Author: Elisha Kayne
The sun has been revered by man since the beginning. Without it’s warmth and light, the world would be a dark and inhospitable place. Modern science explains that it is our proximity to the sun, our perfectly harmonious distance from the shining orb, that allows the abundant creation of the Earth to exist. It is for this reason that humanity has long since noticed its dependence on the sun for survival itself. Like a mother, she bestows the gift of life, and like children we both appreciate the bond which sustains us, and fear the possibility of her loss. Sun worship has taken many forms over the eons, and in Japanese culture and history, she stands uniquely distinct amongst the myriad of divine spirits which surround ancient fields and high tech skyscrapers which dot the landscape of the Japanese islands.
The Goddess Who Shines in Heaven
According to ancient Japanese texts, Amaterasu was formed by Izanagi during a purification ritual following his return from Yomi, the Underworld. She was birthed from Izanagi’s left eye, along with her brothers Tsukuyomi, who was born from his right eye, and Susanoo who was formed from his nose. Amaterasu was gifted with rulership of the sun, Tsukuyomi became director of the night and moon and Susanoo inherited the keeping of the seas and storms. While she loved her siblings, there were moments of disagreement, which led to the division of night from day, and sea from sky. One such discord between Amaterasu and Susanoo led to her fleeing from sight, where she hid inside a cave to escape her brother’s wrath. During her isolation, the world which Izanagi and Izanami had created became dark and cold. Ame-no-Uzume was the only entity capable of luring her from her hiding place, with the help of a sacred mirror, jeweled necklace and a beautiful dance. After returning to her place in the heavens, she was also given the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi as a peace offering from Susanoo. These three treasures would become not only priceless artifacts to the Goddess herself, but also to the people of Japan.
Matriarch of the Imperial Dynasty
It was Ninigi, Amaterasu’s grandson, who brought the wisdom of rice planting to help pacify Japan during a time of struggle. When he arrived, he also carried the three treasures, which had been passed down to him from his divine grandmother. His descendant Jimmu, became the first Emperor of Japan, from which the Imperial dynastic line was created. The story and genealogical information has been recorded in ancient texts such as the Nihon Shoki and Kojiki. The three sacred items became known as the Imperial Regalia of Japan, and have been closely guarded through the ages, and are still said to be currently housed within certain undisclosed holy shrines of Japan.
Amaterasu in the Modern World
In many other cultures and religions, the link to a matriarchal deity has long since been severed. Yet, in modern times Amaterasu’s primary place of worship, the Grand Shrine of Ise, has millions of visitors every year, proving that her light still shines bright in the hearts of men and women in Japan and around the world.