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What Is the Japanese Creation Myth?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Japanese creation myth is a mythological story created to explain the formation of heaven and earth and the islands of Japan. The story of the Japanese creation myth was chronicled as a part of the Kojiki, an ancient account of many Japanese myths compiled around 712. Creation folklore in the Kojiki comes directly from the myths established by many early clans. This historical work was researched and compiled by O no Yasumaro and assigned by Empress Gemmei, the fourth woman to be empress of Japan.

This myth of creation begins with an infinite, shapeless mass. From this limitless form, a diaphanous semblance emerged and formed heaven. Next, the three creating deities — The-August-Center-of-Heaven-Deity, The-High-August-Producing-Wonderous-Deity and The-Divine-Producing-Wonderous-Deity — all coalesced from heaven. As the deities were forming, the Japanese creation myth continues with earth gradually maturing from the heavy parts of the shapeless mass that precipitated and then combined. Originally, earth appeared as an oily residue on a watery surface.

From this oily sheen emerged, shooting up like water reeds, many gods. These gods had nothing to do or govern over because of the primitive form of the earth. The heavenly deities ordered Izanagi, a male god, and Izanami, a female god, to pass to the poorly formed earth and make it whole using a bejeweled spear, called Ama-no-Nuboko. Standing on the floating bridge of heaven, a place below heaven and above the earth, this pair agonized as to how to produce land from the mess at their feet.

Finally, Izanagi stirred the oily sea with Ama-no-Nuboko and found that the spear touched something solid which could be drawn up to the surface. This conjured mass of land was called the Island of Onokoro, and later became one of the smaller islands of Japan. Izanagi and Izanami descended to this island.

Upon the island, Izanagi and Izanami decided to marry and, to prepare for the ceremony, they built a pillar, known as the Heavenly August Pillar. To symbolize their coming together, Izanagi and Izanami traveled in different directions around this pillar, and upon meeting behind the pillar, Izanami spoke first to Izanagi about how happy she was to meet him. Izanagi then spoke second about his happiness at loving a beautiful girl. These two immortals mated and produced a feeble child that lacked bones and resembled a leech. They abandoned the baby in a reed boat.

A second attempt to mate produced another weak child. Discouraged, the immortals returned to heaven to ask the gods what they had done wrong. They were informed by the Heavenly Deities that the weak children were the fault of the female god, Izanami, because she impolitely spoke first to Izanagi after turning around the pillar.

The Japanese creation myth finishes with the couple returning to Onokoro to turn around the pillar again. This time Izanagi spoke first to Izanami. After this, they produced only strong children. The healthy offspring of Izanagi and Izanami became the islands of Japan.

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