Amaterasu Omikami (天照大神)

Amaterasu omikami (Tensho daijin) is a humanized Shinto god in Japanese. In "Engishiki (List of Official Shrines)," "Amaterasu" of Amaterasu Omikami is cited as "Amateru" when worshipped as the god of nature.


Amaterasu Omikami is the god of the sun and one of the Oyagami (parent deities) of the Imperial Family (the Kososhin (imperial ancestor)). In "Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters)," Amaterasu Omikami is referred to as 天照大御神 whereas in "Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan)" the god is cited as 天照大神. Another name given to her is Ohirumenomuchi no kami.

In "Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan)," Amaterasu Omikami is referred to under different names, whereas in "Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters)" she is consistently cited as "天照大御神." Amaterasu Omikami is considered to be female, but some say the god is male. Because the name of Amaterasu Omikami was used in the political scene as shown in "Kotai jingu gishikisho," Shoei MISHIMA and Tsutomu SAIJO even argue that Takamimusubi was the Kososhin (imperial ancestor);, and that Hirume was deified and became Amaterasu Omikami.

At Ise Jingu Shrine, Amaterasu Omikami is typically referred to as Amaterasu sume Omikami, Sume Omikami or Amaterasimasu Sume Omikami, particularly when the name is uttered before the altar in ceremonies. In academic documents she is now customarily spelled "アマテラス" in katakana. Some say that in old days she was cited as 天照太神.

How Amaterasu omikami is described in myths

According to "Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters)," Amaterasu Omikami was born from Izanagi as she rinsed her left eye when safely returning from Yomi (the world after death) where Izanami lived, in order to remove the dirt. At this time, Tsukuyomi was born from her right eye and Susanoo from her nose, and the three together have come to be called Mihashira no uzuno miko (three noble children). Izanagi then instructed Amaterasu Omikami to rule Takamanohara.

Because Susanoo—who had been instructed to rule Unabara (the sea)—kept crying, saying he wanted to go to the land of the roots (the land of Izanami), he was finally expelled by Izanagi. Although Susanao ascended to Takamanohara to meet Amaterasu Omikami, his elder sister, on the way to the land of the roots, Amaterasu Omikami, who assumed her brother was coming to deprive her of Takamanohara, armed herself and waited for him. After Susanoo made a pledge to prove that he had no such intention, five male gods were born from Amaterasu Omikami's Monozane (the media from which gods are given birth) and three female gods from that of Susanoo, and Susanoo declared victory.

The following are the five gods considered to be born from Amaterasu Omikami's monozane and are therefore her children:


Susanoo, swept up by the event, became wild and violent at Takamanohara, causing his sister to hide herself in Ama no iwato (the cave of heaven). This threw the entire world into darkness, and various problems occurred. Yao yorozu no kami-like Chichibu no kami (the god of wisdom), Ameno yagokoroomoikane no mikoto and Ameno koyane no mikoto-eventually became successful in getting her out of Ama no iwato, but she drove him out of Takamanohara.

Amaterasu Omikami—who had decided that she would have one of her sons, Amenooshihomimi, descend to Ashihara no nakatsukuni—dispatched Amatsu kami (the god of heaven) there. By the time Amenooshihomimi was ready to descend to Ashihara no nakatsukuni, where peace and order had been established, Ninigi—the grandchild of Amaterasu Omikami—was born and ordered to go down there by Amaterasu Omikami.

Because some myths say that Amaterasu Omikami sought opinions from her elder Amatsu Kami (the god of heaven) about her specific acts-whether they were good or not-and even followed his instructions, some consider that Amaterasu Omikami was a deified Emperor who ruled the country by conducting religious services.

Others have viewed her as a deified miko (female Shinto attendant). Her alias name, "Hirume," literally means "the woman of the sun," as a miko, an attendant of the sun god. According to a theory, a miko who had served the god of the sun came to be regarded as identical to the god himself; this caused the god to be thought of as female, although the god of the sun is typically male. Other theories consider that Amaterasu Omikami is female because her myth was established during the era of Empress Jito, or because Himiko was her model.

The idea that the god of the sun (Amaterasu Omikami) and the god of the moon (Tsukuyomi) were born from the eyes of Izanagi shows a strong influence of Taoism, whose canons "Reiho gobujo" (completed by the sixth century) and "Goho innenkyo" (written at the beginning of the seventh century) respectively contain descriptions of "turning his eyes into the sun and the moon" and "turning his left eye into the sun and his right eye into the moon." Some say there is a parallelism between Shinto and Taoism in some of the terms used for Ise Jingu Shrine, which worships Amaterasu Omikami—such as okami (great god), Jingu, itsuki no miya, itsuki no yakata, murasaki no mizo, kiyoginu, mitegura and usukinu—and in the idea behind dividing its shrine into Kotai jingu and Toyouke daijingu.

In comparative mythology, the myth of the birth of Amaterasu Omikami is nearly identical to that of Pangu, as recorded earlier (somewhere during the third or fourth century). Because the story of turning the eyes into the sun and the moon is a common analogy found across Asia, some consider that the myth was propagated as peoples migrated around the region during prehistory.

"Nihon Shoki" (Chronicles of Japan)

Some scholars point out that in "Nihon Shoki" (Chronicles of Japan), the divinity of Amaterasu Omikami, was changed in three stages.
The following describes the historical events and their details that triggered the changes:

645: The Taika era reforms took place. It was after these reforms that the Imperial Family began to worship Amaterasu Omikami.

Hi no kami (the god of the sun) or the sun itself. A male god called "Amateru" was widely worshipped. "Engishiki (List of Official Shrines)" lists the shrines that contained within their names the word "Amateru"—like the Amateru Jinja Shrine of Tsushima, the Iiboniamateru Jinja Shrine of Harima and the Amateru mitama no mikoto Jinja Shrine of Tanba. In fact, Amateru (as the name of the male god) is the alias name of Amaterasu Omikami's grandson Amenohoakari, who is the first ancestor of the Owari, Tsumori and Kaifu clans. Additionally, Amenohoakari's younger brother was Ninigi, the great-grandfather of Emperor Jimmu.

672: The Jinsin War broke out.

"Ohirumenomuchi (a woman who worships the god of the sun)" or "Tanabatatsume." Two interpretations exist: first, to consider that the god worshipped was Ohirumenomuchi (a female god), and secondly, to think that the god honored was Amateru, the male god in the form of a snake.

698: Kodai Jingu was elected.

"Amateras," or the ancestor god of the Imperial Family
A female god. Using Empress Jito as a model, Amaterasu Omikami was changed from the god of nature into a humanized god. Since then, the "Amaterasu" portion of Amaterasu Omikami, if not meant to be the Kososhin (the ancestor of the Imperial Family), has been pronounced "Amateru." For example, in "Sarashina Nikki (Sarashina Diary)," written around 1060, the Amaterasu Omikami was cited as "天照御神" and the portion of "天照" was pronounced "amateru," while in "Sendai kujihongi," "天照孁" is provided with the furigana readings "アマテルヒルメノムチ" ("amateru hirumenomuchi").

The modern age

From 1880 to 1881, a fierce debate took place over the Shinto doctrine concerning which gods should be enshrined in the temple of Shinto Jimukyoku (office) in Hibiya, Tokyo. Shito Jimukyoku, which had decided to enshrine in its temple four gods and Zokasanshin (the three gods of creation)-Ameno minakanushi no kami, Takamimusubi no kami and Kamimusubi no kami-and Amaterasu Omikami met with opposition from the Izumo group, which stressed the idea of Yuken ichinyo (the unity of this world and the world after death) and insisted on worshipping five gods, including Okuni nushi no okami, the ruling god of Yukai (the world after death). However, the Ise group, which had played the central role in Shito Jimukyoku, argued that Amaterasu Omikami was the Great God of Heaven and Earth, which ruled Kenrei (this world and the world after death) and that other gods were simply her subordinates, thus creating a full-scale confrontation between the two. This confrontation escalated to the point where various rumors circulated that the Izumo group might be trying to settle a deep-seated grudge against the Ise group, which had accumulated since the era of gods, and that Takatomi SENGE, who had been disloyal to the Imperial Family, had to be killed as punishment. This debate was eventually brought to an end by the decision of Emperor Meiji, resulting in the defeat of the Izumo group, and Amaterasu Omikami was ranked at the highest level of all the gods. The government is said to have learned from this debate that it was impossible to establish a common Shinto doctrine and to rule the people of the modern state directly through its restoration. For more information, see "Debate Regarding the Gods to Be Enshrined," by Shinto Jimukyoku, Kokka Shinto (State Shinto).

In depicting Amaterasu Omikami in his novel, Ryunosuke AKUTAGAWA used the alias "Ohirumemuchi." This is because he wanted to depict Amaterasu Omikami as the god of the sun or nature, not the Kososhin (imperial ancestor) associated with the name "Amaterasu Omikami." In fact, AKUTAGAWA had to make many revisions, additions and deletions to his novels due to the inspection conducted by the army.

Masahiro YASUOKA (1898-1983), the founder of Kinkei Gakuin (1926), said that the Japanese people worshipped Amaterasu Omikami. Amaterasu omikami represents the ideal of the Japanese spirit to cover the world with the rays of the sun. The "Izana" of "Izanami" and "Izanagi," which means "to lead," also represents an ideal of the Japanese people who set an example for other peoples in the world as leaders, forerunners and originators.

Shrines that honor Amaterasu omikami
Shrines that worship Amaterasu Omikami are called Shinmei shrines and are scattered across the country, but their chief shrine is the Naiku (inner shrine) of Ise Jingu Shrine. Kotai jingu is a shrine that houses Yataka no kagami (Mirror of Yataka), one of the Sanshu no jingi (three kinds of treasures), as the object of worship. Nearly all the shrines in Japan distribute the Shinsatsu (talisman) (Jingu taima (shrine amulet)) of Kotai Jingu Shrine (Tensyo kotai jingu Shrine).

[Original Japanese]