Discover Japan Through Japanese Mythology

Discover Japan Through Japanese Mythology
Explore Japan through its myths, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

What stories do the ancient sites of Japan hold?

Sahana Iyer
January 06 , 2020
04 Min Read

One cannot deny the allure of mythological stories. The omnipresent gods, powers, elements and extraterrestrial action make for an interesting read. Every country has its own rich treasure trove of mythology, tailored to local surroundings. One great way to explore a country would be to visit various sites associated with such stories - it adds to the personality of the locations. Japanese mythology is packed with elaborate details, much like any other country. Here are 4 locations in Japan that are rich in myths and folklore:

The forest is a popular tourist attraction

Sagano Bamboo Forest

Towering green stalks of bamboo line the Sagano Bamboo Forest, also known as the Arashiyama forest. What was once a peaceful site is now a buzzing tourist attraction. While the forest does not hold stories of gods or other deities, it is a common belief that bamboo provides protection from evil spirits to temples in the vicinity. The lush grove is cut through by wooden paths - you can walk and listen the rustling sound of the bamboo against the wind. The Ministry of Environment has declared it one of the 100 soundscapes of Japan. These soundscapes refer to places where people are encouraged to stop and enjoy natural melodies. Another belief says that these sounds are the voices of singing spirits. 

Mount Hiba

The Kojiki is the oldest-known chronicle in Japan. It documents the birth of the country through mythological stories. According to the Kojiki, the gods sent Izanagi and Izanami to cultivate and populate the earth which was an uninhabited land at the time. The two reproduced and gave birth to the island of Japan and the gods of the elements. Unfortunately, while giving birth to Kagutsuchi, the god of fire, Izanami lost her life. Her suffering and tears are said to have brought life to many aspects of earth. Izanagi, then, buried her on Mount Hiba. This mountain still stands in Hiba-Dogo-Taishaku Quasi National Park. The summit area of the mountain is packed with dense beech thickets. Sweeping views— especially during autumn— has made the spot a popular tourist attraction. Trekking, camping and skiing are common activities offered here. 

Yomotsu Hirasaka

The melancholic story of Izanagi and Izanami is incomplete at Mount Hiba. As the story goes, Izanagi travelled to the underworld to bring back his soulmate. However, she refused as she says she has had the food of the underworld. She asks for some time to plead with the lords and seeks Izanagi’s promise to not enter the palace. Impatient, due to the long process, Izanagi breaks off a tooth of a comb and lights it. Entering the area, he sees the rotting corpse of Izanami. Hurt by the betrayal, the spirit of Izanami attacks him, chasing him back to earth. Izanagi, it is believed, pushes a boulder to the entrance to keep the underworld and earth separate. This boulder is believed to exist near the Iya shrine of Matsue in Japan. It is called Yomotsu Hirasaka, and is often visited by locals and tourists. 

The cave is off limits but can be viewed from an observation point

Takachiho

Natural beauty is in abundance in the town of Takachiho. With volcanic gorges and mountains, it is no surprise that visitors flock to the town. Many also visit Amano Iwato, the legendary mythical cave that shares its name with the shrine it is under. The cave is said to be the same location where Amaterasu (the sun goddess) fled to escape the cruel pranks (some believe it was an argument) of her brother. Her absence left the world in utter darkness and hence, other gods had to please her to come out and revive light. The shrine hosts “kagura” performances, a dance form that re-enacts the myth. The cave is considered sacred and people are not allowed to enter it. You may, however, view it from an observation point.    


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