle. Indignant of this, she straightway entered the Rock-cave of Heaven, and having fastened the Rock-door, dwelt there in seclusion. Therefore constant darkness prevailed on all sides, and the alternation of night and day was unknown.

Then the eighty myriads of Gods met on the bank of the Tranquil River of Heaven, and considered in what manner they should supplicate her. Accordingly omoi-kane 1 no Kami, with profound device and far-reaching thought, at length gathered long-singing birds 2 of the Eternal Land and made there utter their prolonged cry to one another. Moreover he made Ta-jikara-o 3 to stand beside the Rock door. Then Ame no Koyane no Mikoto, ancestor of the Nakatomi Deity Chieftains, and Futo-dama no Mikoto, ancester of the Imibe Chieftains, dug up a five-hundred branched True Sakaki tree of the Heavenly Mt. Kagu. On its upper branches they hung an august five-hundred string of Yasaka jewels. On the middle branches they hung an eight-hand mirror.4 . . .

On its lower branches they hung blue soft offerings and white soft offerings. Then they recited their liturgy together.

Moreover Ama no Uzume 5, no Mikoto, ancestress of the Sarume 6 Chieftain, took in her hand a spear wreathed with Eulalia grass, and standing before the door of the Rock-cave of Heaven, skilfully performed a mimic dance. 7 She took, moreover, the true Sakaki tree of the Heavenly Mount Kagu, and made of it a head-dress, she took clubmoss and made of it braces, she kindled fires, she placed a tub bottom upwards, 8 and gave forth a divinely-inspired utterance.

Now Amaterasu heard this, and said 'Since I have shut myself up in the Rock-cave, there ought surely to be continual night in the Central Land of fertile reed-plains. How then can Ama no Uzume no Mikoto be so jolly?' So with her august hand, she opened for a narrow space the Rock-door and peeped out. Then Ta-jikara-o no Kami forthwith took Amaterasu by the hand and led her out. Upon this th Gods Nakatomi no Kami and Imibe no Kami at once drew a limit by means of a bottom-tied rope 9 (also called a left-hand rope) and begged her not to return again [into the cave].

After this all the Gods put the blame on Susa-no-o, and imposed on him a fine of one thousand tables 10 and so at length chastised him. They also had his hair pluck out, and made him therewith expiate his guilt.


1. Thought combining or thought-including
2. The cock is meant
3. Hand-strength male.
4. It is said to be this mirror which is worshipped at Ise as an emblem of the Sun Goddess.
5. Terrible female of heaven.
6. Monkey-female.
7. This is said to be the origin of the kagura or pantomime dance performed at Shinto festivals.
8. The Nihongi strangely omits to say that, as we learn from the kojiki, she danced on this and made it give out a sound.
9. A rope made of straw of rice which has been pulled up by the roots.
10 By tables are meant tables of offerings.

Adapted from Aston's translation of Nihongi by Wm. Theodore de Bary (ed.) Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958) pp. 29-31; note by de Bary.

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