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The Story of Izanagi and Izanami: A Japanese Creation Myth

Updated on October 23, 2016
SarahLMaguire profile image

Sarah has a PhD in Classical Civilisation from Swansea University. She continues to write on the Ancient World and other topics.

Izanami and Izunagi by Kobayashi Eitaku 1885
Izanami and Izunagi by Kobayashi Eitaku 1885

In Japanese mythology, Izanagi and Izanami were a divine couple, brother and sister, who had a principle role in creating the islands of Japan and from whom many important and elemental kami (gods) had their birth. Their story is told in the 8th century CE Japanese compendium of mythology, the Kojiki.

The Birth of Izanami and Izanagi

Before the formation of the world, when the land was formless like a jellyfish, the first deities came into being at Takamagahara, the High Plain of Heaven.

Beginning with three primal kami: Amenominakanushi, Takamimusubi and Kamimusubi, seven successive generations of gods and goddesses came into being, the seventh generation consisting of the male kami Izanagi (he who invites) and the female kami Izanami (she who invites).

Ama no Nuboko The Jewelled Spear

The older generations of kami assigned Izanagi and Izanami the task of bringing order and structure to the shapeless chaos that was the world. To help them to accomplish this, the couple were given the jewelled spear called Ama no Nuboko.

From the Heavenly Floating Bridge, Izanagi and Izanami peered down at the inchoate mass below, not knowing how to begin the work of creation. Finally, they tried stirring the chaos with the point of the spear. As the spear was lifted back up, a drop fell from it creating the island of Onogoro. Izanagi and Izanami decided to make their home there and built a palace called the Eight Measure Palace. In the very centre of the palace stood a pillar, the Heavenly August Pillar.

Ema board of Izanagi and Izanami at Taka-jinja shrine
Ema board of Izanagi and Izanami at Taka-jinja shrine

Hiruko the Unfortunate Leech Child

Established in their new home, Izanami and Izanagi decided it was time to start a family. They circled the Heavenly August Pillar, Izanagi turning to the left while Izanami moved to the right, so they met each other coming round. In spontaneous delight, Izanami exclaimed, “What a fine young man!” “What a fine young woman!” said Izanagi in response. He then complained that Izanami should have left it to him to take the initiative.

Uncertain of what to do next, the couple received some advice from two helpful wagtails. In due course, Izanami gave birth to a son, Hiruko, but the child was without limbs and boneless - a leech child. The baby was placed on a boat made of reeds and abandoned to float away to his melancholy fate. Izanami and Izanagi tried a second time but, once again, their offspring was unsatisfactory.

The Creation of the Islands of Japan

Crestfallen, Izanami and Izanagi returned to Heaven to ask the elder kami where they had gone wrong. The gods confirmed Izanagi’s suspicion that Izanami had done wrong in greeting her husband first. It was unnatural for the female partner to take the initiative and this was why their offspring had been misshapen. With this in mind, the couple returned to their palace to try again. This time, when they circled the pillar, Izanagi greeted his wife first and she responded appropriately.

Soon after, Izanami gave birth successively to the islands of Awaji, Shikoku, Oki Kyushu and Tsushima. Last of all, she was delivered of the largest island, Honshu. The couple gave the land they had brought into being the name of Oyashimakumi, meaning the Land of Eight Great Islands. Following this, Izanami brought forth the smaller outlying islands.

The Birth of Kagutsuchi the Fire Kami and the Death of Izanagi

Having given birth to the land, Izinami began to give birth to the kami that would give it shape. In turn, she brought forth the kami of the sea, of the wind, of trees and mountains and other natural manifestations. In giving birth to the kami of fire, Kagutsuchi, she was burned to death, despite her husband’s attempts to save her. As she died, further kami were born from her body. Death and sorrow had also entered the world.

Grief-stricken, Izanagi wept and from his tears emanated further kami. Enraged, he cut off the head of Kagutsuchi, whose birth had killed his wife. Further offspring were born from his bloody sword.

Izanagi's Journey to Yomi, the House of the Dead

After grieving for Izanami a long time, Izanagi became determined to bring her back and set off for Yomi, the Land of the Dead. Eventually, after a long and perilous journey, Izanagi came to a great mansion guarded at the front by fearsome demons. Creeping in through a back entrance, Izanagi found his wife and there was a joyful reunion. Izanagi begged Izanami to return to the world with him, but she sadly replied that this was not possible as she had taken food while in Yomi. At Izanagi’s entreaty, however, she agreed to go and ask the resident kami if she could possibly go back with him.

Before she went, Izanami asked her husband to promise not to go right inside the mansion. He agreed, but, after a whole day had passed and she did not return Izunami could wait no longer and went inside the mansion, looking for her, using a tooth of his comb as a torch.

Wandering within the mansion by the frail light of his torch, Izunagi was horrified to come across the body of his wife, now apparent as just a rotten decaying corpse to which a number of recently born thunder-kami were still attached. In revulsion and terror, Izanagi turned to flee pursued by the spurned corpse of his wife, the thunder kami along with many warriors, and the hag of the House of the Dead.

After fighting off his pursuers, Izanagi managed to imprison Izanami in the House of the Dead by rolling up a huge rock to block the way. The entrance to Yomi, covered by the rock, is said to be Ifuya Pass, at Izumo. Thenceforth, Izanami became known as Yomotsu-o-kami, Goddess of the Dead.

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    • Vinodkpillai profile image

      Vinodkpillai 6 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Interesting!Thank you Sarah for introducing me to this bit of Japanese mythology.

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 6 years ago from UK

      Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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      K.I 5 years ago

      Many of the details are wrong about what happened , but oh well.

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 5 years ago from UK

      Can you give examples of incorrect details and also what sources you are basing this judgement on?

      If I have got something wrong, I would like to be able to rectify it.

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      L.B 5 years ago

      The First son ..... My History said that it was Ebisu and he was sent to be a fishing god...... other than that pretty good

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 5 years ago from UK

      Interesting - I suspect the details must differ, depending on which version you read. I must check up on that, thanks for sharing!

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      it was helpful ... 4 years ago

      it was helpful ...

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 4 years ago from UK

      Thanks - good to know!

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      abao 4 years ago

      can you give me a reflection of the story of izanagi and izanami

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 4 years ago from UK

      Not sure what you're asking, I'm afraid?

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      M&M 4 years ago

      Thanks so very much! You helped me greatly with my homework! We just started doin Japanese History and we were told to do a summary of the Legend. Your article was a great help to me! I was able to get all the main points and everything! Thank You!!

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 4 years ago from UK

      Thanks M&M, you're very welcome - it's great to know this hub was useful for your studies!

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      chocolate 4 years ago

      Thank you very much. This article helped me with my homework.

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 4 years ago from UK

      I'm glad to know you found it useful - thanks!

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      penisario vaginita 3 years ago

      this is interesting information

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 3 years ago from UK

      Thanks, glad it proved interesting.

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      Wally 3 years ago

      Your article was very helpful in writing an essay recently. And I think you are correct about the first born. That's been in every version I've read. Some things differ (or perhaps are described differently) by each writer, but the essential facts remain the same. Thanks again.

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 3 years ago from UK

      Thank you, Wally. I'm very glad to know this hub was of use to you in your essay. I think you're right that there are different versions, but I'm quite confident about the sources I used for this. Thanks for your support! :)

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      aj 2 years ago

      this was very helpful my hw is easy now lol

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 2 years ago from UK

      Good :) I'm happy to know it was helpful.

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      Raj735 2 years ago

      Thank u....:) god u saved me from the wrath of the teacher as i completed my homework in the last minute because of u:-).........

      but there was a ques that what was the name of the bridge by which izanagi and izanami descended on earth??....

      teacher asked??:(

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 2 years ago from UK

      Thanks Raj. It's good to know this hub averted your teacher's wrath! The English name for the Bridge, as I mentioned in the Hub is the Heavenly Floating Bridge. The Japanese name is Ame no Ukihashi. Good luck!

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      mae 2 years ago

      It was really helpful as a student. Do you know what myth and folklore are very popular in Japan. Thank you.

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 2 years ago from UK

      Thanks Mae, I'm glad you found this so helpful in your studies. Japan has a huge amount of folklore and mythology. This was one site I found helpful to find out more about Japan's most famous mythology - http://j-myth.info/english/index.html. Hope it helps!

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      Sherwin 2 years ago

      Thanks, this was very helpful

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 2 years ago from UK

      Thanks, Sherwin! Good to know it was helpful. :)

    • CYong74 profile image

      Cedric Yong 9 months ago from Singapore

      Very well written hub. Most English retelling of this creation myth completely omits the courtship and Hiruko. You know your mythology well!

    • SarahLMaguire profile image
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      SarahLMaguire 9 months ago from UK

      Thanks, CYong. Poor Hiruko is sad enough without being left out of the myth altogether!

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      Maisy 2 months ago

      I loved reading this story! It is very interesting to learn about the different creation myths from other cultures. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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      Craig 7 weeks ago

      They forgot to write about the curse and the vow. Izanami said that she would kill 1000 people a day, Izanagi countered the curse with the vow that he would birth 1500 that same day

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