by Mineke Schipper, Humanity’s End as a New Beginning: World disaster in Myths
17. Amaterasu and Susanoo or Darkness as Punishment
In all the mythical stories in this book, the End once happened in the past or the End is threatening humanity’s future. Japan does not seem to have a myth about the destruction of the world. This Japanese story is unique in telling how actually the disastrous end of humanity did not take place. Thanks to the tactical heavenly intervention of the gods in an extremely critical situation, the suffocating ending in complete darkness could be avoided. Ultimately, neither gods nor humans would survive in a cosmos without sunlight.
Susanoo, “Impetuous Male”, was the brother of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Susanoo was a rather unpleasant deity, a disturbing element in the Realm of the Japanese gods. Due to a bad temper, his behaviour often resulted in cruel and uncharitable acts. In towering rages he could wither the fair greenery of mountains, and end people’s lives for no reason.
His parents, the creator gods Izanagi and Izanami, troubled by his doings, decided to banish this unruly son to the Nether-Land of Yomi. However, before leaving for ever, the son made the request to visit his elder sister, the Sun Goddess, in the Plain of High Heaven. This request was granted and Susanoo ascended to Heaven. His movement brought about a huge commotion of the sea, and loud groans of hills and mountains.
Hearing these noises, Amaterasu understood that her wicked brother Susanoo was nearing. Was her younger brother coming with good intentions, or did he want to rob her of her kingdom? Amaterasu tied her hair into knots and hung jewels upon it, and round her wrists, “an august string of five hundred Yasaka jewels”. She looked very impressive, with “a thousand-arrow quiver and a five-hundred-arrow quiver”. Why should he come anyway? However, her brother told her that he had no bad intentions: he had traversed clouds and mists on foot to come and see his elder sister before leaving to the land of Yomi, in obedience to their parents. So, why should his elder sister be so suspicious? Amaterasu regarded him with a certain skepticism, and rightly so, as it soon appeared.
One day when he saw his sister in the sacred Weaving Hall, weaving the garments of the gods, he flayed a horse, made a hole through the roof and flung the animal down. One of the heavenly female weavers was so frightened that she accidentally wounded her sexual parts with the shuttle, and she died. Amaterasu was so angry that she decided to leave her abode; she gathered her radiant robes about her, and entered a cave, obstructed the entrance securely with a rock, and dwelt there hidden in seclusion. Darkness and night reigned in the world. There was no daylight anymore. A dreadful catastrophe would be the end of everything. What could be done?
The Eight-hundred Myriads of Gods gathered in the already dried up riverbed of the River of Heaven to discuss how to persuade Amaterasu to show herself, honouring Heaven once again with her lustrous glory. After long debates and profound reasoning, they brought together a number of singing-birds from the Eternal land and ordered them to sing their immortal songs. After a number of divinations, the gods made various tools, bellows, and forges. They made a mirror out of welded stars, and fashioned jewellery and musical instruments.
Ultimately the Eight-hundred Myriads of gods descended to the cave where the Sun Goddess had concealed herself, and that’s where they proceeded to an elaborate entertainment. They hung the precious jewels on the upper branches of the True Sakaki Tree, they put the mirror on the middle branches, and white and blue pacification tissue offerings on the lower branches. A great singing of birds was the prelude. Then Uzume, the “Heavenly-alarming-female”, took in her hand a spear wreathed with Eulalia grass, made a headdress of a creeper plant, and held in her hands a bouquet of bamboo leaves. Then she put a tub upside down, and made it rumble and growl when she began to dance on it. Seized by the divine spirit, she took her breasts out and lowered her dress to the point of exhibiting her genitals. This made the Eighty Myriad gods roar with laughter.
Finally Amaterasu’s curiosity was awakened, and once she had opened the cave door ajar, her divine light came forth. Believing that her mirror image was another person, she looked at it in astonishment. Curiously she advanced a bit, but as soon as she did, Tajikarao, the god of force, took her hand and made her appear completely.
Immediately the Sun’s light came shining from Heaven, and the Central Land of the Plain of Reeds was illuminated once again. The Eight-hundred Myriads of gods decided to condemn the god Susanoo to paying a ransom of a thousand tables full of objects. They cut his moustaches and his beard, and pulled out his hand and foot nails, before they chastised and banished him to the Land of Yomi.
This is how a disastrous End of Humanity was averted in the nick of time.