Sunday, September 26, 2010

In the Beginning

Like all cultures, Japan has a creation myth centered in the ancient land of Hyuga (日向), present day Miyazaki.
Ages ago all life was empty and there was a void. Then a seed of life sprang up.  This seed began to mix things around and around until the heavier part sank and the lighter part rose to the top of the heavens. A muddy sea that covered the entire earth was created. From this ocean grew a green shoot. It grew and grew until it reached the clouds and there it was tranformed into a god. Soon this god grew lonely and it began to create other gods. The last two gods it made, Izanagi and Izanami, were the most remarkable.
One day as they were walking along they looked down on the ocean and wondered what was beneath it. Izanagi thrust his staff into the waters and as he pulled it back up some clumps of mud fell back into the sea. They began to harden and grow until they became the islands of Japan.
The two descended to these islands and began to explore, each going in different directions. They created all kinds of plants. When they met again they decided to marry and have children to inhabit the land. The first child Izanami bore was a girl of radiant beauty. The gods decided she was too beautiful to live in Japan, so they put her up in the sky and she became the sun. Their second daughter, Tsuki-yami, became the moon and their third and unruly son, Sosano-wo, was sentenced to the sea, where he creates storms.
Later, their first child, Amaterasu, bore a son who became the emperor of Japan and all the emperors since then have claimed descent from him.
The many shinto shrines in Miyazaki all claim to be the bastions of this myth.  In Takachiho, the shrine boasts one of the most important legends.   Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess, became so outraged by her brother's cruel pranks that she hid herself in a cave, refusing to come out and depriving the world of her life-giving light.
All of the other gods and goddesses gathered to lure her out. They tried everything they could think of to no avail until one goddess performed an outrageously ribald dance that caused the other gods to roar with laughter. Amaterasu left the cave to see what all the fun was about, and in doing so she returned her light to the world.
Udo Shrine in Nichinan boasts the second important shrine.  Udo Shrine is dedicated to Yamasachihiko, the father of Emperor Jimmu, the mythical first emperor of Japan. This brightly painted shrine is set in a cave on the side of a cliff overlooking the ocean and so enjoys a spectacular view.
There are a few legends concerning Emperor Jimmu and this cave, although it is unclear whether he was born here or visited here as a baby. However, the one thing the stories have in common are the breast shaped rocks in the cave wall which are said to have nourished him.
Drinking the water that drips from these rocks is thought to be beneficial for pregnancy, childbirth, nursing and women hoping to have a child. The shrine is also thought to be fortunate for couples and newlyweds.
Outside the cave is a terrace overlooking the ocean. Among the rocks below is a target marked by rope into which people try to throw small ceramic undama, or lucky balls (available at the shrine for a small fee). Women throw with their right hand while men throw with their left, and landing an undama in the target brings good luck.
The third important shrine is Miyazaki Shrine.  Dedicated to Emperor Jimmu, the mythical first emperor of Japan, it is said to have been established over 2600 years ago.
The shrine's buildings, constructed of simple, unpainted cedar, sit in the center of a large, quiet forest. Festivals and other events such as yabusame (horseback archery competitions) are held during the year on the wide path under the trees.
In relation to Miyazaki Shrine is Heiwadai Park. 
Heiwadai Park, or Peace Tower Park, was built in 1940 to celebrate the 2600th anniversary of the ascension of Emperor Jimmu, the mythical first emperor of Japan, on what is believed to be the original site of his capital. Inside the park stands the Peace Tower, or Heiwadainoto, a tower constructed of stones sent from all around Asia and one of Miyazaki's most recognizable landmarks.
The Peace Tower was meant to symbolize a united world. On the front of the tower is the phrase "Hakko Ichiu", which is attributed to Emperor Jimmu and means "United under one roof".
The final shrine of importance is in Saito.  The myth of the all night Kagura dance in Shiromi goes thus: When Amatsuhiko-Hiko-Hononinigi-no-Mikoto (Hononinigi) descended from heaven onto the peak of Mt. Takachiho in a place called Himuka of Tsukushi, with him came many servants and gifts received from the sun god Amaterasu, among the gifts were a sickle, a sword and a mirror.
When he met Konohana-no-Sakuya-Bime (Tree-Blossom-Blooming-Princess), a beautiful princess he asked her father for her hand in marriage and her father agreed sending with her many gifts and her sister Ihanaga-Hime (Eternal-Rock-Princess), Ihanaga-Hime's father wanted to endow Hononinigi's children with long life like that of a rock.
However Hononinigi found Ihanaga-Hime so ugly he sent her back to her father and then proceeded to consummate his marriage with Konohana-no-Sakuya-Bime, which was the first marriage between a deity of earth with one of heaven. On returning home Ihanaga-Hime bemoaning her misfortune threw away a mirror reflecting her own image in its glass, the mirror fell in Shiromi. So the Shiromi shrine is dedicated to Ihanaga-Hime.
While this is mythical, it is important to bear in mind that myths are the beginning of written history for all cultures and civilizations.  Myths develop the ethics, government, and class structure that the society will develop.  The Yamato Dynasty used these myths to develop a system that ruled Japan for 700 years and beyond.  These myths were used also by shogunates and military governments to show Emperor and people alike were descended from the gods.

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