A Summary of the Kojiki’s Creation Myth and the Story of Izanagi and Izanami

The Kojiki is a sacred text of the Shinto religion. It was completed in 712 CE and is therefore Japan’s oldest surviving written work. The Kojiki is an invaluable historical source for ancient Japan and historians have found it helpful for learning about ancient customs. As one commentator writes,

“The Kojiki is not only an invaluable historical source and entertaining compilation of Japanese mythology, it is also the cornerstone of the Japanese indigenous Shinto religion, its gods and rituals. The stories are spectacular, exotic, mysterious and sometimes even comical” (1).

The Kojiki is a rich text containing a mixture of genres such as myth, legend, and historical accounts of the imperial court up until the reign of Empress Suiko (554-628 CE). Despite all the complexity, this entry limits itself specifically to the creation myth of the text.

The account begins with the creation of the heaven and earth, as well as the birth of the gods,

“All was chaos before the heaven and the earth came into existence. All was shapeless mass. Something light and transparent rose up and formed the heaven. The world resembled oil floating, jellyfish-like, upon the face of water. Then the heavenly deities were born. They were likewise born alone, and hid themselves. It took millions and millions of years before the earth was formed” (p. 4-5).

The two major gods of this story Izanagi and Izanami were then born,

“Like the sprouting of a reed, many more deities were born. Then Izanagi, the Male-Who-Invites Deity, and Izanami, the Female-Who-Invites Deity, were born. All the other heavenly deities summoned Izanagi and Izanami to consolidate the world, handing them a spear” (p. 5).

Izanagi and Izanami then stood “upon the Floating Bridge of Heaven” from where they created the island of Japan,

“Izanagi and Izanami pushed down the spear and stirred the brine till it went curdle-curdle. The brine that dripped down from the spear piled up and became an island” (p. 5).

Izanagi and Izanami then wanted to marry and descended to the island where they found a pillar. They produced children who “were the land of the Eight Great Islands that became the origin of Japan” (p. 6).

More gods were then created to preside over Japan. Their firstborn was the sea god. Following on were the gods of harbor, wind, trees, mountains, plains, great food, communication, and so on. But giving birth to god of fire caused Izanami to fall gravely ill. Her illness led to the creation of even more gods,

“From her vomit came the deity of metals, from her excrement came the deity of clay, from her urine came the deity of fresh growth” (p. 8).

Izanami eventually died and her “hot tears fell like hailstones and out of the teardrops was born the deity of weeping” (p. 8).

Deeply grieved, Izanagi descended to the underworld (the “land of Yomi”) to seek after his wife and bring her back. But the journey was arduous and long as “Many millions of miles separated the earth from the Lower Regions” (p. 9).

Arriving eventually, Izanagi found Izanami at the gate of an inner court where he called for her to come back to the world to complete the work of creation. But Izanagi had come too late as Izanami had “already eaten food from the furnace of Yomi. Having once eaten the things of this land, it is impossible for me to come back to the world” (p. 10). Izanami was in despair and wished to go back with her husband,

“She lowered her head in deep despair, and continued, “I wish to go back with you. I’ll speak to the deities of Yomi to obtain their permission. Wait here until my return, but remember that you must not on any account look inside the castle” (p. 10).

Izanagi waited for a long while “but no shadow of his wife appeared. The day gradually wore on and waned away, darkness was about to fall” (p. 10). This led to Izanagi forgetting the vow he had made and so “stuck his head into the inner court to see inside, and stepped in the darkness. He broke off a tooth of the comb that he was wearing, and lit it” (p. 10). Suddenly then,

“A ghastly change had come over Izanami. Covered with innumerable maggots and surrounded with thunder, she rose and cried, “How dare you shame me like this!” Straightaway she dispatched foul-featured hags from the land of Yomi to pursue Izanagi. The army of female demons ran after Izanagi. These she-devils were so fleet of foot they could leap a thousand miles at a stride” (p. 10).

Izanagi ran as fast as he could and cast down his headdress which upon hitting the ground instantly transformed into delicious grapes. But still the she-devils chased him. Izanagi took the toothed comb from his hair and then broke it. He threw the comb down and the pieces turned into bamboo sprouts. But the only things that proved too much for the she-devils were magical peaches,

“Izanagi finally reached the base of the Even Pass of Yomi. He plucked the magical peaches that were growing there and threw them at his pursuers. They all turned and fled back to Yomi. Therefore Izanagi designated the peach tree the Great-Divine-Fruit” (p. 12). 

Upon seeing her army retreat, Izanami pursued Izanagi herself,

“So Izanagi drew the Thousand-Draught Rock and blocked up the Even Pass of Yomi. From the other side Izanami spoke, “My beloved one, if you do this, I will strangle one thousand people of your land every  day.” Izanagi replied, “My lovely wife, if you do this, I will build one thousand five hundred birthing houses everyday” (p. 13-14). 

Now Izanagi and Izanami are separated eternally which is why the daily average of births exceeds that of deaths. Izanagi successfully returned to Japan and more gods are created,

“Izanagi came back to Japan, which was covered in light. Izanagi bathed in a river to purify his mighty body. Many deities were born from his clothes and belongings. When Izanagi washed his left eye, Amaterasu Oomino Kami, the Sun Goddess, was born. When Izanagi washed his right eye, Tsukuyomi no Mikoto, the Moon God, was born. When Izanagi washed his nose, Susanoo no Mikoto, Male Augustness, was born” (p. 14-15).

The story concludes with Izanagi’s experiencing much joy over having “illustrious children.” These “three gods who were born from Izanagi’s purification became Japan’s guardian deities and are still worshiped with great respect today” (p. 15)

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