Japanese Gods: Toyotame

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Toyotama-hime (豊玉姫) (Japanese for “Lady Bountiful Soul”) or Luxuriant-Jewel-Princess is a goddess in Japanese mythology in the episode of the “Luck of the Sea and the Luck of the Mountain” in the Kojiki as well as Nihon Shoki. She is the daughter of the sea deity, Watatsumi.

Toyotama marries the prince, Luck of the Mountains (aka “Fire-Subside” or Hoori), but returns to the sea when he breaks the vow not to spy on her while she goes through childbirth. The child she gave birth to was Ugayafukiaezu.

Myth

Hoori meets Toyotama
—illustration by Evelyn Paul
Account of Toyatama-hime and the Luck of the Mountain appear in the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki.

Toyotama-hime (Luxuriant-Jewel-Princess) was the daughter of the Sea-Deity Watatsumi. The palace where they reside is said to be as if made from fish scales and supposedly lies undersea.[a]

She makes a fateful meeting with the hunter prince, named Luck of the Mountain (Yamasachi), also known as Fire-Subside (Hoori). The prince came in search of the fishing hook he lost at sea, borrowed from his elder brother Luck of the Sea (Umisachi).

When the princess came to draw water from the well, the prince was already waiting, having climbed a katsura tree (or cassia tree) that towered above the well. The prince asked for a drink of water and made a gesture of spitting jewels into the vessel. The princess was captivated by his beauty. Her sea deity father recognized him as the descendant of the heavenly gods and arranged a banquet. Toyotama married the prince, and they lived in the place for three years.

At the end of three years, Toyotama’s husband let out a sigh and revealed his unfinished quest for the lost fish hook, which needed to be returned to his brother. After the hook was found caught in the sea bream’s (tai fish’s) throat, Toyotama’s husband was set upon a one-fathom long crocodile (or shark) to return home and, with the advice from the seagod, subjugated his elder brother.

Toyotama, who had accompanied her husband to the land above sea, announced her pregnancy. The prince built for her a child-delivery hut (“parturition house”) thatched with cormorant feathers, which was not completely thatched when she went into labour. Toyotama requested her husband not watch while she gave birth to their child. Toyotama then gave birth to a son, who was named Ugayafukiaezu (“Cormarant-Thatch-Meeting-Incompletely”) or “Heavenly Male Brave of the Shore”.

Unfortunately, Hoori’s curiosity got the better of him and he attempted to spy on his wife. To his surprise, rather than seeing his wife as he knew her, he witnessed an enormous wani (crocodile, or in ancient usage also meant shark) cradling his child (one Nihongi version claim she was a dragon, Tatsu). This creature was none other than his beloved Toyotama who had shape-shifted to give birth. After catching her husband spying on her, she was utterly ashamed that he broke his promise. Unable to forgive Fire-Subside, she abandoned him and their child by returning to the sea. Following her departure, she sent her younger sister Tamayori (“Jewel-Good”) to help raise the child in her absence. As Ugayafukiaezu grew of age, he married his aunt and eventually conceived a child, Jimmu, who became the first Emperor of Japan.


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Japanese Gods: Uzume

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Ame-no-Uzume-no-mikoto (Japanese: 天宇受売命, 天鈿女命) is the goddess of dawn, mirth and revelry in the Shinto religion of Japan, and the wife of fellow-god Sarutahiko Ōkami. She famously relates to the tale of the missing sun deity, Amaterasu Omikami. Her name can also be pronounced as Ama-no-Uzume. She is also known as Ōmiyanome-no-ōkami, an inari kami possibly due to her relationship with her husband.

Amaterasu’s brother, the storm god Susano’o, had vandalized her rice fields, threw a flayed horse at her loom, and brutally killed one of her maidens due to a quarrel between them. In turn, Amaterasu became furious with him and retreated into the Heavenly Rock Cave, Amano-Iwato. The world, without the illumination of the sun, became dark and the gods could not lure Amaterasu out of her hiding place.

The clever Uzume overturned a tub near the cave entrance and began a dance on it, tearing off her clothing in front of the other deities. They considered this so comical that they laughed heartily at the sight. This dance is said to have founded the Japanese ritual dance, Kagura.

Uzume had hung a bronze mirror and a beautiful jewel of polished jade. Amaterasu heard them, and peered out to see what the commotion was about. When she opened the cave, she saw the jewel and her glorious reflection in a mirror which Uzume had placed on a tree, and slowly came out from her clever hiding spot.

At that moment, the god Ame-no-Tajikarawo-no-mikoto dashed forth and closed the cave behind her, refusing to budge so that she could no longer retreat. Another god tied a magic shimenawa across the entrance. The deities Ame-no-Koyane-no-mikoto and Ame-no-Futodama-no-mikoto then asked Amaterasu to rejoin the divine. She agreed, and light was restored to the earth.

Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto is still worshiped today as a Shinto kami, spirits indigenous to Japan. She is also known as Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto, The Great Persuader, and The Heavenly Alarming Female. She is depicted in kyōgen farce as Okame, a woman who revels in her sensuality.[citation needed]


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Japanese Gods: Tsukiyomi

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Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto (月読尊) or Tsukuyomi (月読), is the moon god in Shinto and Japanese mythology. The name “Tsukuyomi” is a compound of the Old Japanese words tsuku (月, “moon, month”, becoming modern Japanese tsuki) and yomi (読み, “reading, counting”). The Nihon Shoki mentions this name spelled as Tsukuyumi (月弓, “moon bow”), but this yumi is likely a variation in pronunciation of yomi. An alternate interpretation is that his name is a combination of tsukiyo (月夜, “moonlit night”) and mi (見, “looking, watching”).

Unlike the myths of ancient Greece or Rome, the Japanese moon deity is male. This is clear in the earliest mentions in sources such as the Kojiki and the Man’yōshū, where Tsukuyomi’s name is sometimes rendered as Tsukuyomi Otoko (月讀壮士, “moon reading man”) or as Tsukihito Otoko (月人壮士, “moon person man”).

Tsukuyomi was the second of the “three noble children” (三貴子 Mihashira-no-uzunomiko) born when Izanagi-no-Mikoto, the god who created the first land of Onogoroshima, was cleansing himself of his sins while bathing after escaping the underworld and the clutches of his enraged dead wife, Izanami-no-Mikoto. Tsukuyomi was born when he washed out of Izanagi’s right eye. However, in an alternate story, Tsukuyomi was born from a mirror made of white copper in Izanagi’s right hand.

After climbing a celestial ladder, Tsukuyomi lived in the Heavens with his sister Amaterasu, the sun goddess, who also later became his wife.

Tsukuyomi angered Amaterasu when he killed Uke Mochi, the goddess of food. Amaterasu once sent Tsukuyomi to represent her at a feast presented by Uke Mochi. The goddess created the food by turning to the ocean and spitting out a fish, then facing a forest and spitting out game, and finally turning to a rice paddy and coughing up a bowl of rice. Tsukuyomi was utterly disgusted by the fact that, although it looked exquisite, the meal was made in a disgusting manner, and so he killed her.

Soon, Amaterasu learned what happened and she was so angry that she refused to ever look at Tsukuyomi again, forever moving to another part of the sky. This is the reason that day and night are never together.


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Japanese Gods: Fujin

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Fūjin (風神) or Futen is the Japanese god of the wind and one of the eldest Shinto gods.

He is portrayed as a terrifying wizard-like demon, resembling a red headed green-skinned humanoid wearing a leopard skin, carrying a large bag of winds on his shoulders.

In Japanese art, the deity is often depicted together with Raijin, the god of lightning, thunder and storms.

Depiction

Iconographical evolution of the Wind God.
Left: Greek wind God (Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara), Hadda, 2nd century.
Middle: Wind God from Kizil, Tarim Basin, 7th century.
Right: Japanese Wind God Fujin, 17th century.

Statue at Taiyū-in in Nikkō
The iconography of Fujin seems to have its origin in the cultural exchanges along the Silk Road. Starting with the Hellenistic period when Greece occupied parts of Central Asia and India, the Greek wind god Boreas became the god Wardo in Greco-Buddhist art, then a wind deity in China (frescoes of the Tarim Basin), and finally the Japanese Wind God Fujin.

The wind god kept its symbol, the windbag, and its dishevelled appearance throughout this evolution.


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Japanese Gods: Takemikazuchi

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Takemikazuchi (建御雷/武甕槌) is a deity in Japanese mythology, considered a god of thunder and a sword god. He also competed in what is considered the first sumo wrestling match recorded in history.

He is otherwise known as Kashima-no-kami, the chief deity revered of the Kashima Shrine at Kashima, Ibaraki (and all other subsidiary Kashima shrines). In the namazu-e or catfish pictures of the Edo period, Takemikazuchi/Kashima is depicted attempting to subdue the giant catfish supposedly dwelling at the kaname-ishi (要石 “pinning rock”) of the Japanese land-mass and causing its earthquakes. (See image above right).

Forms of the name
In the Kojiki, the god is known as Takemikazuchi-no-o-no-kami (建御雷之男神). He also bears the alternate names Takefutsu no kami (建布都神) and Toyofutsu no kami (豊布都神)

Descriptions in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki
Birth of the gods
In the Kamiumi (“birth of the gods”) episodes of the Kojiki, the god of creation Izanagi severs the head of the fire deity Kagu-tsuchi, whereupon the blood from the sword (Totsuka-no-Tsurugi) splattered the rocks and gave birth to several deities. The blood from the sword-tip engendered one triad of deities, and the blood from near the base of the blade produced another triad that included Takemikazuchi (here given as “Brave-Awful-Possessing-Male-Deity” by Chamberlain).

The name of the ten-fist sword wielded by Izanagi is given postscripturally as Ame-no-ohabari [ja], otherwise known as Itsu-no-ohabari. (Accordingly, Takemikazuchi is referred in some passages as the child of Itsu-no-o habari. See next section).

The Nihon Shoki gives the same episode in the same general gist, albeit more vaguely regarding this deity.

Quelling of the Middle Country

Another Namazu-e depicting Kashima riding the catfish. Top half is the depiction of the kaname-ishi or “pinning rock”
In the episodes where the gods of the heavenly plains (Takama-ga-hara) contemplate and execute the conquest of the terrestrial world known as Middle Country (Ashihara no Nakatsukuni), Takemikazuchi is one of the chief delegates sent down to subjugate the terrestrial deities (kuni-tsu-kami).

In the Kojiki (Conquest of Izumo chapter), the heavenly deities Amaterasu and Takamusubi decreed that either Takemikazuchi or his father Itsu-no-ohabari [ja] (“Heaven-Point-Blade-Extended”) must be sent down for the conquest. Itsu-no-ohabari (who appeared previously as a ten-fist sword) here has the mind and speech of a sentient god, and he volunteered his son Takemikazuchi for the subjugation campaign. Takemikazuchi was accompanied by Ame-no-torifune [ja] “Deity Heavenly-Bird-Boat” (which may be a boat as well as being a god)

The two deities reached the land of Izumo at a place called “the little shore of Izasa/Inasa” (伊耶佐小浜), and stuck a “ten-fist sword” (Totsuka-no-Tsurugi) upside-down on the crest of the wave, and sat atop it, while demanding the local god Ōkuninushi to relinquish the Izumo province over to them. Ōkuninushi replied he would defer the decision to his children deities, and would follow suit in their counsel. One of them, Kotoshironushi or Yae-Kotoshironushi (“Eight-Fold-Thing-Sign-Master”) who had been out fishing, was easily persuaded to forfeit his authority and retire into seclusion.

The other, Takeminakata would not concede without testing his feats of strength against Takemikazuchi. When the challenger grabbed Takemikazuchi’s hand it turned as if into icicle and then a sword, making him cringe. Takemikazuchi then grabbed Takeminakata’s hand, crushing it like a young reed,. The challenger, chased to the sea near Suwa of Shinano (科野国之州羽海, in Kojiki), asked for clemency on his life, promising to hold himself in exile in that region (in this way, the defeated Takeminakata became chief deity of the Suwa Grand Shrine in Nagano Prefecture).

The hand-to-hand bout between the two deities is considered the mythical origin of sumo wrestling.

The Nihon Shoki names a different partner for Takemikazuchi in the task of conquering lands of the Middle Country. That partner is Futsunushi (a god who goes unmentioned in the Kojiki in the gods’ birth episode as well as this episode).

Just as Takemikazuchi was chief deity of Kashima Shrine, this Futsunushi was the chief of the Katori Shrine. In the early centuries, when the Yamato rulers campaigned in the Kantō and Tōhoku regions, they would pray to these to war gods for military success, so that subsidiary shrines of the two gods are scattered all over these regions. The enshrinement of the deities at Kashima and Katori is mentioned briefly in the Kogo Shūi (807).

The Nihon Shoki account has other discrepancies. The beach where the gods stuck the “ten-fist sword” is here called “Itasa”. The chief god of Izumo (Ōkuninushi) is called by the name of Ōanamuchi.[notes The wrestling match with Takeminakata is missing. In the end, Ōanamuchi/Ōkuninushi gave sign of his obeisance by presenting the broad spear he used to pacified the land with. Jumping to a later passage (after digressing on other matters), the Nihon Shoki retells Takemikazuchi and Futsunushi’s landing on the beach, this time stating that Ōanamuchi verbally expressed resistance to relinquish his rule, until the heavenly gods promised him palatial residence to recompense his abdication.

Appended to the two passages is mention of a star deity named Amatsu-Mikaboshi who resisted till the end, and whom Takemikazuchi and Futsunushi were particularly eager to vanquish. The latter passage states that the being who subdued the star god, referred to as Iwai no nushi (斎の大人) is enshrined at Katori, hinting that it might be Futsunushi. However, the earlier passage says a god named Takehazuchi [ja] was the vanquisher of the star god.


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Japanese Gods: Hachiman

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In Japanese beliefs, Hachiman (Japanese: 八幡神 Hepburn: Hachiman no kami/Hachiman-shin, also known as Yahata no kami) is the syncretic divinity of archery and war, incorporating elements from both Shinto and Buddhism. Although often called the god of war, he is more correctly defined as the tutelary god of warriors. He is also the divine protector of Japan, the Japanese people and the Imperial House, the Minamoto clan (“Genji”) and most samurai worshipped him. The name means “God of Eight Banners”, referring to the eight heavenly banners that signaled the birth of the divine Emperor Ōjin. His symbolic animal and messenger is the dove.

Since ancient times Hachiman was worshiped by peasants as the god of agriculture and by fishermen who hoped he would fill their nets with much fish. In Shinto, he became identified by legend as the Emperor Ōjin, son of Empress Jingū, from the 3rd–4th century.

Syncretism

A scroll depicting kami Hachiman dressed as a Buddhist monk
After the arrival of Buddhism in Japan, Hachiman became a syncretistic deity, fusing elements of the native kami worship with Buddhism (shinbutsu-shūgō). In the Buddhist pantheon in 8th century AD, he became Hachiman Great Bodhisattva (八幡大菩薩 Hachiman Daibosatsu).

Samurai worship
Because as Emperor Ōjin he was an ancestor of the Minamoto clan, Hachiman became the tutelary kami (氏神 ujigami) of the Minamoto samurai clan. Minamoto no Yoshiie, upon coming of age at Iwashimizu Shrine in Kyoto, took the name Hachiman Taro Yoshiie and through his military prowess and virtue as a leader, became regarded and respected as the ideal samurai through the ages. After Minamoto no Yoritomo became shōgun and established the Kamakura shogunate, Hachiman’s popularity grew and he became by extension the protector of the warrior class the shōgun had brought to power. For this reason, the shintai of a Hachiman shrine is usually a stirrup or a bow.

Throughout the Japanese medieval period, the worship of Hachiman spread throughout Japan among not only samurai, but also the peasantry. So much so was his popularity that presently there are 25000 Shinto shrines in Japan dedicated to Hachiman, the second most numerous after shrines dedicated to Inari. Usa Shrine in Usa, Ōita Prefecture is head shrine of all of these shrines and together with Iwashimizu Hachiman-gū, Hakozaki-gū and Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū, are noted as the most important of all the shrines dedicated to him.

The crest of Hachiman is in the design of a mitsudomoe, a round whirlpool or vortex with three heads swirling right or left. Many samurai clans used this crest as their own, including some that traced their ancestry back to the mortal enemy of the Minamoto, the Taira of the Emperor Kanmu line (Kanmu Heishi).


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Japanese Gods: Takeminakata

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Takeminakata-no-Kami (建御名方神) or Takeminakata-no-Mikoto (建御名方命), also known as Minakatatomi-no-Kami (南方刀美神) or Takeminakatatomi-no-Mikoto (建御名方富命) is the name of one of the two principal deities of Suwa Grand Shrine in Nagano Prefecture (historical Shinano Province). Also known under the epithet Suwa Myōjin (諏訪明神) or Suwa Daimyōjin (諏訪大明神), he is considered to be a god of wind, water and agriculture, as well as a patron of hunting and warfare, in which capacity he enjoyed a particularly fervent cult from various samurai clans during the medieval period such as the Hōjō or the Takeda. The deity was also held to be the original ancestor of certain families who once served at the shrine as priests, foremost among them being the Suwa clan, the high priests of the Upper Shrine of Suwa who were also revered as the living incarnations of the god.

The god of Suwa Shrine is the subject of a number of different, often conflicting myths. For instance, in the Kojiki (720 CE) and later derivative accounts, Takeminakata appears as one of the sons of Ōkuninushi, god of Izumo and lord of Ashihara no Nakatsukuni (i.e. the land of Japan), who was forced into exile in the region of Suwa after being defeated by Takemikazuchi, an envoy sent by the gods of heaven, whereas other stories portray the god as being among other things a deity who conquered the Suwa region, an ruler of an Indian kingdom, or even a human warrior named Kōga Saburō.

Name

The main shrine or Honmiya (本宮) of the Upper Shrine (上社 Kamisha) of Suwa, one of the two main sites that make up Suwa Grand Shrine. The Suwa deity is enshrined in the Upper Shrine located on the southeast end of Lake Suwa, while his consort is worshipped on the Lower Shrine (下社 Shimosha) on the opposite shore.
Etymology
The god is named ‘Takeminakata’ (建御名方神 Takeminakata-no-Kami) in both the Kojiki and the Sendai Kuji Hongi (aka Kujiki). Variants of the name found in the imperially commissioned national histories and other literary sources include ‘Minakatatomi’ (南方刀美神 Minakatomi-no-Kami or 御名方富命神 Minakatatomi-no-Mikoto-no-Kami) or ‘Takeminakatatomi’ (建御名方富命神 Takeminakatatomi-no-Mikoto-no-Kami).

The name’s etymology is unclear. While most commentators seem to agree that take- (and probably -tomi) are honorifics, they differ in how to interpret the other components of the name. Some of the proposed solutions are as follows.

The Edo period kokugaku scholar Motoori Norinaga explained both take- (建) and mi- (御) as honorifics (称名 tatae-na), with kata (方) as yet another tatae-na meaning ‘hard’ or ‘firm’ (堅). Basil Chamberlain followed Motoori’s lead and rendered the god’s name as ‘Brave-August-Name-Firm’ in his translation of the Kojiki.
Historian Ōta Akira (1926) interpreted take-, mi- and -tomi as honorifics and took Nakata (名方) to be a place name: Nakata District (名方郡) in Awa Province (modern Ishii, Tokushima Prefecture), where Takeminatomi Shrine (多祁御奈刀弥神社) stands. Owa Iwao (1990) explains the similarity between ‘Takeminakata(tomi)’ and ‘Takeminatomi’ by proposing that the name may have been brought to Suwa by immigrants from Nakata in Awa.
Minakata has also been linked to the Munakata (宗像) of Kyushu. Imperial Navy colonel and amateur ethnographer Matsuoka Shizuo (1936) interpreted Minakatatomi as originally being a goddess – citing the fact that the deities of Munakata shrine were female – that was later conflated with the male god Takeminakata.
A number of more recent scholars have theorized that mina most likely means “water” (水), pointing to the god originally being a water deity and/or a connection to Lake Suwa. The full name is thought to derive from a word denoting a body of water or a waterside region such as 水潟 (minakata, ‘lagoon’ or ‘inlet’) or 水県 (mina ‘water’ + agata ‘country(side)’).
An alternative explanation for the word -tomi (as well as the -tome in ‘Yasakatome’, the name of this god’s consort) is to link it with dialectal words for ‘snake’ (tomi, tobe, or tōbe), thereby seeing the name as hinting to the god being a kind of serpentine water deity (mizuchi).


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Japanese Gods: Inari Okami

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Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神, also Ō-Inari 大稲荷) is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants. Represented as male, female, or androgynous, Inari is sometimes seen as a collective of three or five individual kami. Inari appears to have been worshipped since the founding of a shrine at Inari Mountain in 711 AD, although some scholars believe that worship started in the late 5th century.

By the 16th century Inari had become the patron of blacksmiths and the protector of warriors, and worship of Inari spread across Japan in the Edo period. Inari is a popular figure in both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs in Japan. More than one-third (32,000) of the Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari. Modern corporations, such as cosmetic company Shiseido, continue to revere Inari as a patron kami, with shrines atop their corporate headquarters.

Inari’s foxes, or kitsune, are pure white and act as their messengers.

History

The Hokkaido red fox

Searching the Seas with the Tenkei (天瓊を以て滄海を探るの図 Tenkei o motte sōkai o saguru no zu). Painting by Kobayashi Eitaku, 1880–90 (MFA, Boston). Izanagi to the right, Izanami to the left.
The origin of Inari worship is not entirely clear. The first recorded use of the present-day kanji (characters) of Inari’s name, which mean “carrying rice”, (literally “rice load”) was in the Ruijū Kokushi in 892 AD. Other sets of kanji with the same phonetic readings, most of which contained a reference to rice, were in use earlier, and most scholars agree that the name Inari is derived from ine-nari (growing rice) (稲成り). The worship of Inari is known to have existed as of 711 AD, the official founding date of the shrine at Inari Mountain in Fushimi, Kyoto. Scholars such as Kazuo Higo believe worship was conducted for centuries before that date; they suggest that the Hata clan began the formal worship of Inari as an agriculture kami in the late fifth century. The name Inari does not appear in classical Japanese mythology.

By the Heian period, Inari worship began to spread. In 823 AD, after Emperor Saga presented the Tō-ji temple to Kūkai, the founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect, the latter designated Inari as its resident protector kami. In 827, the court granted Inari the lower fifth rank, which further increased the deity’s popularity in the capital. Inari’s rank was subsequently increased, and by 942, Emperor Suzaku granted Inari the top rank in thanks for overcoming rebellions. At this time, the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine was among the twenty-two shrines chosen by the court to receive imperial patronage, a high honor. The second Inari shrine, Takekoma Inari, was established in the late ninth century.

Inari’s popularity continued to grow. The Fushimi shrine, already a popular pilgrimage site, gained wide renown when it became an imperial pilgrimage site in 1072. By 1338, the shrine’s festival was said to rival the Gion Festival in splendor.

In 1468, during the Ōnin War, the entire Fushimi shrine complex was burned. Rebuilding took about thirty years; the new building was consecrated in 1499. While the old complex had enshrined three kami in separate buildings, the new one enshrined five kami in a single building. The new shrine also included a Buddhist temple building for the first time, and the hereditary priesthood was expanded to include the Kada clan.

Statue of a kitsune adorned with a red votive bib in a shrine at Inuyama Castle. Many castles in Japan contain Inari shrines.
During the Edo period, Inari worship spread across Japan; it became especially prominent in Edo. Smyers attributes this spread to the movement of daimyōs (feudal lords). Inari had by the sixteenth century become the patron of blacksmiths and the protector of warriors—for this reason, many castle compounds in Japan contain Inari shrines—and the daimyōs took their belief in their protector kami with them when they relocated to a new domain. Inari’s divine role continued to expand; on the coast, they became a protector of fishermen; in Edo, they were invoked to prevent fires. They became the patron of actors and of prostitutes, since their shrines were often found near the pleasure quarters where these individuals lived. They began to be worshipped as the Desire-Fulfilling Inari, a deity of luck and prosperity; a common saying in Osaka was Byō Kōbō, yoku Inari (For sickness [pray to] Kōbō, for desires [pray to] Inari). Inari also began to be petitioned for good health; they are credited with curing such diverse afflictions as coughs, toothaches, broken bones, and syphilis. Women prayed to Inari to grant them children.

After a government decree mandated the separation of Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, many Inari shrines underwent changes. At Fushimi Inari, for instance, structures that were obviously Buddhist were torn down. Among the populace, however, the blended form of worship continued. Some Buddhist temples, such as Toyokawa Inari, maintained Inari worship by arguing that they had always been devoted to a Buddhist deity (often Dakiniten), which the common folk had mistaken as Inari.

In the Tokugawa period, when money replaced rice as the measure of wealth in Japan, Inari’s role as a kami of worldly prosperity was expanded to include all aspects of finance, business, and industry. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, followers of Inari at the Ginza mint struck coins meant for offerings to Inari, which featured pictures of two foxes and a jewel or the characters for long life and good luck.


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Japanese Gods: Benzaiten

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Benzaiten (弁才天, 弁財天) (Benten for short) is a Japanese Buddhist goddess who originated from the Hindu goddess Saraswati. Worship of Benzaiten arrived in Japan during the 6th through 8th centuries, mainly via the Chinese translations of the Sutra of Golden Light, which has a section devoted to her. She is also mentioned in the Lotus Sutra and often depicted holding a biwa, a traditional Japanese lute, just as Saraswati holds a veena. Benzaiten is a syncretic entity with both a Buddhist and a Shinto aspect. Benzaiten was worshipped as the personification of wisdom in the Tokugawa period.

Benzaiten shrine, Inokashira Park, Tokyo
Referred to as Sarasvatî Devî in Sanskrit (meaning “Goddess Saraswati”), Benzaiten is the goddess of everything that flows: water, time, words, speech, eloquence, music and by extension, knowledge. The original characters used to write her name read “Biancaitian” in Chinese and “Bensaiten” in Japanese (辯才天) and reflect her role as the goddess of eloquence. Because the Sutra of Golden Light promised protection of the state, in Japan she became a protector-deity, at first of the state and then of people. Lastly, she became one of the Seven Gods of Fortune (fukujin) when the Sino-Japanese characters used to write her name changed to 弁財天 (Benzaiten), emphasizing her role in bestowing monetary fortune. Sometimes she is called Benten, or Benzaitennyo (弁才天女), where the final tennyo (天女) translates as “goddess”.

When Kisshoutennyo is counted among the seven fukujin and fellow fukujin Daikoku is regarded in feminine form, together with Benzaitennyo all three of the Hindu Tridevi are represented in the fukujin.

Benzaiten in Japan (above) is often shown with a musical instrument, as with Sarasvati goddess of Hinduism in India and in Bali (Indonesia). Her temples are more common on islands and coastal regions of Japan.
In the Rig-Veda (6.61.7) Sarasvati is credited with killing the three-headed Vritra also known as Ahi (“snake”). Vritra is also strongly associated with rivers, as is Sarasvati. This is probably one of the sources of Sarasvati/Benzaiten’s close association with snakes and dragons in Japan. She is enshrined on numerous locations throughout Japan; for example, the Enoshima Island in Sagami Bay, the Chikubu Island in Lake Biwa and the Itsukushima Island in Seto Inland Sea (Japan’s Three Great Benzaiten Shrines); and she and a five-headed dragon are the central figures of the Enoshima Engi, a history of the shrines on Enoshima written by the Japanese Buddhist monk Kōkei (皇慶) in AD 1047. According to Kōkei, Benzaiten is the third daughter of the dragon-king of Munetsuchi (無熱池; literally “lake without heat”), known in Sanskrit as Anavatapta, the lake lying at the center of the world according to an ancient Buddhist cosmological view.

Earlier documents such as those recorded by Buddhist monks link the periodic appearance of comets with the goddess Benzaiten. For example, the comet that appeared in 552 AD, and again in late 593 AD were associated with deity Benzaiten. These records suggest that the exchange of cultural and spiritual ideas from Buddhism and Hinduism in India to Japan, through deities such as Benzaiten, occurred well before the 5th century.

Two qualities of Saraswati that were transposed to the Buddhist version of Benzaiten are music and wisdom. She is sometimes referred to as Myoonten “goddess of wonderful sounds.”


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Japanese Gods: Izanagi

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Izanagi (Japanese: イザナギ, recorded in the Kojiki as 伊邪那岐 and in the Nihon Shoki as 伊弉諾) is a deity born of the seven divine generations in Japanese mythology and Shinto, and his name in the Kojiki is roughly translated to as “he-who-invites”. He is also known as Izanagi-no-mikoto or Izanagi-no-Ōkami.

Accounts in mythology
Izanagi and Izanami
See also: Izanami, Kuniumi, and Yomotsu-shikome
He with his spouse and younger sister Izanami gave birth to the many islands of Japan (kuniumi), and begat numerous deities of Shinto (kamiumi). But she died after giving birth to the fire-god Kagu-tsuchi. Izanagi executed the fire god with the “ten-grasp sword” (Totsuka-no-Tsurugi). Afterwards, he paid his wife a visit in Yomi-no-kuni (the Underworld) in the hopes of retrieving her. But she had partaken of food cooked in the furnace of the Underworld, rendering her return impossible. Izanagi betrayed his promise not to look at her, and lit up a fire, only to behold her in her monstrous and hellish state. To avenge her shame, she dispatched the lightning god Yakusa no ikazuchi no kami (Raijin) and the horrible hag Yomotsu-shikome to chase after him. Izanagi escaped, but the goddess vowed to kill a thousand of his people every day. Izanagi retorted that a thousand and five hundred will be born every day.


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