Many countries have their own creation myths and Japan is no exception. However the creation myth according to the ancient Japanese texts Kojiki and Nihon Shoki is not that well-known even among the Japanese themselves. According to these legends, Awaji Island was the very first island created by the gods. Let’s dig a little deeper into this mythology.
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Kojiki and Nihon Shoki records
The Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) are two of the earliest and most important works of classical Japanese literature. They are both historical texts that delve into the mythology, history, and legends of ancient Japan. Both the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, two of the oldest Japanese semi-historical texts, begin by describing the formation of the world.
Kojiki was compiled and completed in the year 712 (CE) by the court noble Ō no Yasumaro under the Empress Gemmei’s orders. It is a compilation of myths, legends, and historical accounts of Japan including stories about the creation of the islands, the gods, and early emperors. The primary purpose of Kojiki was to legitimize the imperial family’s rule by connecting them to divine origins.
Nihon Shoki was completed only a few years later, 720 CE, also under the imperial order with the help of historians including Prince Toneri and Ō no Yasumaro. Similarly to Kojiki, it covers Japan’s mythical origins and early history, but it also provides more detailed accounts of events and includes genealogies of the imperial family. Like Kojiki, the Nihon Shoki served as a tool to establish and legitimize the authority of the imperial family, but it also aimed to counter Chinese influences and give Japan a unique identity.
The Creation Myth of Japan
The creation myth of Japan in both Kojiki and Nihon Shoki however is pretty similar. At first there’s the initial chaos and shapelessness before the first gods (kami) emerge from the cosmic void. These are the god Izanagi and goddess Izanami, who are tasked with the creation of the land. The two gods performed a ceremonial dance around a heavenly pillar and stirred the depths of the ocean with a Heavenly Jeweled Spear. As they pulled up the spear, drops of salt water fell from the tip of the spear to form the first island of Japan – Awaji Island.
Afterwards Izanami and Izanagi travelled down to the first island created, called Onokoro-shima, and were married. They then proceeded to give birth to various deities, including the rest of the Japanese islands. The sun goddess Amaterasu is born from Izanagi’s left eye, and Tsukuyomi, the moon god from the right eye. Susano-O, the storm god is born from Izanagi’s nose. From there on the gods get into all sorts of adventures and conflicts before it is said that Amaterasu returns to Earth and becomes the ancestor of the imperial family. This connection was thought to legitimize the divine authority of the imperial line which lasted for over a thousand years.
Places on Awaji Island Connected to the Myth
Here we list some of the important locations related to the myth, where certain events are said to taken place. For a more complete itinerary check out our article in search for the birthplace of Japan.
Izanagi Shrine – Shrine of the Creation Gods
Izanagi Shrine makes its first appearance in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki as the location where Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto are enshrined. It is also said that Izanagi lived out his last days there.
Onokoro Island Shrine – As Told in Legends
Onokoro Island Shrine is characterized by the large vermillion-lacquered torii gate. This gate is often counted as one of Japan’s “Three Great Torii Gates”, standing 21.7 meters tall.
Just 10 kilometers in circumference, Nushima is a small island in southern Awaji Island, shaped like one of the ancient, crescent-shaped Japanese beads known as magatama. While several places are associated with the name Onokoro Island, Nushima may be the most probable candidate.
In the southeastern corner of Nushima, Kamitategami Iwa boasts an array of colossal and uniquely shaped rocks sculpted by the relentless waves of the Pacific Ocean. A closer look at Kamitategami Iwa reveals a heart-shaped recess at the center of the rock. Remarkably, Kamitategami Iwa is believed to be the very place where Izanagi and Izanami descended from the heavens to Onokoro Island. As the very spot where Izanagi proposed to Izanami, it is often regarded as Japan’s oldest and most iconic location for matchmaking.
The creation myth sheds light on Japan’s spiritual and cultural identity, as well as the divine origins attributed to its ruling imperial family. Various interpretations of the myth exist, but Awaji Island is believed to be in all of them as the created first island, just one more reason for a visit while travelling through Japan.