FantasyFictionJapanese Mythos and Legends

Ama-terasu and Susa-no-o

Susa-no-o, or “The Impetuous Male,” was the brother of Ama-terasu, the Sun Goddess. Now Susa-no-o was a very undesirable deity indeed, and he figured in the Realm of the Japanese Gods as a decidedly disturbing element. His character has been clearly drawn in the Nihongi, more clearly perhaps than that of any other deity mentioned in these ancient records. Susa-no-o had a very bad temper, which often resulted in many cruel and ungenerous acts. Moreover, in spite of his long beard, he had a habit of continually weeping and wailing. Where a child in a tantrum would crush a toy to pieces, the Impetuous Male, when in a towering rage, and without a moment’s warning, would wither the once fair greenery of mountains, and in addition bring many people to an untimely end.

His parents, Izanagi and Izanami, were much troubled by his doings, and, after consulting together, they decided to banish their unruly son to the Land of Yomi. Susa, however, had a word to say in the matter. He made the following petition, saying: “I will now obey thy instructions and proceed to the Nether-Land (Yomi). Therefore I wish for a short time to go to the Plain of High Heaven and meet with my elder sister (Ama-terasu), after which I will go away forever.” This apparently harmless request was granted, and Susa-no-o ascended to Heaven. His departure occasioned a great commotion of the sea, and the hills and mountains groaned aloud.

Now Ama-terasu heard these noises, and perceiving that they denoted the near approach of her wicked brother Susa-no-o, she said to herself: “Is my younger brother coming with good intentions? I think it must be his purpose to rob me of my kingdom. By the charge which our parents gave to their children, each of us has his own allotted limits. Why, therefore, does he reject the kingdom to which he should proceed, and make bold to come spying here?”

Ama-terasu then prepared for warfare. She tied her hair into knots and hung jewels upon it, and round her wrists “an august string of five hundred Yasaka jewels.” She presented a very formidable appearance when in addition she slung over her back “a thousand-arrow quiver and a five-hundred-arrow quiver,” and protected her arms with pads to deaden the recoil of the bowstring. Having arrayed herself for deadly combat, she brandished her bow, grasped her sword-hilt, and stamped on the ground till she had made a hole sufficiently large to serve as a fortification.

All this elaborate and ingenious preparation was in vain. The Impetuous Male adopted the manner of a penitent. “From the beginning,” he said, “my heart has not been black. But as, in obedience to the stern behest of our parents, I am about to depart for ever to the Nether-Land, how could I bear to depart without having seen face to face thee my elder sister? It is for this reason that I have traversed on foot the clouds and mists and have come hither from afar. I am surprised that my elder sister should, on the contrary, put on so stern a countenance.”

Ama-terasu regarded these remarks with a certain amount of suspicion. Susa-no-o’s filial piety and Susa-no-o’s cruelty were not easily to be reconciled. She thereupon resolved to test his sincerity by a remarkable proceeding we need not describe. Suffice it to say that for the time being the test proved the Impetuous Male’s purity of heart and general sincerity towards his sister.

But Susa-no-o’s good behavior was a very short-lived affair indeed. It happened that Ama-terasu had made a number of excellent rice-fields in Heaven. Some were narrow and some were long, and Ama-terasu was justly proud of these rice-fields. No sooner had she sown the seed in the spring than Susa-no-o broke down the divisions between the plots, and in the autumn let loose a number of piebald colts.

One day when he saw his sister in the sacred Weaving Hall, weaving the garments of the Gods, he made a hole through the roof and flung down a flayed horse. Ama-terasu was so frightened that she accidentally wounded herself with the shuttle. Extremely angry, she determined to leave her abode; so, gathering her shining robes about her, she crept down the blue sky, entered a cave, fastened it securely, and there dwelt in seclusion.

Now the world was in darkness, and the alternation of night and day was unknown. When this dreadful catastrophe had taken place the Eighty Myriads of Gods assembled together on the bank of the River of Heaven and discussed how they might best persuade Ama-terasu to grace Heaven once more with her shining glory. No less a God than “Thought-combining,” after much profound reasoning, gathered together a number of singing-birds from the Eternal Land. After sundry divinations with a deer’s leg-bone, over a fire of cherry-bark, the Gods made a number of tools, bellows, and forges. Stars were welded together to form a mirror, and jewelry and musical instruments were eventually fashioned.

When all these things had been duly accomplished the Eighty Myriads of Gods came down to the rock-cavern where the Sun Goddess lay concealed and gave an elaborate entertainment. On the upper branches of the True Sakaki Tree, they hung the precious jewels and on the middle branches the mirror. From every side, there was a great singing of birds, which was only the prelude to what followed. Now Uzume (“Heavenly-alarming-female”) took in her hand a spear wreathed with Eulalia grass, and made a headdress of the True Sakaki Tree. Then she placed a tub upside down, and proceeded to dance in a very immodest manner, till the Eighty Myriad Gods began to roar with laughter.

Such extraordinary proceedings naturally awakened the curiosity of Ama-terasu, and she peeped forth. Once more the world became golden with her presence. Once more she dwelt in the Plain of High Heaven, and Susa-no-o was duly chastised and banished to the Yomi Land.

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