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Creation of Japan: Myth

Students read a manga about the myth of Japan’s creation and answer some questions on the text in English.

Do you know the story of the birth of Japan?

Myths give us insight into ancient peoples’ lives and beliefs, and give meaning to many customs and ceremonies practised today. Students may have studied the creation stories of other cultures, such as the Aboriginal story of the ‘rainbow snake’, or the Hebrew creation story. The first written record of Japan’s myths is found in the Kojiki (712, Records of Ancient Matters). This is one of Japan’s creation myths in manga form to enable students to access it through simple Japanese.
Cultural notes for students are provided.

The Story

Once upon a time, when the world was still young, floating like oil, two gods, Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto were commanded by the primal gods to make the land and fix it in place. The two stood on the Floating Bridge of Heaven and thrust the Heavenly Jewelled spear into the sea. The brine that dripped from the spear became an island where the two performed a marriage rite around a pillar. Izanami gave birth to the islands of Japan and their deities, the gods of the sea, river, mountain, field, tree, stone, fire and many others. But in giving birth to the fire god, she was burned and died. Izanagi followed Izanami to Yomi no Kuni (the Land of Dead) to urge her to return. She agreed to consult with the gods of Yomi, but warned him not to look at her. Impatient for Izanami’s return, he entered the palace of the gods of Yomi, only to find her corpse horribly transformed. He fled, pursued by the shamed Izanami, and escaped by blocking the exit of Yomi with a large boulder. He then went to the river to purify himself by bathing (misogi). From his left eye when he cleansed it was born Amaterasu Omikami (Goddess of the Sun); Tsukushi no Mikoto (God of the Moon) was born from his right eye, and Susanoo no Mikoto (God of Storms) was born from his nose. Izanagi charged Amaterasu with the rule of the High Plain of Heaven, Tsukushi no Mikoto with the Realm of Night, and Susanoo no Mikoto with the Plain of the Seas. Thus was born Japan and its surrounding world.

Teaching Suggestions

Junior secondary students usually learn the past tense of verbs in connection with their personal life, such as talking about what they did on the weekend, in the holidays etc. Once they are familiar with the past tense, they can read narratives such as this story. The discourse between the characters includes other forms of verbs students may know. To raise their awareness, you may ask students to list up verbs according to their different forms, eg. ~ました、~ましょう、~てください、~てもいいですか.

Read the story and answer the questions

  1. Who were the gods who gave birth to Japan according to the story?
  2. Give the names of the 4 main islands of Japan
  3. Where do you think Izanami was sent to after she died? (No. 11)
  4. Why do you think Izanagi bathed? What do you think the water symbolizes?
  5. According to the story, who was born from Izanagi’s left eye?
  6. Do you know any creation myths from other cultures? Are there similarities with this myth?

Resource created by The Japan Foundation, Sydney (February 2002).

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