Japan

AJI-SUKI-TAKA-HI-KONE One of several thunder gods. Born noisy, he grew up even noisier, and so they carry him up and down a ladder to quiet him. That is why you can hear him receding and approaching.

AMA-NO-UZUME Fertility goddess. A companion of Ninigi, she performed a bawdy dance hoping to entice the sun out of hiding. This dance symbolizes the planting of seed which waits for the sun come after winter.

AMATERASU Sun goddess, ruler of the heavens. When her great enemy, the storm god Susa-No-Wo, destroyed her fine palace, Amaterasu went to hide in a cave. The other gods used all their magical tricks to get her to come out, to no avail. In her absence, darkness and demons ruled the earth until Ama-No-Usume lured Amaterasu out of the cave with a trick. With a comical and obscene dance, he made the gods gathered at the mouth of the cave laugh. When Amaterasu asked waht was going on, Ama-No-Uzume replied that they had found another and better sun goddess. Amaterasu peeped out of her cave and saw her own reflection in a mirror which Ama-No-Uzume had hung on a nearby tree. Fascinated, Ameratasu drew a little closer for a better look, and the gods grabbed her and hauled her out.

AMATSU MIKABOSHI “August Star of Heaven.” God of evil.

BENZAITEN Goddess of love, one of the gods of happiness. Benzaiten rides a dragon while playing a stringed instrument.

BISHAMON God of happiness and war, a strange combination. Bishamon protects men from disease and demons. Bishamon was often portrayed wearing a wheel of fire like a halo, which some see as the Wheel of Fate.

CHIMATA-NO-KAMI God of crossroads, highways and footpaths. Originally a phallic god, his phallic symbol was placed at crossroads.

HO-MASUBI Fire god. His birth killed the creator goddess Izanami, and his father, the creator god Izanagi, was so enraged with grief that he killed the baby. From his blood came eight gods, and from the body came eight mountain gods.

IZANAGI and IZANAMI Creator god and goddess sent down from heaven to build the earth. The other gods and goddesses are their descendents, but when the god of fire was born he burned his mother to death. Descending to the underworld, Izanami became old and ugly. Izanagi followed her to bring her back, but she forbade him to look at her. Izanagi looked anyway and Izanami tried to imprison him in the underworld. Pursued by Izanimi’s furies, Izanagi escaped and sealed up the entrance to the underworld with a boulder. Enraged, Izanami vowed to kill a thousand of Izanami’s subjects a day, and Izanami vowed to create fifteen hundred a day. So it was that Izanami became the goddess of death and Izanagi became the lord of life.

KAWA-NO-KAMI God of rivers. Larger rivers have their own gods, but all waterways are under Kawa-No-Kami’s authority. When rivers flooded, the gods were sometimes appeased with human sacrifices.

NAI-NO-KAMI God of earthquakes. A late addition to the Japanese pantheon, Nai-No-Kami was inducted in the seventh century A.D. NINIGI Grandson of Amaterasu, sent to rule the earth, the ancestor of all the Japanese emperors.

O-KUNI-NUSHI God of sorcery and medicine. Originally the ruler of the province of Izumo, he was replaced by Ninigi, but in compensation he was made ruler of the unseen world of spirits and magic.

SENGEN-SAMA Goddess of the sacred mountain of Fujiyama. At her shrine at the top of the mountain, worshippers greet the rising sun.

SHINE-TSU-HIKO God of the wind. Shine-Tsu-Hiko fills up the empty space between earth and heaven, and with his wife Shina-To-Be, he holds up the earth.

SUSA-NO-WO God of storms, snakes and farming. Amaterasu’s brother and greatest enemy. From the moment he was born, he was a troublemaker. After Amaterasu was finally taken out of her cave, Susa-No-Wo was punished. The other gods shaved his beard and moustache, pulled out his fingernails, and banished him to live as a mortal on the earth.