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Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto are two of the primary kami found in ancient Shinto mythology. The divine siblings are the deities of the terrestrial creation myth, whereby the lands and all the creatures that inhabit them came into being. Specifically, they are honored as the originators of the islands of Japan. 

While they star in the same creation story and both play essential parts in the generation of beings, they also have different roles and responsibilities. The myth focuses on the things they create together, but it also allows each of the kami to have an individual role in the mythology.

The primordial deities in the sky who preceded the pair in existence ordered Izanagi and Izanami to go down to earth to make something useful of the vast terrestrial realm. But at that time there was still nothing down there to sustain them or even provide a platform for their creative mission. While standing on the floating bridge of heaven, the pair looked down upon the face of the earth and pondered whether or not a potential country was beneath them. Higher still above them, the primordial deities realized that there actually was no place for their emissaries to land, so they cast down to them a magnificent jeweled spear. 

Izanagi thrust the jewel-spear of heaven down into the ocean and stirred. With a "curdle-curdle" sound, he stirred up the brine of the ocean, and when he lifted the spear the brine coagulated and dripped off. It soon hardened and formed the island of Onogoro ("spontaneously-congealing") island in Japan. This mythical island, supposedly located somewhere off the northeastern coast of today's Shikoku, became Izanagi's and Izanami's home.

After settling down in Onogoro, Izanagi invited Izanami to describe how her body was formed. She said, "My body in its thriving grows, but there is one part that does not grow together." Izanagi replied, "My body in its thriving also grows, but there is one part that grows in excess. Therefore, would it not seem proper that I should introduce the part of my body in excess into the part of your body that does not grow together, and so procreate territories?" Izanami said, "It would be well".

Izanagi and Izanami proceeded to perform a marriage ritual in which they walked around a pillar, he moving to the left and she to the right. When they met on the other side, Izanami spoke first, saying: "Ah! What a fair and lovely youth!" To which Izanagi replied: "Ah! What a fair and lovely maiden!" 

Despite the gracious exchange of words, however, Izanagi was concerned about a perceived lapse in the appropriate etiquette. In the Nihongi version of the narrative, he said, "I am a man, and by right should have spoken first. How is it that on the contrary thou, a woman, shouldst have been the first to speak?". Nevertheless, they then consummated their relationship. Soon after, Izanami gave birth to a loathsome leech child, which the disgusted parents sent off in a basket into the ocean.

Izanagi was convinced that their first child was not a success because of Izanami's breach of proper decorum. The divine couple conferred with the Heavenly Kami above, who performed divination and confirmed that this failure was indeed because Izanami had spoken first. The creator kami then had to return to the central pillar on the island of Onogoro and repeat the marriage ceremony. This time Izanagi began, saying, "Ah! What a fair and lovely maiden!" To which Izanami appropriately replied, "Ah! What a fair and lovely youth!" After this new exchange Izanagi and Izanami united once again and gave birth to a total of fourteen islands and thirty-five kami.

During the birthing of Kagu-Tsuchi-no-Kami, the fire god, Izanami was so badly burned that she took sick and eventually stopped moving. This was the first instance of death in the history of the universe.

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Women's History Magazine


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