Sarah has a PhD in Classical Civilisation from Swansea University. She continues to write on the Ancient World and other topics.
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.
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 Izanami
Having given birth to the land, Izanami 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 Izanami 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.
© 2011 SarahLMaguire
DIO on July 06, 2020:
Read More From Owlcation
oho, so this is how japan was born
better tell Pucci huh
he finna end japan if i tell him
Ari on June 22, 2020:
hello is there another different versain of this story
Divya Dewesinghe on May 30, 2020:
I want a plot of this story pls...
Princess Mae on May 15, 2020:
Can you please send a plot of this story?
AusTeacher on May 13, 2020:
What an easy and succinct retelling of the story, a great resource for my students. I am glad I can teach them about all of the different creation myths, from the unfamiliar stories of Izanagi and Izanami and Ask and Embla to the familiar myths of Adam and Eve. Thanks for the effort :)
Jojo on May 02, 2020:
Yo this helps persona 4 make more sense so thanks!
Jarred Hilton on March 02, 2020:
Thx for the help - (school assessment)
japan is my city on February 25, 2020:
this was neat
anonimous on February 24, 2020:
I don´t see were and how they creaed Japan
ARMY of BTS on February 08, 2020:
This was really helpful for my school project, thank you!
EL MABROUK M. EL AMMARI on November 16, 2019:
Thank you very much Dr-Sarah is really valuable information
I am an archaeologist from the University of Benghazi-Libya
Techmonger. on October 17, 2019:
Dear Shiyu, How far back does this Creation Myth go back?
Techmonger. on May 04, 2019:
Dear Shiyu, How far back does this Creation Myth go back? Curious Reader...Thanks
Chinchi on April 17, 2019:
im making a poster yay HALP ME
da one on February 09, 2019:
I am actually making a google slide recounting some Japanese myths this was a big help.
da one on February 09, 2019:
phomolo madilonga on December 29, 2018:
I'd like to know that what was so special about the two that the elder kamis wanted them to bring creation and not those who came before them and why is their birth different from that of humans if kamis are of our image
sses on October 01, 2018:
How were people made
Klasmeyt kan Maam Serenado Lit2 on August 23, 2018:
Themes are creation, love and devotion, life and death.
carmelle on August 23, 2018:
What theme arises from the story of Izanami and Izagani? How is this theme different from /similar to the themes of Malakas at si Maganda and Adam and Eve?
Sasuke on August 17, 2018:
when and where did this creation myth develop? also im sasuke
sasuke on August 17, 2018:
when did this take place
daniel on August 01, 2018:
how did they create humans?
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on July 11, 2018:
Thanks for your comment. That sounds like a fascinating variant of the myth. I'm afraid the story of Izanagi's sacrifice is not one I've come across. Sorry I can't be of more help. Would be interested to know if you ever get to the bottom of it!
Shiyu on July 07, 2018:
Hi there, can you help me?
I found here and there trace of a "sacrifice" of Izanagi with is own spear, but I cannot find the reason nor the consequences.
Thanks in advance!
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on June 03, 2018:
Izanagi and Izanami were both husband and wife and brother and sister as is common in many pantheons.
Emily on June 03, 2018:
they were not brother and sister they were husband and wife
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on January 25, 2018:
Thanks, Yo - fixed!
Yo on January 25, 2018:
The death of Izanami*** not Izanagi
ROGELYN M. MACANDOG on October 01, 2017:
THANKS AUTHOR FOR SHARING THIS ONE...A BIG HELP FOR MY LESSON ABOUT SHINTOISM...
*NARRATE THE KOJIKI CREATION STORY
Gerald A. Espergal on September 24, 2017:
thanks maam this was very helpful. japanese mythology is my topic for my report tomorrow.
J on June 21, 2017:
Thanks! this was the best article I could find on this topic!
Craig on March 07, 2017:
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
Maisy on February 11, 2017:
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.
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on July 18, 2016:
Thanks, CYong. Poor Hiruko is sad enough without being left out of the myth altogether!
Ced Yong from Asia on July 15, 2016:
Very well written hub. Most English retelling of this creation myth completely omits the courtship and Hiruko. You know your mythology well!
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on January 05, 2015:
Thanks, Sherwin! Good to know it was helpful. :)
Sherwin on January 05, 2015:
Thanks, this was very helpful
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on December 01, 2014:
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!
mae on December 01, 2014:
It was really helpful as a student. Do you know what myth and folklore are very popular in Japan. Thank you.
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on August 18, 2014:
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!
Raj735 on August 18, 2014:
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??....
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on May 19, 2014:
Good :) I'm happy to know it was helpful.
aj on May 19, 2014:
this was very helpful my hw is easy now lol
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on April 14, 2014:
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! :)
Wally on April 13, 2014:
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 (author) from UK on May 19, 2013:
Thanks, glad it proved interesting.
penisario vaginita on May 19, 2013:
this is interesting information
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on January 24, 2013:
I'm glad to know you found it useful - thanks!
chocolate on January 23, 2013:
Thank you very much. This article helped me with my homework.
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on August 26, 2012:
Thanks M&M, you're very welcome - it's great to know this hub was useful for your studies!
M&M on August 03, 2012:
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 (author) from UK on June 29, 2012:
Not sure what you're asking, I'm afraid?
abao on June 27, 2012:
can you give me a reflection of the story of izanagi and izanami
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on May 29, 2012:
Thanks - good to know!
it was helpful ... on May 24, 2012:
it was helpful ...
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on April 07, 2012:
Interesting - I suspect the details must differ, depending on which version you read. I must check up on that, thanks for sharing!
L.B on April 04, 2012:
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 (author) from UK on July 13, 2011:
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.
K.I on July 04, 2011:
Many of the details are wrong about what happened , but oh well.
SarahLMaguire (author) from UK on April 29, 2011:
Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it!
Vinod from Hyderabad, India on April 29, 2011:
Interesting!Thank you Sarah for introducing me to this bit of Japanese mythology.