The way the word goddess is used in the modern world makes me smile. In cultures where religion is still very prevalent in people’s daily lives, the word has kept its original, sacred meaning, whereas, in some societies, the term ‘goddess’ has become a symbol for female beauty, desirability and love which men use to express their supreme affection for a woman.
I am Izanami-no-Mikoto, and I am a Goddess. The Goddess who gave birth to all the elements of Nature and to a nation. My nation, which, for centuries, either in peace or in war, has been perpetuating the legacy that my husband Izanagi-no-Mikoto and I left behind. This legacy was entrusted to us by our heavenly ancestors and superiors, in the ages that transcend the sphere of history.
I studied myself once more in the full-length polished iron mirror. The white robe decorated with a picture of two cranes was well suited for the occasion. After all, cranes symbolise happiness. The multicoloured pebble necklace gifted by my husband-to-be placed around my neck enhanced my exquisite outfit. I had tied up my hair into a bun at the nape of my neck and used a twig to hold it in place. I was ready for my wedding ceremony.
With the physique of a warrior, clearly visible even under an oversized garment, and holding in his hand the celestial spear, Izanagi’s appearance was astonishing. He was much taller than I was, and had a demeanour that made me feel always protected in his presence. Conversely, he could also make anyone who witnessed his anger tremble with fear. Like our male ancestors, he wore a well-trimmed moustache and beard. His divine aura combined authority and fairness. Around his neck he wore the family regalia, the eight-foot long necklace made of 500 comma-shaped stone beads, called Yasakani-no-Magatama.
Together, I dare say, we formed a handsome couple.
‘Izanami, my Goddess, you look amazing!’ said Izanagi when he first set eyes on me on our wedding day. He touched my cheek with the back of his hand saying, ‘Your skin is very smooth and beautiful.’ I was thrilled!
Fresh wild flowers from the mountains and colourful seashells collected from the beaches decorated our large, high-ceilinged room. Scented incense sticks burned at the four corners of the room, encouraging any creature blessed with the flair of smelling their aroma to partake in our special occasion. We completed the wedding ritual by walking around the Ame-no-Mihashira, the Pillar of Heaven, in opposite directions. When we joined again, our gazes met.
‘I’m happy and honoured to become your wife’, I said.
‘I, too, am honoured to have such a superb bride’, replied Izanagi beckoning me to come closer. I obliged. Izanagi brushed a strand of hair that had become loose from my face, and bending slightly, he pulled me closer to him and kissed me – his new wife.
It all started a long time ago. ‘Izanagi, Izanami, you’re the seventh and last generation of gods of Takama-no-Hara. The Heavenly Council, who are responsible for the creation of the new world – Ashihara-no-Nakatsukuni – have chosen you to start a new dynasty in the land you’ll be creating.’
It was a sudden behest. I felt I wasn’t ready to take on such a responsibility; nor did I know what my role as a wife and partner would be; but first and foremost, the prospect of becoming a mother daunted me.
‘To assist you on this mission, the sacred spear – Ame-no-Nuboko – will be bestowed upon you,’ said the council; and without being given a moment to prepare for our journey, we were dispatched. There was no opportunity for questioning, protesting, or debating what was ahead of us.
‘What can you see, Izanami?’ asked Izanagi as we stood upon Ame-no-Uki-Hashi, the bridge that connected the Heaven to the emptiness of the universe.
‘I see nothing. There’s just a vacuum, and water meandering under the bridge’.
‘Let’s use the lance to test the water.’
Ame-no-Nuboko stirred the water. Abruptly, an enormous quantity of proto-energy was unleashed from its blade. The blast pierced the crust of the seabed, making it rupture. Shielding our eyes from the blaze of light we watched, overwhelmed with curiosity. At once, red-hot proto-matter erupted from the chasm, forming an undersea ridge. The fountain of matter streamed out without cease, building up layer upon layer of matter. Then the ridge broke the surface of the sea and created a small island.
Izanagi and I ran excitedly along the remaining length of the bridge and stepped onto the newly formed island.
‘This is a wonderful piece of solid ground!’ said joyful Izanagi, stamping his feet to test it. ‘We can make it our home.’
‘Yes! This will be our new home,’ I shouted, and opening out my arms I blessed the island: ‘We’ll call it Onogoro Jima, in recognition of its self-condensed beginning.’ I turned to Izanagi in search of his approval. He smiled, indicating that he was happy with my choice. Izanagi delved into his pocket and took out a handful of grain resembling seeds and scattered them over the ground. Almost immediately they developed roots, stems and leaves. Within minutes, an entire forest of mature cypress trees had been formed.
‘This wood should be enough for us to build our new home,’ said Izanagi, ‘and we will model it on the dwellings built by our ancestors in Heaven.’
‘Agreed. Let’s make it simple but versatile. So, off to work!’
The first trees were cut into columns to demarcate seven bays on each side of a square building. Flat wooden planks were fitted between the bays as outer walls. The lintels placed on the top of the pillars supported a smoothly curved roof. The roof constituted about half the area of the entire palace. It was grand and imposing. Its slightly curved eaves extended far beyond the external walls, providing verandas on the four sides of the building. Next, we sliced planks thinly to fashion panels for internal walls and sliding doors.
‘Could you help me to raise the Ame-no-Mihashira in the central room?’ asked Izanagi. I rushed over to help. This pillar, which would serve us as a ladder to climb to Heaven if we needed to, was the last piece of the building.
‘I think we’ve finished. The palace is complete!’ said Izanagi.
Like a child, I leaped up and down with joy. Then I took some steps back to admire the front of the splendid building and Izanagi followed me. He extended his arms sideways and measured the extent of its walls. Each external wall measured eight hiro (approximately 14.5 metres).
‘Shall we call it Yahirodono Palace?’ he suggested.
‘Yes! Yahirodono is a perfect name.’ Standing next to me, Izanagi pulled my shoulder with his hand to bring me closer to him and kissed the top of my head. I felt a bit shy but liked his gesture and reciprocated by squeezing his hand.
I had not counted on doing so much physical work. The demands of this new life were much more arduous than those of my cocooned life in Heaven. Yet the feeling that I was building something from nothing and the reward for accomplishing it was deeply fulfilling. Moreover, I was not doing it by myself. The fact that Izanagi was there with me made me feel resourceful and mitigated my initial concerns.
Izanagi and I had been brought up together. I knew he was a boy and I was a girl, but in my guileless mind the concept of male and female had never formed, nor I had seen the need to understand the distinct roles we would be playing as adults, until we were sent to Ashihara. My admiration for Izanagi grew every day we worked and spent time together. His mind and soul were deeply engaged in our new venture. He toiled relentlessly, never complaining. He displayed the confidence of someone who had travelled down this path many times before, which I knew he had not.
‘Izanami, my Goddess, brace yourself, because tomorrow we’ll start the first phase of our undertaking – the Kuniumi – the Creation of the Land! The sacred spear will help us to accomplish it,’ he said to me with excitement before we went to rest.
‘Yes, I’m ready,’ I answered with confidence, though I was not sure of what was to come.
Standing on the south edge of Onogoro Jima, Izanagi roused the water beneath with the spear. Four small islets formed, with several mounts atop their ground. We hurried to name them: Iyo, Sanuki, Awa and Tosa; but we realised that the seabed was still moving. The islets then joined, resulting in a single landmass with a mountain chain running along the south coast. We kept the name Iyo for the merged island.
‘It isn’t perfect, but it’s given us an opportunity to learn how to do it,’ I said, testing the solidity of the land.
Examining the celestial spear, Izanagi agreed, nodding. ‘This is a very powerful tool!’ Measuring two metres long, Ame-no-Nuboko the Jewelled Spear of Heaven had a sharp blade that made up one third of its total length. Attached near the joint between the long handle and the blade was a string that held together a row of precious stones where condensed proto-energy was stored. When the blade came into contact with water, it discharged the condensed power.
At a reasonable distance to the north of Onogoro Jima, we next created a round islet. A volcano emerged in the middle of the island and erupted, spitting out a vast quantity of hot lava. On contact with the water, the lava cooled and condensed, branching into three small islets, which we named Ama, Mukafu and Chiburi.
Tsukushi, an island that was almost double the size of Iyo and was elongated vertically, was created next. Its irregular shape originated in several bays, promontories, capes and peninsulas. Then two of the promontories formed a prong out from the main body, forming the islets of Iki and Tsu.
The biggest challenge was still to come – the Island of Yamato. Just as we did with the Island of Iyo, we created small islands first, which then coalesced to form a solid expanse of land. It extended in the shape of a waxing crescent-moon from south-west to north-east. At its south-western extremity it almost joined Tsukushi, while three quarters of its entire body stretched north-east from Onogoro Jima. A small piece of land became detached from Yamato and a small atoll in the shape of an irregular anvil formed just off its north-west coast. We named it Sado Island.
‘I think that for the time being we’ve enough land,’ said Izanagi.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean that we’ll be able to create more later. For now, we should start cultivating the vegetation by planting the seed,’ explained Izanagi, pointing to the bag we had brought from Heaven. ‘We’ve to make sure that each of these islands receives its fair share.’
I went to examine the bag. Inside there were several kinds of trees and plant seed. ‘Yes, you’re right. All the mountains, plains and rivers have to be pollinated.’ On the following days, we travelled extensively from island to island, fertilising every piece of virgin land and stream-bank.
While we were creating Yamato, we miscalculated the amount of energy that was released from the spear, causing an outbreak of energy in the ground. As a result, this formed a volcano laden with magma. The volcano erupted four times during the process of creation. But remarkably, after every upsurge, the mountain acquired a more symmetrical shape, sculpting its peak into an almost perfect conical silhouette.
During our rest breaks, Izanagi gazed up at it and remarked: ‘Though its roars and scorching lava were frightening every time it erupted, in the end the mountain has become a figure of grandeur and beauty.’
‘Yes, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the highest mountain we have formed so far,’ I stated. Then I extended both hands in its direction and proclaimed: ‘You shall be called Mount Fuji, which means “without equal’’.’
Izanagi laughed, nodding in approval.
Many more days of work ensued and at long last we had finished creating the main archipelago – Ō-Ya-Shima-Kuni – the Land of the Eight Great Islands.
We looked at our work with pleasure. ‘I was thinking of marking this moment and rewarding ourselves by enlarging Onogoro Jima,’ suggested Izanagi.
‘I agree! but I’ll be the one to choose its new name,’ I joked, and turned my head sideways to think of a good one. Izanagi laughed again, showing that he didn’t object. Wasting no time, he picked up the celestial spear and extended Onogoro Jima to the north, expanding its size almost fivefold. This time some froth formed unexpectedly on the surface of the water.
‘Awaji Shima!’ I exclaimed. ‘This will be the new name of our home island because of the foam it created!’
Touched by my childish ways, Izanagi chuckled. He then pulled me closer to him. ‘Izanami, my Goddess, I’m sure we’re going to be very happy here,’ he said, sealing the matter with a loving kiss. I was getting more and more comfortable with the intimacy growing between us. I returned his kiss, looking into Izanagi’s eyes. It was the first time I noticed male desire in them. This made my heart beat faster and my hands grow sweaty.
The coastline of Awaji Shima was breathtakingly beautiful. Hand in hand, we explored the island and on the west coast we came across the Goshiki Hama beach, so named because of its coloured pebbles, which gleamed like jewels. Izanagi collected pink, amber, blue, green and white stones and threaded them on a strand of dry seaweed. He then presented it to me, attaching it around my neck.
‘Thank you,’ I said, moved by his little gift and giving my handsome suitor a kiss.
A couple of days later we were having a break from working on the west coast of Tsukushi. Glancing up, we saw two wagtails flying in our direction.
‘What’s that?!’ asked Izanagi, ducking to avoid their path.
‘They’re birds! That’s amazing. These are the first living creatures I have seen in these islands. They’re very small but chirp quite loudly.’
We watched the little black and grey birds that seemed to be having fun playing a game of hide-and-seek. Eventually, they perched over a large rock, but they still seemed to be playing. As we got closer, we noticed that they were mating. At that moment of realisation my cheeks flushed, and Izanagi looked away. Feeling embarrassed, we went back to work and remained silent until we had finished our work for the day.
After returning to the palace later that day, Izanagi took me in his arms.
‘I think we must now implement the second phase of our project,’ he said, gazing intensely into my startled eyes. Before I had the chance to utter a word, my lips were sucked by Izanagi’s hungry kiss. He bent back my head and pulled my body closer to his. His lips scooped mine harder and harder, his tongue moving in and out, exploring insatiably every corner of my secret intimacy. I groaned. It was getting more difficult to breathe. My entire body shivered. Izanagi gazed at me again. This time I saw in his narrowed eyes the fire of desire. It made me tremble. Izanagi’s yearning, made conspicuous by his deep breathing, exposed his stupor of despair, asking me to have his needs looked after. I fully acquiesced, letting the invader of my feelings and body sow his seed inside me. In that intimate moment of time, we, the creators of the new world, started our life of physical partnership. By fulfilling our desires, we thus started the procreation of a long line of hereditary rulers.
Many years later, one of our sons told me about the father-and-son discussions he had had with Izanagi: ‘Growing up with Izanami in Heaven was fun, although our upbringing was very strict. She was a very innocent little girl who was an easy target for my tricks. But I liked her because she always stood her ground and she had a kind heart. When we were told about our mission on Earth, I was young and felt frightened. I suppose Izanami felt the same, but as always, she put on a brave face, which emboldened me to face our new life positively as well. Our creation work was very demanding, physically and mentally, but I was always impressed by the way Izanami handled it. She never whined and always gave me the support I needed. That little girl flourished and became a woman in front of my eyes. By then I was completely in love with her and the undertaking we had been set seemed no longer a mission; in my heart it had become a labour of love: the exertion needed to build together with my beloved partner a contented home and family. I knew she had become the partner I could never live without.’
‘I’d like to celebrate our union with a simple ceremony,’ I suggested, still lying in bed with Izanagi.
‘We’ll emulate the rituals of our ancestors and ask them to bless our union.
‘Nothing would please me more, my Goddess. Let me know what we should do, and I’ll help you with the preparations,’ said Izanagi, placing a kiss on my forehead. A few days later we were ready for the wedding ceremony. It was simple; no guests for either of us. Nevertheless, our happiness was felt at the eight corners of the archipelago.
‘I’ve prepared a meal for us. Shall we sit on the veranda to enjoy it?’ I said, after the ritual was over. I went to the kitchen to bring the food. Izanagi followed me to help.
As husband and wife, we enjoyed the celebratory food contemplating the picturesque garden at the palace entrance – the latest addition to our home. A large pond with multicoloured koi fish and exotic aquatic plants was the main feature of the garden. A thin layer of green moss blanketed the ground surrounding the pond. A small spit measuring one ken indented the water, providing a platform to watch the fish and plants. Behind the lagoon was a small wood, planted with bamboo, cherry trees and maples. We had also created a small rice paddy on a terraced hill not far from our home. A breeze from the south carried with it the salty smell of the calm waters of the sea to complement the view and that happy moment.
‘Izanami, my Goddess, we still have many challenges ahead of us, but the fact that we’re doing it together makes me able to face them and gives me immense joy.’
‘My dear husband, I don’t have the words to express my happiness. But rest assured that I’ll be always by your side.’
Our lovemaking that night filled the palace with the scent of passion.
We set adrift a bamboo boat in the sea. My head lay on Izanagi’s chest, and he hugged me protectively.
‘I know it’s hard, Izanami, but please don’t be so dispirited,’ said Izanagi to comfort me. I cried and cried. We watched the ebbing tide take the little boat away. Inside was our dead baby. The little boy had been born without bones and did not survive his second day. Since Izanagi and I had started our mission, there had been many firsts; however, this one had been the worst experience so far. Nothing had prepared me for it, and nothing would ever compensate me for the loss, but I knew I had to let him go.
Once we had returned home, we climbed the Ame-no-Mihashira and requested an audience with our ancestors.
‘Honourable ancestors,’ said Izanagi humbly. ‘We are here to report the death of our first child, who was born with a condition that shortened his life significantly.’
I was still sobbing but managed to gather enough composure to speak. ‘Honourable ancestors, in our naivety and inexperience, we believe we have done nothing wrong to deserve such misfortune. But I beg your wisdom and fairness to guide us to correct our actions.’
‘Izanami, you broke the protocol’, said a voice. ‘After circling the Pillar of Heaven during your wedding ceremony, you shouldn’t have addressed your husband before he addressed you.’
Izanagi and I were startled. But I accepted the fact that there were rules in the universe, and fettered traditions were part of it.
Back at Yahirodono, we conducted the rite again. We went around the pillar in opposite directions, but this time when we met, Izanagi greeted me first.
‘My beloved wife, I’m humbled by your kindness.’
‘My brave husband, I conjure our forebears to bless our love.’
Thus, we hoped that henceforth our union would bear fruit and we would be able to commence our own dynasty and the second phase of our undertaking: the Kamiumi – the Birth of the Gods.
Not long had passed before we bore our second child: the Deity of Wind (Shinatsuhiko-no-Mikoto), followed by the Deity of Agriculture (Inari-no-Mikoto). After that, further children were born. They were the deities of the Oceans (Ōwatatsumi-no-Mikoto), Mountains (Ōyamatsumi-no-Mikoto), Fields (Kayanohime-no-Mikoto), Forests (Kukunochi-no-Mikoto) and Meadows (Nozuchi-no-Mikoto). Each of our offspring was bequeathed a particular realm to rule. Each was to propagate and govern their dominion responsibly.
‘I feel very fulfilled by the blessing of begetting healthy children. However, soon Heaven is going to separate itself from Earth and we’ll be deprived of light,’ Izanagi said to me with concern.
‘I understand your worries, my dear husband; however, the child I’m expecting will be the Sun Goddess. She’ll come to provide light and energy to support life on Earth,’ I reassured my husband.
As I had predicted, Amaterasu-Ō-Mikami – the Sun Goddess – was born next.
‘My celestial child, your mother and I rejoice at your birth. You’re born to cast your glorious rays to light the Earth.’ Izanagi took from his neck the precious necklace Yasakani-no-Magatama and gifted it to Amaterasu as a memento.
‘My beloved daughter, you’ll dwell in Heaven, from where you’ll provide the Earth with energy and life.’ With these words, I accompanied Amaterasu to the Pillar of Heaven, and she ascended to the sky. A little brother for Amaterasu was born soon after: Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto – the Moon God.
‘My Divine Parents, thanks for conferring upon me the duty of governing the sky with my sister, the Sun Goddess. We’ll split this task by creating day and night,’ said Tsukuyomi, before rising to the sky.
‘This one’s a burly boy and he seems to have a volatile temper,’ joked Izanagi, observing the troublesome nature of our next offspring: Susanowo-no-Mikoto – the God of Storms.
‘Yes, he is,’ I agreed, flinching slightly. ‘But I’m sure that he’ll one day make me a proud mother.’
We begot myriads of other deities and created further islands. We toiled unwaveringly but with passion, happiness and commitment. These were aptitudes that a young couple like us needed to transform a void into the dreamland envisioned by our forbearers and by ourselves.
‘Izanami, my Goddess, are you sure you want to do this trip?’ asked Izanagi with concern. ‘You’ve been working so hard and, in your condition, I’d prefer you to rest until the next baby is born.’
‘Dear husband, I appreciate your solicitude, but I don’t believe that hard work has taken a toll only on me. You’ve been working hard as well.’ I held my womb and frowned. It was causing me pain. ‘I believe we both need some respite. That’s why I propose that we tour the lands we have created so far.’
Izanami has always been judicious. However, this time she’s suggesting something unusual. She looks disturbed, but at the same time happy. I cannot read her mind any more, thought Izanagi, studying my expression. Reluctantly, he agreed to my idea.
The tour proved to be a voyage of discovery for us. What we saw was nature flaunting its riches. Sky-touching mountains with peaks covered with dove-white snow sat in solid chains, demonstrating their natural authority. Clear water ran down in streams to form mighty rivers. The water flowed through fertile valleys, evergreen meadows and deciduous forests, helping all sorts of life to perpetuate their journeys. Winds blew from north to south, east to west, awakening slumbering seas, while permeating with their breath the flora’s seeds. Ocean waters infused with salt flanked the shores, their waves dancing under a sun-blanketed sky that provided life, energy and strength to all elements of Nature that lived and co-existed in this ecosystem.
‘I’m very proud of the world we’ve created together, my dear husband,’ I said standing on the boat, trying to sound happy.
‘I’m very proud too, Izanami.’ Izanagi stood behind me, embracing my shoulders.
I stared into the distance caressing my large womb, knowing what awaited me. I wanted to cry but suppressed my tears. I was indeed very gratified by the world we had created together. What I had learned about myself along these years was that when I was faced with challenges, I confronted them with a strength I did not know I had and managed to pull through. I was now faced with another crucial decision. But life is all about choices; and I had already made mine. The Earth needed fire.