Amaterasu Omikami is one of the prime deities in the Shinto religion of Japan. Japan is the land of the rising sun, where Amaterasu is primarily considered as the sun goddess, and she is also the goddess of the “ Takama no Hara or the high Celestial Plain”- the land of the Kami or spirits.
Amaterasu is also seen as the main ancestor of all the Emperors of Japan. Though a lot of patriarchal myths describe sun as a masculine figure, but the concept of Amaterasu makes it clear that the sun is depicted as a feminine figure. In German, the sun is called the lady sun or Farau Sonne. Nordic sun goddess was Sunna from where our word Sunday came from. Sunday derives from Sunna’s day.
Japan has a vast tradition and history and its monarchy is considered to be the oldest hereditary monarchy in the world which started from the 7th century BC. Japanese emperors find their ancestry to a divine source like other ancient monarchies. It is said that there are several differences between Japanese divinity and other emperors who claimed divinity.
Shinto religion says Amaterasu is the daughter of two important deities named Izanagi and Izanami. These primordial deities are considered the gods behind creating the islands of Japan. Amaterasu was born when Izanagi, Amaterasu’s father, escaped the Underworld. He escaped but couldn’t rescue his dead wife. After escaping, Izanagi did a purification ritual in the river Woto to cleanse himself. It is said that while he was washing his left eye, Amaterasu was born.
Amaterasu and the Story of the Cave
Among various myths, the myth of the cave where Amaterasu blocked herself is the most celebrated one. She argued with her brother Susanoo, and the deity locked herself in a cave following the argument. Amaterasu’s disappearance brought total disaster into the world, where evil spirits tried to destroy everything. The gods tried every possible way to bring Amaterasu out of the cave. Omohi-Kane advised to set cocks outside the cave, thinking that their crows would make the deity think that the doom had come.
Along with the cocks, the gods also put a Sakaki tree and adorned it with various sparkling jewels. They decorated it with fine white cloths and a mirror. And at last, the goddess Ama-no-Uzeme danced so wildly that all the gods couldn’t hold laughter, and their laughter made Amaterasu curious. She just opened the cave to see what was going on and got distracted by watching her image in the mirror. Ame-no-tajikara-wo, the strong god, then pulled her out of the cave. Another god, Tuto-Tamu put a pole of plaited straw behind the deity, and she couldn’t hide again. The world again became pure because of her glowing sunlight.
Amaterasu’s Relations and The Ruler of The World
Amaterasu had a son named Ama-no-Oshiho-mimi, and he was sent to rule the terrestrial kingdom by his mother. When he came to the bridge Ama-no-hashidate which linked heaven to the earth, the disorder amongst the eartly deities caught his attention, and he refused to do his job. Amaterasu then asked for advice to Taka-mi-Musubi. They made a council and decided to send Ama-no-Hoki to earth to accurately assess the situation there. But even after three years, there was no words from Ama-no-Hoki so a second council was made. Ame-waka-hiko was sent to earth this time armed with his bow and arrows. This time, he proved himself somewhat less reliable as he got distracted by Shita-teru-hime, the daughter of Oho-kuni-nushi and married her. He completely forgot his mission so after eight long years, the gods sent pheasant Na-naki-me to track Ame-waka-hiko. Ame-waka-hiko saw the pheasant and took it as a bad omen and shot it with one of his arrows. The arrow was a divine one so the pheasant went straight up to heaven and fell at the feet of Taka-mi-Musubi. The god became very angry and threw the arrow back to the earth and it unfortunately shot Ame-waka-hiko killing him on the spot.
After all of these, the third council of the gods was called and the decision was to sent Futsu-nushi, the god of fire and Take-mika-zuchi, the god of thunder to negotiate with the earthly ruler Oho-kuni-nushi. The mission was to persuade Nushi to accept Amaterasu’s concept of sovereignty over the heaven and earth both. Oho-kuni-nushi didn’t want to have a conflict with the gods. He consulted with his two sons where the eldest Koto-shiro-nushi asked him to concede peacefully but the younger Take-minakata said to protest. Then the younger son fought with Take-mika-zuchi but it was unwise for him to compete with the thunder god. The defeat of Take-minakata provoked Oho-kuni-nushi to give up. And later he was in charge of ruling the underworld.
Amaterasu also had a grandson named Ninigi-no-Mikoto who later became the ruler of the terrestrial world. Amaterasu’s son Ama-no-Oshiho-mimi didn’t take the work instead his son took it and Amaterasu blessed him with three magical gifts for this mission. Those were Kusanagi or a sword, Yata or a mirror and Yasakani or a jewel. These things later became imperial regalia of the Emperors of Japan.
Ninigi’s great-grandson, Jimmu became the first Japanese Emperor in 660 BC. All the emperors of Japan find out their roots related to the deity Amaterasu. The japan has also thought all the emperors were divine. The concept didn’t say that the emperors had supernatural power rather they had certain rituals to perform to make sure that the Kami would defend Japan in every horrible situation, and the prosperity would remain intact. In Japanese history, most of the emperors had little political influence until the Meiji Restoration.
During the Second World War, when Japan became defeated by the allies, Emperor Hirohito had to renounce his divinity.
After the Allies defeated Japan in World War II, Emperor Hirohito was forced to give up his divinity. According to revisionists, however, the divine status of the emperor had not actually changed following the war – it was a propaganda by the victors in their attempt to lop the connection between Japanese people and the emperor. In any case, a small number of Japanese still worship the emperor today – some even have opinion that the Emperor no longer has a affair in the modern world.