Ōkuninushi (Japanese: 大国主) was a famous hero and one of the more personable gods as part of the Japanese Izumo mythology. His name literally translates to "Great Land-Owner" or "Great Land Master" and he was in charge of firming the land during creation. He was known as the Lord of the Central Land of Reed Plains (another name for Japan). In Shintoism, Okuninushi-no-Mikoto is considered the god of the earth and the underworld, as well as of relationships, nation-building, commerce, medicine, and agriculture.
He is also known as Ōmononushi (大物主神) or Onamuchi, and the amiable Daikoku/Daikokuten of the Seven Lucky Gods is considered his counterpart (as their names have a similar reading).
Okuninushi was the youngest sibling of 80 cruel brothers, all deities living in Izumo. Hearing of the beautiful goddess Yagami-hime in the land of Inaba, every one of the brothers decided to try and woo her. Bringing along Okuninushi in order to carry all their luggage, he soon lagged behind his brothers from the burden. On the way to Inaba, the large group of brothers came across a suffering hairless hare, and decided to play a prank on it. They advised it to bathe in seawater, then stand on top of a high peak and let the winds and sun dry it, telling the hare this would help it recover more quickly. The hare did as the brothers said, but instead of recovering, things worsened as its skin dried out and cracked, agitated further by salt from the seawater. Unable to stand the pain, the hare fell to the ground. Trailing behind his brothers, when Okuninushi found the crying rabbit he asked what had happened. The rabbit told its story.
Originally from the island of Oki, the hare had wanted to travel to the mainland but was unable to do so on his own. So coming up with an idea, he challenged the sharks surrounding the island. He told them "Let’s see which there are more of, you sharks or us rabbits. Have all your fellow sharks line up one by one from here to Cape Keta, and I’ll count you. Then we’ll know for sure which group is bigger." As the sharks lined up, the hare jumped from shark to shark, counting each one. Just before it leapt to the mainland, it boasted about tricking the sharks, so the final shark bit off the rabbit's fur. Lying on the ground, that was where he met the large group of gods whose advice had made things worse.
After hearing the tale, Okuninushi told the hare to wash itself in the nearby fresh water river, then lay out fluff from the cattails and roll in it. Doing so, the rabbit's pain was soothed and it soon completely healed. In gratitude the hare gave a prophecy that Yagami-hime would choose Okuninushi over all of his brothers. When Okuninushi finally arrived where his brother's were, the princess told the elder brothers that she would have nothing to do with any of them, but would marry Okuninushi.
Enraged by and jealous of their younger brother who obtained the affection of the goddess-princess of Inaba, the elder brothers schemed to kill Okuninushi. They killed him twice, once with a smoldering boulder and once with a trap in the woods. Both times he was killed, Okuninushi was revived by his mother Sashikuni-waka-hime, a clam goddess. After the second time, Okuninushi was able to escape to the underworld ruled by Susanoo.
After fleeing to the underworld Ne no Kuni, Okuninushi met and fell in love with Suseri-hime. Her father, Susanoo, however, did not approve of the relationship and so decided to test the young man. First, he was told to sleep in a room full of snakes. Suseri-hime gave him a scarf that, when waved three times, would freeze the snakes, allowing Okuninushi to pass the night without incident. Second, he was to stay in a room full of wasps and centipedes. Again he was helped by Suseri-hime with a scarf that worked in the same way as the first. Finally, Susanoo took him to a big field and shot an arrow, telling Okuninushi to retrieve it, before setting the field on fire. About to succumb to the flames, a mouse ran up to him and told him that the "Once inside, it’s big and hollow, but the entrance is narrow and tight." Recognizing the invitation into the mouse's home, Okuninushi stomped on the hole where a large burrow opened up and he was able to wait out the fire. The mouse also helped him find the arrow and he returned it to Susanoo.
Still not completely unsatisfied, Susanoo then told Okuninushi to pick the lice out of his hair. However, rather than lice, Okuninushi found many centipedes. Suseri-hime again came to help him, giving him red clay and berries, which he chewed together and spat out, causing Susanoo to think it was the centipedes he was chewing and spitting out. Eventually falling asleep, Okuninushi then tied Susanoo's hair to the rafters of the house and blocked the door with a boulder. Then taking the sleeping god's sword, harp, and bow and arrows, Okuninushi and Suseri-hime fled together. But when the harp knocked against a tree. Susanoo awoke and his house fell around him, before he chased the couple all the way to the entrance to the underworld.
Fortunately, during the trials Susanoo had grown fond of Okuninushi, and so instead of catching them he let them go. Instead he told Okuninushi to take his tools to the surface and defeat his brothers, then build a palace for Suseri-hime that would reach the heavens.
Using the magical items lent by Susanoo, Okuninushi defeated all of his brothers in Izumo, allowing him to become ruler of the land. With the help of the dwarf god Sukunabiko, Okuninushi began to firm/form the land. Along with his friend the dwarf god they also developed medicine and managed to decrease the destructiveness of birds and insects. For this a shrine was built in Izumo for Okuninushi.
When Takemikazuchi descended to heaven with the command to pacify and unify the Central Land of Reed Plains, Okuninushi transferred his power over to Niningi, the grandson of Amaterasu. For this he was given rulership of magic and the unseen, where he then moved to the land of darkness, the underworld.
Inari Ōkami (Japanese: 稲荷大神), also called Ō-Inari (大稲荷), is the Japanese kami of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants. Inari appears to have been worshiped since the founding of a shrine at Inari Mountain in 711 AD, although some scholars believe that worship started in the late 5th century.
By the 16th century, Inari had become the patron of blacksmiths and the protector of warriors, and worship of Inari spread across Japan in the Edo period. Inari is a popular figure in both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs in Japan. More than one-third (32,000) of the Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari. Modern corporations, such as cosmetic company Shiseido, continue to revere Inari as a patron kami, with shrines atop their corporate headquarters.
Inari's foxes, or kitsune, are pure white and act as their messengers.
According to myth, Inari, as a goddess, was said to have come to Japan at the time of its creation amidst a harsh famine that struck the land. "She [Inari] descended from Heaven riding on a white fox, and in her hand she carried sheaves of cereal or grain. Ine, the word now used for rice, is the name for this cereal. What she carried was not rice but some cereal that grows in swamps. According to legend, in ancient times Japan was water and swamp land.
When reading about Shintoism, there’s one deity whose names you’ll see over and over again – Inari Ōkami, Ō-Inari, or just Inari. This kami (deity, spirit) is neither the most powerful deity in Shintoism, nor a Creator or a Ruler god of some kind.
And yet, Inari is the most popular and most commonly worshiped Shinto deity. About a third of all Shinto temples in Japan are devoted to this peculiar kami. So, who exactly is Inari and why is she or he so popular?
Inari is the Shinto kami of rice, foxes, agriculture, fertility, trade, industry, prosperity, and much more. Depicted as an old man, a young and beautiful woman, or an androgenous deity, Inari’s worship differs greatly depending on where in Japan you are.
Rice, foxes, and fertility seem the constants in Inari’s worship, as they are the base symbols of Inari. The very name Inari comes from Ine Nari or Ine ni Naru, i.e. rice, to carry rice, or rice load. Needless to say, with rice being such a popular food in Japan, the widespread popularity of Inari's cult is quite understandable.
As for the foxes – while their (positive) connection with rice is difficult to decipher, foxes are a popular symbol in Japan. The famous kitsune spirits (literally translating as fox in Japanese) were magical foxes with up to nine tails that could transform into people. Their preferred humanoid form was that of a beautiful young woman, which they used to trick, seduce, but also often help people.More importantly – foxes and kitsune spirits are said to be servants and messengers of Inari. The benevolent kitsune serve the rice kami whereas the malevolent ones rebel against the deity. In fact, many depictions of the deity, regardless of their gender, show Inari with foxes or riding a large white kitsune.
Inari is also a kami of dozens of different and completely unrelated things. She is a kami of agriculture, as well as of trade and prosperity. Fertility also remains a large part of Inari’s symbolism, not just in an agricultural sense but in terms of procreation as well.
In later periods, Inari became a kami of industry and progress as an extension of the prosperity symbolism. Tea and sake also became associated with Inari although we can’t really say why. Swordsmiths, blacksmiths, and swordsmen fell under Inari’s favor too, during Japan’s more militant periods in the Middle Ages.
Inari even became a patron kami of fishermen, artists, and prostitutes (not geishas) – as many of Inari’s shrines were built in the sections of towns and cities where these groups of people lived.
Such aspects associated with Inari were typically localized in one part of Japan or another. Eventually, some of them spread while others remain local.
Inari doesn’t just symbolize various things; they seem to be more than just one deity too. That’s why the kami is portrayed as both male, female, or androgynous – because it’s literally not just one person.
For example, Inari, the old man, is said to be married to the goddess of agriculture Uke Mochi. In other myths, Inari is herself an agricultural and fertility goddess with many names. Inari is even present in many Japanese Buddhist sects. In Shingon Buddhism, she is associated with the Buddhist concept of the divine feminine daikiniten as that too is connected to foxes.
There’s also the connection with another Buddhist deity Benzaiten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods. Inari is also often equated with the Shinto grain deity Toyouke. In fact, she or he is often viewed as a variant of either of the many different Shinto grain, rice, and agricultural deities.
The reason behind this is simple – Japan’s islands used to be made up of dozens of different small city-states and self-governing areas. This had continued for centuries before the eventual, slow unification of the country. So, as this happened, and Inari’s cult started spreading through the land, many such local agricultural deities began to be substituted by or conjoined with Inari.
Inari isn’t just a humanoid deity that gives rice and grain to people, of course. Despite the fact that most of her myths are localized and not widely spread, a through-line can be noticed – Inari is a shapeshifter.
This is a quality that the kami shares with her kitsune fox spirits who are also famous for their shapeshifting abilities. Like them, Inari also most commonly shapeshifts into a fox. Inari is also known to occasionally transform into a giant snake, a dragon, or a giant spider too.
Because Inari is essentially a collection of many local agricultural deities, there isn’t a solid base of myths about this kami as there is for others. One of the few widespread myths about Inari depicts her as a female kami that comes to Japan shortly after the islands’ creation. Inari came precisely at the time of a severe and long-lasting famine, riding on a white fox, and brought with them sheaves of grain to help the people in their time of need.The myth isn’t really anything elaborate, but it perfectly encapsulates what Inari is to the followers of Shintoism.
In Japanese religion, Yahata (八幡神, ancient Shinto pronunciation) formerly in Shinto and later commonly known as Hachiman (八幡神, Japanese Buddhist pronunciation) is the syncretic divinity of archery and war, incorporating elements from both Shinto and Buddhism.
Although often called the god of war, he is more strictly defined as the tutelary god of warriors. He is also the divine protector of Japan, the Japanese people and the Imperial House.
Hachiman, also called Hachiman-jin or Yahata no kami, is a special deity as he combines elements from both Shintoism and Japanese Buddhism. His name translates to God of Eight Banners which is a reference to the legend of the birth of the divine Emperor Ōjin and the eight banners in the sky that signaled it.
Hachiman is commonly viewed as a Japanese god of war but he’s mostly worshiped as a patron kami of warriors and archery, and not of war itself. The archer kami was initially worshiped near-exclusively by warriors and samurai but his popularity eventually extended to all people in Japan and now he’s also viewed as the patron kami of agriculture and fishing as well.
Over the years, Hachiman became much more than a samurai’s kami. His popularity grew among all the people of Japan and he started being worshiped by farmers and fishermen alike. Today, there are over 25,000 shrines dedicated to Hachiman across Japan, the second-highest number of Shinto shrines behind the shrines of the kami Inari – the protector deity of rice cultivation.
The most likely reason for the spread of Hachiman’s popularity is the intrinsic respect Japanese people have for their royalty and leaders. The Minamoto clan was loved as defenders of Japan and therefore Hachiman became worshiped as the Imperial patron and protector of the entire country
The fact that this kami incorporates themes and elements from both Shintoism and Buddhism also goes to show how loved he was by everyone in the island nation. In fact, Hachiman was even accepted as a Buddhist divinity in the Nara period (AD 710–784). He was called Hachiman Daibosatsu (Great Buddha-to-be) by the Buddhist and to this day they worship him as vehemently as the Shinto followers.
As a protector kami of all of Japan, Hachiman was often prayed to defend the country against its enemies. A couple of such occasions took place during attempted Mongol Chinese invasions in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333 CE) – the period when Hachiman’s popularity grew significantly.
The kami is said to have answered the prayers of his followers and sent a typhoon or a kamikaze – a “divine wind” in the sea between Japan and China, thwarting the invasion.
The two such kamikaze typhoons took place in 1274 and one in 1281. It should be said, however, that these two incidents are also often attributed to the gods of thunder and wind Raijin and Fujin.
Either way, this divine wind or kamikaze became so well-known as a “protective divine spell for Japan” that in World War II, Japanese fighter pilots screamed the word “Kamikaze!” while suicide-crashing their planes into enemy ships, in a final attempt to Japan from invasion.
Hachiman’s primary symbolism is not so much war but the patronage of warriors, samurai, and archers. He’s a protector deity, a sort of warrior-saint to all people in Japan. Because of this, Hachiman was prayed to and worshiped by everyone who wanted and needed protection.
Fūjin (風神, lit. "Wind God") or Fūten (風天) is the Japanese god of the wind and one of the eldest Shinto gods. He is portrayed as a terrifying wizardly demon, resembling a red-headed green-skinned humanoid wearing a leopard skin, carrying a large bag of winds on his shoulders. Like most wind deities in other religions, Fujin isn’t the most famous god in the pantheons of these religions. However, he played an important role and was highly revered. A true elder god, he’s one of the several children of the Father and Mother deities of Shintoism – Izanami and Izanagi.
Fujin is most often seen in combination with his more famous brother Raijin, the god of Thunder. Just like Raijin, Fujin also commands respect on his own. Viewed as both a kami (god, divine spirit) and an oni (demon), Fujin is responsible for every gust of wind that blows around the globe.
Fujin’s name in Kanji writing literally translates as Wind God but he’s also known by the name Futen which means Heavenly Wind.
His fame as an oni is owed both to his horrifying appearance and to the rather bizarre circumstances of his birth; which was traumatic, to say the least. The wind god was born by the Japanese primordial goddess Izanami’s corpse, as she lay in the Japanese Underworld Yomi.
Fujin shares this strange birth with his brother Raijin as well as several other of their siblings such as the kami gods Susanoo, Amaterasu, and Tsukuyomi.
Because of their birth as creatures of the Yomi underworld, Izanami’s children are viewed both as kami gods and as horrifying oni demons. Once the children were born, Izanami ordered them to chase down and capture their own father, the primordial god Izanagi, as Izanami was angry that he had left her in the Underworld.
Fujin’s father managed to escape Yomi before his vengeful children could catch up to him but they too eventually broke out of Yomi and started sowing destruction around the world at their mother’s behest.
As both a kami and an oni, Fujin is complex in his behavior and characteristics. Like his brother Raijin, Fujin is also known as a benevolent deity. His winds are often gentle and refreshing, and even his harshest typhoons are sometimes helpful. Two famous examples of Fujin’s assistance to mortals are the two typhoons credited to both Fujin and Raijin in the late 13th century. Both in 1274 and 1281, as the Mongol hordes were trying to invade Japan by sea, Fujin and Raijin blew their numerous ships into the sea, crushing the Mongol armies, and keeping Japan safe.
Just as Fujin’s winds travel around the world, so do his name and imagery. Most scholars today agree that Fujin owes his portrayal to other wind gods from across Eurasia. Namely, Fujin is linked with Hellenic portrayals of the Greek wind god Boreas.
Even though Boreas is a lesser-known deity today, he’s older than Fujin. What’s more, Hellenic culture was very well-known all across Eurasia in the ancient times, including in Persia and India. There, Hellenic gods like Boreas influenced many Hindu deities, especially in the Kushan Dynasty where Boreas inspired the wind god Wardo.
From India, these Hindu deities eventually traveled to China where Wardo also became popular. So popular, in fact, that he was also given many different names in China and eventually ended up in Japan under the name Fujin.
In this way, although Fujin is a Japanese god, his origins were inspired by the gods of other cultures.
Fujin symbolizes the winds and its characteristics. Just like his winds, Fujin is whimsical and humorous but also quick to anger. He can be devastating when he chooses to be. Both worshipped and feared, Fujin is especially dangerous when he works together with his brother Raijin.
In more recent times, he’s also been often featured in Japanese anime and manga. Some of his most famous appearances include the Flame of Recca manga, the Let’s Go Luna! animation, as well as the hit video games Final Fantasy VIII and Mortal Kombat.
Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto (Japanese: 天宇受売命, 天鈿女命) is the goddess of dawn, mirth, meditation, revelry and the arts in the Shinto religion of Japan, and the wife of fellow-god Sarutahiko Ōkami.
Ame-no-Uzume is the Shinto goddess of dawn, a master of merry-making, humor, and dancing. A highly positive kami (a type of god or spirit in the Shinto religion), her ingenuity brought Amaterasu, the sun goddess, back into the world, saving the earth from eternal winter’s night. A popular deity, Ame-no-Uzume is credited with the origination of the performing arts.
Ame-no-Uzume is very different from her mistress, however, being more inclined to joviality and creativity, which connect to the potential, creation, and happiness often associated with sunrise. Because of this, Ame-no-Uzume is often portrayed as smiling.
Traditional stories describe Ame-no-Uzume as wearing loose or revealing clothing, which other kami in these stories find comical, but Ame-no-Uzume is joyful and unconcerned. Unlike the very reserved and proper Amaterasu, Ame-no-Uzume is open, easygoing, and dedicated to bringing joy to the world. Her nature makes her a great diplomat, and she acts as one of Amaterasu’s most trusted servants.
Mirrors, a sacred symbol of the Imperial family, are often connected to Ame-no-Uzume because of the way the ocean on Japan’s eastern coast reflects the dawn sun like a mirror.
Ame-no-Uzume is credited with the creation of many Japanese art forms, such as kagura, a kind of dance telling the stories of kami, and some forms of comedy and theater such as the ancient noh. Ame-no-Uzume is often depicted in kyogen, a comedic theater tradition, and here she is often displayed semi-nude to comic effect. Because of these theatrical connections, Ame-no-Uzume is the goddess of revelry.
In relation to her husband, she is also considered an inari kami, or a goddess connected to kitsune, Japanese fox spirits known for their cunning and wiles.
“Ame no Uzume ‘s themes are honor, longevity, wisdom, psychic abilities, prosperity, protection and kinship. Her symbols are antique items, aged wines or cheese (anything that grows better over time) and sacred dances. A Japanese ancestral Goddess, Ame no Uzume’s magic is that of generating a long, happy life for Her followers. Shinto festivals in Her honor include special dances that invoke the Goddess’s favor for longevity, honor, prosperity, protection and a close-knit family. In some areas, people also turn to Her for foresight, considering Ame no Uzume the patroness of psychic mediums.
also known as Amaterasu-Ōmikami (天照大御神, 天照大神) or Ōhirume-no-Muchi-no-Kami (大日孁貴神) among other names, is the goddess of the sun in Japanese mythology. One of the major deities (kami) of Shinto, she is also portrayed in Japan's earliest literary texts, the Kojiki (ca. 712 CE) and the Nihon Shoki (720 CE), as the ruler (or one of the rulers) of the heavenly realm Takamagahara and the mythical ancestress of the Imperial House of Japan via her grandson Ninigi. Along with her siblings, the moon deity Tsukuyomi and the impetuous storm god Susanoo, she is considered to be one of the "Three Precious Children" (三貴子, mihashira no uzu no miko / sankishi), the three most important offspring of the creator god Izanagi.
Amaterasu's chief place of worship, the Grand Shrine of Ise in Ise, Mie Prefecture, is one of Shinto's holiest sites and a major pilgrimage center and tourist spot. As with other Shinto kami, she is also enshrined in a number of Shinto shrines throughout Japan.
Amaterasu, while primarily being the goddess of the sun, is also sometimes worshiped as having connections with other aspects and forms of nature. Amaterasu can also be considered a goddess of the wind and typhoons alongside her brother, and even possibly death. There are many connections between local legends in the Ise region with other goddesses of nature, such as a nameless goddess of the underworld and sea. It's possible that Amaterasu's name became associated with these legends in the Shinto religion as it grew throughout Japan.
In contrast, Amaterasu, while enshrined at other locations, also can be seen as the goddess that represents Japan and its ethnicity. The many differences in Shinto religion and mythology can be due to how different local gods and beliefs clashed. In the Meiji Era, the belief in Amaterasu fought against the Izumo belief in Ōkuninushi for spiritual control over the land of Japan. During this time, the religious nature of Okininushi may have been changed to be included in Shinto mythology. Osagawara Shouzo built shrines in other countries to mainly spread Japan's culture and Shinto religion. It, however, was usually seen as the worshiping of Japan itself, rather than Amaterasu. Most of these colonial and oversea shrines were destroyed after WWII.
Outside of being worshiped as a sun goddess, some have argued that Amaterasu was once related to snakes. There was a legend circulating among the Ise Priests that essentially described an encounter of Amaterasu sleeping with the Saiō every night in the form of a snake or lizard, evidenced by fallen scales in the priestess' bed. This was recorded by a medieval monk in his diary, which stated that "in ancient times Amaterasu was regarded as a snake deity or as a sun deity." In the Ise kanjō, the god's snake form is considered an embodiment of the "three poisons", namely greed, anger, and ignorance. Amaterasu is also linked to a snake cult, which is also tied to the theory that the initial gender of the goddess was male.
In general, some of these Amaterasu-dragon associations have been in reference to Japanese plays. One example has been within the Chikubushima tradition in which the dragon goddess Benzaiten was the emanation of Amaterasu. Following that, in the Japanese epic, Taiheki, one of the characters, Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞), made comparisons with Amaterasu and a dragon with the quote: “I have heard that the Sun Goddess of Ise … conceals her true being in the august image of Vairocana, and that she has appeared in this world in the guise of a dragon god of the blue ocean.”
Another tradition of the Heavenly Cave story depicts Amaterasu as a "dragon-fox" (shinko or tatsugitsune) during her descent to the famed cave because it is a type of animal/kami that emits light from its entire body.
Because Amaterasu has the highest position among the Shinto deities, there has been debate on her influence and relation to women's positions in early Japanese society. Some scholars have argued that the goddess' presence and high stature within the kami system could suggest that early rulers in Japan were female. Others have argued the goddess' presence implies strong influences female priests had in Japanese politics and religion.