The Myth of Okuninushi (大国主の神話)

The Myth of Okuninushi.

This article describes Japanese Mythology that depicts Okuninushi (or Onamuji) after an incident known as Inaba no shirousagi (The hare of Inaba).

Story line
The persecution of Yasogami (eighty gods). Onamuji's eighty brothers called Yasogami (eighty gods) wooed the maiden Yagamihime in Inaba Province, but she said she wanted to marry Onamuji. It caused jealousy among the brothers, who then attempted to kill Onamuji. They took Onamuji to the foot of a mountain near Hoki Province and ordered him, "There is a red wild boar in this mountain. We all hunt it and make it go down the mountain, so you wait here and catch the boar." Onamuji 's brothers dropped a burning huge stone that looked like a boar to the foot of the mountain where he waited. Onamuji tried to catch it and was burnt to death.

Onamuji's mother (Sashikuni wakahime) who knew that grieved over her son's death and went up to Takamanohara (plain of high heaven) to ask Kamimusubi for help. Kamimusubi sent Kisagaihime and Umugihime. Treatment by these two deities revived Onamuji and recovered to go out and walk.

On hearing that Onamuji revived, Yasogami tried to kill him again. They cut down a huge tree, opened a crack in it with a wedge, pushed Onamuji inside the tree trunk, then pulled out the wedge to close up the crack with Onamuji inside to kill him. His mother looked for the tree as she cried, then found it and tore the tree apart to pull him out to revive. She said, "You will be destroyed by Yasogami if you stay here," and sent him to Oyabiko in Ki no kuni (Land of the Trees).

When Onamuji arrived Oyabiko's palace in Ki no kuni, Yasogami pursued him and demanded to give him to them. Oyabiko helped Onamuji escape by going through a tree fork to Susanoo's residence in Ne no kuni (Land of the Roots, or the underworld).

Visit to the underworld
When Onamuji came to Susanoo's house in Ne no kuni, there he met Susanoo's daughter Suseribime (Suserihime no mikoto). They looked at each other and fell in love at first sight. Suseribime reported her father Susanoo, "There is a very distinguished deity to see you," and Susanoo ushered Onamuji in to a cellar with a snake to stay overnight. Suseribime gave 'the Orochi no hire (snake-repelling scarf)' to Onamuji and told him that he should wave the scarf three times if the snake tried to bite him. When Onamuchi did as he was told, the snake became quiet and Onamuchi could sleep safely for the night before he got out of the cellar. Next night, Susanoo made Onamuji stay overnight at a cellar with centipedes and bees. Suseribime gave Onamuji the Mukade to Hachi no hire (a special scarf that repelled centipedes and bees), which enabled Onamuji to get out of the cellar safely.

Susanoo shot a whistling arrowhead into a vast field and ordered Onamuji to take it back. When Onamuji went into the field, Susanoo put the fire to burn the field around Onamuji. Onamuji was in trouble, but a mouse came and told him, "Naka ha hora-hora, Soto ha subu-subu (the inside of the cave is spacious, although the entrance of the cave is narrow)". Onamuji understood what that meant, so he stepped into a spot, where a hollow appeared and he fell into it under the ground and he could escape from the fire that past over his head. The mouse brought the whistling arrowhead shot by Susanoo to Onamuji. Thinking that Onamuji was dead, Suseribime was weeping and preparing for his funeral. Susanoo thought Onamuji was killed at last, so he went into the field, where he met Onamuji who brought the arrowhead back.

Susanoo ushered Onamuji in his house and told him to take lice from his head. What was on his head was, however, a centipede. Suseribime gave Onamuji fruits of Aphananthe aspera and red clay. When Onamuji was crushing the fruits with his teeth, putting the clay in his mouth and spiting on the ground, Susanoo saw him and thought that Onamuji was crushing the centipede, so Susanoo felt asleep, thinking that Onamuji was just an innocent young man.

Onamuji decided to escape, so he tied Susanoo's hair to a pillar of the room and blocked the entrance with a huge stone. Carrying Susanoo's long sword, bow and arrow, when Onamuji was about to flee with Suseribime on his back Suseribime's koto (a long Japanese zither with thirteen strings) in his hands touched a tree and made sound. The sound surprised Susanoo who pulled down the pillar of the room. But Onamuji could flee far away while Susanoo was trying to untie his hair from the pillar.

Susanoo went after to Yomitsu Hirasaka (the slope that leads to the land of the dead) but stop there and called after Onamuji who was running away further. "With the long sword and the bow and arrow in your hands, disperse the disobeying Yasogami.
Then you take the name Okuninushi, marry Suseribime, and build a magnificent palace to live, you bastard!"
Okuninushi dispersed Yasogami and started building the country.

Yagamihime was afraid of his principal wife Suseribime, so she pierced Kinomata no kami into a fork in a tree and went back to her parents' home.

Okuninushi's courtship
Yachihoko (Yachihoko no kami, another name of Okuninushi) went to Koshi-no-kuni where he wanted to take Nunakawa-hime to wife, so he exchanged poetry with her. This made his principal wife Suseribime very jealous. When Okuninushi was about to leave Izumo again, he presented a poem to Suseribime, who in return raised a glass and sent him a poem. Two deities shared a toast and have been enshrined in Izumo up to now.

The tales described above are not included in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan).

Comparing myths: Tales of the persecution by Yasogami and the visit to Ne no kuni fall into a category of mythology called marriage by trials which can be found many places around the world. Some point out that a tale of Onamuji's revival by his mother bears a very close resemblance to Finnish epic poem "The Kalevala." Others consider that these tales depict rites of passage to be an adult.

Regarding two deities sent by Kamimusubi, Kisagaihime refers to an ark shell and Umugihime a clam; it is considered that powder of ark shells was dissolved in clam soup to apply to a burn. This application resembles to Linimentum Calcis in later years, therefore it has been considered to be an appropriate treatment for burns.

It is generally believed that 'Ki no kuni' where Oyabiko resided was Kii province, and based on this assumption it is considered that there was an exchange between Izumo and Kii provinces at that time. Some disagree with this by pointing out that the entrance of Ne no kuni (the land of the dead) Yomitsu Hirasaka was located in the former Izumo Province (Higashi Izumo-cho, Yatsuka-gun, Shimane Prefecture), thus it is odd to go all the way to Kii Province and "Ki no kuni" only means a place with many trees.

There are five poems in the tale of Okuninushi's courtship, but the contents of these poems indicate that they were originally songs that people sang at parties. In addition, these poems contain many makurakotoba (a set epithet) that came into use in later years, thus they were produced in relatively recent years.

The name Nunakawa-hime came from Nunogawa-go, Kubiki-gun, Koshi Province. There is Nunagawa-jinja Shrine that enshrines Nunakawa-hime in Itokawa City, Niigata Prefecture.

[Original Japanese]