Yamata no Orochi

Hear about Yamato no Orochi on Episode 44 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Yamata no Orochi

Yamata no Orochi
Yamata no Orochi by Utagawa Kuniteru.

Yamata no Orochi (ヤマタノオロチ, also 八岐大蛇 , 八俣遠呂智 or 八俣遠呂知, 大蛇) was a giant serpentine Dragon mentioned in the Shinto Mythologies in association with Susano-o. The Dragon and Susano-o can be found in old texts such as the Kojiki and Nihongi.12

The appaearance of the Dragon in the Nihongi states that it had an eight forked head and tail, red eyes, and upon its back grew firs and cyprus trees. The body was so long it filled eight valleys and covered eight hills.1 The Kojiki states the beast came from Koshi Province and had eyes like red cherries, eight heads and tails, with a body the length of eight hills and valleys; covered with cypress trees. Additionally it says that blood oozed out its stomach constantly.2

Susano-o after being banished from Heaven eventually finds his way to the grieving parents of Kushinadahime. They mourn as every year the Dragon Yamata no Orochi comes to take one of their children to eat them. Susano-o offers to help free them from this torment, by getting Kushinadahime’s parents (Tenadzuchi and Ashinadzuchi) to brew eight barrels of sake for the Dragon. After it arrives and drink the sake it falls asleep and Susano-o uses this opportunity to kill the Dragon. Upon cutting up the beast his sword becomes stuck in its tail, and so opening up the tail to see why this happened he comes across the sword Kusanagi. This sword eventually makes it way up to Heaven.12 The Kojiki relates that as the beast is killed the River Hi (Idzumo Province) filled with blood.2

One alternative version of the Nihongi state Susano-o feeds the Dragon the sake himself as he calls the Dragon an awful Deity and so must be served. Other versions give different names to the blade Susano-o used to fell the beast. These being Ama no HayekiriOrochi no Aramasa and Orochi no Karasabi.1

This tale of felling the Dragon is later told to Amaterasu when Susano-o goes to Heaven to give her the sword Kusanagi. (This is in an alternative version of the Nihongi). And there is also a version where Susano-o instructs his decendant Amenonofuyukinu to take the sword up to Heaven in his stead.1

Yamata no Orochi
Yamata no Orochi by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.
Yamata no Orochi
Yamata no Orochi by Toyohara Chikanobu.

Footnotes

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.

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