Death and Japanese Classical Mythology

Amaterasu leaving the cave. One of the more famous episodes.


One of the most famous episodes in Japanese mythology—appearing in the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki—is the Izanagi and Izanami story.

There are several myths, their marriage, the creation of the Japanese islands and the world, and then the birth of the kami.

For me, early Japanese mythology is a little hard to mine for story gems in the same way as Greek or Roman mythology in that our early texts serve less as entertainment, or even sermonizing, and more as genealogies for ruling families and legitimization of those creating the tales. (I'm no expert on Western mythology, maybe I'm wrong).

Anyway, Izanagi and Izanami are different, and it is one of my favorite early story gems. When Izanami dies giving birth to the kami of fire, Izanagi is filled with so much grief that he travels to the land of the dead, Yomi, to find her. When he arrives, Izanami tells him that he can't look at her in death (a kind of pollution or taboo). She also reveals that because she has eaten the food of Yomi, she cannot leave.

Izanami ignores his wife's warning, however, and glimpses her form. She is hideous, and so horrified by his betrayal that she chases him from Yomi. They break a part (maybe a sort of divorce), and when Izanami purifies himself of Yomi, he creates more kami.

Izanagi vows to kill a large number of humans, and Izanami counters by saying that he'll create more persons, and the pair are connected with the birth and death of humanity.

I'm not sure what Yomi is exactly. Is it a place of death for the kami? Humans? Besides spirits do not remain in Yomi, as ghosts and spirits and dead humans are constantly moving back and forth between states of death and life. It's all interesting. All very chaotic.