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The Ancient Japanese Underworld – Part 1

Japanese Mythology

Mythology and legends are widespread across this world and are full of stories that have stuck with us for thousands of years, many could even be based on stories even older than the oldest we know of. Stories like those of the Greek Gods, the Egyptian Pharos, Gilgamesh, even Robin Hood and his Merry Men are all often regarded as simple stories that have since cast off as obvious untruths. To be fair to a degree that is true, we know for certain that, for example, lightning isn’t thrown from the clouds by a bearded fellow and thunder doesn’t come from a gods mighty, magical hammer. We have scientific explanations that simply couldn’t have been known around 2000 years ago, give or take. That being said I, and sure many others, do believe there is the smallest grain of truth to these myths and legends, something that inspired these fascinating fantasies. It may be someone who existed that was just a bit stronger than anyone else, animals that have since gone extinct or towns washed away by climate changes. In the case of Yomi-no-kuni, aka the underworld of a pre-Buddhist Japan, that grain may simply have been an oddly placed boulder.

In Matsui, Japan you can find what is officially known as Yomotsu Hirasaka, the gateway to the underworld. Here you can find several large boulders amongst the trees. The area has a stoic and strangely foreboding atmosphere and always seems bleak no matter how beautiful a day it may have been when you entered. One of these rocks is said to be the boulder that was used to block the entrance to the underworld. The story itself is one from the Shinto religion, the first writing for this religion were created in the 8th century and fascinatingly 80% of the Japanese people still practise its traditions today. Though not many would identify themselves as a ‘shintoist’ these practises are upheld as a way to connect with their country’s history and traditions. It is in the creationist tale of this religion that we can find out the story of how Yomotsu Hirasaka came to be blocked.

How Japan Begun

As the story goes, when the world first formed it was separated into two domains, the heavens and the earth. The heavens became the home to many of the gods however the earth was still an untouched mass, yet to contain any life whatsoever. As often is the case in these stories the gods decided to task the first male and female with giving both form and earth deities to the earth, the male was named Izanagi and the female Izanami. They quickly got to work and it wasn’t long until they had created Japan and the islands that make up the nation, the earth began to take shape. Then came the harder part, giving birth to the deities. Izanami gave birth to many gods, the god of the sea, the trees, the wind, the mountains and the fields were all born without problems, however that would all change when she gave birth to Kagutsuchi, the god of fire.