A Who's Who of World Mythology : Amaterasu

The child of Izanagi and Izanami, Amaterasu-O-Mi-Kami, meaning "August person who makes the Heavens Shine," is the Sun Goddess of Japan. She is also known as Amaterasu-Oho-Hiru-Me No Mikoto, Shinmei, O-Hiru-Me-No-Muchi, Amaterasu-Omi-Gami, Tenshodaijin, and Tensho-Ko-Daijin. Sometimes she is identified as an aspect of Amita (Amida) and sometimes with Dainachi Nyorai (an aspect of Buddha). She is a solar and agriculture goddess and the culture-hero goddess of Japan.

When Izanagi returned from the land of the dead, he washed his face. Amaterasu emerged from his left eye and the Moon God Tsukiyomi came from his right. She is also the sister of Susano-Wo, the Storm God, who appeared from his father's nose. She is the most prominent member of the Shinto Pantheon, and the Japanese royal family is descended from her. Her sacred bird is Yatagarasu, the eight-handed (footed) crow, which may be identified with Yangwu, the sun-crow of China.

Amaterasu is the mother of the goddesses Takiri-Bime-No-Mikoto, Ikiti-Simapime-No-Mikoto (or Sa-Yori-Bime-No-Mikoto), and Takitu-Pime-No-Mikoto. Her sons are named Masa-Katu-A-Katu-Kati-Paya-Pi-Ame-No-Oso-Po-Mimi-No-Pi-No-Mikoto, Ame-No-Po-Pi-No-Mikoto, Ama-Tu-Pikone-No-Mikoto, Iku-Tu-Pikone-No-Mikoto, and Kumano-Kusubi-No-Mikoto. She also has a favorite grandson named Ninigi and a great grandson Hosuseri and a great great grandson Jimmu-Tenno.

Izanagi gave the high plains of heaven to her to rule over and his sacred bead necklace (Mi-Kura-Tana-No-Kami). To her brother Susano, he gave the oceans. But Susano wished to join his mother in Yomi, the Underworld, and so was banished by his father to that place. Before leaving, he asked to say good-bye to his sister Amaterasu. Believing her brother wished to steal her away with him, she prepared for battle, arming herself with a bow and two quivers of arrows. Her brother claimed he did not wish to usurp her power, but still challenged her to a contest to prove who was the more powerful of the two. Both would attempt to produce male deities.

She began the contest by breaking her brother's sword into three, chewing the pieces, and spitting them out. A mist appeared from her mouth and took the form of three goddesses. Susano took the fertility beads from her hair and arms and cracked them with his teeth. From these, he produced five male gods; then announced he had won the contest. But the gods had been formed from her own jewels and so Amaterasu claimed the victory. Ignoring her protests, Susano celebrated his victory by causing havoc on Earth, destroying rice fields and filling irrigation ditches. For his finale, he skinned a young pony and hurled it through the roof of the sacred weaving hall where Amaterasu and her attendants sat weaving the fabric of the universe, which was left incomplete as a result.

Fleeing in anger and fear, Amaterasu hid in a cave, Ame-No-Iwato (sky-rock-cave), taking the light with her. The evil gods were delighted, and used the opportunity to cause even more trouble. Though the good gods begged her to leave her cave, Amaterasu refused. They resorted to a trick in order to lure her out. A mirror was fashioned (called Kagami or Yata-Kayami), strung with a jeweled neckalce. A party of gods assembled outside the cave with the mirror and a rooster. At the crowing of the rooster (Amaterasu's sacred bird), Ame-No-Uzume, the Goddess of the Dawn and Laughter, began dancing the Kagura on an upturned tub. In the ecstasy of her dancing, she removed her clothes which caused the assembled gods to laugh. Unable to contain her curiosity, Amaterasu emerged from her cave and was told by the gods that they had found a more beautiful women to replace her. As she moved close to see, she was captivated by her own reflected beauty. Several of the gods caught her and a straw rope (Shiri-Kume-Na-Nawa) was placed over the mouth of the cave to prevent her retreat. Thus light returned to the world.

Her temple in Ise Naiku is visited by about five million devotees each year, and she is also worshiped in every family shrine. December 22nd is the Tohji-Taisai, a Shinto rite honoring Sun Goddess Amaterasu. There is also a special ceremony during solar eclipses. Her shrines are often placed adjacent to those her brother, Susano-Wo. She protects the rice fields and invented irrigation canals. Her three divine rice fields are Easy-Rice-Field-of-Heaven, Level-Rice-Field-Of-Heaven, and Village-Join-Rice-Field-of-Heaven. She organized religious rites. She developed the art of raising silk worms (though the goddess Ukemochi create silk worms from her eyebrows) and wove the clothing of the gods.

The monk Gyogi (670-749) created an offshoot of Shinto called Ryobu-Shinto. One of his main tenets was that Amaterasu is the same as Buddha.