Sarutahiko (サルタヒコ)

Sarutahiko is a deity who appears in Japanese mythology (Shinto). He appears in the scene of "tensonkorin" (the descent to earth of the grandson of the sun goddess) in "Kojiki" (The Records of Ancient Matters) and (the Book I of the first volume of) "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan) while he is called 'Sarutahiko-gami,' 'Sarutahiko-daijin,' or 'Sarutahiko no onogami' in Kojiki and 'Sarutahiko no mikoto' in Nihonshoki.

Description by myths

When Ninigi-no-mikoto (the grandson of Amaterasu-Omikami, the sun goddess) is descending from heaven to earth, a god stands at "Yachimata"(a meeting place of eight roads) of heaven and sheds light on the areas spanning from "Takamanohara" (plain of high heaven) to "Ashihara no nakatsukuni" (Literally, "Central Land of Reed Plains," which refers to the human world). The god, whose nose is about 98 cm in length, stands about 212 centimeters tall and has eyes that shine like "Yata no Kagami" (the eight-span mirror; one of the Sacred Treasures of the Imperial Family) or bladder cherries. Observing the scene, Amaterasu-Omikami and Takamimusubi order "Amenouzume" (a goddess of entertainment) to go and ask who the god is. It is revealed that the god is Sarutahiko who comes from "Kunitsukami" (gods of the land) to guide Ninigi-no-mikoto and others.

When Ninigi-no-mikoto and others arrive at Ashihara no nakatsukuni safely, Ninigi-no-mikoto instructs Amenouzume to accompany the god (Sarutahiko) to Kunitsukami and serve him by calling him Sarutahiko now that the god revealed his name (According to Nihonshoki, Sarutahiko asks Amenouzume to accompany him to Kunitsukami). Amenouzume comes to be called 'Sarume no kimi' afterwards. Sarutahiko goes back to his homeland, in the upper reaches of the Isuzu-gawa River in Ise Province. When Sarutahiko caught fish off the coast of Azaka in Ise region (former: the village of Azaka in Ichishi County; currently: Matsuzaka City), he got his hands stuck in a hirafu-gai shellfish and drowned. At that time, the gods of tripartite pillars were born: 'Soko doku Mitama' when Sarutahiko sank into the sea, 'Tsubu tatsu Mitama' when bubbles from Sarutahiko's breath rose to the sea surface, and 'Awa saku Mitama' when bubbles burst on the sea surface.

According to Yamatohime no Mikoto Seiki (one of "Shinto Gobusho" (five-volume apologia of Shinto), when Yamatohime no mikoto travels around many provinces to seek for an ideal place to enshrine Amaterasu-Omikami, Ota-no-mikoto, a descendant of Sarutahiko, guides her to the upper reaches of the Isuzu-gawa River and presents the land to her. Descendants of Ota-no-mikoto called themselves 'Ujinotsuchigimi' and had been appointed as "tamakushi ouchindo" (an officer in charge of presenting a sacred tree) of Ise-jingu Shrine for generations.


According to Nihonshoki, Amenouzume reveals her breasts and has her "mohimo" (kind of a skirt) dangle under her belly (when she serves Sarutahiko), and this is seen as an allusion to Amenouzume's sexual relations with Sarutahiko. This description is considered to be the origin of the folklore that Sarutahiko and Amenouzume were married, although myths say nothing about their marriage.

Based on the sentences 'his nose is about 98 cm in length, and he stands about 212 centimeters tall,' Sarutahiko is considered to be the original model of Tengu (a long-nosed supernatural creature). Because 'he is the god who sheds light on heaven and earth,' some experts theorize that Sarutahiko was a sun god worshiped in Ise region prior to the popularization of Amaterasu-Omikami.

Tsubaki-Okamiyashiro Grand Shrine in Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture and Sarutahiko-jinja Shrine located at Ujiurata, Ise City, Mie Prefecture are famous for the enshrinement of Sarutahiko.

Because Sarutahiko guided the grandson of the sun goddess during tensonkorin, he came to be regarded as a god of roads and travelers and designated the same position as that of Doso-shin, Doso-jin, (traveler's guardian deity). As a result, in many places across Japan, 'Sarutahiko-no-kami' is worshipped as "Sai-no-kami" (a god who prevents evil spirits from entering areas) and Doso-shin. In this case, Sarutahiko is usually enshrined together with Amenouzume, his alleged wife. Also, when a festive "mikoshi togyo" (parade of mikoshi (portable shrine) and priests for the divine spirits in the portable shrine moving to other places from the main shrine) starts, the parade is sometimes guided by a person who plays the role of Sarutahiko by wearing a Tengu mask.

In addition, Sarutahiko is enshrined under the name of 'Shirahige-myogin' in many places across Japan because he was appointed as the enshrined deity of Shirahige-jinja Shrine in Takashima City, Shiga Prefecture. Sarutahiko and Ota-no-mikoto, his descent, and sometimes Sarutahiko and Okitama no kami of Ise-jingu Shrine are considered to have the same identity.

Furthermore, during the Edo period, Sarutahiko was associated with "Koshin-ko" (a religious vigil on the day of monkey) because the word 'saru' in Sarutahiko means 'monkey', and in "Suika Shinto" (Shinto thoughts advocated by Ansai YAMAZAKI), Sarutahiko was designated as the 'founder' of the Suika Shinto because he was a 'god of guidance.'
As can be seen above, Sarutahiko has a complicated divinity. Recently, because of his complexity Sarutahiko has been researched intensively as 'a mysterious deity' by scholars such as Toji KAMATA. A family named 'Saruta' settled in Hitachi Province, and it is alleged that they were descendants of Sarutahiko. The "Guji" (chief of those who serves shrine, controls festivals and general affairs) of the previously cited Tsubaki-Okamiyashiro Grand Shrine and Sarutahiko-jinja Shrine have been famously regarded as the divine descendants of Sarutahiko through the ages. In the "Hinotori (Phoenix)"(manga) series made by Osamu TEZUKA, characters named 'Saruta,' of 'Sarutahiko' often appear. A large portion of them are physically characterized by their large noses.

[Original Japanese]