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Hear about Amaterasu on Episode 12, 21 and 35 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Amaterasu leaving the rock cave.
Amaterasu leaving the rock cave.


Amaterasu (天照 – Heaven Shining) also known as Ōhirume-no-muchi-no-kami (大日孁貴神) is the Sun kami of Shinto, born in some accounts from the kami Izanami, her brothers being the kami of the Underworld Susano-o, and the moon Tsukiyomi.1


Within the main text of the Nihongi it states Amaterasu was born after the kami Kayanohime as a child Izanami and Izanagi. However, a different version within the Nihongi states she was born from Izanagi only when he held a white copper mirror in his left hand. She was the first of three siblings, her brothers being Susano-o and Tsukiyomi. A third version states she was born from Izanagi washing his left eye in the Tachibana River after becoming polluted form his visit into Yomi.1 This third version is the version stated in the text of the Kojiki, with the only addition being that Izanagi gave her a jewelled necklace; this necklace being the kami Mikuratana.2

Her splendor was said to have shone through the 6 quadrants (North, East, South, West, Above and Below) and due to how special her parents/parent saw her to be she was sent to rule over Heaven and ascended the Ladder of Heaven.12

Day and Night

During her time in Heaven, she learns of a kami called Ukemochi living in Japan and so sends Tsukiyomi down to wait upon her. Tsukiyomi soon returns to her after Ukemochi has offended him with a feast she provided and he has killed her. Amaterasu calls her brother wicked and wishing to not see him again she sends him away and they are separated leading to the day and night cycle to begin.

She sends Amekumabito to Ukemochi, and brings back from her body ox, horse, millet, silkworm, panic, rice, wheat, large beans and smalls beans. Amaterasu rejoices and takes these declaring them to be what man eat to live. She then plants the rice in the fields of heaven and reels from the silkworm the silk with her tongue, thus beginning the art of silk rearing.1

Testing the Heart of Susano-o

Susano-o throwing the colt. (Shonen Nihon Rekishi Tokuhon, vol. 2)

Her brother Susano-o, having been condemned to go reside in Yomi, wished to speak to his sister one last time and so ascends to Heaven. He brother informs her that he comes with no ill intent and so Amaterasu asks for them to make a pledge together and create children.12

Amaterasu makes him hand over his ten span sword, cleaning it and chewing it in her mouth she spits forth three female kami, these daughters being called Takiribime, Ichikishimahime and Takitsuhime.12 According to the Kojiki these daughters born from his sword show Susano-o had no ill intent and so in triumph he runs amok in Heaven destroying rice fields.2 The main text of the Nihongi differs where it says should he have daughters then he has ill intent.1

Before running amok in Heaven he asks for the Jewels from Amaterasu’s hair, and chewing them he spits forth five children, these being Amenooshihomimi, Amenohohi, Amatsuhikone, Ikutsuhikone and Kumanokusubi.12

There are several alternative versions of this particular event within the Nihongi. In one, she doesn’t chew the jewels of her brother, but instead chews her own sword creating the three daughters. (Presumably then in this context, these females are daughters of Amaterasu, and the males are sons of Susano-o).

Another version says that before ascending to Heaven to see his sister Susano-o is visited by a kami known as Haakarutama who gives magatama beads which he then plans to gift to his sister. In this version Amaterasu says if he births daughter he is here with ill intent, and after swapping items Susano-o is shown to have three daughters.

Another, says if he produces sons then he has no ill intent. In this version again, they use their own items. Amaterasu uses her sword and Susano-o his jewels. This version includes new sons and he does not chews and spit out the jewels. He places them on parts of his body. The left hand produces Amenooshihomimi, and right hand Amenohohi. His left forearm makes Amatsuhikone and his right Ikutsuhikone. From his right leg comes Kumanokusubi and from his left foot comes Hinohayahi.1

Susano-o’s final act whilst running amok in Heaven (in the Kojiki) was to drop a pie-bald colt which had been skinned backwards from its tail into the sacred weaving hall where Amaterasu and Amenohatorime were. The colt causes Amenohatorime to be startled and so she accidently kills herself by slamming her weaving shuttle into her privates. Amaterasu frightened by all this flee into the Sacred Rock cave and so night falls eternally.2 In the main text of the Nihongi, Amenohatorihime is not mentioned and Amaterasu injures herself in fear before fleeing to the rock cave.1

Addtionally, there is a version where the kami Wakahirume is the one to be startled in the Weaving Hall, dying from her injuries.1

Additionally one mentions that Susano-o repeatedly destroys her fields, but she decides to forgive him. In the end he defecates under her chair which repulses her and so flees into the cave. Another version mentioned again how he ruins her fields, jealous as they are so fertile when his are not, she forgives him for a while but ultimately she has enough and goes into the Rock Cave.1

Inside the Rock Cave

Amaterasu leaving the Rock Cave. (Shunsai Toshimasa)

All the kami of Heaven then are said to have gathered on the banks of the river Amenoyasunokawa while they decided what should be done to get Amaterasu to leave the cave.12 The Kojiki states it was left to Omoikane to decide what must be done.2

To bring her out, cockerals are gathered from the mythical land of Tokoyo. Stone is taken from the Amenoyasunokawa and iron from Heaven’s mountains. The kami Amatsumara is brought, Ishikoridome fashions a mirror and Tamanooya makes a necklace of magatama. Ameno Koyane and Ameno Futodama then conduct divination before they take a tree from Mount Kagu placing the mirror and magatama jewels upon it. The Spirir Amenotajikarao then places himself just outside of the rock cave. Ameno Uzume the performs a lewd dance making everyone laugh, and so Amaterasu peers out of the cave wondering how people can be happy in her absence.12

In the Kojiki, Ameno Futodama and Ameno Koyane place a mirror before her face, saying they are happy as there is someone here more beautiful than she. And so she steps a little more out of the cave.2

Once she is partially out, Amenotajikarao grabs her and pulls her from the cave bringing sunlight back into the world. Futodama and Koyane then take a sacred boundry rope and stretch it behind Amaterasu barring her from returning into the cave.12

Alternative writings again of the Nihongi give other accounts. The version where Wakahirume dies states that Ishikoridome was appointed as artisan to get her out, and so she makes a Sun-Spear from copper and Heavenly Bellows from a Stag Hide from Mount Kagu. The defecation version states, Amenonukado makes the mirrors, Ameno Futodama gives offerings, Toyomata the jewels, Yamatsuchi collects Sasaki Tree’s, Nozuchi collects Suzuki Grass, and once Amaterasu comes out of the cave Ameno Koyane recites a liturgy.

The version where he is jealous of his sisters fields tells how Ameno Koyane gives a liturgy and then set up a tree to hangs mirrors made by Onokoridome and Jewels made by Amenoakarudama. Tree fibre is gathered by Hiwashi. Ameno Futodama then recites a liturgy and when she looks out the cave Amenotajikarao brings her out. Following on from this version, Susano-o then wished to see his sister one last time before going to Yomi, upon returning to Heaven Ameno Uzume warns her of his coming and so Amaterasu dresses in warrior garb. It is here then that the kami Amenooshihomimi, Amenohohi, Amatsuhikone, Ikutsuhikone and Kumanokusubi are created by Susano-o. instead of earlier in the narrative.1

Once she leaves the rock cave her brother is expelled from Heaven. However, in one alternative version of the Nihongi he returns one final time to give his sister the sword Kusanagi after finding it in the tail of Yamata no Orochi.1

Ninigi and Emperor Jimmu

Later in her life, Amaterasu to ensure her son Ninigi could descend to Earth to rule, asked Ōkuninushi to temporarily give authority of the Earth to Ninigi, in return for Onanomochi having confirmation of his own primacy in divine matters. Upon his descent to Earth, she gave to him the Sacred Mirror.3

During the time of Emperor Jimmu, Amaterasu came to him in a dream after he and his men came to an impasse while trying to subdue the Yamato region. In the dream, she stated she would send the Yatagarasu (Sun Crow) to lead him through the impasse. Soon the crow appeared and showed his army and him the way.4

Reign of Emperor Sujin

During the reign of Emperor Sujin he requested punishment from the kami for the plague spreading through Japan. Fearing the power of Amaterasu and Ōkuninushi he also seperates their worship with Amaterasu worshipped in Kasanui in Yamato and Ohokunidama was entrusted into the care of Nunakinobime.

Later in his reign, Amaterasu instructed Toyosukiiribime to journey the provinces with the Sacred Sword and Mirror.1

Reign of Emperor Suinin

The care of Amaterasu is passed from Toyosukiiribime to Yamatohime. She goes searching for a place to enshrine Amaterasu travelling through Sasahata in Uda, then Mino and finally reaches Ise.1

The Jinnō Shōtōki says she toured the provinces at Amaterasu’s command, further saying she chose the headwaters of the Isuzu River in the Watarai District of Ise in the 26th year, 10th month of Suinin’s reign.6

Here the kami communes with Yamatohime saying she wishes to dwell in Ise and so a shrine was built. When the shrine was first built Amaterasu made a descent from Heaven.1 And so following this the Emperor takes the Sacred Regalia and houses them in the Naiku Shrine here.7

The Jinnō Shōtōki says that she placed the Sword and Mirror into the shrine herself.6

Sagoromo Monogatari

Amaterasu finds herself mentioned in the Sagoromo Monogatari. In this tale, dating to the Heian Period, it is said that she causes the main character of the tale Sagoromo to become the Emperor after she gives an oracular decree.5


1. Aston. W.G. (1896) “Nihongi Volume 1: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to AD697”. Tuttle Publishing.
2. Yasumaro. O, translated by Gustav Heldt. (2014) “Kojiki. An Account of Ancient Matters”. New York: Columbia University Press.
3. Martin, P. (1997) ”The Chrysanthemum Throne”. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited.
4. Kidder, J. (1964) “Early Japanese Art” London: Thames & Hudson.
5. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
6. Varley, H.P (1980) “A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns: Jinnō Shōtōki of Kitabatake Chikafusa.” New York: Columbia University Press.
7. Ponsonby, F. (1959) “The Imperial House of Japan.” Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society.

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