"...any being whatsoever which possesses some eminent quality out of the ordinary, and is awe-inspiring, is called Kami.”
"Master of the Great Land"
Ōmiwa Jinja 大神神社
Nara-ken, Sakurai-shi, Miwa 1422
Ōyamato Jinja 大和神社
Nara-ken, Tenri-shi, Niizumi-chō 306
Hikawa Jinja 氷川神社
Saitama-ken, Saitama-shi, Ōmiya-ku, Takahana-chō 1-407
Izumo Taisha 出雲大社社
Shimane-ken, Izumo-shi, Taisha-chō , Kizukihigashi 195
The White Hare of Inaba
Ōkuni-nushi has four other names. In the Kojiki he is a sixth-generation descendant of Susano-o: the main entry in the Nihon Shoki says he is Susano-o's son, an alternative passage agrees with the Kojiki version.
As well as five names he also has eighty brothers (81), although none of them are named. Each of these brothers wanted to marry Yagami-hime of Inaba (83), and one day they all set off to Inaba to meet her.
Ōkuni-nushi must have been the youngest brother, or very unassertive, because he was taken along only as the bag carrier, a very lowly position. On the way they came across a rabbit (Hakuto-jin, “The White Rabbit of Inaba,” 82) which due to its own deceit had been left furless and exposed to the elements to die. The eighty brothers gave the rabbit advice, which if acted on, which would probably have hastened its demise. Ōkuni-nushi seems to have been the last to pass the rabbit because he stopped and told it how to save its life. The rabbit then told Ōkuni-nushi that he would be the one to take Yagami-hime to wife.
Section 16 (Kami 83-85)
Visit to the Underworld (Nenokatasa-kuni)
Yagami-hime and the Trials & Tribulations of Ōkuni-nushi...
This comment was apparently instantly communicated to Yagami-hime because she then declared that she would marry only Ōkuni-nushi of the 81 brothers. This brought about great trials and tribulations, including death and resurrection, for the Master of the Great Land.
...At the Hands of His Eighty Brothers
On hearing Yagami-hime's declaration the 80 brothers decided to kill Ōkuni-nushi. They made two attempts on his life, both successful in the short term, unsuccessful in the medium term. On the first occasion, his mother, not named but presumably Sashikuni-waka-hime (79C), seeing her son dead ascended to heaven and pleaded with Kami-Musubi-kami (3). He dispatched two princesses, Kisagai-hime (84A) and Umugi-hime (94B), who restored Ōkuni-nushi to life and he walked away as a beautiful young man. Seeing this, the eighty brothers followed him and "led him into the mountains. They cut down a large tree, drove a wedge into the tree, and put him inside. Then they removed him and crushed him to death." (Philippi p97). His mother found him, restored him to life, and told him that if he wished to escape from his eighty brothers he should flee to the land of Ki, where Ōya-hiko-kami (71A) was living. This he did, but his tribulations proved to be far from over. Note that Ōya-hiko-kami is an alternative name for Iso-takeru-kami (71A), the son of Susano-o.
...At the Hands of Susano-o in Hades
Ōya-hiko-kami advised Ōkuni-nushi to visit Susano-o in Hades, where he was now living. On his arrival at Susano-o's palace the latter's daughter, Suseri-hime (85), came out to greet him. It was love at first sight and they became man and wife on the spot. She went back into the palace and told her father that a beautiful deity had arrived, inadvertently starting the next round of Ōkuni-nushi's tribulations. Recognizing his sixth-generation grandson immediately, Susano-o invited him in and had him sleep in the snake house. Seeing this Suseri gave her new husband a scarf, telling him to wave it three times to ward off the snakes. He did, and emerged unscathed. Next night the process was repeated in the centipede and wasp house, and our hero again emerged unscathed.
Susano-o then changed his tactics: he fired an arrow into the middle of a moor and told his son-in-law to go and fetch it. When Ōkuni-nushi was close to the arrow Susano-o set fire to the moor and Ōkuni-nushi was soon surrounded by fire with no apparent means of escape. Deliverance came in the form of a "wee, sleekit, cowran, tim'rous beastie" (aka a mouse) which guided him to what seems to have been a cavern in the ground with a narrow entrance where he sheltered until the fire had burnt itself out. When he had left the cavern he mouse brought the arrow to him in its mouth.
The Wooing of Ōkuni-nushi
No sooner had this happened than a tearful Suseri came along carrying mourning implements. Susano-o had also come out on to the moor, thinking that Ōkuni-nushi was dead. Why had he wanted him dead? Philippi points out that Motoori was of the opinion that Susano-o was actually trying to test Ōkuni-nushi's mettle and that he had come out to the moor to search lovingly for his body (Philippi p101). The now very much alive Ōkuni-nushi came up to his ancestor and presented him with the arrow.
They then went back to the palace and Susano-o bade Ōkuni-nushi take the lice out of his hair. He started to do this but quickly found centipedes there as well and it soon becomes clear that neither Ōkuni-nushi nor Suseri trust her father. Suseri gave her husband some berries and red earth which he started to chew in his mouth and spit out. Seeing this, Susano-o thought that Ōkuni-nushi was spitting out the centipedes and contentedly fell asleep.
Ōkuni-nushi Escapes from Susano-o...
Ōkuni-nushi seized the opportunity to tie Susano-o's hair to the rafters of the room and block the entrance to the palace with a huge boulder. He fled the palace carrying Suseri on his back and taking along with him Susano's sword of life, bow and arrow of life and his heavenly lute.
On the way the latter brushed against a tree and a sound reverberated along the ground, a reverberation strong enough to wake the still sleeping Susano-o, who once he woke managed to untangle his hair from the rafters, and set off after the fleeing couple. He was unable to catch up, however, and on reaching the Even Pass of Hades, where Izanagi had bid his tragic farewell to Izanami, was reduced to shouting a series of admonitions at Ōkuni-nushi in a mixture of exasperation and affection.
...Kills His Eighty (Half) Brothers, and Begins the Creation of the Land
His son-in-law was to use the weapons he had taken and drive his 80 brothers, although they are now described as half-brothers, to the farthest reaches of the rivers and then become in name and reality both the Master of the Great Land and the Spirit of the Living Land (Utsushi-kuni-tama-no-kami), make Suseri his primary wife, and at the foot of Mt. Uka (now considered to be the site of Izumo Taisha) build a palace with "crossbeams high enough to reach the Plain of High Heaven." ("Crossbeams" is a translation of chigi. While it seems unlikely that the crossbeams ever reached as high as the Plain of High Heaven there is some evidence that even in the Heian Period Izumo Taisha was much higher than it is now.) Ōkuni-nushi did as he was instructed, and then he began the creation of the land.
This latter phrase has traditionally been taken to mean that Ōkuni-nushi resumed the task which had been left unfinished by Izanagi and Izanami. Philippi, however, speculates that what is happening here is the combining of two different creation myths, those of Yamato and Izumo. In the former, the creation of the land is carried out by Izanagi and Izanami, in the latter by Ōkuni-nushi and Sukuna-hiko-na (101). As we have already seen, Yamato emerged as the dominant force and thus was able to use the writing of history to legitimatize its own position: Philippi opines that the Izumo myth was incorporated into the Yamato myth "as a concession to the pride of the Izumo people" (p103).
Back to the story. The trials and tribulations that Ōkuni-nushi has just overcome began with Yagami-hime's declaration that of the 81 brothers she would wed only him. The two now entered into conjugal relations and Ōkuni-nushi took his new wife back to his palace. She soon bore a child but so fearful was she of her new husband's primary wife, Suseri, that she fled the palace and left her son wedged in the fork of a tree. He was accordingly named Ki-no-mata-kami, lit. Tree Fork Deity (86).
Section 17 (Kami 87)
Ōkuni-nush woos Numakawa-hime, is Wooed by Suseri
Ōkuni-nushi then went to the Land of Koshi to woo a wise and beauteous maiden of those parts, Numakawa-hime (87). The wooing consisted largely of the exchange of what were in part largely formulaic songs and was apparently sight unseen, the exchanges taking place from either side of a closed door. Ōkuni-nushi won his maiden, although they did not sleep together until the day after the exchange of songs.
Back in Izumo Ōkuni-nushi quickly became tired of Suseri's jealousy of his philandering and told her, through the medium of song, that he was leaving Izumo for Yamato. However, Suseri, singing a song which in parts was very similar to that sung by Numakawa-hime, was able to dissuade him, and after an exchange of wine cups the couple were reunited in what seems to have been eternal happiness.
Section 18 (Kami 88A-99B)
The August Descendants of Ōkuni-nushi
This chapter lists 17 generations of Ōkuni-nushi's descendants.
Ōkuni-nushi Creates the Land
One day Ōkuni-nushi was at Cape Miho in Izumo when an incoming wave brought in a small boat carrying very small deity wearing the skin of a tadpole. On being asked by Ōkuni-nushi who he was he remained silent and none of his accompanying deities knew he was. In response to being told by Tani-guku (100A), the toad, that Kue-biko-kami (100B), later revealed to be the scarecrow of the mountain paddies, would know, Ōkuni-nushi summoned the latter and was told by him that the very small deity was Sukunabi-kona-no-kami, the son of none other than Kamu-Musubi-kami (3), the third of the three Creation Kami. Kamu-Musubi-kami confirmed to Ōkuni-nushi that his was indeed the case, but that this child had slipped between his fingers. He, Kamu-Musubi-kami, enjoined Ōkuni-nushi to become brothers with Sukunabi-kona-no-kami and together make and consolidate the land. Which they did.
The Nihon Shoki has a different take on this episode, saying that Takami-Musubi-kami (2), the second of the three Creation Kami, had fathered 1,500 children, and that :- “Amongst them one (Sukunabi-kona-no-kami) was very wicked, and would not yield compliance to my instructions. He slipped through between my fingers and fell. This must be that child. Let him be loved and nurtured.” (Aston, p 63).
After Ōkuni-nushi and Sukunabi-kona-no-kami had made and consolidated the land, Sukunabi passed on to Toko-yo-kuni (lit. "Land Beyond the Seas," "The Eternal Land" (Chamberlain p 104). Despite the land apparently having already been made and consolidated Sukunabi's passing on led Ōkuni-nushi to wonder out loud how he could create the land by himself and what deity he could find to help him with the task. He was soon given an an answer as a deity appeared illuminating the sea and told him that if he worshipped the Deity properly the Deity would help with the task, if not it would be difficult for the land to be formed. Ōkuni-nushi then asked how he should worship the Deity properly. The answer was, in Philippi's translation "Worship me on the eastern mountain of the verdant fence of Yamato. This is the deity who dwells on Mount Mimoro (Mount Miwa) (p 117 ).
On the same p 63 Aston has a footnote to the effect that Hirata identifies Sukunabi-kona-no-kami with Ebisu and Ōkuni-nushi with Daikokuten, but that "All these identifications, of which Hirata is profuse, are somewhat problematical."
(Nihon Shoki) 少彥名命 少名毘古那神 (Kojiki)
"Little Prince the Renowned Deity"
Kamu-musubi-kami (3) (Kojiki)
Takami-musubi-kami (2) (Nihon Shoki)
Ōmiwa Jinja 大神神社
Nara-ken, Sakurai-shi, Miwa 1422
Hokkaidō Jingũ 北海道神宮
Hokkaidō, Sapporo-shi, Chūō-ku, Miyagaoka 474
Sakatsurai-sosaki Jinja 酒列磯前神社
Ibaraki-ken, Hitachinaka-shi Isosaki-chō 4607-2
Sukunahi-hikona Jinja 少彦名神社
Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Chūō-ku, Doshō-machi 2-1-8
The August Children of Ōtoshi-kami
The August Deliberation for Pacifying the Land
Amaterasu decreed that her son, Masaka-a-kamiatsukatsu-hayabi-ameno-oshino-mimi-mikoto (59A), was to govern Japan, here described as the "Luxuriant-Reed-Plains-the-Land-of-Fresh-Rice-ears-of-a-thousand-Autumns, -of long-Five-Hundred-Autumns" (Chamberlain p 111,豊葦原千秋長五百秋瑞穂国). He thereupon descended to the Floating Bridge of Heaven and looking down on Japan saw that it was in an uproar. The Nihon Shoki is, as usual, more descriptive: "But in that Land there were numerous Deities which shone with a lustre like that of fireflies, and evil Deities which buzzed like flies. There were also trees and herbs all of which could speak." (Aston p 64).
Another of Amaterasu's Sons is Sent to Investigate, but Does not Return for Three Years
Masaka-a-kamiatsukatsu... returned to Takama-ga-hara and reported what he had seen to his mother: she and Takami-Musubi-kami (2) convened an assembly of the eight hundred myriad kami on the bed of the Tranquil River of Heaven, where they had previously met after Amaterasu had shut herself inside the Rock Cave of Heaven. As on that occasion, Omoi-kane-kami (61) seems to have chaired the deliberations that followed. It was decided to send another of Amaterasu's sons, Ameno-hohi-mikoto (59B), regarded as the ancestor of the rulers of Izumo, to investigate. We are told that he immediately curried favour with Ōkuni-nushi and made no report for three years.
Section 22 (Kami 108A & B)
The Despatch of Ame-waka-hiko
In response to Ameno-hohi-mikoto's failure to return it was decided that Ame-waka-hiko (108B), the son of Amatsu-kuni-tama (108A), should be sent to investigate. Before he left the heavenly deer-slaying bow and and the heavenly feathered arrows were bestowed on him. However, not only did he take to wife Ōkuni-nushi 's daughter, Shitateru-hime (88B) shortly after arrival, but he also plotted to take the land for himself and did not return for eight years.
A Pheasant is Sent to Question Ame-waka-hiko, but is Slain by Him: Takami-Musubi Slays Ame-waka-hikoThe myriad kami were again assembled and the decision taken this time was to send not a kami, but a female pheasant (kiji), one by the name of Naki-me. She was instructed to ask Ama-waka-hiko why, having been sent to subdue and pacify the unruly deities dwelling in the Central Land of the Reed Plains, he had had not returned even after eight years. On descending to Earth she found Ama-waka-hiko’s dwelling and, perched on a tree next to its door, delivered the message she had been tasked with. On hearing the message Ama-waka-hiko notched one of the heavenly feathered arrows to the heavenly true deer bow and shot Naki-me. So powerful was said bow that the arrow passed right through Naki-me’s breast and came to ground right where Amaterasu and Takami-Musubi were sitting by the Tranquil River of Heaven. . Takami-Musubi examined the arrow, noticed the blood on its feathers and informed the gathered deities that it was one of the heavenly feathered arrows bestowed on Ama-waka-hiko. He intended shooting it back where it came from, saying that if Ama-waka-hiko had used the arrow for its correct purpose, that is shot at the evil deities,
then no harm would come to him, but if he had acted treacherously then he would perish by the returning arrow. So saying he fired the arrow back in the direction of Earth and it killed Ame-waka-hiko where he lay asleep. Naki-me never returned to Takama-ga-Hara.
The wailing of Ame-waka-hito’s widow, Shitateru-hime, as she mourned her departed husband, echoed throughout the heavens. On hearing this, his father, Amatsu-kuni-tama-kami, along with his wife and children, descended to earth and began their own lamentations. They built a mourning house.
There were five members in the party and they seem to have dressed as birds before singing and dancing for eight days and nights in order to help the soul of the departed on his onward journey. At this stage Ajishikitaka-hikone-kami (88A), Shitateru's brother, came to offer his condolences, but so closely did he resemble Ame-waka-hiko that the latter's parents immediately grasped his hands and feet, joyously exclaiming that their son was not dead. Ajishikitaka-hikone was greatly offended--corpses were considered unclean and to be compared with one was the highest insult--and pulling out his sword, known as Ōhakari or Kamido-no-Tsurugi, cut down the mourning house and kicked it away. He himself then flew away.
Section 23 (Kami 109-111)
The Despatch of Takemikazuchi-no-o-kami
Once more Amaterasu inquired of the assembled kami headed by Omoikane who they should despatch following Ame-waka-hiko's treachery. The recommendation was that Itsu-no-ohabari-kami, who lived at the source of the Tranquil River of Heaven, should be sent, and if not him then his son Takemikazuchi-no-o-kami (41). This is a little confusing: Itsu-no-ohabari , allowing for the lack of the "kami", is the name of the sword with which Izanami killed his son Hinoyagihaya-o-kami while Takemikazuchi-no-o-kami is one of the kami produced from the blood which dripped from the sword. However, as Itsu-no-ohabari-kami had blocked and reversed the flow of the Tranquil River of Heaven, thus making it impossible for other deities to visit him, it was decided to send Ameno-kaku-kami (109B) to talk to him. (Chamberlain translates this name as "The Heavenly Deer Deity," and as far as I can ascertain this is the only reference to this kami in the Kiki: presumably the fact of his being a deer would enable him to jump across a river). Accordingly Ameno-kaku went to see Itsu-no-ohabari and asked him if he would descend to Earth and find out from Ōkuni-nushi what was going on. The answer was "yes," with the qualification that his son, Takemikazuchi-no-o-kami, should be the one to go. Note that Ameno-torifune-kami is another name for Tori-no-iwakusufune-kami, and if kami is not attached to the name it might be a reasonable assumption that rather than being a kami he/it was the vessel used to transport Takemikazuchi-no-o-kami.
The two deities descended to Earth arriving at a small beach in Izumo, where they unsheathed their swords, stood them hilt down on the crest of a wave and sat cross-legged on their points. Soon they were in conversation with Ōkuni-nushi informing him that Amaterasu and Takami-Musubi wanted to give dominion over the Central Land of Reed-Plains (Japan), which was currently ruled by Ōkuni-nushi, i.e. the Earth Deities, to Amaterasu's descendants, i.e. the Heavenly Deities, and asking him how he felt about this. His response was that that he was unable to make such a decision himself, they would have to ask his son, Kotoshiro-nushi-kami (90). They did, and the answer they received was a graceful acceptance:- "With fearful reverence let us present this land to the offspring of the heavenly deities." (Philippi p 131). Kotoshiro-nushi then disappeared. Ōkuni-nushi was then asked if he had any other sons who should be consulted, and he responded yes, that there was one other, Take-minakata-kami (111). As he said this, that very kami appeared, bearing a tremendous boulder on his fingertips. Displaying a very different attitude to his stepbrother--his mother was Numakawa-hime (87), Kotoshiro--nushi's mother was Kamuyatate-hime-mikoto (89)--he immediately challenged Takemikazuchi-no-o-kami to a trial of strength. The latter offered his hand to Take-minakata but as soon as he grasped it the former changed it into first a column of ice and then into a sword blade. Take-minakata was shocked and immediately withdrew his hand, upon which Takemikazuchi demanded the right to grasp his, Take-minakata's, hand. On doing so, Take-minakata's hand proved to be like nothing as much as a young reed and crushing it Takemikazuchi contemptuously cast it aside. Take-minakata thereupon fled for his life, pursued by Takemikazuchi. He was overtaken at the Sea of Suha in Shinano Province, now Lake Suwa in Nagano-ken, where, under threat of death he agreed to honour the decision of his father and brother to "yield up this Central Land of Reed Plains according to the command of the august child of the Heavenly Deities." (Note here that Take-minakata-kami is the main deity worshipped at the Upper Shrine of Suwa Taisha).
Section 24 - Ōkuni-nushi Cedes the Land to the Heavenly Gods Having thus obtained Take-minakata's assent to the cession, Takemikazuchi returned to Ōkuni-nushi to confirm that he was willing to accept the new scheme of things. He was, but had two conditions, the most important of which was that they, the Heavenly Deities, build him a palace equivalent to theirs. "Having thus spoken he hid himself (i.e. disappeared). So in accordance with his word, they built a heavenly august abode on the shore of Tagishi in Izumo." (Chamberlain p125). This "heavenly august abode" is most probably the origin of Izumo Taisha. What seems to have been the dedication ceremony for the abode was carried out by Kushi-yatama-kami (112), the grandson of Haya-akitsu-hiko- kami (18B). As an important part of the dedication ceremony consis-ted of Kushi-yatama-kami transforming himself into a cormorant and diving to the bottom of the sea it is perhaps not coincidental that his grandfather is one of the Three Kami of the Sea. Task accomplished Takemikazuchi returned to Takama-ga-hara and reported the success of his mission.
This brings the curtain down on the Izumo part of the narrative described in sections 18 - 24 and the re-emergence center stage of Amaterasu and the other Heavenly Deities. Put differently, Yamato has subjugated Izumo and the Descent from Heaven (tensonkōrin) symbolically describes the mechanics of the process. As this episode essentially underpins the perceived continuity of the Japanese imperial system I will be looking at it in some detail.