Text translated from 古事記 現代語訳 武田祐吉
Kojiki Modern Translation by Yukichi Takeda (circa 1940, public domain).
In the Beginning
Long ago, at the earliest beginning of the heavens and the earth, the first kami to appear in the heavens was named Amenominakanushi. The next kami was Takamimusubi, and the next was Kamimusubi. These three kami were hitorigami* and after a short time, they hid themselves from the world.
*hitorigami are kami that have no gender and are born alone (without a male/female partner deity)
After the three kami appeared, the land was still unhardened and floated like congealed fat on the surface of the water. It was gelatinous, and while floating like a jelly fish, two kami sprouted from it named Umashiashikabihikoji and Amenotokotachi. These two were also hitorigami and they soon hid themselves as well.
The above 5 kami are called the celestial kami (別天津神).
After that, one-by-one the following kami appeared, Kuninotokotachi, Toyokumono, Uhijini & Suhijini, Tsunoguhi & Ikuguhi, Ohotonoji & Ohotonobe, Omodaru & Ayakashikone, and finally Izanagi & Izanami. These kami are called the 7 generations of the age of the kami (神世七代).
The first two kami are hitorigami and the remainder are 5 generations of male-femaie pairs.
The text you see above is the beginning section of the Kojiki.
The reader is introduced to 17 kami (or gods, depending on your translation).
I think it would be most helpful if I explained who each kami is below.
It’s quite easy to find translations of the Kojiki online, but somewhat difficult to find anything explanatory about the Kojiki in English. For a brief introduction to the historical context in which the Kojiki was written, please see my previous post here.
(1) Amenominakanushi 天之御中主神
“Ruling Kami who sits in the center of the heavens”
It is also speculated that this kami is the root of space or is space itself. The kami is only mentioned once in the Kojiki and makes no later appearances. Some scholars feel Amenominakanushi was created only on paper as a counterpart to China’s Shangdi. However, other scholars feel it is hard to believe there is any concrete link between the deities as Amenominakanushi completely lacks any role related to ethics or morality. Actually, the kami has no practical religious role at all whatsoever other than a brief appearance in the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki’s additional texts. (I am not persuaded at all that this deity existed prior to the Kojiki.)
Amenominakanushi comes to play an important role in Shinto mythology of the middle ages (roughly 1200 CE – 1500 CE). This is thought to have its origins at the Grand Shrine at Ise; a shrine which can only be entered by the imperial family. During the middle ages, some texts, such as the five sacred texts of Shinto*, insisted that the real form of Toyoukebime, the kami enshrined in the Outer Shrine of the Grand Shrine at Ise, was actually Amenominakanushi. This was in spite of the fact that Toyoukebime makes a separate appearance in the Kojiki as being born out of Izanami’s urine after she is badly burned from giving birth to the kami of fire. Toyoukebime was worshiped as the female kami of food.
*The five sacred texts of Shinto claim publication dates during Nara Era (circa 700 CE) but were actually written in the Kamakura Period (circa 1200 CE) — although this does not appear to have been discovered until Edo Era (circa 1600 CE). An uppity Shinto priest had been assigned to the Outer Shrine in the Kamakura Period. And he was annoyed by the lower status assigned to Toyoukebime as opposed to Amaterasu (the sun kami) in the Inner Shrine. So he decided to write false ancient documents stating his enshrined kami was one of the omnipresent creator kami and therefore as important, if not more important than Amaterasu.
For those of you who wish to pay respects to Amenominakanushi (or any of the 5 celestial hitorigami), I suggest you take a flight to Izumo Taisha. A ritual has been practiced there for the celestial kami since ancient times. The five kami are worshipped in the main shrine, and some believe this is why Izumo Taisha was originally built on stilts (see image). Amenominakanushi is also worshipped in some shrines related to Daoism and the Bodhisattva Myoken.*
*The reason for the Bodhisattva Myoken’s temples suddenly becoming places of worship for Amenominakanushi is political. There were varying undercurrents demanding the separation of Buddhism and Shinto in Japan from the middle ages, but there was an official policy instituted by the Meiji government in 1868 called shinbutubunri (lit. separation of Buddhism and Shinto). The effort was to separate the so-called “Japanese” religion of Shinto from the “foreign” religion of Buddhism. This was largely to further legitimize the Emperor’s divine right to rule (said to be descended from Amaterasu) and unify the nation of Japan around a common religion.
Although the intention of the policy was not, in theory, to expel Buddhism from Japan, anti-Buddhist movements occurred all over Japan, called Haibutsu Kishaku (lit. expel the teachings of Shakyamuni). Thousands of temples were burned or otherwise destroyed and thousands of monks were stripped of their positions and forced to work elsewhere. According to Japanese Wikipedia, in Satsuma alone (modern day Kyushu), 1,616 temples were destroyed and 2,966 monks were evicted. One-third of those monks joined the military causing one result of the anti-Buddhist activities to be a larger military.
The anti-Buddhist movements only lasted about 4 years, but during that time Japan lost thousands of historic buildings and statues. If you visit the 500 statues of Arhat at Nokogiri Mountain in Chiba, you can see the scars from when the statues were destroyed and put back together in later years.
To avoid destruction, some Buddhist temples suddenly switched deities. Temples dedicated to Myoken were re-dedicated to Amenominakanushi or other Shinto deities.
(2) Takamimusubi 高御産巣日神 or 高皇産霊尊 or 高木神 (lit. tall tree kami)
As this kami’s other names imply, it is believed that s/he was a deified tall tree.
This kami is thought to form a pair with Kamimusubi and together they may represent the ties between men and women. Or so-called en-musubi 縁結び (fate that is tied together).
Takamimusubi is believed to be the maternal grandfather of Ninigi and therefore related to the imperial family. Takamimusubi and Kamimusubi are important deities to the imperial family.
Some scholars feel Takamimusubi is higher ranking than Amaterasu and deserves the title of ancestor kami to the emperor due to Takamimusubi being said to have appeared in a dream to Emperor Jinmu prior to the invasion of Yamato from Kumano.
Takamimusubi is worshipped in Samuhara Shrine along with the other two creator kami, Amenominakanushi and Kamimusubi.
(3) Kamimusubi 神産巣日神 or 神皇産霊尊 or 神魂命
Kamimusubi is the only one of the three creator kami that is sometimes depicted as female (the Kojiki insists these kami are genderless, but society seemed to feel the need to assign gender). When Okuninushi is killed by his older brothers, his mother prays to Kamimusubi and Kamimusubi sends Kisagai-Hime and Umugi-Hime to revive him (deified clams?? I must investigate this later).
(4) Umashiashikabihikoji 宇摩志阿斯訶備比古遅神 or 可美葦牙彦舅尊
…there’s really not much on this one. Other than a brief appearance in the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki’s related texts, there is no mention of Umashiashikabihikoji. The name ending is masculine, but since it’s a hitorigami, we can assume it’s just a name ending.
Some scholars feel (ie. Japanese Wikipedia) that Umashiashikabihikoji was heavily influenced by Chinese Yin-Yang philosophy and represents Yang vital essence.
They pull this from the name derivation. The name is said to abstractly represent the life force of many things in the sprouting of a reed.
The kami is worshiped at Izumo Taisha and Ukishima Shrine.
(5) Amenotokotachi 天之常立神
This kami is also sparsely written about. Amenotokotachi has no exploits other than appearing and then hiding. It is speculated Amenotokotachi is the deification of the heavens and represents their constancy. As an abstract kami, Amenotokotachi is not worshipped in many shrines other than Izumo Taisha.