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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Izanami herself goes in pursuit


At

this point an interesting episode is recorded. Izanagi visits the "land of night," with the hope of recovering his spouse.* He urges her to return, as the work in which they were engaged is not yet completed. She replies that, unhappily having already eaten within the portals of the land of night, she may not emerge without the permission of the Kami** of the underworld, and she conjures him, while she is seeking that permission, not to attempt to look on her face. He, however, weary of waiting, breaks off one of the large teeth of the comb that holds his hair*** and, lighting it, uses it as a torch. He finds Izanami's body in a state of putrefaction, and amid the decaying remains eight Kami of thunder have been born and are dwelling. Izanagi, horrified, turns and flees, but Izanami, enraged that she has been "put to shame," sends the "hideous hag of hades" to pursue him. He obtains respite twice; first by throwing down his head-dress, which is converted into grapes, and then casting away his comb, which is transformed into bamboo sprouts, and while the hag stops to eat these delicacies, he flees. Then Izanami sends in his pursuit the eight Kami of thunder with fifteen hundred warriors of the underworld.**** He holds them off for a time by brandishing his sword behind him, and finally, on reaching the pass from the nether to the upper world, he finds three peaches growing there with which he pelts his pursuers and drives them back. The peaches are rewarded with the title of "divine
fruit," and entrusted with the duty of thereafter helping all living people***** in the central land of "reed plains"****** as they have helped Izanagi.

*It is unnecessary to comment upon the identity of this incident with the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

**It will be observed that we hear of these Kami now for the first time.

***This is an obvious example of a charge often preferred against the compilers of the Records that they inferred the manners and customs of remote antiquity from those of their own time.

****Again we have here evidence that the story of creation, as told in the Records, is not supposed to be complete. It says nothing as to how the denizens of the underworld came into existence.

*****The first mention of human beings.

******This epithet is given to Japan.

This curious legend does not end here. Finding that the hag of hades, the eight Kami of thunder, and the fifteen hundred warriors have all been repulsed, Izanami herself goes in pursuit. But her way is blocked by a huge rock which Izanagi places in the "even pass of hades," and from the confines of the two worlds the angry pair exchange messages of final separation, she threatening to kill a thousand folk daily in his land if he repeats his acts of violence, and he declaring that, in such event, he will retaliate by causing fifteen hundred to be born.

In all this, no mention whatever is found of the manner in which human beings come into existence: they make their appearance upon the scene as though they were a primeval part of it. Izanagi, whose return to the upper world takes place in southwestern Japan,* now cleanses himself from the pollution he has incurred by contact with the dead, and thus inaugurates the rite of purification practised to this day in Japan. The Records describe minutely the process of his unrobing before entering a river, and we learn incidentally that he wore a girdle, a skirt, an upper garment, trousers, a hat, bracelets on each arm, and a necklace, but no mention is made of footgear. Twelve Kami are born from these various articles as he discards them, but without exception these additions to Japanese mythology seem to have nothing to do with the scheme of the universe: their titles appear to be wholly capricious, and apart from figuring once upon the pages of the Records they have no claim to notice. The same may be said of eleven among fourteen Kami thereafter born from the pollution which Izanagi washes off in a river.


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