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41. de Veer, Henrietta
Myth Sequences from the Kojiki
A Structural Study
Henrietta DE VEER
Aim. Studies of Japanese myths can be, and have been, carried
on from various perspectives. One thinks, for example, of the
political interpretation of Matsumoto (1 928), the intellectualist
orientation of Jean Herbert (1967), the naturalist viewpoint of
Holtom (1938), and what may be called the proto-structuralist
representation of Yoshida (196 1, 1962, 1963). Common to all
is a desire to explain a story in broad terms. Equally common
is an inability to account for most of the concrete features of a
given myth sequence. Toillustrate, when Susa-no-wo and Ama-
terasu swear their oath and procreate, they do so facing each
other across a river rather than in some other relational position.
Why is this detail included? A myth may be more than the
sum of such details, yet it is evident that to change the details
would be to change the myth. By the same token, it is plausible
to assume that understanding the details in their systematic in-
terrelations is essential to understanding a myth.
The aim of this study, accordingly, is to elucidate systemati-
cally the meaning of various details and images in Japanese
myths. I hope to be able to show that there exist systematic
relations between specific features in the myths and that certain
features tend to cluster and co-vary in a number of contexts.
This is not to say that a given detail, image, or symbol neces-
sarily means the same thing in every context. Fire, for example,
may mean one thing in one myth but something else in another.
The assumption that the various images stand in a systematic
relation to one another makes it necessary, therefore, to look at
several myths and see how the images vary in relation to one
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 312-3 June-September 1976
Henrietta DE VEER
another. I believe I have found that there is a systematic varying
of images, that the varying is not random or arbitrary.
Ethnographic research on pre-Buddhist Japan is unfortunately
rather limited, so certain questions have to remain unanswered
for the present. Ltvi-Strauss has devoted considerable atten-
tion to the Bororo understanding of thejaguar in connection with
his analysis of the role of the jaguar in Bororo myths (1969, pp.
81-84, 97-98, passim). I, however, will have to leave open the
question why a mouse is used in a particular sequence rather than
some other animal. All I can hope to do is to show that certain
images are used recurrently, that these images are related to other
images throughout the myths, and that these images co-vary in
systematic fashion.
Method. In order to get at the systematic relations of images, it
is important, as indicated above, to begin by looking at several
myths. This procedure enables one to see how the same image
is used in different contexts and with what other images it is as-
sociated. I propose to do this by constructing a series of com-
parative charts that will: (1) point up overall structural similari-
ties between myths, and (2) bring to light the recurrent images
existing throughout the series of myths selected for analysis.
What I have done is to single out six separate action sequences
from the myths found in Book 1 of the Kojiki. These six se-
quences are not exhaustive of Book 1, but the limitation follows
from the assumption that intensive analysis of a few sequences is
likely to be more productive than a superficial treatment of all.
"Action sequence" is here defined as a myth sequence with a
definite beginning and end and in which there is a break in the
action before the next sequence.
Material from the Nihongi plays an important but secondary
role in this study. Itis relegated to a secondary position because
the method employed calls for comparing whole mythic sequences,
not the separate sentences of which they are composed. The
fragmentary nature of the Nihongi sequences requires, given
Japanese Journal of Religious Studzes 312-3 June-September 1976
Myth Sequences from the Kojiki
this method of analysis, that they be considered secondary.
When, however, an image occurs in the Nihongi that is relevant
to the particular images emerging in the course of the investiga-
tion and that is not yet found in the Kojiki, it will be taken up in
the appropriate context.
The IzanagiIIzanami myth sequence and the Opo-kuni-nushi/
Susa-no-wo sequence are the first to be studied. To save space,
the two sequences are presented in summary form.
Mi. The Izanagil Izanami myth
Izanami, burned in giving birth to the fire-deity, dies. The
grief-stricken Izanagi buries her, but wishes for her return.
He goes to Yom'i, the realm of the dead. When Izanami
comes to the door of the hall, he greets her saying that the lands
they were creating are not yet complete, so she must "come
back." Izanami is willing, but doubts that she can do so be-
cause she has eaten at the hearth of Yomi. She says she will
consult the gods of Yomi' and instructs Izanagi to wait where
he is, forbidding him to look at her. But she is absent so long
that the impatient Izanagi, using a tooth of his comb as a torch,
enters the hall. He sees the maggot-ridden Izanami, is struck
with fear, and flees.
Izanami, furious at having been humiliated, dispatches the
hags of Yom'i to pursue him. He distracts them by throwing
down a bit of vine he had used to bind his hair. It immedi-
diately bears grapes they stop to eat. Next he throws down a
comb. It sprouts bamboo shoots they stop to eat.
Izanami then unleashes eight thunder-deities and a horde
of warriors. Izanagi, while fleeing, defends himself with his
sword. At a certain pass, he finds three peaches and with
them attacks and successfully drives off his pursuers.
Izanami herself takes up the chase, but at the pass named
Yomo-tu-pira-saka where the land of Yom'i is connected to the
human world, Izanagi rolls a huge boulder across the path and
prevents further pursuit. With the boulder between them,
they break their troth.
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 312-3 June-September 1976
Henrietta DE VEER
Leaving Izanami, Izanagi senses that he has been polluted
by Yomi and purifies himself in a river. Each item of cloth-
ing he removes gives rise to a deity. Again, each level of
water he bathes in gives rise to a deity. Finally, washing his
left eye leads to the existence of Ama-terasu [the sun deity],
washing his right eye gives rise to Tuku-yomi [the moon deity],
and washing his nose produces Susa-no-wo [a deity associated
with water and storm].
Izanagi rejoices in his abundant progeny and assigns a mis-
sion to the last three. To Ama-terasu is given the mission of
ruling Takama-no-para [the heavenly realm]. ToTuku-yomi
is given the mission of ruling the realm of night. To Susa-no-
wo is given the mission of ruling the ocean (paraphrase of
Philippi 1968, pp. 56-71).
Ma. The Opo-kuni-nushi / Susa-no-wo myth
Opo-kuni-nushi, though the youngest of many brothers (dei-
ties) and servant to them, gains the hand of the princess Ya-
gami. Angered, the eighty brothers plot to kill him. At
the foot of a mountain, they order him to wait and catch a
red boar they say they will drive down the mountain, threaten-
ing him with death if he fails. Then they heat up a boar-
shaped rock and roll it down the hill. Opo-kuni-nushi, on
seizing it, is burned to death.
His mother carries her lament to the heavenly realm, and
two deities are dispatched to restore him to life. Seeing him
restored to health and beauty, the eighty brothers again lead
him into the mountains. This time they open a tree with a
wedge, put him inside, and remove the wedge, thus crushing
him to death.
His weeping mother seeks him out and revives him, advising
to go someplace where the deities will not trouble him. As he
goes, they catch up to him, but while they are stringing their
arrows, he escapes through the fork of a tree.
Advised to obtain counsel from Susa-no-wo, he goes to that
realm. There he and the princess Suseri, Susa-no-wo's daugh-
ter, are attracted to each other and become husband and wife.
She describes him to her father as beautiful, but Susa-no-wo
looks at him and calls him ugly. Susa-no-wo invites Opo-
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Myth Sequences from the Kojiki
kuni-nushi into his house. The first night he causes him to
sleep in a room full of snakes, but Suseri gives him a snake-re-
pelling scarf. The next night Susa-no-wo puts him in a cham-
ber full of centipedes and bees, but again Suseri gives him a
protective scarf. The next day Susa-no-wo shoots an arrow
into a plain, tells Opo-kuni-nushi to fetch it, and sets fire to
the grass on every side. Just when Opo-kuni-nushi is sur-
rounded by flames, a mouse appears and says, "The inside is
hollow-hollow; the outside is narrow-narrow." Hearing this,
Opo-kuni-nushi stamps his feet, falls into a hole that opens
beneath him, and hides there as the fire passes over.
The mouse then presents him with Susa-no-wo's arrow-
minus the feathers, which her children gnawed away. Suseri,
in tears, is preparing for her husband's funeral when Opo-
kuni-nushi appears and returns the arrow to Susa-no-wo.
Thereupon, Susa-no-wo leads him to the house and has him
pick lice from his head. Opo-kuni-nushi sees centipedes on
Susa-no-wo's head. Suseri gives her husband red clay and
nuts of the Muku tree. He bites open the nuts, puts the red
clay in his mouth, and spits out the mixture. Susa-no-wo,
thinking he is biting open and spitting out the centipedes,
is pleased and dozes off.
Opo-kuni-nushi then ties strands of Susa-no-wo's hair to
the rafters, blocks the door with a boulder, and makes off with
Suseri on his back and with Susa-no-wo's sword of life, bow-
and-arrow of life, and heavenly speaking cither. But as he
flees, the cither brushes against a tree and wakes the sleeping
deity. Alarmed, Susa-no-wo pulls down the hall, but is de-
tained from immediate pursuit by having to disentangle his
hair. He then chases them as far as Yomo-tu-pira-saka pass,
from that point calling out and saying: Use the sword of life
and bow-and-arrow of life to subdue your half-brothers. Make
Suseri your chief wife. Dwell at the foot of Mt. Uka, plant
your palace posts on bedrock, and raise its crossbeams to
Takama-no-para, you scoundrel !
Opo-kuni-nushi pursues and subdues his eighty divine
brothers and starts to build his kingdom. The princess Ya-
gami shares the conjugal bed, but because she fears Suseri, the
chief wife, she goes home, leaving the child she had borne
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 312-3 June-September 1976
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