Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": JAPANESE COSMOGONY


('Nihongi' and 'Ko-ji-ki')


At the beginning of the eighth century A.D., the early Japanese myths were gathered together in two collections: 'Nihongi' ('Chronicles of Japan') and 'Ko-ji-ki' ('Records of Ancient Matters).

Of old, Heaven and Earth were not yet separated, and the In and Yo not yet divided. They formed a chaotic mass like an egg, which was of obscurely defined limits, and contained germs. The purer and clearer part was thinly diffused and formed Heaven, while the heavier and grosser element settled down and became Earth. The finer element easily became a united body, but the consolidation of the heavy and gross element was accomplished with difficulty. Heaven was therefore formed first, and Earth established subsequently. 'Thereafter divine beings were produced between them. (Nihongi, pp. 1-2.)

We have next what is called 'the seven generations of Gods,' ending with the creator-deities, Izanagi, the Male-Who-Invites, and his sister, Izanami, the Female-Who-Invites.


Hereupon all the Heavenly Deities commanded the two Deities His Augustness the Male-Who-Invites and Her Augustness the Female-who-Invites, ordering them to 'Make, consolidate and give birth to this drifting land.' Granting to them an heavenly jeweled spear, they (thus) deigned to charge them. So the two Deities, standing upon the Floating Bridge of Heaven, pushed down the jeweled spear and stirred with it, whereupon, when they had stirred the brine till it went curdle curdle, and drew (the spear) up, the brine that dripped down from the end of the spear was piled up and became an island. This is the Island of Onogoro. (Ko-ji-ki, p.19.)
The two Deities having descended on Onogoro-jima erected there an eight fathom house with an August central pillar. Then Izanagi addressed Izanami, saying: 'How is thy body formed?' Izanami replied, 'My body is completely formed except one part which is incomplete.' Then Izanagi said, 'My body is completely formed and there is one part which is superfluous. Suppose that we supplement that which is incomplete in thee with that which is superfluous in me, and thereby procreate lands.' Izanami replied, 'It is well.' Then Izanagi said, 'Let me and thee go round the heavenly August polar, and having met at the other side, let us become united in wedlock.' This being agreed to, he said, 'Do thou go round from the left, and I will go round from the right.' When they had gone round, Izanami spoke and exclaimed, 'How delightful! I have met a lovely youth.' Izanagi then said, 'How delightful! I have met a lovely maiden.' Afterwards he said, 'It was unlucky for the woman to speak first.' The child which was the first offspring of their union was the Hiruko (leech-child), which at the age of three was still unable to stand upright, and was therefore placed in a reed-boat and sent adrift. (Nihongi, p. 13; cf. Ko-ji-ki, pp. 20-1.)


The two deities next give birth to the islands of Japan and a number of deities. The last deity to be produced is the God of Fire. But in giving birth to him Izanami is mortally burned. After death, she descends beneath the earth. Izanagi goes in search of her, like Orpheus descending into the Shades to recover Eurydice. Under the earth it is very dark; but Izanagi finally meets his wife and offers to bring her back with him. Izanami begs him to wait at the door of the subterranean palace, and not to show a light. But the husband
loses patience; he lights a tooth of his comb and enters the palace where, by the flame of this torch, he perceives Izanami in process of decomposition; seized with panic, he flees. His dead wife pursues him but Izanagi, managing to escape by the same way that he had gone down under the earth, casts a great rock over the aperture. Husband and wife talk together for the last time, separated from each other by this rock. Izanagi pronounces the sacramental formula for separation between them, and then goes up to heaven, while Izanami goes down forever into subterranean regions. She becomes the Goddess of the dead, as is generally the case with chthonian and agricultural goddesses, who are divinities of fecundity and, at the same time, of death, of birth, and of re-entry into the maternal bosom.




Nihongi translated by W. G. Aston (London, 1924). Ko-ji-ki translated by B. H. Chamberlain (Tokyo: Asiatic Society of Japan, 1906)

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