Susano-o

Hear about Susano-o on Episode 21 and 44 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Susano-o
Susano-o fighting the Dragon Yamata no Orochi.

Susano-o

Susano-o (須佐之男), also called Hayasusano-o2, is known to be the father of Ōkuninushi and brother to the Sun Amaterasu and Moon Tsukiyomi. He rules over Yomi (the Underworld) and is said to be the Spirits of storms.12

Birth

According to the narrative of the Kojiki and Nihongi they state Susano-o was born from the nose of his father Izanagi after washing it in the Tachibana River. This is due to the fact Izanagi is trying to rid cleanse himself of the evils and filth from Yomi.12

However, alternate versions of the Nihongi give differing origins to this Spirit. In one version it states he is the third child born of both Izanagi and Izanami, with another stating he was born whilst Izanagi was holding two copper mirrors and happened to look ‘askance.’2

After his birth he is tasked to rule over the earth in the Nihongi2, but the oceans in the Kojiki1 and one alternative version of the Nihongi.2

Condemnation

Both the Kojiki and Nihongi agree that after his birth he was prone to burst of anger and rage, causing the world around him to wither and die and so he is eventually condemned to Yomi.12

It is interesting to note that in some versions of the Nihongi, where he is born solely from Izanagi and asked why he is so full of anger and rage; it is because he wishes to join his mother (Izanami) in Yomi. It is interesting due to the fact that, at least according to the text, he only has a father and no mother.2

Rock Cave and Exile

Amaterasu
Amaterasu leaving the Rock Cave. (Shunsai Toshimasa)

Before leaving for Yomi he wished to speak to his sister one last time and so ascends to Heaven. He says 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 Spirits, 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.1 The main text of the Nihongi differs where it says should he have daughters then he has ill intent.2

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, Susano-o doesn’t chew the sword of her sister, but instead chews his own jewels creating the five sons. (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 deity 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.

A third and final version, 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
Susano-o throwing the colt. (Shonen Nihon Rekishi Tokuhon, vol. 2)

His 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.1 In the main text of the Nihongi, Amenohatorihime is not mentioned and Amaterasu injures herself in fear before fleeing to the rock cave.2

When he sister is finally coaxed out of the Sacred Rock cave a large fine of 1000 tables of food offerings is placed upon him and he is then exiled from Heaven.12 In the Nihongi it states he also had his hair pulled out with an alternate version of the Nihongi adding that his toenails were pulled out.2 With the Kokiji stating his beard, fingernails and toenails were cut off.1

As he now need to give up offering of food, he beseeches Ōgetsuhime for her help. She does so by providing food from her various orifices, and Susano-o considering this food digusting and defiled kills Ogetsuhime before leaving Heaven.1 This tale is told differently in the Nihongi and relates to the deities Tsukiyomi and Ukemochi.

There are further alternative versions of the tale in the Nihongi which go as follows. In one he startles Wakahirume with the colt causing her death, making Amaterasu flee into the Rock Cave. Another says he kept destroying his sisters field, but she continued to forgive him. Eventually he defecated under her chair causing her to be outraged and so she entered into the Rock Cave. After her return in this verison Susano-o is fined and gives soft white offerings from his spit, and soft blue offerings from his mucus.

A finaly version states he was jealous of his sisters fields as his were barren and so kept destroying them, at first she forgave him but eventually had had enough of this and entered the Rock Cave. After being coaxed out he was sent into exile causing much rain as he left. However, he wanted to see his sister one last time, and so returning to Heaven, his sister was warned of his arrival by Ameno Uzume and so the Sun Godess dressed in warrior garb. It is here in the narrative that the Spirits Amenooshihomimi, Amenohohi, Amatsuhikone, Ikutsuhikone and Kumanokusubi are born from Susano-o instead of earlier in the main text of the narritive. After this he departs heaven.2

Yamata no Orochi

Susano-o
Susano-o with Kushinadahime and her parents. (Toyohara Chikanobu)

After his exile and departure he would eventually discover the sword Kusanagi inside the Dragon Yamata no Orochi.3

This part of his tale, varies wildly between the Kojiki and Nihongi, and inside of the Nihongi there are many alternative version for this part of his story.

One version of the Nihongi states he heads to the source of the River Hi in Idzumo Province, there he hears weeping and goes to find the source of it. Eventually he comes across Ashinadzuchi, Tenadzuchi and their daughter Kushinadahime. He discovers they cry as every year the dragon Yamato no Orochi comes to eat one of their children. Susano-o says he can save their daughter if they can be wed and so the father agrees. He turns Kushinadahime into a comb which he places in his hair before asking her parents to brew eight barrels of sake. When the eight-headed dragon appears it drinks up all the sake and falls asleep, Susano-o then using this opportunity to cut up the beast.

His sword gets stuck in its tail, and so opening it up he finds the sword Kusanagi inside. After deciding to give the sword to Heaven as a gift he goes with his wife to a place they name Suga, meaning refreshed as that was how they felt when they arrived. Here they marry and have a son called Ōkuninushi, and after wards he makes Ashinadzuchi and Tenadzuchi, Inada no Miyanushi (Shrine/Palace masters), before descending to Yomi.2

One alternative writing states he composed a poem here2, this is also included in the Kojiki.1

NihongiNihongiKojiki
Many clouds arise
On all sides a manifold fence
To recieve within the spouses
They form a manifold fence
Ah! The manifold fence.
Ya-kumo tatsu
Idzumo yahegaki
Tsumagome ni
Yahegaki tsukuru
Sono yahegaki wo
Eighfold are the clouds that rise
in Billowing Clouds where eightfold fences
to surround and shelter my wife
are eightfold fences made by me
Ah, those eightfold fences!

Another version omits all of the above, saying he went to the River Hi where he finds Inadahime, a daughter of Susa-no-yatsu-mimi (Title for Tenadzuchi?). Together they had a child by the name of Suga-no-yu-yama-nushi Mitsu-na-saro-hiko-yamaa-shino.2

The next version returns to Yamato no Orochi. Susano-o comes to the River Ye, in Aki Province. Here he meet Ashi-nadzu-te-nadzu and his wife Inada no Miya-nushi Susa no yatsu-mimi. They are both filled with sorrow as the Spirit is pregnant and soon Yamato no Orochi will come for it. Susano-o makes them brew sake, which again the dragon drinks and then falls asleep after Susano-o calls the dragon an awful deity and offers to serve him. When he cuts up the Dragon the sword in this version is given a name, Orochi no Aramasa. When he cuts the Dragons tail, he finds inside of it Kusanagi.2

Another version states he wanted to marry Kushinadahime, but could only do so if he slew the dragon. In this version, the sword he uses to kill Yamato no Orochi is called Orochi no Karasabi, and again he finds Kusanagi in the dragons tail. After this, it is said the sword Orochi no Karasabi is given into the care of the Kambe of Kibi Province.2

Susano-o
Susano-o killing the Dragon. (Utagawa Kuniteru)

Moving to the next version, it says that after his exile he ventures to Silla with his son Isotakeru. Annd here they settle in Soshimori. Susano-o does not like it here and so fashions a boat of clay to sail eastwards to Mount Torikamu no Take, located upstream on the River Hi. He then learn of the Dragon and fells it with the sword known as Ama no Hayekiri. Again he finds the sword Kusanagi in the creatures tail and asks his 5th generational descendant Ama no Fukine to give this item to Heaven.2

The final version told in the Nihongi states that at this time Susano-o knew the land of Han to be full of riches, and wanting the same for Japan his plucked hairs from all over his body to turn them into a myraid of tree so the people may have wood. His three children, here called Isotakeru, Ōyatsuhime and Tsumatsuhime dispersed the seeds of the trees and then went to dwell in Kii. Susano-o then goes to dwell upon the summit of Mount Kumanari (likely Mount Kumano in Izumo), and eventually he went to dwell in the Nether World.2

Turning now to the story as it relates in the Kojiki, it says Susano-o went to Torikami, located in the upper sections of the River Hi. Here he sees a chopstick floating down river and so decides to investigate. He finds a weeping elderly couple with Kushinadahime between them. When asking why they cry, he is told how the dragon comes every year for one of their children, and this girl is the only one they have left. He asks that Kushinadahime be given over to him, and then asks the mother and father to brew sake.

He turns Kushinadahime in a comb which he places in his hair and once the dragon is drunk from the sake he cuts it up with the River Hi filling with blood. After finding the sword Kusanagi in the creatures tail, he takes it to his sister personally and tells he the story of the Dragon. After this Susano-o and Kushinadahime marry and the poem, mentioned above, is recited.

To finish it off, he makes Tenadzuchi the Head of his mighty halls, giving him the titles Master of the Halls of Inada, and Master of Suga. Together Susano-o and Kushinadahime then have the Spirit Yashimajinumi. Shortly after Susano-o then takes another wife known as Kamu Ōichihime and together then have the children Ōtoshi and Ukanomitama.1

Yōkai connections

Susano-o is also cited as the father of the yōkai Amanozako, who he birthed from his chest after it filled with rage and he expelled it.4

Footnotes

1. Yasumaro. O, translated by Gustav Heldt. (2014) “Kojiki. An Account of Ancient Matters”. New York: Columbia University Press.
2. Aston. W.G. (1896) “Nihongi Volume 1: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to AD697”. Tuttle Publishing.
3. Littleton. C.S. (1995) “Yamato-takeru: An Arthurian Hero in Japanese Tradition”. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 54, No.2, pp.259-274.
4. Yoda, H. and Alt, M. (2016) “Japandemonium: Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopaedia of Toriyama Sekien.”. New York: over Publications, Inc.

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