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Amaterasu emerging from the cave, Ama-no-Iwato, to which she once retreated (painted by Kunisada)

Amaterasu (天照), Amaterasu-ōmikami (天照大神/天照大御神/天照皇大神), or Ōhirume-no-muchi-no-kami (大日孁貴神) is a deity of the Japanese myth cycle and also a major deity of the Shinto religion. She is seen as the goddess of the sun and the universe. The name Amaterasu is derived from Amateru and means "shining in heaven". The meaning of her whole name, Amaterasu-ōmikami, is "the great august kami (deity) who shines in the heaven".[N 1] According to the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in Japanese mythology, the Emperors of Japan are considered to be direct descendants of Amaterasu.


Amaterasu appears to be the Japanese expression of a historical pan-Asiatic solar goddess. Several similarities have been noticed between the Japanese solar goddess and the Korean solar goddess, Hae-nim, particularly in regard to shamanistic worship, using the same symbols and practices. Another possible expression is the Chinese goddess, Xihe. Although historically, she probably was venerated highly throughout Asia, only in Japan did this deity find continuous worship as a central figure, as elsewhere, several other religious movements, such as Buddhism and Taoism, discouraged the veneration of solar goddesses.[2]

Records of the worship of Amaterasu are found from the c. 712 CE Kojiki and c. 720 CE Nihon Shoki, the oldest records of Japanese history. In Japanese mythology, Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, is the sister of Susanoo, the god of storms and the sea, and of Tsukuyomi, the god of the moon. It was written that Amaterasu had painted the landscape with her siblings while she created ancient Japan.[3] Amaterasu, the supreme Japanese deity, was said to have been created by the divine couple Izanagi and Izanami, who were themselves created by, or grew from, the originator of the Universe, Amenominakanushi.[4] All three deities were born from Izanagi when he was purifying himself upon entering Yomi, the underworld, after breaking the promise not to see dead Izanami and he was chased by her and Yakusan-no-ikaduchigami, 八雷神, surrounding rotten Izanami. Amaterasu was born when Izanagi washed out his left eye, Tsukuyomi was born from the washing of the right eye, and Susanoo from the washing of the nose.

Izanagi set Amaterasu up as the ruler of the High Plains of Heaven, Tsukuyomi as the ruler of the night and Susanoo as the ruler of the seas.[5] Originally, Amaterasu shared the sky with Tsukuyomi, her husband and brother until, out of disgust, he killed the goddess of food, Uke Mochi, when she pulled "food from her rectum, nose, and mouth".[6] This killing upset Amaterasu causing her to label Tsukuyomi an evil god and split away from him; separating night from day.

The texts also tell of a long-standing rivalry between Amaterasu and her other brother, Susanoo. Susanoo is said to insulted Amaterasu, claiming she had no power over the higher realm.[7][full citation needed] When Izanagi ordered him to leave Heaven, he went to bid his sister goodbye. Amaterasu was suspicious, but when Susanoo proposed a challenge to prove his sincerity, she accepted. Each of them took an object belonging to the other and from it, birthed deities. Amaterasu birthed three women from Susanoo's sword while he birthed five men from her necklace. Claiming the gods were hers because they were born of her necklace, and the goddesses were his, she decided that she had won the challenge, as his item produced women. After Susanoo's defeat he went on a rampage destroying much of the heavenly and earthly realm, Amaterasu's rice fields, hurled a flayed pony at her loom, and killing one of her attendants in a fit of rage. Amaterasu, who was in fury and grief, hid inside the Ama-no-Iwato ("heavenly rock cave"), plunging the earth into darkness and chaos. Eventually, she was persuaded to leave the cave. Initially, eight hundred Kami threw a party outside of the "heavenly rock cave" to lure Amaterasu out (Kumar 2015) but it was not until the Goddess Ame-no-Uzume danced promiscuously outside of the cave that Amaterasu came out.[8][full citation needed] Susanoo was punished by being banished from heaven. Both later amended their conflict when Susanoo gave her the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi sword as a reconciliation gift. When they both reconciled the sun became visible again.

According to legend, Amaterasu, who was responsible from keeping balance and harmony within the earthly realm, bequeathed to her descendant Ninigi: the mirror, Yata no Kagami; the jewel, Yasakani no Magatama; and the sword, Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi. Collectively, the sacred mirror, jewel, and sword became the three Imperial Regalia of Japan. Ninigi is said to be descended from Amaterasu and Takamimusubi and was sent to watch over the Japanese Islands, with the imperial regalia, which were growing unstable.[8][full citation needed][7][full citation needed] Ninigi used the imperial regalia bestowed upon him to prove he was descended from Amaterasu.[7] Ninigi's descendant Jimmu became the first emperor of Japan. Jimmu settled on the island of Honshu and founded the Land of the Rising sun in 660 BCE.[9] The stories of Jimmu are told in the Kojiki and the Nihon Shiki. In one of the stories in the Nihon Shoki, Emperor Jimmu was leading his soldiers over a mountain in Nara when a poisonous vapor surrounded them. Amaterasu cleared the poisonous mist and sent Jimmu a sun crow to lead them out of the mountains.[10][full citation needed] According to the Nihon Shoki, Jimmu lived to be 127 years old and reigned over Japan for seventy five years.[10] According to "The Way of the Gods" (located within the Kojiki), Amaterasu declared that Jimmu's descendants would reign over Japan forever and would rule by "The Way of the Gods".[11][full citation needed] In other words, the Emperor of Japan does not act on his own, but communicates with Amaterasu and does what she wishes. It is said within the text that if anyone, person or kami, tried to stand against the Emperor of Japan they would be struck down by Amaterasu.[11] The imperial family's main place of worship is still the Ise Shrine in the Ise of Japan, which is the main place of worship of Amaterasu and is where the Imperial Regalia of Japan are kept (Kumar 2015). Amaterasu found synchronization with Japan's other main religion Buddhism, with the Buddha Dainich or Great Sun Buddha through the "Shingon Tradition".[7] The Shingon Tradition incorporated Kami into Buddhist tradition.[7] During the Shomu regime, the Todaiji (A Buddhist-Shinto Temple) was built honoring the Sun Buddha "Dainich" and the Sun Goddess "Amaterasu" together.[9]


The Ise Shrine located in Ise, Honshū, Japan, houses the inner shrine, Naiku, dedicated to Amaterasu. Her sacred mirror, Yata no Kagami, is said to be kept at this shrine as one of the imperial regalia objects. A ceremony known as Shikinen Sengu is held every twenty years at this shrine to honor many deities enshrined Jingu, or Ise Jingu, which is formed by 125 shrines altogether. At that time, new shrine buildings are built at a location adjacent to the site first. After the transfer of the object of worship, new clothing and treasure and offering food to the goddess the old buildings are taken apart. The building materials taken apart are given to many other shrines and buildings to renovate. This practice is a part of the Shinto faith and has been practiced since the year 690. But this practice is not only for Amaterasu but also for many other deities enshrined in Jingu.

The worship of Amaterasu to the exclusion of other kami has been described as "the cult of the sun".[12] This phrase also may refer to the early pre-archipelagoan worship of the sun.[12]

See also


  1. ^ ama means "heaven"; tera is an inflectional form of teru, "to shine"; su is an honorific auxiliary verb that shows respect for the actor; then, amaterasu means "to shine in the heaven"; ō means "big" or "great"; mi is a prefix for noble and august beings.[1]


  1. ^ Akira Matsumura, ed. (1995). Daijirin (in Japanese) (2nd ed.). Sanseido Books. ISBN 978-4385139005.
  2. ^ Jacques H. Kamstra, Encounter Or Syncretism: The Initial Growth of Japanese Buddhism
  3. ^ Wallin, edited by Anne Buttimer, Luke (1999). Nature and Identity in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. ISBN 9789401723923.
  4. ^ Watts Barton, David (January 24, 2017). "Amaterasu and the Gods of Ancient Japan". Innovation Design Co. Retrieved April 10, 2017.
  5. ^ Cotterell, Arthur (2005). World Mythology. United Kingdom: Parragon Publishing. p. 195. ISBN 978-1-40544-767-6.
  6. ^ Roberts, Jeremy (2010). Japanese Mythology A To Z (PDF) (2nd ed.). New York: Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 978-1604134353.
  7. ^ a b c d e Kumar, Samir (2015). "Amaterasu (mythology)". Salem Press Encyclopedia. [full citation needed]
  8. ^ a b Ellwood Jr., Robert S. (December 1973). "Shinto and the Discovery of History of Japan". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 41 (4). JSTOR 1461729. [full citation needed]
  9. ^ a b "Japan : a country study".
  10. ^ a b Lutz, R. C. (2013). "Jimmu Tennō". Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia. [full citation needed]
  11. ^ a b Nishimura, Sey; Norinaga, Motoori (Spring 1991). "The Way of the Gods. Motoori Noriaga's Naobi no Mitama". Monumenta Nipponica. 46: 21. doi:10.2307/2385145. JSTOR 2385145. [full citation needed]
  12. ^ a b Wheeler, Post (1952). The Sacred Scriptures of the Japanese. New York: Henry Schuman. pp. 393–395. ISBN 978-1425487874.
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