Age of the Gods: Japanese Creation Stories and the Descendants of Deities

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Susanoo slaying the Yamata no Orochi, 1870s.

Age of the Gods: Japanese Creation Stories and the Descendants of Deities

Nihon or Nippon is a Chinese pronunciation for the country that was originally called Yamato. As the islands lie to the east of the Asiatic continent, the Chinese called the land sun-origin. This name was further changed by Marco Polo who gave it as Zipangu which eventually became Japan.

The Oldest Chronicle

Over 1300 years old, the Kojiki is Japan's oldest existing chronicle. Compiled by Yasumaro, a Japanese nobleman and renowned chronicler, at the command of the Empress Genmei in 712, the Kojiki is a collection of the myths and stories that tell the ancient Japanese story of the creation of the universe, in particular the islands of Japan.

The Age of Gods, chapters from The Chronicles of Japan, 1286

The Age of Gods, chapters from The Chronicles of Japan, 1286 (Public Domain)

Beginning in the Kamiyo or Age of the Gods, the Kojiki traces a path down through the mythical and ends in the known historical record with the lineage of Japan’s Imperial family. Yasumaro states that he submitted his manuscript to Empress Genmei on the 28th day of the first month of the year 712. He begins the preface to the Kojiki with an account of the first divine beings and the successive eight generations of brother and sister pairs until we arrive at the creator pair of Izanagi and Izanami.

The Birth of Everything

As is common to so many creation myths, everything begins in a state of chaos. In this chaos was heard the sound of particles moving. Light and the lightest particles drifted up and formed the upper layers of the universe. Light was at the very top, below that the lighter particles formed the clouds and Heaven, while the heavier particles settled and formed the Earth.

I Yasumaro say: Now when chaos had begun to condense, but force and form were not yet manifest, and there was nought named, nought done, who could know its shape? Nevertheless Heaven and Earth first parted, and the Three Deities performed the commencement of creation; the Passive and Active Essences then developed, and the Two Spirits became the ancestors of all things.

The first three deities are the Master-of-the August-Center-of-Heaven, the High-August-Producing-Wondrous-Deity and the Divine-Producing-Wondrous-Deity.

The second important Japanese record is the Nihongi, presented to the same Empress Genmei only eight years after the Kojiki tells us that:

At this time a certain thing was produced between Heaven and Earth. It was in form like a reed-shoot. Now this became transformed into a God, and was called Kuni-toko-tachi no Mikoto.

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