AMATERASU OMIKAMI, is the Sun Goddess and the Ancestral Divinity of the Imperial Family. She is said to have been born of Izanagi, the creative divinity. The Grand Shrines of Ise are dedicated to her.
IZUMO TAISHA or Oyashiro, the Grand Shrine of Izumo, is the oldest shrine in Japan and dedicated to Okuninoshi-no-Mikoto who is credited with having introduced medicine, sericulture, and fishing. The shrine is situated at the foot of Mount Yakumo on the western coast. In October of every year it is said that the gods from all over the country assemble there for a great meeting and to arrange marriage. In Izumo, October is called Kami-arizuki (the month with gods), and in other parts of Japan called Kannazuki (the month without gods).
DAIKOKU, is one of the Seven Gods of Luck. His Shinto name is Okuni-Nushi-no-Mikoto, or divine Master of the Great Land. He is said to be the father of Ebisu, another of the Lucky Seven and is supposed to be a great luck-bringer. He is usually represented as a fat, prosperous-looking individual, wearing a peculiar shaped cap, and seated on two rice bales. He has a sack of precious goods on his back and holds a hammer in his right hand.
EBISU, is one of the Seven Gods of Luck. This famous luck-bringer is said to be the son of Daikoku. He is the God of Honest Dealing, the Patron of fishermen, and also the God of Food. Legend has it that he originated the custom of clapping hands before Shinto shrines in order to call the attention of the gods to prayers being offered. Ebisu is usually represented as a bearded, smiling individual, wearing a cap with two points, and holding a fishing rod in one hand and a large Tai fish in the other.
Gohei is a stick with pieces of cut paper seen at shrines or outside houses when prayers are being offered to the deities for assistance. It is nearly always white though sometimes gold or silver. The only colored Gohei are used at the Mihonoseki Shrine in Shimane Prefecture where they changed each month in accordance with the colors of the seasonal flowers.
HACHIMAN, is the posthumous title of the Emperor Ojin, son of the Empress Jingu. He was born in 270 AD while his Imperial Mother was on her expedition in Korea and died in 310 AD. Some credit him with having lived for 110 years. He is deified as the God of War, and Hachiman Shrines are to be found all over the country, the most important being Kamakura, Usa, and Otoko-yama in Kyoto.
JINMU TENNO, the first Emperor found the Empire in 660 BC. The Kojiki, describes this as follows: – the Sun Goddess, who ruled in the Takama-ga-hara, or the High Plain of Heaven, commissioned her grandson, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, to descend upon Oyashima (Japan) and found an Empire. Prince Ninigi was invested with the sacred insignia of royalty: the Sword, the Mirror and the Jewel and was thus instructed by the Sun Goddess: – “The land shall be ruled hereditarily by my descents. You, my grandson, go and govern it, and may the prosperity of the Imperial House be as everlasting as that of Heaven and Earth.” Prince Ninigi, with his trusted advisors, alighted on Takachiho-no-mine, in Hyuga (presently Kyushu), and soon brought the surrounding regions under his rule. It was here that he, his son, and his grandson had their headquarters until the Emperor Jinmu, Prince Ninigi’s great grandson, started on his “Eastern Expedition.”
The place where he and his followers landed was Naniwa (presently Osaka) from where they made an attempt to subdue the area which was later known as Yamato. Driven back on his first attempt, the Emperor attacked again by a roundabout route, via the Kii Peninsula, and was successful, and thus found the Empire of Nippon.
He was one of the celebrated generals of the 16th century, who earned great fame when, under the rule of Hideyoshi, he directed the Korean War (1592-1598), and was called “Devil Warrior” by the enemy. After the death of Hideyoshi he became one of Tokugawa-Ieyasu’s chief adherents, at which time he was master of the entire province of Higo (presently Kyushu). But the Shogun had no use for ambitious generals and is said to have instigated the death of Kiyomasa by having him poisoned at a tea ceremony. Kiyomasa’s helmet is said to have been three feet high, and he carried a banner inscribed with the sacred formula of the Nichiren Sect of Buddhism, “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.” The Nichiren Sect has dedicated two temples to his memory in Kumamoto.
KOJIKI, or “Record of Ancient matters,” was the first Japanese history compiled by O-no-Yasumaro from the recollections of a court chamberlain named Hieda-no-Are, then 65 years old. It was completed in 712.
MASKS, are used frequently in Noh plays and are of numerous varieties representing heroes, devils, ghosts, legendary animals, religious characters, etc. They are often used by Satokagura dances. First introduced into Japan in the seventh century AD, their production became an art in itself and a study of the numerous varieties is fascinating. The following is a list of the most common types:
– Hyottoko, a man’s mask usually with pouting lips, sometimes with a beard or moustache.
– Hannya, a female demon.
– Kawazu, a frog mask.
– Kitsune, a fox mask.
– Kenkwai, a mask of a fox transformed into an old priest.
– Nyudo, a three eyed goblin.
– Okina, the mask of an old man with tufts of hair on the forehead and at the corners of the mouth.
– Oni, under this type come the many different varieties of demon masks.
– Rojo, a smiling old woman.
– Saru, monkey masks of various types.
– Shishi, a lion with a white mane.
– Shojo, the wine drinker with red hair.
– Tengu, a mask with a long nose.
– Uba, the old woman.
– Yamanba, old hag of the mountain with a large wig.
– Yasha, the mask of a furious-natured woman.
They are young girls who perform the sacred Kagura dances at Shinto shrines, some of whom pretend to be able to foretell the future and hold communication with dead spirits and the gods. They are also called Kannagi.
NASU-NO-YOICHI, was a celebrated Japanese archer, sometimes called the Japanese William Tell. At the battle of Yashima (1185) a boat belonging to the Tairas came close to the beach where the Genjis were stationed, and a lady challenged the warriors to shoot down a fan which was fixed to the masthead of the vessel.
Minamoto Yoshitsune accepted the challenge and ordered a young archer named Yoichi, from the district of Nasu, to shoot it down. Yoichi then rode into the sea and took aim. The fan was swaying with the movement of the ship but, closing his eyes he prayed to Hachiman, the God of War, took aim and released his arrow, which broke the rivet of the fan or Kaname, to the great admiration of both friends and foes. After this great feat Yoichi took the fan as his family crest.
RAIKO. or Minamoto-no-Yorimitsu, was a legendary warrior who is credited with the slaughter of ogres, demons, and goblins. One day, in the year 988, a beautiful lady appeared to him in a dream, She held a bow and arrow and introduced herself as Shokwa, the daughter of the famous Chinese archer Yoyuki, saying that her father had entrusted her with the sets of archery which were to be transmitted to only the most worthy. She then disappeared leaving near him various weapons which he found when he awakened. His most celebrated feat was that of destroying the ogre Shutendoji whom after a long quest he located at Oeyama through the help of a maiden who showed him a heap of bones and flesh of her own parents, the remainder of the monster’s last meal. According to another legend, Raiko and his partner Watanabe-no-Tsuna were walking in a plain when they saw in the sky a huge skull with a red halo, floating in the clouds. They followed the vision up to the plateau of Kagura-ga-Oka where they saw the Yamauba dressed in white. She refused to direct Raiko but was unable to prevent him from entering an underground cave. There, he and Watanabe found themselves surrounded by ghosts and other evil creatures who then disappeared before a thin figure with a face two feet long and naked down to the waist, with fine breasts and arms like threads who showed her blackened teeth in an ugly grin. This repulsive figure gave way before a glowing female and as she came near, Raiko felt himself wrapped in a net of combs. Feeling sure that he was bewitched he thrust right and left with his sword and managed to sever the net, while at the same time a strange shriek was heard and the point of the sword broke. In front of the two warriors now appeared a stream of milky white fluid in which they found a huge spider whose body glistened on the point of Raiko’s sword. Raiko prayed to Shoki, the demon queller, and succeeded in cutting off the monster’s head which was one hundred and twenty feet in diameter. From the belly of the brute rolled nineteen hundred and nineteen skulls of slain warriors and a hundred spiders each more than three feet high.
Literally the great Drunkard boy was a mythical creature who was slaughtered by Raiko and his retainers. He is described as an ogre, demon, and a cannibal devil, and met his death at the hands of Raiko. When Shuten-doji was seven years old, his wicked father Ibuki was killed by his father-in-law. The widowed mother then abandoned the boy. He joined a gang of robbers and became debauched and a drunkard. He stayed with his companions in Oyeyama, and became the terror of the country-side.
Tenjin-Sama who was deified as the God of Calligraphy was a noble who became a minister of the Emperor Daigo, when Uda Tenno (emperor) abdicated in the former’s favor. He did everything in his power to establish the rights of the Emperor and to diminish the power of the Fujiwaras. But the great favors bestowed upon him by the two emperors soon found him in a bad position with the other ministers. Fujiwara Tokihira, Minamoto Hikaru and others successfully sought his downfall which they accomplished by accusing him of a conspiracy against the throne. Daigo Tenno gave credence to the former Emperor and did all in his power to save him. Michizane survived his exile only two years, his chief consolation being to ascend Mount Tempai and with his face turned towards Kyoto and worship the master who had disgraced him. Twenty years after his death he was re-established in all is dignities and given the title of Dajodaijin (Prime Minister). The shrine of Kitano at Kyoto is consecrated in his honor.
The brother of Amaterasu-Omikami whose ways were so obnoxious that she sent him into a cave. The gods then sent him to Izumo where he married Inada Hime, the daughter of God Ashina-Tsuchi. He is worshipped as the God of the Moon, the Tide, and the Sea.
YAMATOTAKERU-NO-MIKOTO(81-113), the third son of the Emperor Keiko (70-130), his real name was Kousu. He is one of the famous warriors of Japanese history whose exploits would fill a good-sized volume. The emperor, indignant at his conduct towards his brother, sent him on an expedition against a famous band of rebels that was terrorizing the countryside under the chief Kawakami Takeru. Kousu took with him a strong archer named Otohikogimi and disguising himself as a girl, entered the camp while they were feasting. The chief captivated by the girl’s beauty, invited her to his table.
When the chief was sufficiently intoxicated and the company had thinned down to four peope, Kousu drew a sword from his garments and stabbed the rebel. The dying chief asked his assailant’s name and being told he was the son of the Emperor, said: “I have never met such as brave man as your Highness, and I crave that you will accept from me the name of Yamato-Kakeru” (The Bravest in Yamato). This the Prince accepted and then killed him. After having conquered Izumo, where trouble had been brewing for many years, he went into the north and successfully defeated the barbarians. He then proceeded to Mount Ibuki in Omi (presently Shiga prefecture), where he had heard a savage deity resided, and resolved to kill it. But becoming surrounded in a poisonous mist, he was unable to carry out his mission and became sick of a malignant fever. He died soon after at Ise at only thirty-three years of age.
Kakinomoto Hitomaro is one of the six celebrated poets. He lived in the seventh century, and was a foundling discovered by a warrior under a persimmon tree (Kaki).
Born in 85 AD, he was a descendant of the Emperor Kogen, and was a warrior and statesman to whom historians credit the extraordinary span of no less than three hundred and fifty years of age. He was also the advisor of more than five sovereigns in succession.
NINIGI-NO-MIKOTO, sometimes called Amatsuhiko-Hikoho-no-Mikoto. Grandson of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami. The country of Oyashima (Japan) had fallen under the rule of the descendents of Susan-o-no-Mikoto, established in Izumo. The sun Goddess wished her descendents to recover the regions they had lost and sent Takemikazuchi and Futsunushi, who brought about Okuni-Nushi and his son Kotoshiro-Nushi. Thereupon Amaterasu-Omikami presented Ninigi-no-Mikoto with the three Sacred Treasures which are the symbols of the Imperial Power. After this, Ninigi-no-Mikoto descended from heaven, alighting on Mt. Takachiho, then proceeded to Satsuma and established his residence at Cape Ara-no-Kasasa, where he married Konohana-Sakuya-Hime. Junmu Tenno was their grandson.