Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun in Japanese mythology, was a beautiful and compassionate goddess who ruled both the sun and the heavenly fields of rice that fed the Japanese people. She was also an accomplished weaver, with many attendants who joined her in weaving the stunning satins, silks, and brocades for which Japan is rightfully famous.
Amaterasu and Her Brothers
Amaterasu was the supreme Japanese deity who, along with her brothers, ruled the eight million gods. She and her brothers, the storm god, Susano-o, and the moon god, Tsukiyomi, shared the power of governing the universe.
The Birth of Amaterasu And Her Brothers
Izanami was the goddess of creation and death. She and her older brother/husband Izanagi created the many islands of Japan and gave birth to many of the gods,
Izanami died after giving birth to a fire god. Filled with despair, the grieving Izanagi killed the young god she had birthed and headed to the Underworld to try to bring his wife back to the land of the living. Of course, he failed.
During the cleansing rite required after his return from the Underworld, Izanagi gave birth parthenogenically to Amaterasu (the sun goddess). She emerged from his left eye, Tsukiyomi ( the moon god ) emerged from his right eye, and Suano-o (the storm god) was birthed through his nose. Then Izanagi died – this was his final act.
Izanami and Izanagi were the last of the seven generations of gods preceding the trinity of Amaterasu, Suano-o, and Tsukiyomi.
The Rift Between Amaterasu And Susano-o
Amaterasu’s brutish brother Susano-o was very jealous of his beautiful sister’s power and popularity. Going on a rampage, he slaughtered a young horse (an animal sacred to the goddess). He threw its bloody carcass into the weaving room, wrecking the looms, ruining the precious fabrics, and terrifying the hapless women who were working there.
In some versions of the myth, one of her attendants was killed in the violence. In another version, Amaterasu herself was wounded when her brother attacked her with a shuttle.
The Recluse Of Amaterasu
Amaterasu, depressed and grieving over this violation by her brother, crept away to a dark cave in the mountains and refused to return to the heavens. Without her, there was no sun, and the rice fields lay dying in the endless night while the people grew hungry.
Hundreds of the gods and goddesses came to the entrance of her cave and begged for Amaterasu to come out, but her grief was so great that Amaterasu could not be moved by their pleas.
Amaterasu And Uzume
Uzume was a lesser goddess, responsible for laughter and revelry. She is remembered largely for her role in bringing Amaterasu out of severe depression. By doing that, Uzume played an important role in leading Amaterasu back to her heavenly responsibilities, ensuring the fertility of the crops.
The goddess Uzume, because of her part in the myths of Amaterasu, is also allied with the art of spiritual drumming. The story of the Japanese goddesses Amaterasu and Uzume will tell you why. Their story parallels the story of Demeter and the maidservant Baubo in Greek mythology.
How Uzme Helped Amaterasu
After countless gods failed to persuade Amaterasu to come out of her cave, Uzume, the goddess of mirth, devised a plan. The gods rolled a large bronze mirror in front of the entrance to the cave while Uzume began to dance on a large overturned tub. Her dance frenzied and ecstatic, her feet drumming on the tub, Uzume hoisted her kimono, and the crowd roared and laughed with delight.
Amaterasu could hear the feverish laughter and drumming and became curious about its origin. Hoping to peek out of the cave’s entrance, she was momentarily dazzled by her reflection in the bronze mirror and could not see what was happening.
When she crept further out, the gods captured Amaterasu and sealed the entrance to the cave so that she could not return.
Her grief dissipated by the revelry and good humor she found around her, Amaterasu returned to her home, and her light once more shone upon the earth.
In another myth, Amaterasu was angered by her other brother, the moon god Tsukiyomi, because he killed a goddess he felt had insulted him. The sun goddess Amaterasu told her brother that she would never see him again . . . which, in Japanese mythology, explains why the sun and the moon appear at different times in the sky.
Eventually, Amaterasu reconciled with her brother Susano-o after their monumental “falling out” — but only after he slew the eight-headed serpent which had been terrorizing the country. He presented her with the sword drawn from the serpent’s corpse.
The lineage of the goddess Amaterasu would continue, for a long time, to be a powerful influence in Japan.
Amaterasu’s granddaughter, Konohana Sakuya, is the goddess of volcanoes (Mt. Fuji in particular,) and earthly life, symbolized by the Japanese cherry blossom (sakura), which is an omnipresent symbol of Japan. It was also believed that Amaterasu was the great-grandmother of Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan.
As a sun goddess that overlooked rice fields, and the patron of weaving, Amaterasu was often represented with symbols that were related to the sun, rice, and weaving.
At the center of Amaterasu’s story were a violent betrayal, depression, and eventual forgiveness. Her symbols can also be things that reflect such unfolding events.
Since Amaterasu was the goddess of the sun, it is expectable that the sun is her most common symbol. Sun gives life; without it, there would be eternal darkness, and no living beings could thrive in such conditions. When Amaterasu was hiding in a cave, the san was gone too, and people were starving as their rice fields now failed.
Speaking of rice fields, they are another symbol of Amaterasu. This goddess can also be represented by silk, bronze mirrors, weavers, loom, and fabrics such as satin.
Horses were sacred to Amaterasu and her symbols. That is why her brother tried to hurt her by killing a horse and throwing it into a weaving room. He succeeded, and this act threw Amaterasu into a depressed state.
Spiders and snakes are also symbols of Amaterasu, as spiders were often associated with weaving, while snakes are wise and symbols of life and fertility.
Rice is one of the first plants that come to mind when we think of Amaterasu, but this goddess can also be symbolized by other plants. Plants and flowers that are somehow associated with or similar to the sun are the best choices.
For example, chamomile, marigold, carnation, sunflower, juniper, chrysanthemum, and rosemary.
Sakura cherry tree is probably the best scent choice to represent Amaterasu, as it reminds us of this goddess’ Japanese roots. However, you can use other perfumes and scents to symbolize Amaterasu. For example, peach, ambrosia, jasmine, and myrtle are all great scents to represent this goddess.
Gems and Metals
Gold is often associated with the sun, and this makes gold a great symbol of Amaterasu. Other gems and metals that can symbolize this goddess are copper, bronze, ruby, sunstone, and amber.
Yellow and gold are definitely Amaterasu’s colors, since these are the colors of the sun, but red, white, and black are also great choices.
What Can We Learn From Amaterasu
The goddesses Amaterasu and Uzume teach us about the healing power of laughter and dance and remind us that we can often find healing and wisdom in humor and the pleasures of the senses.
Additionally, Amaterasu’s story teaches us that senseless acts of violence (physical, psychological, verbal, or emotional) can cause significant damage to those affected. Finally, this story teaches us the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation (in situations where it is possible).
If you enjoyed this post we are sure you will enjoy getting to know some of the other goddesses we also write about. You can find the complete list of goddesses sorted across regions and religions here.
Featured Image Credit: Shunsai Toshimasa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons