Oh My Kami! Susano’o

I was reprimanded the other day by a Shintoist for saying that Susano’o was the evil storm god. He is the storm god, but not evil; he’s just kind of a jerk.

It probably all started from his birth. Susano’o was born at the same time as his sister Amaterasu and brother Tsukuyomi. Only, while they were born from their father’s eyes, Susano’o was born from the water that fell out from the inside of Izanagi’s nose. Kind of a divine snot rocket. Shortly after, he began making trouble — especially with his big sister Amaterasu. One day in particular, he got really drunk and angry and trampled all of her rice paddies and filled her irrigation ditches; he flung excrement into her shrines; he flayed a horse and threw its corpse at her loom, killing one of her handmaidens. Amaterasu was so upset she hid herself in the Heavenly Cave and didn’t come out for a long time.

Susano’o was punished by his father for this by being thrown out of Heaven. From this comes one of the most famous Susano’o stories. He went to Japan and met an elderly couple who had eight daughters. Or, they had had eight daughters; every year, the terrible eight-headed serpent Yamata-no-Orochi would come and eat one of them. Their last daughter, Princess Kushinada, was soon coming upon her final days. Susano’o, being a total badass, went and killed Yamata-no-Orochi. Afterwards, he noticed a funny lump inside the serpent’s corpse; he cut the beast open and discovered the sword Kusagani, which became one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan.

Eventually, in order to reconcile with his sister, he gave the sword to Amaterasu as a peace offering. She accepted it, and eventually passed in down to her grandson Ninigi, who passed it on to his grandson, Emperor Jimmu of Japan.

須佐之男
Susano'o

This will be my final painting in the Oh My Kami! series for a little while. I’ll be showing them at a gallery next month, and I’ll be returning to my Chickens of the World series for a time. This print — and the others in the series — is available on my Etsy store. If you’re interested in buying the original, please email me. Thanks for reading!

Oh My Kami! Tsukuyomi

Tsukuyomi is the Japanese moon god. While Amaterasu, the sun goddess, was born from Izanagi’s left eye as he purified himself after leaving Yomi, Tsukuyomi was born from his right eye.

This was a fairly difficult image to create in that there are precious few myths involving Tsukuyomi. From what I can tell, he’s only even mentioned twice in the mythologies, the first story being his birth, and the second one being when he killed Ukemochi (I wrote about that at the end of Inari’s entry); Amaterasu was invited to a feast by the god of food, Ukemochi. She was busy, and so she sent her brother in her place. However, when Tsukuyomi saw the disgusting way in which the food was prepared — Ukemochi made the food by turning to the ocean and spitting out a fish, then facing the forest and spewing game out of her anus, and finally turning to a rice paddy and coughing up a bowl of rice — he got angry and killed the goddess.

Amaterasu was so upset with Tsukuyomi for killing Ukemochi that she refused to ever look at him again, and moved to another part of the sky. That is why we have day and night.

ツクヨミ
Tsukuyomi

Oh, and I added a Google Friend Connect module to my site (it’s on the sidebar, underneath the tags and categories) so if you’re using Google Reader or Blogger or anything like that, you can easily subscribe to my site if you’d like.

This print is available on my Etsy store. If you’re interested in buying the original, please email me. Thanks for reading!

Oh My Kami! Amaterasu

Amaterasu is the Shinto sun goddess. She was born from Izanagi’s left eye as he purified himself after having returned from Yomi. Her brothers are Tsukuyomi, the moon kami, and Susano’o, the storm kami. She is also the origin of the divinity in the Japanese imperial line, as the imperial household is said to be directly descended from her. Her grandson Ninigi was sent to Earth to pacify Japan, and he brought with him the three sacred artifacts — the sword, the mirror, and the jewel — that became the Japanese imperial regalia. Ninigi’s grandson became Emperor Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan.

Amaterasu is also credited with inventing the cultivation of rice and wheat, and the use of silkworms and the loom.

Her most important shrine, the Grand Shrine of Ise, is interesting in that it is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years. I’ve heard that this is in order to preserve the techniques of shrine building for all future generations (apparently books are not enough). The shrine also houses one of the three sacred artifacts — the mirror — although it’s not open to the public. (The sword is enshrined in the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, and the jewel is enshrined in the Imperial Palace.)

The mirror and the jewel are well documented in a famous story about Amaterasu. One day, her brother Susano’o was being a real jerk. He got really drunk, trampled all of her rice fields, filled in her irrigation ditches, and then threw excrement into her shrines and temples. Amaterasu was so upset she shut herself into the Heavenly Cave and sealed it shut with a rock. With her gone, the world became dark, and everything began to wither and die. All of the gods gathered outside the cave and begged her to come out. The hung the sacred mirror and jewels outside the cave to try to lure her out, and Uzume — the voluptuous goddess of revelry — exposed herself in some kind of divine striptease. All the gods cheered at this, and finally Amaterasu peeked out to see what all the commotion was. The other gods explained that they found a new goddess to replace her, and pointed to the mirror. When Amaterasu went over to look at the mirror, the gods closed the cave behind her and begged her to return to Heaven. She did, but from then on, she always carried a bow and quiver just in case her jerk of a brother started up again. (In this picture, she’s carrying the sword, Kusanagi, which was eventually given to her as a reconciliation gift from her brother Susano’o.)

天照
Amaterasu

This print is available on my Etsy store. If you’re interested in buying the original, please email me. Thanks for reading!

Oh My Kami: Izanagi and Izanami (part 2)

Yesterday we heard the story of Izanagi and Izanami creating the world, the islands of Japan, and many of the gods and goddesses. After giving birth to the god of fire, poor Izanami was too badly burnt to live, and she died in her husband’s arms. Izanagi was so angry that he slaughtered the infant god of fire, cutting him up into many new gods. But his grief didn’t end there.

Izanagi was so upset that he determined to travel to the underworld, Yomi, to retrieve his wife. He searched and quickly found her (presumably there weren’t too many dead at this point in history). At this point it was too dark to see her, but he called out to her to come back to the land of the living. Izanami spat at him that he came too late, as she had already eaten the food of the underworld and could no longer return to life.

Izanagi refused to accept this, so he waited until Izanami fell asleep, and snuck up on her to carry her back to the land of the living. When the light of his torch fell upon her face, he was horrified, as she was in a terrible state of decompose, with maggots and worms crawling through her once beautiful face. Izanagi shrieked (wouldn’t you?) and fled, waking up Izanami in doing so. Izanami was so indignant that she sent eight hell-hags after her husband, instructing them to bring him back to live with her forever.

Izanagi fled the underworld and quickly threw a huge boulder over the entrance, keeping the demons and hellbeasts — and his now-hellish wife — trapped in Yomi. Furious, Izanami shrieked out at him that if he left her, she would destroy 1000 lives every day for the rest of eternity. Izanagi replied that if she did that, he would give life to 1500 new lives every day.

Izanagi left his wife forever that day, and went to perform a cleansing ritual to purify himself of having visiting Yomi (and presumably to wash off any bits of his wife that were stuck to him after that traumatic venture). In cleansing himself, the water that fell out of his left eye became the sun goddess, Amaterasu. The water that fell from his right eye became the moon god Tsukuyomi (we heard about him in Inari’s story too). And whatever it was that came out of his nose (yuck!) became Susano’o, the evil storm god.

As for Izanami, she became the queen of the underworld.

伊弉冉
Izanami

The Japanese version of hell, or Yomi, isn’t really like the Christian concept of hell. Originally, it was quite similar to the Greek underworld, Hades. After Buddhism came to Japan, Yomi was incorporated into Buddhist cosmology and became one of the many hells one can go to if they’ve been a bad person…

Extra credit to any of you who caught the similarities between the story of Izanagi and Izanami and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Double extra credit to any of you who caught the similarities to the Mayan myth of Itzamna and Ix Chel, the Indian myth of Savitri and Satyavan, or the Sumerian myth of Inanna’s decent into the underworld. Myths are fun!

Anyway, as usual, head on over to Etsy if you’d like to support me by buying a print!

Oh My Kami! Izanagi and Izanami

Japan’s creation myth is pretty cool. In the beginning, the first gods Kunitokotachi and Amenominakanushi created Izanagi and Izanami and charged them with the creation of the world. They gave the new brother and sister pair a heavenly spear, and Izanagi and Izanami descended to the heavenly floating bridge and plunged the spear into the ocean. The drops which fell off the spear formed into the first land, from which all of the land was formed. A tall pillar also grew out of this mess, and Izanagi and Izanami, being the only gods their age, fell in love and wanted to get married.

The circled around the pillar in opposite directions, kind of winging the wedding ritual, and figured, meh, it was good enough. And they quickly went to business. They had two children, Hiruko (remember Ebisu from the Seven Lucky Gods?) and Awashima, who were born deformed. The higher gods told them that this was because they performed the marriage ceremony improperly (certainly not because they were brother sister!) so they repeated their wedding, this time without screwing up. Afterwards, they had many more children, including the “eight great islands of Japan,” some other islands, and many many gods.

Tragically, Izanami died giving birth to Kagutsuchi, the god of fire; she was burned too badly during the birth. Izanagi was so furious that he killed the baby, creating even more deities in doing so. Afterwards, Izanagi traveled to the underworld to try to retrieve her, but that’s another very interesting story which I will cover later.

弉諾と伊弉冉
Izanagi and Izanami

This print is available on my Etsy store. If you’re interested in buying the original, please email me. Thanks for reading!

Oh My Kami! Inari

Another widely popular kami, Inari is a god of fertility, agriculture, rice, foxes, industry, and worldly success. There are shrines to Inari all over Japan, the most famous one being Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, known for it’s thousands of torii archways. Inari is a patron of blacksmiths and a protector of warriors. In a famous Noh play, Inari helps the legendary blacksmith Munechika forge a great sword. And today, big corporations often have shrines to Inari on the top of their headquarters. (Take an elevated train ride through an urban area and you’re bound to see a number of rooftop shrines; a good number of them may be to Inari.)

Figuring out how to paint Inari was a difficult decision. There’s not really a “standard” appearance — sometimes Inari is depicted as a beautiful young woman, other times as a grizzly old man, other times as a warrior spirit, other times as an androgynous bodhisattva. In some stories, he appears as a snake, a dragon, or a giant spider. Throughout all the depictions though, one constant is foxes. Inari is strongly associated with foxes (kitsune), which is why you’ll see fox statues all over any placed dedicated to him.

Inari’s origins are pretty mysterious too. While he is a completely Shinto deity, he is often identified with other gods and goddesses, including the other gods of agriculture, Benzaiten of the Seven Lucky Gods, and even his wife. In some places, Inari is actually worshiped as a collective of three or five major deities, which over the centuries have included Izanagi and Izanami, the creator deities, and almost a dozen others. We’ll get to some of them later in the series, but that’s just to illustrate Inari’s importance in Shinto. Anyway, for my illustration, I went with the image of Inari as Dakiniten, a goddess imported from Tibetan Buddhism’s dakini — enlightened energy embodied in goddess form.

稲荷
Inari

Lastly, if you’re a fan of sushi, you must be familiar with inari-zushi, rice inside a pocket of fried tofu. Foxes are said to love fried tofu, which is why the food was named after Inari. Oh yeah, and I wanted to mention Inari’s wife, Ukemochi, one more time, because the story is fantastic:

Ukemochi, a goddess of food, was preparing a feast for the moon god Tsukuyomi. She did this by facing the ocean and spat up a huge fish, then facing the forest, after which a vast herd of game spewed from her anus. Finally she faced a rice paddy and coughed up a big bowl of rice for him. Tsukuyomi was so disgusted he killed her right then and there, but her dead body continued to produce food: millet, rice, and beans sprouted forth from her corpse, and her eyes turned into silkworms.

I wonder what she was going to make for dessert.

This print is available on my Etsy store. If you’re interested in buying the original, please email me. Thanks for reading!

Oh My Kami! Raijin

Painting while sick really sucks. Well, doing anything while sick really sucks actually, but fever and exhaustion is no friend to the fine motor skills required for painting. This took me a lot longer than I would have liked it to.

Raijin (雷神) is one of my favorite gods. He is the god of thunder, and is almost always seen with his buddy Fujin. Together they’re two of the most commonly seen images of gods in Japan. I’ve always loved the thunder, and here in Fukui the snow thunder is absolutely spectacular, so that’s part of the reason he’s one of my favorites. Besides his domain, I also just like the way he looks — a chaotic sky demon beating on a ring of drums. Very cool.

雷神
Raijin

There’s a famous superstition in Japan that when it thunders you should cover your naval. The awesome explanation behind this is that Raijin will come along and eat your belly button if you don’t. I’ve never seen anyone here cover their navels over here, but come to think of it, I haven’t seen many belly buttons either. I wonder…

Anyway, as always, Raijin is available at my Etsy store, or by emailing me. Thanks for viewing!