Amaterasu & Susanoo
This is our first story from Japan. It involves a thunder god and a sun goddess who are brother & sister. And we all know about brothers and sisters!
One day, my sister said to me, “I’ve got an eye bogey. “A what?!” I said in disgust. “An eye bogey. You know what I mean,” she said, screwing up her face in the way that only sisters (and brothers) can do to each other - because if you do it to anyone else, it looks really rude.
“An eye bogey!” insisted my sister. “You know: the crumbly, yellow, sticky stuff that gets stuck in the corner of your eye after you wake up, but sometimes, it’s also slimy, like a bogey.”
Do you know what she means? I thought it was called “sleep”, but “eye bogey” is a really good name for it.
Well, a long, long time ago, the leader of all the Japanese gods, Iza-nagi, created a daughter from his left eye, and maybe she started off as an eye bogey. Luckily, he didn’t think she was disgusting and he gave her all the heavens. She was the sun and he called her Ama-ter-asu.
And from his right eye, he created a son, again, perhaps, also probably from an eye bogey, and he called him Tsu-ku-yomi, and he was the moon.
But Izanagi wanted three children. But he had no eye bogies left to pick. So he picked his nose. And out came Susa-noo: the god of storms.
So, as we all know, the sun - Amaterasu - and the moon - Tsukuyomi - shared the sky very happily by day and by night. But Stormy Susanoo was always destroying things: forests and mountains, and even the people who lived on earth near where he was doing his damage.
And to make matters worse, stormy Susanoo and sunny Amaterasu just could not get on. They were always competing with each other while their brother moon was asleep. Amaterasu would make something grow and Susanoo would knock it down. She would make something hot and he would make it cold. He would destroy a corn field, and she would make it grow again. All day, every day, the two of them wound each other up so much that it was exhausting for all the other gods.
One day, after Susanoo had another of his massive tantrums - sorry, I mean storms - his dad, Izanagi, said, “I have had enough!! Susanoo, go away and think about what you have done,” and he sent him to the Japanese mythological equivalent of the naughty step: he sent him Out Of Heaven.
Well, Susanoo was furious. He was just being himself. He didn’t ask to be born like this. Why should he try to control himself? Why should he try to get on with his sister sun and brother moon? Why should he take care and think about other living creatures and the world with all its forests and seas and lakes and tiny, silly, little humans?
So as he stomped his way furiously out of heaven, he decided he would cause one last bit of really big trouble. You know, like a naughty child who sticks out their tongue when they’re made to leave the room, or who calls someone just one more bad name before they get punished. He just could not resist.
Susanoo went to Amaterasu to say goodbye, with a smile on his face. “I’m off for a bit, sis,” he said, trying his best to look like a good boy who was learning how to behave.
“Right. Bye, then,” said Amaterasu, who did not trust her brother as far as she could throw him.
“How about one last little competition?” said Susanoo, guessing that his sister would find it hard to say no. And he was right.
“How about I prove that I’m really a good god?” he said.
“Haha, well, you can’t, so I will easily win that one,” said his sister.
So Susanoo made a bet with Amatersasu. He said that if he could make five new gods that were male (men or boys), it would prove that he was good and honest and just misunderstood by everyone else.
“Go on, then,” laughed Amaterasu. So her brother took her precious necklace of five hundred jewels from around her neck and put it in his mouth (never ever put things in your mouth that aren’t food - strange and horrible things might happen!). Then - disgustingly, but what can you expect from an eye bogey god who can’t keep his temper? - he SPAT OUT all the jewels! And hey presto - five male gods appeared.
“Pah - I can do that,” said Amaterasu - “And I will create female gods, girls or women, and because they are more precious than boy gods, I only have to make three!” And she ate Susanoo’s sword in one big gulp and then she spat out some female gods!
But still, Susanoo had “proved” his honesty by creating new gods. And to celebrate, he went on another stormy rampage, destroying fields of crops, trees, villages and towns. And then, as his worst bit of violence, he took one of the gods’ magic horses and threw it into the gods’ palace where Amaterasu was quietly weaving and hurt more of their friends and family.
This was too much. Amaterasu quietly got up and said, “I really need some peace and quiet.” And she took herself to Amano-Iwato: a deep, dark cave.
Now, what do you think happens when the sun goes into a cave?
That’s right: the land went dark.
Izanagi threw Susanoo out of heaven for ever and sent him to live on Earth. “Down there, “said his angry father, “you might one day find something good to do with yourself.”
So while Susanoo wandered the Earth, all stormy and sulky, the gods came together to try to coax Amaterasu out of her cave. Omo-ikan-e, the wisdom god said he had an idea and whispered a very clever - and very kind - plan to his friends. This is what happened:
Omoikane hung a bright, shiny, 8-sided mirror and a jewel outside the cave. And then Uzume, the goddess of dawn, merriment and parties, made a little stage for herself near the cave entrance and started to do a funny dance.
She stuck out her bottom and waved her hands in the air, she pulled out her ears and stuck out her tongue. As Omoikane had hoped, all the other gods started hooting with laughter at Uzume’s silly dance.
All this laughing and merriment echoed around the walls of Amaterasu’s cave. It went on and on. And although she was wanted a break from all Susanoo’s noise and trouble, she couldn’t help but start to smile and then to laugh a little bit herself, because as we all know, laughter is infectious - if other people are laughing, sometimes you start to laugh too.
And then she heard Uzume, shout while she danced, “What a brilliant day - I am so happy! Thank goodness we’ve found a wonderful goddess to replace Amaterasu in her cave!"
Ouch! Amaterasu didn’t want to be replaced! So, very cautiously, she stuck her head of the cave to see who this new goddess was. What did she see? She saw a beautiful, powerful, wise-looking goddess! And when she saw her, she felt a pang of love for her old friends and realised that she wanted to be with them, having fun. She didn’t know she was looking at her own reflection!
Keen to see more, she crept out of the cave a bit further. And the moment she did, the strongest god, Taji-ka-rawo rushed forwards and shut up the cave so she couldn’t get back in. Someone else tied a magic rope over the cave’s mouth and the rest of the gods admitted they had tricked her - there was no other goddess - and please would she come and live with them all once again? So happy to be with her friends again, Amaterasu agreed, and the sun could once again be shared again with everyone.
Meanwhile, down on earth, Susanoo had come across three very sad humans down by the river: an old man and woman and their daughter who was a young woman. They were all crying and crying and crying, and seemed very, very scared.
“What’s wrong?” asked Susanoo, because he had never come across human sadness or fear before and he was really affected by it.
“There’s a giant snake monster called the Koshi,” said the mother. “And every year it has chased us and eaten one of our daughters.”
“And I’m the last daughter,” said the girl.
“Say no more!” said Susanoo. “I’d be afraid, too, if I were you!”
He thought for a moment and realised how lucky he was to be a god. He never had to be this sad or this afraid. What an awful thing this family had been through. He wondered if he could help.
“How about,” he said, “how about I kill this beast? And if I do, perhaps I could take you for lunch, maybe try to get to know you?” he asked the daughter. “I’m a god, you know, and I’ve got an awful lot to learn.” The girl smiled and nodded - lunch with a god might be quite fun!
Now it was Susanoo’s turn to come up with a clever plan. Following Susanoo’s instructions, the mother and father placed eight cups of extra-strong Japanase alcohol, called sake, at each door of their house.
After a while, the beast arrived at the house. It had eight heads, each spitting fire. And with its eight noses and - how many nostrils? - it smelt the sake, and it just could not resist having a gobble.
Greedily, the eight mouths of the eight-headed beastie slurped at the 8 cups of sake.
Guess what happened? Does anyone know what too much alcohol does? Yes - it got DRUNK!
Eight drunken beastie heads went CLUNK on the floor. Eight drunken beastie heads all started to SNORE!
Very, very cheekily, without a care in the world, Susanoo wandered over to the drunken monster and sliced off each of its heads as if he was chopping up jelly with a spoon.
Then he cut open its tummy - just to make sure it was dead perhaps - and inside it he found a magic sword, called the Kusa-nagi.
And after he took the now-very-happy young daughter for lunch, he sent the magic Kusanagi sword to his sister Amaterasu in heaven, as a present and an apology for being such an idiot in the first place.
What did Susanoo do when he got told off? Did it make things better?
Why do you think Susanoo and Amaterasu were always competing? Did they hate each other or love doing things - even squabbling together?
What did Susanoo learn the first time he met humans?
What’s the magic number in this story - did you spot it?