第二章History of Izumo, Chapter 2

Touring the Myths

Pursuing the Myth

Of all Izumo stories written in the Kojiki, the story of Susanoo no Mikoto, a story of a God exterminating a Big serpent in” The extermination legend of Yamata no Orochi (Big serpent)” is especially famous. Furthermore, there is the legend of Izumo's God Okuninushi subduing the Heavens, the Gods land and presenting it to Amaterasu Oomikami in the” Myth of country handover”, and also the legend of a crocodile (shark) trying to take off the skin of a hare, which was saved by Okuninushi, in the "Hare of Inaba”.

Moreover, the Folklore passed down in Izumo was put together in the” Izumo Fudoki” compiled in 733, where a God brought the earth together creating the country as it's written in the” Country Pull Myth”. In that legend there's content relating to Japan's origin and the establishment of” Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine” and the stage for many of those stories is within the city grounds of Izumo.

It's possible to experience the Myths of Japan's origin on a deeper level, by visiting the places originating from these Japanese myths.

Pursuing the Myth vol.1 "The legend of Yamata no Orochi (Big serpent)”

The large river people feared as Yamata no Orochi - ancient japan izumo travel guide

A legendary Big serpent attacking the country of Izumo, whose real nature is...

Legend of Yamata no Orochi - ancient japan izumo travel guide

"Kojiki" was presented by O no Yasumaro holding the title of Asomi (second highest of the eight hereditary titles) and other in year 5 of the Wado period (712 A.D.) and it is Japan's oldest history book, depicting the events from the creation of Japan up to the coming of Empress Suiko.

The Yamata no Orochi (Big serpent) extermination legend is one of Izumo's Myths to be recorded in the first volume.

Susanoo's Genealogy - ancient japan izumo travel guide
Izumo's Myths - ancient japan izumo travel guide

Even of all the Japanese myths, the God with a strong personality, Susanoo no Mikoto. His temperament wild, violent and full of manliness...mixed with an ungodlike complicated personality, which rather makes him widely known more as a man than God. The legend of Yamata no Orochi (Big serpent) begins with Susanoo's banishment.

The father of Susanoo, who couldn't bear hearing his son cry for wanting to meet his passed mother, banished Susanoo away. Susanoo goes to” Takama-ga-hara" where his sister The Sun God, Amaterasu Oomikami lives, but because of doing lots of misconduct Amaterasu Oomikami gets to hide in a cavern called” Gate of celestial rock cave". Because the Sun God got hidden, the world turned to darkness, and disaster befall the Earth, the Gods of Takama-ga-hara pull out Amaterasu Oomikami of the Gate of celestial rock cave and banished Susanoo.

The place Susanoo set foot on was in Shimane Pref. Okuizumocho's Torikami, which is at the headwaters of Hii River located on Mt. Sentsuuzan running through Izumo.
After walking for a while, a beautiful princess” Kushinadahime” and an old couple were crying, and after being asked what happened they responded that the dreadful Yamata no Orochi (Big serpent) has eaten their daughter. Thus, Susanoo agreed in exchange for wedding the princess to exterminate the Yamata no Orochi (Big serpent).

It is written in a section of Kojiki as follows. ” The Big serpent had large red eyes, with eight heads and eight tails in one single body. Moos, trees and shrubs were growing from its body, and the extent of its length was stretching over eight valleys and surpassing eight mountains. As for its belly, it was always smothered in blood drippling off.”

The large river people feared as the Big serpent

Hiikawa River, which goes beyond Lake Shinji and connects to the Sea of Japan - ancient japan izumo travel guide

There are many interpretations of the legend of Yamata no Orochi (Big serpent), however, it's believed that the real identity of the Big serpent to be Hii river, which was feared because of repeatedly causing big floods.

The place Susanoo had descended on was near Hii River's headwaters at Okuizumo's Torikami. It was told to be the base of” Tatara steel manufacture” that is why there are those who believe the place to be deeply connected to the Big serpent legend. The Tatara steel manufacture is an ancient Japanese method of making steel by using bellows to send air into the furnace.

In order to produce the necessary charcoal for the Tatara (furnace) trees were massively being cut down, thus bringing forth the flood. The downstream region of Hii River had been affected by the process of obtaining iron sand, the raw material of steel, by making the river colored red with impurities. Kushinadahime was made into a symbol of the paddy fields, which were flooded yearly with iron sand floods by the Hii River.

In Okuizumo, Unnan area, there are patches of places such as "Inada Shrine" to worship Kushinadahime, Susanoo and Kushinadahime's new home “Suga shrine”. They are related to the extermination of Yamata no Orochi (Big serpent)

Suga Shrine - ancient japan izumo travel guide
Susa Shrine - ancient japan izumo travel guide

On the Hii River running within the Izumo City, there are several big patterns made on the sandbank, which resemble a snake's scales. The land along the river is zigzagging, with trees connecting on both sides, and the water is slowly making its way into the sea. Seeing its current shape makes it hard to picture it as a Big serpent, however, should this large river cause a flood, it might resemble a Big serpent.

There are many interpretations of the legend of Yamata no Orochi (Big serpent), however, there is no real way to solve its mysteries, which is exactly why it makes it possible to picture such a grand drama.

Will you also come and visit this land, just the same as Susanoo?

Pursuing the Myth vol.2 "Handing the country over”

Inasa no Hama Beach - ancient japan izumo travel guide

A story of Gods fighting among themselves for hold of the country, and the reasons for building the Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine?

Once upon a time, in the land of Izumo there was a God called Okuninushi no Okami
However, Amaterasu Oomikami, who was subduing Takama-ga-hara, looked at it and began to think that Ashihara no Nakatsukuni should be ruled by her children.
* Ashihara no Nakatsukuni: There are various theories with regards to it. And in this text, it points to the Izumo area

Then, Amaterasu said, "Go ahead and make all the Gods on Earth obey you”, dispatching Amenohohi for the job, but Amenohohi was looking up to Okuninushi, so he ended up becoming his servant, without ever to come back again.

Amaterasu has then dispatched Amenowakahiko, but this God had his heart stolen by Okuninushi' daughter, ending up building a palace in which he made himself comfortable.

Then Amaterasu sent off a Green Pheasant called Nakime to find out what had happened, but the Green Pheasant was killed by Amenowakahiko.

Bentenjima Island - ancient japan izumo travel guide

Because none of the messengers returned, Amaterasu had decided to deploy the Gods, Takemikazuchi, who is famous for his strength and the light-footed Amenotorifune, thinking of solving the problem in the violent way.

As both Gods descend upon the shore of” Izasa” in the land of Izumo (The current Inasa Beach), they pull their swords putting the hilt down, and they sat over the tilt of that sword crossed legged.

And they said to Okuninushi in a strong tone, “We came on orders of our master Amaterasu. Our master Amaterasu has decided that Ashihara no Nakatsukuni is to be ruled by her children, so what do you think of this?”

Okuninushi replied, "It isn't my place to answer such a question. My son, Kotoshironushi shall give you the answer. Unfortunately, he is gone playing on the Cape of Miho by catching birds and fish.”
Takemikazuchi was sent to meet Amenotorifune, and while asking about giving up the country, Kotoshironushi responded, “Let’s give the country away to Amaterasu's children just like you say”.

Before long Okuninushi' other son Takeminakata, known for his strength, had returned, holding a large rock. Takeminakata threw off the rock saying, "If you want this country, let's see who's stronger”, and then he grabbed Takemikazuchi's arm clinging on to it.

Tsubute rock, which Takaminakata is believed to have thrown - ancient japan izumo travel guide

Thus, the arm of Takemikazuchi turned into a pillar of ice and a sword. While Takeminakata got surprised and hesitated, this time Takemikazuchi grabbed onto Takeminakata's arm twisting it lightly throwing him to the ground. Takeminakata became scarred so he ran off.

Takemikazuchi followed Takeminakata who was running away, finally reaching Shinano no Kuni (The current Nagano Prefecture) chasing after him up to Lake Suwa, where he caught him and then held him down. Takeminakata said while begging for his life, "I will not step foot out of the land of Suwa. I will hand over to you all of Ashihara no Nakatsukuni, so please spare me."

Takemikazuchi returned to Izumo and after telling Okuninushi what happened, he replied, "I will hand you over this country as you wish. But in exchange, I want you to build me a great palace such as Amaterasu’s palace in Takama-ga-hara.”.

Takemikazuchi accepted his wish and built a palace for the sake of Okuninushi. It is told that this palace is the Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine.

Byobuiwa, the sheer cliff where the negotiation is said to have taken place - ancient japan izumo travel guide

This Myth is written in the manuscripts of "Kojiki" and "The Chronicles of Japan" made in the Nara Era.

While among the many Myths relating to a universal scale and unbelievable contents, this story of "The Myth of handing over the country" somehow lets off a taste of politics and schemes, characteristic to humans of the present time.

Inasa no Hama Beach - ancient japan izumo travel guide

How about walking on the Inasa Beach, the stage of this myth, while picturing the thoughts of Amaterasu who sent off messengers repeatedly to grab hold of Ashihara no Nakatsukuni, Kotoshironushi who easily agreed to give over the country, Takeminakata who sought to defend it despite failing, and Okuninushi who ended up giving away the country?

Pursuing the Myth vol.3 "Country Pull Myth”

Shot from Honozan Park - ancient japan izumo travel guide

Drawing and splitting off the earth, this is indeed the power of the Gods

Once upon a time, Yatsuka Mizuomitsunu no Mikoto, the God who created Izumo, looked over the land of Izumo and began thinking that “This country is narrow and long just like a fabric. Let's find a country somewhere and sew it to make it bigger.".

Looking over the see for any spare land, he came across the land of Shiragi of the Korean Peninsula, which had some unused land. Mikoto the used a wide spade, just like poking a big fish, he hit the ground striking it hard, then just like ripping off the insides of a fish, he grabbed the land cutting it off.

Then it put a three braided sturdy rope on it, saying,” Kuniko, Kuniko” while exerting all its strength, that land started moving fluidly just like a boat on the river, stinking it to the land of Izumo.

Thus, the country added this way was called Kizuki no Misaki, spreading from Kozucho, Izumo City up to Hinomisaki. The rope used to pull it then was put on pile, which became Sahimeyama [The current Mt. Sanbe] and, that rope became Sono no Nagahama.

After that, Mikoto used the same method to pull and unite the Land of Sada to the North [From Ozu to Sada, Kashima-cho in the east] and, the Land of Kurami [around Shimane-cho, Matsue City], finally the country which was pulled from the land of Koshi in the Hokuriku region became Miho no Saki [Miho-no-seki-cho, Matsue City].

This time, the rope Mikoto pulled was put on a pile in Houki no kuni's Hi no kamitake [the current Mt. Daisen] and, the rope used to pull it became Yomi no Shima [current Yumigahama].

Then Mikoto said, "I finished pulling the country together", sticking up a cane, and then she said “Oe” (meaning in Japanese: finish), thus that land is called Oe.

The Nagahama Shrine worships the main God character of the” Izumo Fudoki” story of” Country Pull Myth" which is “Yatsuka Mizuomitsunu no Mikoto”.

Nagahama Shrine - ancient japan izumo travel guide
Nagahama Shrine - ancient japan izumo travel guide

The Myth's topography and place name - the mystery of the actual place name matching the myth

There is a mysterious atmosphere around the evening - ancient japan izumo travel guide

The Country Pull Myth described at the beginning of” Izumo Fudoki” is especially big in scale even among the many Izumo Myths, which makes its story content indeed worthy to be mentioned as the work of God.
Judging from all this, it might be easy to interpret it all as fiction, but it could might well be more than that.
One reason to assume this is that, the many places for the many stages that are mentioned throughout the myths, their current topography and place name match those of the myth.

If you check a map, you can confirm that Izumo lies to the south of Lake Shinji and Nakaumi. To the north side, there's the west-east orientated narrow and long Shimane Peninsula, which is divided in four big areas. That's where Mikoto's "Country Pull Myth" of her cane being stuck created “Mt. Daisen” and “Mt. Sanbe”, and the rope which became “Sono no Nagahama” and “Yomi no Shima”, whose location matches that described in the myth.

Mt. Sanbe and Mt. Daisen - ancient japan izumo travel guide
Mt. Sanbe - ancient japan izumo travel guide
Mt. Daisen - ancient japan izumo travel guide

In the Jomon period (c. 14,000 - 300 BCE), there are theories about the Shimane Peninsula, where it is assumed to have been just sea and no land, and even if its current shape has been formed by a natural phenomenon, it is amazing how the people of ancient Izumo imagined it to be the work of the Gods.

Source: Izumo City Cultural Property Division - ancient japan izumo travel guide

I you look out to the North of Izumo, you can glance over the Shimane Peninsula. It's the low mountain range continuing west-east you can see over Lake Shinji in the distance. Try feeling Mikoto's immense power of splitting up the Earth and pulling it together.

About Izumo Fudoki

It's a story compiled about the Land of Izumo in 733. It records the origin of the place name, the appearance of the land, specific goods, proverbs and such. The original copy has already been lost, and currently only the manuscripts of it remains. Of Japan's all five Fudoki of Hitachi, Harima, Izumo, Hizen, Bungo, "Izumo Fudoki" is the only one passed down almost intact.

Izumo Fudoki - ancient japan izumo travel guide