The First Mirror Brings Her Back (Amaterasu Story from Japan)

Amaterasu was enraged.
            First her stormy brother Susano-o had set loose piebald horses in her divine rice paddies. Then he had stuck banners painted with sneering incantations into the ravaged soil. But she had remained patient. Even when he used the space beneath her new throne for a toilet and smeared his product on the palace doors, Amaterasu was forgiving. “Surely what looks like excrement,” she said calmly, “is just my brother’s drunken vomit.”
            But then Susano-o destroyed the peace of the heavenly weaving hall, pulling off the roof-tiles to fling down a flayed colt upon the weaving maidens. The fright killed Amaterasu’s young sister Wakahirume who, falling from her loom, finally punctured her vagina with her shuttle.
            Finally, Amaterasu grew enraged.
            “I will no more see you face to face,” the sun announced to the kami, the divine beings. With that she pulled close the door of the Sky-Rock Cave, shutting out her light from the heavenly Land-of-the-High-Sky and the earthly Land-of-Reed-Plains. It grew dark, darker than night, for the moon and stars never rose.  All the kami were grieved, we learn from the Japanese Kojiki, the Record of Ancient Matters, “and their noise was like the buzzing of flies in the fifth moon, and ten thousand woeful calamities befell.”
            By candlelight the Kami gathered, eighty myriad of them – perhaps as many as eight million – before the Sky-Rock Cave. What could they do to make the sun return? They would make an image of her! They gathered copper-bearing rocks from the bed of the Sky-River so that Ishikoredome – the Stone-Coagulating Old Woman – could create the world’s first mirror. Her first attempt was a failure, inadequate to capture Amaterasu’s beauty. So was the second. But the third mirror was so splendid it made the assembled kami gasp.
            The kami strung together five hundred splendid curved jewels into a necklace; they sewed a soft blue and white brocade cloak; they made a new hat, a new shield, shiny weapons for the sun. they built a new palace, even more lovely than the Sky-Rock Cave. And the kami who created this new world were those who would become ancestors of Japan’s most famous families.
            When all was completed and assembled, the kami worked divination on stags’ bones and birch bark. They hung all the presents they had made for Amaterasu on an uprooted sakaki tree, which they placed before the closed door of the Sky-Rock Cave. All now was ready for the ritual to welcome back the sun. One of the kami cried out prayerfully, “The mirror I have is bright and beauteous, like you. Will you not open the door and look at it?”
            There was no answer.
            All were silent for a time. Then Uzume, the fierce shaman, pushed up her sleeves above her elbows and tied them with cords of moss. She fashioned a hat of leaves and a dancing fan from bamboo grass; she fastened bells around her wrists; she wreathed a spear with grasses; she kindled bonfires. Then she overturned a tub in front of the Sky-Rock Cave and leaped on it, stamping out a dance as she whistled through a flute, and the eighty myriad kami kept time on wooden clappers.
            She sang a simple song: “Hi, hu, mi, yo, i, mu, na, ya, ko, to,” or “one, two, three, four, five, sex, seven, eight, nine, ten, a hundred, a thousand, a myriad.” As she sang, she began to remove her garments, exposing in the dim firelight first her breasts, then her genitals, in a striptease that was both comic and at the same time deeply serious, for to reveal the source of life in the absence of the Ancestral Mother was a reminder of the world’s profound distress.
            Raucous laughter from the eighty myriad kami shook the sky. Great sky-shiner Amaterasu heard the uproar and peered out. She was astonished by what she saw. “I thought,” she said, “that since I had withdrawn and shut myself in the Sky-Rock Cave, there would be continued darkness. How is it that Uzume makes merry and the kami all laugh?”
            Uzume the Sky Frightener had a ready answer, a taunting one. “We rejoice that a sun has been found more lovely than you.” At that cue, two kami held up the mirror. Through the crack in the doorway, Amaterasu stared at the brilliant apparition. Little by little she edged forward. When she was entirely out of the cave, the sky flooded with light.
            “Aware! Ana omoshiroshi! Ana tanoshi! Ana sayake oke!” cried the kami. How light it grows! How wonderful to see each other’s faces! How wonderful to dance with hands outstretched! How wonderful is the refreshing sunlight!”
            They begged the sun goddess never again to hide her face for so long. They tied the door of the Sky-Rock Cave open with a sun rope, knotted at the bottom to represent Amaterasu’s shadow. Some interpreters say that this disappearance of the Great Mistress of the Day brought on the first winter, some that she retreats into her cave whenever there is an eclipse. In any case, the magic mirror, Japanese scripture tells us, brought the sun back to her welcoming world and continues to do so today.


Monaghan, Patricia (1994). O Mother Sun! A New View of the Cosmic Feminine. California: The Crossing Press.

*Japanese myths are retold [by Monaghan] from Post Wheeler, trans., The Sacred Scriptures of the Japanese (New York: H. Schulman, 1952); and F. Hadland Davis, Myths and Legends: Japan (Boston: David Nickerson & Co., N.D.), p.195.


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