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Home » 2. Kami (Deities) » Kami in Classic Texts
Amaterasu
[Amaterasu ōmikami](Kojiki)(Nihongi)
Other names: Hi no kami (Kojiki, Nihongi), Amaterasu Ōhirumeno mikoto (or muchi), Tsukisakakiitsu no mitama Amazakarumukatsuhime no mikoto (Nihongi)

"Kami of the Sun," first of the "three noble children" produced by Izanagi, and highest of all kami entrusted with rule over the Plain of High Heaven (Takamanohara).

According to Kojiki, Amaterasu came into being when Izanagi washed his left eye as part of his purification (misogi, harae) following his visit to the underworld (Yomi). In commissioning Amaterasu to rule the Plain of High Heaven, Izanagi also entrusted her with the jewel necklace called Mikuratana no kami.

While an "alternate writing" quoted by Nihongi also describes Amaterasu's birth occurring as the result of Izanagi's washing his left eye, Nihongi's main text states that Izanagi and Izanami made a deliberate decision to give birth to a "lord of all" after giving birth to all the kami of the land. As a result, they together produced the Hi no kami ("kami of the sun"), and since her radiant splendor shone throughout the whole world, Izanagi and Izanami rejoiced and entrusted to her rule over the affairs of Heaven.

In another "alternate writing" transmitted by Nihongi, Amaterasu is described as coming into being from a white copper mirror which Izanagi held in his left hand. As Sun kami and Ruler over the Plain of High Heaven, Amaterasu was challenged by Susanoo, who came to Heaven after leaving his original realm of authority. The two kami engaged in a contest in the form of a trial by pledge (ukei), in the process giving birth to five male kami and three female kami; Amaterasu declared that the five male kami produced from the "seed" (monozane) of her necklace were her own divine children, or mikogami.

But confident at having proved his innocence in the trial, Susanoo went on a rampage, causing Amaterasu to hide away in the Rock Cave and throwing the Plain of High Heaven into darkness and chaos.

In response, the kami Takamimusuhi called a meeting of the other heavenly kami to discuss how to lure Amaterasu from the cave, and it was decided to present a program of festival worship and votive entertainment. Lured by the excitement outside, Amaterasu came out of her cave, returning light to the world once again. The cave was then sealed to prevent her from returning inside.

Having established her preeminence in this way, Amaterasu and Takamimusuhi decided to entrust rule of the "Central Land of Reed Plains" (Ashihara no Nakatsukuni) to Amenooshihomimi, the first of her five sons. She then ordered the other kami of heaven to enter negotiations with the various kami of the land (kunitsukami). Once the Central Land was pacified, the mission of heavenly descent (tenson kōrin) was passed from Amenooshihomimi to his son (Amaterasu's grandchild) Ninigi , and Amaterasu entrusted to him her mirror, which was to serve as her personal "spirit vessel" (mitamashiro). In the possession of the Divine Grandchild, the mirror symbolized Amaterasu's presence and protection during the pacification of the Central Land.

During Emperor Jinmu's eastern campaign, Amaterasu entrusted a divine sword to Jinmu and his forces when he fell ill at Kumano, and she dispatched the "eight-span crow" (yatakarasu) to guide him. She also assisted Empress Jingū and spoke oracularly (kamigakari) through the empress. According to Nihongi, Amaterasu appeared in the form of her "rough spirit" (aramitama) named Tsukisakakiitsu no mitama Amasakarumukatsuhime no mikoto, instructing that the rough spirit be enshrined not within the imperial palace, but at Hirota.

Rule by Amaterasu's divine descendants was generally secured by the reign of Emperor Sujin (legendary reign 97-30 B.C.E), during which time Amaterasu's "spirit vessel," the divine mirror was entrusted to the worship of the priestess Toyosukiirihime. During the reign of the next Emperor Suinin, the medium Yamatohime no mikoto left the imperial palace in the role of Amaterasu's "divine spirit staff" (mitsueshiro), and enshrined the mirror at Isuzu no Miya in Ise, the shrine which later became known as Ise Jingū (Grand Shrines of Ise).

Amaterasu is usually understood as a goddess. In an "alternate writing" quoted in Nihongi she calls herself a "woman" (taoyame), and her brother Susanoo also calls her his "elder sister" (ane). In the medieval period, however, some scholars interpreted Amaterasu as a male kami.

-Mori Mizue
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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