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