Living With Kami: All About Konkokyo and Shinto

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Total Solar Eclipse: A regale of the Yayoi people, Amatsukami and Ama no Iwato

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

As the Total Solar Eclipse was a great event taking place across North America, I thought it would be the perfect time to write about the solar eclipse, and what it means in Shinto traditions - especially in regard to the famous Ama no Iwato myth. While it is unknown the true event associated with Ama no Iwato, it is said popularily it represents a solar eclipse – however when one studies further, a more significant connection would be to the Winter Solstice. However, indeed, solar eclipses would have most likely been significant as well, especially in relation to a recall of Ama no Iwato.

(Solar eclipse)

The myth of Ama no Iwato is centered around the Amatsukami - Heavenly kami - originally worshiped by the Yayoi people. The era in which their culture flourished and was most active is traditionally dated about 300 BC to 300 AD, called the Yayoi era (Yayoi Jidai 弥生時代). It is from this time the Yayoi people and culture shared and practiced an early type of Amatsukami worship, the spiritual tales they told immortalized today in the Kojiki. While the Kojiki was written much later, in 712 AD, there is archaeological evidence and oral tradition that these myths are much older, dating to the Yayoi, who had no writing system. So, to understand fully about this spiritual story of Ama no Iwato, and the significance an eclipse would be to them, we must talk a bit about them first.

The Yayoi people were the first to bring worship of Amatsukami to the land what we now call as Japan.
An easiest example to show the connection, as pictured below, one can clearly see the connection even in the modern era – the architecture of Ise Kotaijinguu, Amaterasu Omikami's primary shrine in the country, still retains the ancient architecture of the Yayoi people, and Yayoi settlements. (See below for comparison)

(Yayoi Settlement)

(Aerial view of Ise Kotaijinguu - Naiku)

The primary Amatsukami – Amaterasu Omikami (the Sun), Tsukuyomi no Mikoto (the Moon), and Susanoo no Mikoto (storms – as well as wind, ocean, and also connected to stars). Were and are considered the Three Precious Children (Mihashira no Uzu no Miko 三貴子).

The importance of the Sun, Moon, stars, rain, ocean, and wind – and their spirits/souls, the kami, played an important part of Yayoi worship. Amaterasu Omikami being the most important to them – as she was said to be the kami who gave them life, warmth, growth, and livelihood, as well giving leadership guidance to the Yayoi leaders ( considered royalty, and were also oracles/shamans), who were usually women as well.

(Three precious children modern depiction)

Now with all this in mind, many of the Yayoi's traditions line up to the Kojiki stories of the Amatsukami. The Yayoi held the symbols of the mirror, sword, and magatama jewel in utmost respect as symbols of Amaterasu Omikami – a tradition still held today. 

Common Yayoi practices, such as divination using the shoulder bone of a deer (Futomani), silk weaving, rice farming, channeling the divine via dance (miko), and so on, can all be seen reflected in the myths – especially in the Ama no Iwato myth, all these elements appear. This is why, it is important to understand the background and context of the Yayoi, to catch the nuances and importance of this myth.

I'll retell an excerpt of Ama no Iwato below, with some parts cut out in order of relevance

(Depiction of Ama no Iwato myth)

Susanoo no Mikoto, having neglected his duties as a kami due to sadness over Izanami Okami's death, was banished from Takamagahara (realm of the Heavenly kami, Amatsukami). Distraught, he went directly to Amaterasu Omikami's palace, in order to (seemingly) seek guidance to his elder sister.

(Story of the Divine Oath)
However, while it seemed Susanoo no Mikoto had a good and pure heart, while he stayed in the palace, he committed very rude acts. In his anger and sadness, he decimated the sacred rice paddy, the farmland, and threw excrement all over the palace. The other Amatsukami were enraged and asked Amaterasu Omikami for an explanation.

She tried to defend him, saying that he was suffering through a lot of difficult emotions, and the Amatsukami begrudgingly accepted her words. She spoke to Susanoo no Mikoto afterwards, and while it was quiet for a time, he seemed to have planned and even bigger transgression.

In Amaterasu Omikami's palace, her younger sister, Wakahirume no Mikoto, was the leader of the weaving maiden kamis. She is said to be a kami of the dawn, or dusk, as well as weaving, silk production, clothing making, and related aspects. (Enshrined at Ikuta Jinja in Kobe). 

As Wakahirume no Mikoto was weaving silk, Susanoo no Mikoto hid on the roof of the weaving palace. He held a skinned divine pony, and threw it harshly, crashing through the wooden/delicate roof, and landing on top of Wakahirume no Mikoto. The impact had her fall directly onto her loom with such force, that pieces of it pierced her pelvis, and she is said to have died right away. (However, later her spirit is said to have revived). 

The other weaving maidens, and now Amaterasu Omikami, who had rushed in hearing the screams and crashed, saw horrific things – a skinned divine pony (said to may have been Amaterasu Omikami's own pony, which is why a white sacred horse is still presented to Naiku/Inner Shrine at Ise), ruined silk and looms (considered sacred to Amaterasu Omikami, and still offered to her at Ise Kotaijinguu), and most critically, seeing her younger sister dead. 

Completely numbed and in shock, she broke down and ran with adrenaline to a cave, which we now call as the sacred Ama no Iwato, and shut herself inside.

Of course, with this, the light also disappeared, and the other Amatsukami were thrown into a panic. The weaving maidens quickly told them about the incident, and, after swiftly punishing Susanoo no Mikoto by pulling out his nails, cutting his hair and beard, and exiling him to the land of Kunitsukami, Izumo no Kuni, they began to work how to get her out of the cave.

They consulted Omoikane no Mikoto, a kami of knowledge and wisdom, to see what to do. As they made camp by the Yasu River near Ama no Iwato, he came up with a plan to call sacred and pure energy so she would want to come out, and delegated tasks to the other Amatsukami. 

To Ame no Uzume no Mikoto, he suggested she do a divine dance, to call sacred energy.

To Ame no Koyane, he suggested that he write a norito prayer 

To Ame no Futodama, he suggested to do the the Futomani divination with the shoulder bone of a deer (a sacred animal to Yayoi) to find out if the plan will be successful or not. 

To Ishikoridome no Mikoto, he suggested she make a large mirror (now known as Yata no Kagami) so she can see her own reflection

To Tamanoya no Mikoto, he suggested they make many magatama (now known as Yasakani no magatama) to hang on the sakaki branch alongside the mirror. 

Amaterasu Omikami is said to have been fond of magatama ever since the magatama necklace, Mikuratana no Kami, was given by her Father, Izanagi Okami, as a symbol to be the ruler of Takamagahara. 

They also collected divine roosters, hoping their call would call her out (as roosters caw when the sun rises).

After Ame no Futodama confirmed the plan would succeed through divination, the kami began to implement everything.

It seemed to be going well, but despite the chanting of norito, and Ame no Uzume preparing a divine dance, there still seemed to be no sign of it working. All the Amatsukami were nervous.

Then, Ame no Uzume no Mikoto, the goddess of the sunrise, began to do something different. She overturned a washtub laying by the river, took sakaki and other branches and flowers in her hair and hands, and exposed her breasts. Instead of a solemn ritual to call down divine energy, she began to cheerfully and excitedly dance, and laugh, and make lots of noise stepping on the washtub and shaking the leaves.

The Amatsukami, all suddenly shocked by her actions, couldn't help but release from their tension in laughter. Once they began laughing, they couldn't stop, and Ame no Uzume no Mikoto was encouraged and began to do more and more exciting things, making the Amatsukami more and more cheerful and laughing.

At the same time, the roosters began to call, and Ame no Koyane began chanting the norito more loudly.

Amaterasu Omikami, surprised at all the sounds and noises, was shocked out of her sadness and depression for a moment. She peeked a little from the cave, and called out, “What is happening?” and Ame no Uzume no Mikoto cheerfully replied, “There's a new goddess here! And she's way better than you!” Amaterasu Omikami, shocked and confused, peeked more, whereupon she saw her reflection in Yata no Kagami.

While she was dazzled having never seen her reflection, her depression had come back, “Oh, it seems it's true, she is much better”. In this moment of remorse however, was the Amatsukami's chance. Omoikane no Mikoto called Ame no Tajikarao, the strongest of the Amatsukami, to quickly grab her out from the cave. As he did, Ame no Futodama quickly sealed the cave,said to be with shimenawa, so she could not enter again.

Thus, light was restored, and cheerfully the peace among the Amatsukami and Takamagahara was restored.

(What happened to Susanoo no Mikoto? He has a happy ending too, but for next time!)

From this myth, we can see important elements of Yayoi culture, such as rice paddies, farms, horses, silk weaving, and most importantly, life – all decimated. All these things would be considered very harsh transgressions against the head kami of the Yayoi people, and the people themselves. The traditional spiritual practices to commune with the kami at the time, such as Futomani, and divine dance, were credited to restoring peace, sunlight, and order. It can be gleaned that whenever transgressions against the kami happened, people reconnected to them via the leader's and their court spiritual communication with the kami to restore peace and balance.

The Ama no Iwato myth itself, as mentioned, is more associated with the Winter Solstice, especially if one considers the torii leading to Uji Bridge (Ujibashi) at Ise Kotaijinguu. This torii is the very first one that is seen before entering the sacred realm of the Inner shrine (Naiku). The way the torii is built aligns to the sun rising directly inside the torii on the Winter Solstice day. As Ise Kotaijinguu was founded by Yamatohime no Mikoto, from the Yayoi/Yamato Kingdom, and still retains Yayoi traditions throughout thousands of years, there is a connection the Winter Solstice time was a more significant event to the Yayoi (longest night of the year).

However, despite this, the time of solar eclipses relates to this myth as well albeit in a more abstract manner.  The Yayoi most likely also made the connection between Ama no Iwato, the Winter solstice, and eclipses – all times when the sun's light is less, or in the case of an eclipse, slowly taken away and completely blotted out for a few minutes. 

Remembering that Ama no Iwato happened due to severe transgressions - even by the divine - private rituals by the leaders, public ceremonies with the people, and extra food offerings were most likely done in order to keep the sun's light shining – to keep balance, peace, and harmony among their deities and their people. 

While Ama no Iwato itself may not have been an eclipse story – the eclipse would have certainly reminded them of the myth, and to be humble and continue a proper way of living. It would have had a strong impact on them, just as it still does on us as humanity as a whole, even after thousands of years and scientific knowledge, we are still in awe at the power of great nature, and the power of the sun. 

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Hello! I am Olivia. Nice to meet you. I am an ordained Konkokyo priestess since October 22nd, 2015. My hometown is Toronto, Ontario, Canada, but I'm currently working as an associate minister/priestess and miko at the Konkokyo Yokosuka Kyoukai in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan. During my training, I went to various shrines and temples, and regions all around Japan, and I want to share all the spiritual knowledge I was able to learn with many others all around the world. I hope to help others as much as I can!


  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis Thursday, 24 August 2017

    Very interesting!

    I've been reading the Kojiki and have been wondering to what degree it reflects genuine historical record. Obviously, like the Bible or ancient Greek mythology it's filtered through a particular religious viewpoint as well as political concerns (namely, legitimizing the authority of the Japanese Imperial Family) but at the same time there seems little reason to believe it isn't rooted at least somewhat in historical fact (after all, something like the Trojan War is now widely believed to have occurred).

    How much of Shinto is rooted in ancient Yayoi practice versus later alterations in response to Buddhism? For that matter, how much is rooted in ancient Jomon practice (and therefore in theory Ainu religion)? Does the arrival of Jimmu to Japan reflect the migration of people from the Asian mainland or it only representative of the Imperial Family's acclaimed line of descent? These kind of questions interest me a lot as someone interested in both Shinto and Japanese history (though obviously they extend beyond your specific focus as a Shinto/Konkokyo priestess).

  • Olivia
    Olivia Wednesday, 30 August 2017

    Hi Aryós!

    Thank you for your great comment! I actually plan to address that in an article I'm writing about the Yayoi and Jomon people, and how their history and worship of Amatsukami and Kunitsukami respectively reflects in the myths, and the war between Amatsukami and Kunitsukami - and the role Izumo and Ise plays in this! Please look forward to it!

    Yes! Actually from learning about Japanese history, especially Yayoi and Jomon, and throughout the ages, it's a lot easier to understand about Shinto and Konkokyo nuances! So studying them is a huge benefit as well to explain myths or teachings, and nuances of the importance of certain offerings (such as rice for example) ^.^ It's a passion to study!

    But yes! I will be answering all these questions in a future article, so please look forward to it! :)

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