Cultural heroes named Taro/Taru and agricultural gods in elderly garb

We highlight below an important paper by Susanne Formanek on the old age or Elderly couple motif in pre-Nara to Nara times, that gives us significant and valuable insights to the shamanic,  divinatory, oratory and ritual roles that the elderly played as evinced from local mythologies and folklore.

The excerpt provided here also serves as a launching point for us to establish common characteristics with certain Indo-European agricultural, weather-and-crop-growing rituals as well as Tartar myths, specifically:

- The role of the elderly couple Ashinanuchi and Tenuzuchi is seen as having a hand in the agricultural taaruji rites, while the story recalls the familiar Greek story (Deucalion and Pyrrha/Roman mythical old couple Baucis and Philemon from Tyana) and idea that any stranger might be a God in disguise.* The Greek idiom is, “were not apparent as entertaining angels” and “having entertained angels unawares (ἔλαθόν τινες ξεσίσαντες ἀγγέλους)” See Hom. Od. i. 96 ff.; iii.-329-370; xvii. 485. Comp. also the beautiful story of Baucis and Philemon as related by Ovid (Metam. viii. 626-724).
- Hittite myth of disappearing Taru plant-storm-deity – the name Taru recalls the name of the Japanese folk hero Taro (Urashima-Taro; Momo-Taro) who became in medieval times relegated to mere cultural heroes or adventurers journeying to another realm.
- The Hittite Taru’s slaying of Illuyankas recalls Susanoo’s slaying the Orochi serpent and it should be noted that the Urashima-Taro story of the visit to the Undersea palace and marriage to the Dragon-King’s daughter, is identical in certain aspects to the royal myth of “farmer” Hoori’s journey to the Undersea palace myth to recover his brother’s fishhook, can be seen in an agricultural-cum-weather-watery dragon context. In the Hittite version, the story are reenactments in a spring festival honoring Taru, the defeat of the monster-serpent Illuyankas by Taru. The alternative version of Telipinu, the son of Taru, and the retrieval of the deity’s eyes and heart when he married the monster’s daughter … predicated favorable crop-growing weather conditions, resembled Urashima Taro‘s retrieval of a magical (or sacred) fishhook and treasure-box upon marrying the Undersea Dragon-King’s daughter (see C. Scott Littleton’s “Gods, Goddesses and Mythologies” Vol. 10, p. 695) And to see a more complete list of Taru/Taro etymologies scroll down to the bottom @ endnotes.

- Taaru-ji agricultural rites can (as explained below by Formanek) then be understood within the paradigm of the recalling of disappeared weather-crop deities back from the Other World => Taru=>Taro also joins a class of disappearing, vanishing deities, or heroes (such as Amaterasu), whose disappearance mean failed harvests(either because of the sun’s or weather-storm god’s disappearance), for more on this see “Disappearing (reappearing) deities – a Near Eastern theme):

“Old Age in Nara and Pre-Nara Periods” Susanne Formanek associates the elderly couple motif with sacred marebito and New Year’s Day’s rites:

“Of gods and old people

One of the characteristics of old age in Japan most often alluded to is the close- ness of the aged to the ancestors as expressed in such sayings as “rokujû de senzo ni kaeru“, a closeness which in a setting of ancestor worship, where the souls of the dead are thought to ascend to the status of gods, endows the aged with a godlike image. Looking at the earliest written monuments of Japanese culture, old people are indeed first mentioned as holding the status of gods, or rather, gods appear in the shape of old people. When in the Dragon-Slaying myth Susanoo descends upon earth, the first beings he meets are an old man and an old woman, Ashinazuchi and Tenazuchi, who present themselves as being earthly gods or kunitsu-kami. Such meetings of Heavenly Deities or their descendants and an Earthly God evoking the appearance of an aged human being one way or another, occur several times in the early myths. When the Heavenly Grandson Hononinigi is beginning his descent upon earth, he meets in his search for land a god named Koto-katsu-kuni-katsu-no-kami, of whom it is said that his other name is Shiho-tsutsu-no-oji. Although we do not learn anything about his appearance, he is equated to an old man by his name. His behavior, at least in the mentioned episode, in which he is presenting the Heavenly Grand- son with land over which he seems to reign rather confers on him, too, the char- acter of an Earthly God. This same Shiho-tsutsu-no-oji appears once more in a somewhat related episode, namely as the one who pointed out to Jinmu Tennô where the land the latter ought to extend his power to was situated, in other words, as an Earthly God who is able to bestow the land on those who are apt to reign over it.

There are still other gods who in their encounter with Heavenly Deities bear characteristics of old men, as for example Sarutabiko or Shihinetsuhiko. The latter first appears in the Nihon shoki as an Earthly God named Uzuhiko. Later on, when Jinmu Tennô’s progress is stopped by seemingly invincible indigenous enemies, this Shihinetsuhiko and a certain Ukashi disguise themselves as an old man and an old woman by putting on a kasamino (a kind of grass coat) and a mi (winnowing-tray) respectively. In this attire they break through the enemy lines to ascend Mount Kagu, thus bringing about the success of the whole enterprise…

Both the kasamino and the mi which serve to transform the young gods into an okina (old man) and anomina (old woman) are items which in Japanese folklore are heavily related to magic and religious practices. Especially the wearing of the kasamino connects this episode very closely with certain religious folk ceremonies held on New Year’s Day, where villagers descending from the mountains wearing a kasamino visit the houses of the people. The words they utter are considered as sacred benedictions or forecasts for the year to come. A related rite taking place in Yakujima in which the disguise consists of akasamino and masks representing old men with long white beards, has an even more striking resemblance with our episode. These rites have been related to the belief in the marebito, visitors from the realm of the dead, who appear on certain occasions in the villages to give benedictions to the living. In this context it should be noted that the item serving to transform Shihinetsuhiko into an okina, namely the kasamino, is the same which Susanoo wore when he was exiled to the nenokuni or Japanese Hades. By putting on a kasamino, one took on this unearthly character of a traveler coming from remote realms, alienated from the human world. This seems to reveal that the okina too was regarded as a being with such characteristics.

This similarity or closeness of the aged with the souls of the dead is also suggested by the word kamusabu as used in the Manyôshû. Meaning literally “to behave, act like a god“, this word is used to describe the transformation of the souls of the dead into gods as well as the ageing of things and of persons. The pertaining to or being connected with the other world which thus characterized the okina is also exemplified by the already mentioned Shiho- tsutsu-no-oji. In the Nihon shoki variants of the Yama-no-sachi legend he is the one helping Yama-no-sachi to reach the Palace of the Sea God which can be interpreted to be related to that other world beyond the sea where the souls of the dead went to. The whole episode seems to be a mythical relation of a kind of initiation rite in which the initiand is made to die a symbolic death to come back to life provided with the knowledge of the other world and may hint at the fact that in the remote past of Japan’s history old men played the part of the initiator in initiation rites of this kind. As to Ashinazuchi and Tenazuchi, whose names have come to be interpreted as ‘spirit of the late’ and ‘of the early rice crop’ respectively[or 'Foot-Elder' and Hand-Elder' in folk kagura translation], they seem to be involved in the Dragon-Slaying myth in a kind of fertility rite and may thus be the antecedents of those characters wearing masks of old men and old women who in folk culture as taaruji and yasume perform the rites of the haru tauchi or taasobi in order to secure a rich harvest.

Unlike many scholars I would be very hesitant to conclude from the above- mentioned evidence that in the early periods of Japan’s history old people where considered to be living gods, as scholars have amply done. For one thing the equation old human being – god was for example no longer true for the compilers  of the Nihon shoki itself. When, apart from the mythical episodes, Earthly Gods appear in the shape of old men or old women, these are no longer deities a priori. Rather now a deity explicitly borrows the shape of an aged person to appear in the human world. This is the tendency which was to lead not much later under Buddhist influence to the legends in the Nihon ryôiki, where Buddhist gods manifest themselves to rescue humanity by incarnating themselves in old people who, after leaving a mysterious trace in the human word, vanish never to be seen again.

If it is safe to conclude that certain gods were imagined as bearing the shape of old people, there is still no way of knowing whether those okina and omina which we encounter in the early myths were meant to be real aged men and women, or whether those records simply were descriptions – transposed into the realm of myths – of religious rites involving the appearance of characters wearing old men’s masks, as is the case in the Shihinetsuhiko episode. This certainly would have had some bearing on how the elderly were regarded in general, but it is important that even in the mythical records the equation god = old human being is true only for certain Earthly Gods, who, in all the mentioned episodes, act as subordinates to the Heavenly Gods, the latter definitely showing the behavior of young people.

Furthermore there is textual evidence that old people may have performed important roles in certain religious practices as shown by the regulation whereby old women just as priestesses were exempted from submitting to the new Chinese hair style. But as far as the worship of the Heavenly Gods is concerned, growing old could on the contrary incapacitate for service. There is for example the case of Inishiki no mikoto who transferred the duty of guarding the sacred treasure of Isonokami to his younger sister when old age crept up on him, or that of Nunaki-no-iri-hime-no-mikoto who when showing signs of decrepitude was no longer able to do the worship of the Gods. In these cases senescence is obviously but a pretext, but one that must have afforded a plausible explanation. Still more striking although belonging to another context, is the Imperial Edict of Tenmu Tennô, which stated that old and sick persons who had up till then been housed in the temples now had to have quarters built for them outside the precincts in order not to pollute the holy places, thereby clearly equating decrepitude in old age with illness and assigning it the same polluting character, which does not combine well with the image of aged people as gods.

What brought about the association of old men and women with gods does not seem to have been the fact that in everyday life old people played such a dominating role that gods only could be imagined in their shape, but rather their unearthliness. This unearthliness, far from being contradicted by the polluting character of decrepitude, may on the contrary have been prompted by it, or rather it may be just another aspect of the same thing. Senile degeneration, being considered as nuisance at times (see below), could at other times by its association with death be helpful in connecting this world with the other world. It is remarkable that in the Shihinetsuhiko episode, the old man and the old woman, being disguised in the same way as Susanoo on his being exiled to the Neno-kuni, or realm of the dead, succeed in their task, not because the soldiers are overcome with respect at their awe-inspiring sight, but because they find them difficult to look at (ana miniku) and that their appearance is greeted with great laughter. Laughter in such a mythical setting of course does not only express the ridicule for the object, but also fear, in the same way as the expression ana miniku does not only mean ugliness, but rather a frightening quality which makes people shun its sight, so that this seems to me to be a rather clear illustration of the kind of abhorrence mixed with fear and admiration in which a seance was held at times.”

Suzanne Formanek’s effort to cast the masked elderly couple figures as part of sacred seasonal, agricultural or other marebito ceremonial rites is particularly borne out as there is the tradition of the wearing of kagura masks in connection with Ashinazuchi kagura plays, see the brilliantly photo-documented “Ashinazuchi kagura masks” by Ojisan Jake.

Margaret C. Miller, however, attributes the origin of the okina old man and woman figures in kagura dances to Greek influences, see The Origins of Theater in Ancient Greece and Beyond: From Ritual to Drama.”(p.317) and at p 315, Miller that it was the feudal courtiers who formalized the rites incorporating the early Sarugaku or Dengaku dances into paddy-rice field rice-planting inauguration ceremonies.

Apart from the clearly sacred visitor-from-the-other-realm and seasonal ritual nature of the Baucis and Philemon archetype figure, the Ashinazuchi and Tenazuchi couple can be inferred to be a genealogical tradition or cultural figure inherited from Turkic-Mongol-Ashina-descended clans from the East Asian continent.  Support for this view may be found in genetics, a surviving Ashina clan population in Japan, as well as the practice and tradition of including an elderly couple in a genealogy or epic on founding histories, which is characteristic of the founding father histories of most of the Turkic-Mongol tribes, see excerpts below from the paper Motif of miraculous birth in Mongolian and Korean myths and epics by Prof. Dr Alexander Fedotoff, Int Journal of CAs studies, Vol 1 1996

“- Sagadai Mergen and His Sister Nogodai Sesen: Sagadai Mergen (СагаДай Мэргэн) and Nogodai sesen (НогоДай Сэсэн) were twins. They were born a long time ago in the family of an old man Gazar Boqoli (Газар БоЋоли) and an old woman Qagiar Qara Qamgan (Хагиар Хара Ћамган) (Toroev 1943);

- Qan Sakta Abqai (Хан Сакта Абхай) was born in the family of 75 years old man and 85 years old woman who prayed before three burqans Shebeli (Шэбэли) to give them a child (Dmitriev 1936);

-In this version of Buryat “Geser-saga” one can find a story about an old man Sengel (Сэнэл) who was 70 years old, and his wife Sengelen (Сэнгэлэн) whose age was 60. They had no children. Once upon a time, when the old woman gathered wild onion, she found unusual horse tracks. She followed in the tracks and reached the Mount Segte Sumer (Сэгтэ Сумэр), on the top of which she saw a huge figure. In her fright she fainted away. Later on, when she came to herself, she realized that became pregnant… Geser and his sisters were born in the same way…

- Abai Geser hubun…In this version the story about the birth of Abai Geser resembles the previous one: his parents Sengel-qan and Sengelen-qatan had no children; wild onion; Mount Segte Sumer – unexpected pregnancy; voice from the uterum; two brothers (instead of two sisters), born from arm-pits; the third boy – ugly and snotty. That was Geser who grew up very quickly and was permanently hungry (Abai Geser hubun…

- Abai Geser Bogdo qan: Abai Geser was born in the family of an old man Ser’el Sagan (Сэрьел Саган) and an old woman Senhir Sagan (Сэнхир Саган) who was 70 years old. Once she gathered wild onion and found a boy baby. The boy happened to be sick of diarrhoea, so the parents tried to get rid of him, but failed. The old parents decided the boy was given to them by Heaven (Abai Geser Bogdo qan – 5

(улгер) which means “story”, “legend”. Both terms are directly connected with ancient Oirat and Kalmuck epic, that is why one can define the epic genre preceded “Janggar” as tuul’-uliger (тууль-улигер) (Kichikov 1992:11). In the plot structure of such tuul’-uliger one can find different structural elements including those in which we are extremely interested:

- an old qan and an old qatun (an old man and an old woman) without heir;
- prayer for a child by childless couple;
- miraculous birth of the main character;
- a main character’s betrothed;

- miraculous growth and childhood of a main character (Kichikov 1978:5).

Let us analyse these elements, in particular the motif of miraculous birth and its submotifs in Oirat and Kalmuck epic and folkloric narrative works…

Oirats and Kalmucks have epic narrations which are not included into “Janggar-saga”. These narrations are characterized by such tuul’-uliger’s motifs as a childless couple, prayer for a child, miraculous conception, miraculous birth of a main character.

Comparative Analysis of the Motif of Miraculous Birth in Mongolian (Buryat and Oirat- Kalmuck) Myths and Epic

So, the analysis of mythic and epical narrative works of Mongols, Buryats and Oirat- Kalmucks shows that in the most of these works the motif of miraculous birth is usually connected with the follow submotifs: old parents; early orphanism; ugly look of the main character; supernatural might and strength demonstrated by him in childhood. It is worthmentioning that the age of the parents decreases simultaneously with the evolution of heroic fairy tales into heroic epic. Nevertheless, childless parants do not make prayer for a heir very often. As a rule, an old woman becomes pregnant in unusual way, and the father of the son is Heaven. The link between the child and Heaven is expressed not only in his unusual way of birth, look and might, but in the birth of his several brothers and (or) sisters who immediately after the birth fly up to Heaven. This is typical to almost all versions of Buryat “Geser-saga”. Divine origin of the main character is underlined in Mongolian version of this epic. Birth of a child with golden chest and silver buttock is an universal motif for the whole Turkic-Mongolian archaic epic. This motif corresponds to the motif of invulnerability (metal body), miraculous symbols (steel navel-string, iron cradle, white snare, arrow, magic stone, etc.). This side by side with the motif of the birth of the main character with a clot of blood in his hand symbolizes his future heroic deeds and supernatural status. This motif is widely spread in Mongolian epic and in historiographic works, as well. One the other hand, the epic character of Mongolian epic quite often looks ugly, suffers from heavy diarrhoea and troubles his parents. All these features put him very close to fairy tale’s character – a foolish boy with mediocre look. As a child the main character grows up very fast and demonstrates his supernatural qualities. Undoubtedly, the miraculous birth connected with Heaven; unusual look; fantastically quick growth are rather archaic features which prove the mythic origin of the main character. Perhaps, oral and written mythic texts created in Mongolia area, but not survived till nowadays, were incorporated into heroic epic and heroic fairy tales a long time ago.”

[Note that the childless elderly couple motif appears in the Korean founding historical myths such as the "myth about T'arhae isagwum goes that once upon a time a king of Silla married the daughter of the King of Chwoknywoguk, but she bore no sons to succeed to the throne. After offering prayer for a son for seven years she brought forth a large egg from her womb. The king decided that the birth of an egg was a bad omen. He ordered a large box to be made, put the egg into it together with seven treasures and two servants, and placed it on a boat. During the long journey a boy was born from the egg and grew up to be a strong boy. An old fisherwoman pulled the boat to the sand beach, opened it and to her surprise discovered a handsome boy. After the death of King Norye T'arhae succeeded to the throne as the first king from the Swok clan (Ibid.; Kim Busik 1959)"]

Endnotes: Motifs and mythemes with global connections

*The Greco-Roman stories of Deucalion-Pyrha and Baucis-Philemon aside, the notion of hospitality’s sacred nature was widespread in the ancient world.

There is the Biblical story (i.e., part of a genealogy) of Lot and his wife had feasted them, two strangers were revealed as “two angels” (Genesis 19:1; the story is in the previous chapter). Like the story of Baucis and Philemon, Lot and his family were told to flee to the mountains and not look back, before God destroyed the city that he was living in. In addition, Hebrews 13:2 reads “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” [ The "don't look back" or "don't look" submotifs or mythemes have also traveled together to the East, suggesting a total cultural package.]

Similar to the Japanese idea of marebito(visiting gods), the idea that unidentified strangers in need of hospitality were gods in disguise appears to have been ingrained in the first century culture of the Hellenistic world and the Middle East. Less than two generations after Ovid’s publication, Acts 14:11-12 relates the ecstatic reception given to Paul of Tarsus and Barnabas as they ministered in the city of Lystra: “The crowds shouted, ”The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes.”

Linda Thompson suggests Sarah and Abraham are an archetype of the elderly couple who entertained the divine in “The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel: the Literary Formation of Genesis and Exodus 1-23“( at p. 91 of her work) – she states that the Biblical narrative about childless and elderly Abraham and Sarah is one example of pentateuchal historiography of scribes at work in having building into the Hebrew narrative cosmopolitan ideas contemporaneous to the Hebrew society — because of the explicit detail written that Abraham entertained the deity Yahweh by the Oaks of Mamleke, as a result of which they were blessed by a divine child who would be the founder of a nation.

The similarity in motifs and genealogical formula suggests an interaction between Western and Eastern spheres. Which raises a tantalizing notion that there might be a genetic connection for the transmission for the “genealogical narrative formula” but if it existed what might it be? And how would that have been transmitted, through a class of Brahmin-like priests? Bards, epic storytellers, or musician troubadours? Dancers? (Favoured by Margaret Miller above)  Shamanic wizards? Scribes (unlikely as most of the  nomadic tribes surveyed here didn’t have writing till later)

Here, we came across some strange “coincidences” in the names Habiru having popped up in Japan in the form of the existing Habiru clan and also in Puyo of a northern king called Haeburu, who was also according to one version, a son of Korean founding king Tan’gun – see Fedotof’s paper – this suggests to us that some of the Habiru people, proto-Hebrew stock) may have been assimilated into the ranks of the early Mongol nomadic populations(as their shaman?). Chronologically, the Greek-Roman ideas would have been contemporaneous with and drawn upon for Hebrew scribal historiographical work some years B.C., while Mongol historiography emerged around 6th c. at about the same time or a little earlier than Japan’s Nihongi and Kojiki texts.

Robert Wolfe writes in the “From Habiru to Hebrews: The Roots of Jewish Tradition” of his conclusion that the Hebrew people and Jewish traditions arose out of the Habiru people from the evidence that points to the Habiru presence at Shechem and key Abraham narrative events centred at Shechem:

“Although references to the Habiru have been unearthed all over the Middle East, far and away the most important source of information about them is the large collection of clay tablets unearthed at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt towards the end of the 19th century. Many of these tablets consist of letters written in Accadian cuneiform hieroglyphics during the 14th century BCE and sent to the Pharaoh in Egypt from various Egyptian puppet rulers in Canaan. The letters are filled with complaints about the Habiru, who are said to be leading a rebellion against Egyptian rule in Canaan and plundering the cities of those local rulers who still remained loyal to the Pharaoh. And in one such letter, reproduced on page 200 of Shechem by G. Ernest Wright, appears a threat by Abdu-Hiba, the ruler of Jerusalem, to align himself with the Habiru unless he receives more support from the Pharaoh. In particular, Abdu-Hiba threatened: “Now shall we do as Lab’ayu, who gave the land of Shechem to the ‘Apiru?”

Labayu is mentioned in many letters: he was the ruler of Shechem and the main rival of Abdu-Hiba for control of the hill country of Canaan. Whether he actually “gave the land of Shechem” to the Habiru is not clear. Perhaps Abdu-Hiba exaggerated, perhaps not. The important point is that his letter shows that the Habiru exercised a considerable degree of control over the region of Shechem in the 14th century BCE. And the reason why this point is important is because Shechem was without a doubt the main political and religious center of the Hebrews throughout their early history.

Numerous indications of the significance of Shechem for the Hebrews may be found in many of the books of Tanach, the Hebrew word (acronym actually) for what is commonly called the Jewish Scriptures or the Old Testament. In the Book of Genesis, Shechem is the place where Abraham first sets foot when he arrives in the land of Israel and where he builds a sacred altar. In the Book of Joshua, Shechem is the place where Joshua convokes the Hebrews just before his death in order to enter into a solemn covenant to remain faithful to God. In the Book of Judges, Shechem is the place where Abimelech, the very first would-be king of the Hebrews, goes in order to declare his candidacy. And in the First Book of Kings, Shechem is the place where Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, is forced to go in order to try to get the Hebrew tribes assembled there to accept him as king. When the tribes decide to elect Jeroboam instead, Jeroboam makes Shechem the first capital of the kingdom of Israel. Even if some of these references are wholly or partially legendary, they still show that for the authors of Tanach, Shechem was thought to be a place which had a special meaning for the early Hebrews.”

For more evidence of this, see “The Habirus and the Hebrews: From a social class to an ethnic group” by Stuart A. West, Dor 7, 3 (1979) 101-107, and other writings on the Habiru.

The Japanese Habiru / Abiru clan (阿比留氏 Abiru-shi) said to be of West Asian descent, was a Japanese clan which served the Kamakura shogunate as local officials on Tsushima. It is believed the clan may have been derived from the Taira clan. In 1246, the Abiru rose up against their superiors, the Dazaifu authorities, headed by the Chinzei Bugyō, which oversaw the governance of Kyūshū for the shogunate. Koremune Shigehisa, at the request of Dazaifu, put down the rebellion and put an end to the Abiru clan.  Source: “宗 氏.” 戦国武将出自事典。 Accessed 29 Sept 2007. The tragic Abiru clan history is part of the Tsushima island history, see the Tsushima Island homepage.

@Etymology notes: The root forms below suggest the archetype of the conquering hero has an Anatolian-to-Indo-European origin

Hittite: Taru plant-storm-deity; Tarhunta Luwian name was Tarhun (with variant stem forms Tarhunt, Tarhuwant, Tarhunta); Hattian - Taru. From the Hittite root *tarh- “to defeat, conquer”

Turk: Taru (a Turkish name noted in the Hexaglot glossary of the Codex Cumanicus)

Korean: T’arhae; Taru (King of. Paekche is mentioned in Samguk sagi,vols. 23-26.)

Japanese:  taaruji [lit. Taaru-old man]; Kin-Taro; Taro (as in Japanese folk heroes: Urashima-Taro; Momo-Taro) Taro is a common name for elder son

Ainu: Retaruseta The Ainu, the indigenous inhabitants of Hokkaido, knew the Hokkaido wolf as the high-ranking god Horkew Kamuy. In Hokkaido’s Tokachi and Hidaka regions, there flourished versions of a myth about a white wolf that mated with a goddess, or sometimes a Japanese court lady, and the offspring from this union became the ancestors of the Ainu people. Several regional versions of this origin myth exist, and some feature a white dog rather than a white wolf. The difference between wolves and dogs appears to have been less important to the Ainu, since both wolves and dogs inhabited much the same space in their classifying imagination. One version of this myth from Shizunai, in the Hidaka region, explains that the god of the mountain Poroshiri-dake, Retaruseta Kamuy (the white-wolf god), could not find a suitable mate, even though he searched the entire island. So Retaruseta Kamuy summoned his divine powers, seeing all the way to lands across the seas, and in time spotted a mate in a distant country. Again drawing on his divine powers, he coerced the woman to get in a small boat, cross the seas, and once on the island become his wife. From this union, it is said, the Ainu people were born.

[Note: A Sino-Korean or Altaic origin of the word has been proposed by Korean scholar Han-Woo Choi who suggests a common Altaic root for the Turkic, Mongolian and Korean forms, and some kind of relationship with a primitive religion or shamanism, as well as with metal-working cf. Korean tarku-/tarho-/taru- "to heat a piece of iron in the flames". An Altaic source is also being considered for the derived forms 'Tar+khan', = Tarkhan (Old Turkic Tarqan; Mongolian: Darqan or Darkhan;Persian: ترخان‎, Tarxān; Chinese: 達干, Dá-gān, Ta-kan; Arabic: طرخان‎; alternative spellings Tarkan, Tarkhaan, Tarqan, Tarchan, Tarxan, Tarcan or Targan) -- these are all ancient Central Asian titles used by various Indo-European (i.e. Iranian and Tokharian) and Altaic (i.e. Turkic, Mongolic, incl. Hunnic and Xiongnu) peoples, especially in the medieval era, and prominent among the successors of the Mongol Empire. However, as far as I know, nobody has yet considered the more obvious root - an origin in the Hittites or we have demonstrated there are clear origins of Taru in the weather-storm-agricultural deities of the Hittites, who were also earlier than all the Mongol-Turkic tartars in the use of iron-work, and in so should have been the source of the concept of a conquering Taru, from which all derivative forms and titles emerged.]

Finally, the Deucalion-Pyrrha, Momotaro versions, it has been suggested demonstrates another variant of the Elderly Couple motif where it occurs in a Deluge or Flood (does watery sea/river setting count?), with the hero or hero infant (alone or with family) laid out in a boat or ark or floating chest/jar/vessel, floating gourd or peach, often sealed or covered, and where the abandoned or exposed hero is rescued or arrives to safety on a mountain setting, see Flood Stories from around the world. On the other hand, perhaps, Momotaro does not really fall in the Deluge archetype but instead into Moses-in-the-basket-infant exposure-down-the-river-type, since Stephen Oppenheimer points out that in Deluge myths, “none of these legends ever recount the ‘hero’ of their particular tale returning to his former home. One simple explanation for this might be that the original homelands no longer existed.” Urashima-Taro and Momotaro are heroes who journey to foreign lands but they do return home, so these presumably form a slightly variant category, closer to that of the Moses- and Sargon-archetype of hero who suffered infant exposure, set out in a basket or vessel and out to water (see Otto Rank)

Further reading:

Ashinazuchi in legend and genealogy

Obayashi, Taryo “Japanese Myths of Descent from Heaven and Their Korean Parallels”  Asian Folklore Studies’ Vol. 43,1984, 171-184

Antoni, Klaus “Momotarō (The Peach Boy) and the Spirit of Japan: Concerning the Function of a Fairy Tale in Japanese Nationalism of the Early Shōwa Age”“, Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 50,1991:155-188  Fairytales with conquering hero archetypes such as Momo Taro or Tametomo often follow a narrative where the hero goes to some foreign barbaric “Devil’s Island” or foreign land where he must subdue the human-heating demon inhabitants. These tales were prone to being hijacked as propaganda during WWII. [Related: Culture War and Propaganda in Japan]

Momo Taro, the Peach Boy

The Myth of the Birth of the Hero by Otto Rank

The god(dess) of iron and tatara ironmaking traditions

There is a shrine dedicated to Kanayago Photo credits:  Hitachi Metals Yasugi factory.

There is a shrine dedicated to Kanayago Photo credits: Hitachi Metals Yasugi factory.

Excerpted from Tatara,

“The god of metals was believed to be a woman, very envious, and no woman was allowed in the furnace area. The workers were all men and their wives could not wear any makeup during the operation so as not to incur jealousy of the goddess. … The furnace is compared to the vagina in which steel is given life.
(That’s why it is Goddess rather than God who takes care of metals). The kind of iron sand which is easily reduced and put into the furnace at the beginning is called ‘komori ‘iron sand meaning ‘nurse’ iron sand, which is helpful in every way in producing steel from other kinds of iron sand. The best part of produced steel is called ‘Tamahagane’ and its quality is on the world top level, and used for such sharp edges as Japanese swords. The furnace is built from soil.” For more comprehensive information see the Tatara home page by Hitachi Metals Ltd.

More is written about the history of tatara and the Kanayago patron goddess of iron:

“Tatara was likely imported into Japan from Korea by way of Shimane Prefecture, and seeing as the San’in region is rich with titanium magnetite, a necessary ingrediant for iron production, it took hold here very early on in Japanese history. Way back in ancient Japan–specifically 713AD, two years after the compilation of the Kojiki (originally ordered by Emperor Temmu) was completed, Empress Gemmei ordered the compilation of the Fudoki. While the Kojiki is like a history book (which we would now consider a book of Shinto mythology), the Fudoki were like encyclopedia, conducted in each province to chronicle geography,  plant and animal species, the lifestyles of the people, and significant historical events (many of which we would now refer to as myths). Most of the Fudoki no longer exist, but the Izumo-no-Kuni-Fudoki remains mostly in tact. Therefore, we know a lot more about life in 8th century Izumo than about any other part of Japan. It includes many details about tatara.

Because we have so much information about its history and because it was practiced in Izumo province for hundreds of years, there are a number of museums, blacksmith family residences, archeological digs, ruins, and sword museums around the towns of Okuizumo, Yasugi, and Unnan. Okuizumo is best known for this because the The Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords has rebuild a tatara there called Nittoho-Tatara, and forges swords using traditional means once a year a so. …

There is patron god of Tatara, though many of the popular local myths say she is a goddess. This is Kanayago, the kami that is revered throughout Japan for teaching craftsmen how to making iron. Having particular influence over Western Japan, she wanted to settle in the mountains there, so she descended upon a particular spot in southwestern Yasugi where a heron perched upon a katsura tree, a very brief hike up the hill from Kanayago-jinja, the head shrine of all Kanayago shrines.”

However, one of the best authorities on the subject is the Hitachi Metal’s “The history of the tatara” website which informs us that a couple, a male and female pair of deities tied to the Yamato royal line, named Kanayama-hiko-no-mikoto and Kanayama-hime-no-mikoto, are ritually venerated at the tatara:

“Kanayago-kami (the deity Kanayago) is enshrined at tatara in the Chugoku mountains. While the main shrine dedicated to this deity (whose name is written with characters that literally mean “child of the metal worker) is located at Nishihida in the city of Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture. Devotion to Kanayago-kami is widespread, centered on the Chugoku region but extending from Kyushu and parts of Shikoku to the distant Kanto region and parts of Tohoku. The ritual deities celebrated at present are Kanayama-hiko-no-mikoto and Kanayama-hime-no-mikoto with origins in the Yamato line (see section 2.1.3 for background), but originally it was Kanayago-kami, more familiarly called “Kanayago-san” throughout the region. Worship of Kanayama-hiko and Kanayama-hime (male and female, respectively) dates almost certainly to early modern times. This is believed to have been aimed at increasing the authority of the shrines.

The story of Kanayago-kami is as follows.

In the distant past, Kanayago-kami decided from the heavens to a place called Shiso-no-kori (Shiso County) in the province of Harima (in what is now southern Hyogo Prefecture, in the San’yo district). She taught the people there how to make iron, and made an iron kettle out of rock. Since then, that place has been called Iwanabe (“rock kettle”), which is in the vicinity of the town of Chikusa, Shiso County, Hyogo Prefecture. However, as there were no mountains nearby where she could live, Kanayago-kami declared, “If I am to be the deity who rules the western reaches, I will proceed to the west and live in a suitable place there.” So saying, she climbed on a white heron to travel to the mountains of Okuhida in Kurota in Nogi County of the province of Izumo (around Nishihida in Shimane Prefecture). The heron alit upon on a katsura tree to rest, and Kanayago-kami then taught the technique of making iron in that region to the members of the Abe clan.

Since then, Kanayago-kami has continued to be worshipped by the descendents of the Abe clan. The Abe clan involved itself not only with priestly affairs, but also with traveling around to instruct others in tatara techniques.

There are a variety of curious taboos associated with Kanayago-kami. Among them:

Kanayago-kami hates dogs, ivy, and hemp. She favors wisteria.
According to the legend in Hino County, Tottori Prefecture, a dog howled at Kanayago-kami when she descended from the heavens. The deity tried to escape by climbing a vine, but the vine broke. She was attacked by the dog and died as a result. The version of the story told in I’ishi County, Shimane Prefecture, is that, rather than ivy, she became entangled in hemp or flax and died. The legend in Nita County, Shimane Prefecture, holds that the ivy did indeed break, but she then grabbed onto a wisteria tree and was saved. She may be a deity, but in this humorous story she is a rather human character. Such legends are the reason why dogs are not allowed near tatara and hemp is not used for any tatara tools or equipment. Also, katsura trees are not burned in tatara because they are regarded as divine.

Kanayago-kami hates women.
Kanayago-kami is a female deity so she hates women. A murage will not enter the tatara when his wife is menstruating. He shuts down his tatara temporarily just before and after his wife gives birth. If work is at a point that he cannot put it aside, it is said that he will not go home nor look at the face of his newly born child. It is also said that murage are especially strict about not getting into a bath if a woman has used it.

Kanayago-kami likes corpses.
The disciples of Kanayago-kami did not know what to do with their tatara when she died so suddenly. It is said that just as they were praying to and beseeching her for help, just when the iron could not be brought to birth no matter what they did, they received an oracle calling for them either to stand a dead body up against the tatara’s four supporting pillars (Nita County) or bind the bones of a murage to the four pillars (the village of Yoshida, Shimane Prefecture). There similarly appears to have been no taboos about death in tatara in other locales, either. They apparently made coffins in tatara when a person died in Aki or Yamagata in Hiroshima Prefecture, while in Futami county in the old Bingo province (around Hiroshima today) people would carry a coffin around the tatara when holding a funeral.

Actually, it is unclear as to whether or not Kanayago-kami is meant to be a male or female deity, but in the tatara the deity has been said to be female. Masaya Abe, a descendent of the Abe clan and chief priest at Kanayago Shrine, writes, “Kanayago-kami is usually held to be a female deity. However, that is because it was a woman who enshrined it. The deity was originally a youthful male.” Details about Kanayago-kami turn up in various stories, including those related to such other deities as Yawata-kami, Ama-no-hiboko, Takuso-susano-no-mikoto, and Kanayama-hiko-no-mikoto. In all cases, Kanayago-kami was the patron deity of blacksmiths, worshipped from the start by people involved in metalwork. These artisans spread devotion to Kanayago to many locations, and the present form of that worship was probably created by the Abe clan.

Festivals are held at the shrine Kanayago-jinja in the spring around the middle of the 3rd month and in the autumn early in the 10th month, the dates being determined according to the Chinese zodiacal calendar. In the past, the Kanayago festival at Hida was an event to which tatara masters and blacksmiths would come from distant provinces, as well as from Izumo and the neighboring province of Hoki.”

Another authoritative source, the Encyclopedia of Shinto relates that the Kanayago goddess is a Kajishin kami, at the centre of an ancestral cult of the blacksmith community:

” A kami of smithing and of metal forging enshrined by people who work in those industries. In premodern times, blacksmiths (kaji) included both those living sedentary lives in towns, and those who, together with bellows-makers (tatarashi) and metal casters (imoji), would join itinerant iron-working occupational groups called kanaya that traveled from village to village. In either case, such individuals were viewed as having a quasi-religious character due to their ability to control the magical power of iron.

Among these people, the kami Kajishin was worshipped both as an occupational ancestral deity (sojin) that transmitted to humans the techniques for iron smelting and smithing, and as a tutelary of the process of production and processing. At the heart of the cult of Kajishin was the goddess Kanayago no kami. The origins of this kami are not clear, but according to the Kanayago engishō, Kanayago no kami was the offspring of the union of Kanayamabiko no mikoto and Kanayamahime no mikoto. According to the legendary history related by the Kanayago no kami saimon (found in the Kayago no kami hissho), Kanayago no kami first descended from the Plain of High Heaven to the district of Shisō in the province of Harima. Climbing astride a white heron, Kanayago flew to a mountain forest in the district of Nogi in the province of Izumo, and there she transmitted the secret techniques of iron manufacturing to a man named Abe, who would later become priest (shinshoku) of the shrine Kanayago Jinja.

Portrayed as a female kami, taboos regarding Kanayago include blood pollution and the presence of women, and she is said to fear dogs. On the other hand, this kami does not appear to make a taboo of the pollution of death.

The cult of Kanayago no kami spread mainly in Japan’s Western Honshū region, and the shrine Kanayago Jinja in the town of Hirose (Shimane Prefecture) is regarded as the major shrine to the kami. Other kami worshiped as Kajishin include a number of deities appearing in Kojiki and Nihongi, including the blacksmith Amatsumara (Yamato no kanuchi Amatsumara), Ishikoridome, and Amenomahitotsu no kami. Of these, Amenomahitotsu appears in the Nihongi’s episode of the descent of the heavenly grandchild (tenson kōrin) in the guise of Kanadakumi, and also appears in the Harima fudoki with the similar name Amanomahitotsu no mikoto.

The kami continues to be worshipped today at the shrine Amenomehitotsu Jinja in the city of Nishiwaki, Hyōgo Prefecture. Local legends regarding the kami remain in this area, and they generally relate that the deity has only one-eye, in accordance with its name (ma-hitotsu = “one eye”). At some point, the kami Inari also came to be regarded as a tutelary of smithing, and some locales continue to celebrate both Inari and Kanayago no kami during the “Bellows Festival” (Fuigo matsuri) observed on the 8th day of the 11th lunar month.”

Notwithstanding that blacksmithing and forging traditions were established first on mainland Japan, some of most detailed information on the key deities is surprisingly to be found on Okinawa Island to where blacksmithing was introduced:

 “Since iron is not produced in Okinawa, the development of steel making and blacksmithing techniques lagged behind other advanced areas. Thirst for iron and its riches may have well been the source for Okinawan legends regarding the advent of iron and blacksmithing techniques. Seemingly, however, it remains presumable, only through folk tales, as to when, from where, and how the aspired skills in steel making and the art of blacksmithing came to Okinawa…

In Okinawa, ex-blacksmith families own most of the “blacksmith divinity” images. These are mostly in the form of hanging scrolls. Okinawan Blacksmiths{by Hiroaki Fukuchi (福地曠昭) Kaifu-sha 1989} has numerous remarks from blacksmiths interviewed. However, description of the images themselves remain scarce. Quoted below is Mr. Koji Asaoka (朝岡康二) refering to Akaya (阿嘉屋), one of the blacksmith families, which once flourished in Kumoji, Naha:

Originally, the balcksmith family Nareira (宮平) headed the “Mindakari (新村渠) Kanja (Blacksmith) Family”. Akaya, a family of court painters, up until the great-grandfather’s generation, joined Nareira in the mid Meiji Period (latter 19th century), whereby Akaya acquired the blacksmithing technique to reestablish itself as the blacksmith family Akakaji (阿嘉鍛冶). The first master of Akakaji painted and gave out freely many hanging scrolls with the Blacksmith Divinity image to his fellow workers. He had a natural talent for painting, as his ancestors used to be court artists. Although many of these hanging scrolls have been scattered about and lost, several former blacksmith families in Okinawa preserve them. The blacksmith divinity hanging scroll uses the complete mainland style that you would find in Kanayama-ko (金山講) hanging scrolls used in blacksmiths’ self-support gatherings i.e. Kanayama-ko, Japan. In short, Kanayama-sama (金山様) divinity is painted in the center, as Yokoza (横座) the bellow operator sits on the left, while Sente (先手) the assistant sledgehammer swings down from the right. Excluding minor differences, the basic composition was shared all over Japan. Notably, however, the blacksmithing images (Mainland Japanese style) are completely irrelevant to the blacksmithing procedures practiced in Okinawa.

In Japan, the Kanayama-sama divinity hanging scroll would be found in alcoves (床の間) on occasions of Kanayama-ko self-support gatherings. In Okinawa, however, the image is believed to have been used in annual bellows festivals, as self-help groups equivalent to the Kanayama-ko were never formed by Okinawan blacksmiths. (Ref. Koji Asaoka, Ironware Culture of Japan-Comparative Ethnology of Blacksmith, Chapter Four: Okinawan Blacksmith and Ironware Culture, p.184)
Fuchiyue (鞴祭: bellows’ festival) is respected by Okinawan blacksmiths as the hallmark of annual events. It is commonly celebrated on November 8th according to the lunar calendar, in Japan, whereas in Okinawa it is celebrated, by some, on November 7th, or for two days (November 6th and 7th) or for three days (November 7th to 9th).

During Fuchiyue the image of the bellows divinity is respectfully placed in front of the bellows, as sledgehammers, iron holders and other blacksmith tools are put as offerings. Prayers are offered to banish fire, accidents and injury throughout the year. Special dishes are prepared and shared within the neighborhood. In some cases blacksmith families visit and worship Okuma Kanja-ya (奥間鍛冶屋), the first legendary blacksmith enshrined in Okinawa, just as blacksmiths on Miyako Island would visit Funadatedo (船立堂), the sacred praying spot for blacksmiths.

According to Asaoka, the introduction of boxed bellows from mainland Japan, more specifically Sakai, Osaka, relates, particularly, to the attachment that Okinawan blacksmiths have formed to their bellows festival. Fuigo-cho (吹子町) the bellows ”manufacturers” quarter of commercially advanced Osaka is believed to have manufactured standardized boxed bellows for nationwide distribution. Asaoka states that because many Okinawan legends of blacksmith divinities speak not only of iron and the advent of steel-making techniques, but also of the introduction of boxed bellows, this proves that boxed bellows were accepted technologically advanced devices. Bellows festivals in the Ryukyu Archipelago have maintained considerably different ritualistic styles when compared to other village festivals, such as Tanetori-sai (種取祭), seed-sowing ceremonies and bountiful harvest thanksgiving ceremonies (豊年祭). Thus Asaoka retains that Okinawan bellows festivals originated on the mainland and, once introduced to Okinawa, were quickly diffused throughout the Ryukyus.
(Ref. Asaoka, Study of Ironware Culture in the Archipelago of the Ryukyus, pp. 188, 204, 257)

Images of Blacksmith Divinity and the Goddess/God Kanayago (金屋子)
Mainland Japan

In the northern Tohoku area of Japan, during blacksmith self-support gatherings, Kanayama-ko, alcoves or tokonoma (床の間) were adorned with “blacksmith divinity” hanging scroll images. Found in midwestern Chugoku, Japan, instead, would be the “Goddess Kanayago” and pictorial stories on “the birth of steeling technique”. During the Edo period, the scrolled images and pictorial stories were worshipped by tatara steel laborers, blacksmiths and casting workers all over Japan, mainly at iron producing mines.
Blacksmith divinities in ancient Japanese myth included Hinokagutsuchino-kami (火之迦具土神), Kanayamahikonomikoto (金山毘古命/金山彦命), Kanayama-himegami (金山毘売神/金山姫命), Amenomahitotsukami (天目一箇神) and more. On the otherhand, Inarigami (稲荷神), originally a god of rich harvest, was altered to a god of fire, eventually becoming a blacksmith divinity. This occurred, presumably, through the sacred rite of “Ohitaki” (御火焚) for an abundant harvest in the Kyoto and Kinki areas.
The word “tatara” originated in India, meaning blast furnace. In Japan, “tatara” appears in the names of ancient goddesses in Kojiki (古事記) and Nihonsyoki (日本書紀) e.g. Seyatatara-hime (勢夜陀多良比売), Hototataraisusuki-himenomikoto (富登多多良伊須須岐比売命) or Himetataraisukiyori-hime (比売多多良伊須気余理比売). According to myth, Izanaminokami (伊邪那美神) had her private parts (mihoto) seared as she delievered her baby Hinokagutsuchino-kami, and was, thereafter, banished to the netherworld (黄泉). It may well be in this light that the word “hoto” frequently appears in the names of ancient goddesses. Furthermore a wind way bamboo kiro (木呂竹) is inserted from the hole “hoto” to connect the bellows to the basin of a mud furnace, whereby a correlation between “tatara” and the goddesses is also suggested.
Kanayago Shrine in Nishihida (西比田), Hirose Town (広瀬町), Nogi County (能義郡), Shimane Prefecture, is an established center of worship for Kanayago, the goddess/god of steelmaking and blacksmithing. According to the stories of her advent and the origin of the shrine (which dates back to the Edo period), a snowy egret carried Kanayago on its back and flew from Harima Province to a Japanese Judas tree in Kuroda Forest, Nishihida village, Nogi County, Izumo Province.
Since Kanayago has also been worshipped as a child-loving goddess, tatara steel workers in Kamisaibara Village (上斎原村), Tomata County (苫田郡) Okayama Prefecture, for example, are known to have shown their faith in Kanayago (originally the tatara steel workers guardian deity) by inviting children to their homes every New Year (January 1st to 3rd) to tell them the old tales and legends. (Ref. Akinori Maruyama ,“Goddess Kanayago and Children: Folklore from a Tatara Village”)
In contrast, Kanayago’s hatred of adult women (who menstruate and bare children) was a source for the taboo against menstrual blood (赤不浄) as a symbol of uncleanness. However it is frequently noted that the uncleanness of death, which is symbolized by the color black (黒不浄), was readily accepted or even favored in these legends.
Mandarin oranges were believed to have been an offering at the bellows festival, much like as done by public bath owners and glue makers, each of whom were fire-relevant by trade, who gave away rice cakes and oranges to children. According to a legend in Yamaguchi Prefecture, an ugly one-eyed blacksmith deity got away from a barking dog by climbing up a mandarin orange tree. Fierce concentration at their furnaces frequently cost tatara steel workers the loss of an eye. The fact created one-eyed blacksmith divinities legend which in its turn are considered to have been diverted to single-eyed ogres of legend, oni (鬼). It is, presumably, in this context that toponyms such as Onimura (鬼村) and Onigashiro (鬼ヶ城) are often located close to iron mines. [Compare these one-eyed oni with the Greek myths of Cyclopes who were also one-eyed skilled blacksmithing giants who made the trident for Poseidon, thunderbolts for Zeus, and who were imprisoned deep in the heart of the Tartaros Earth Pit by the Sky god Uranus, until freed by Cronus.]

Mandarin oranges were believed to have been an offering at the bellows festival, much like as done by public bath owners and glue makers, each of whom were fire-relevant by trade, who gave away rice cakes and oranges to children. According to a legend in Yamaguchi Prefecture, an ugly one-eyed blacksmith deity got away from a barking dog by climbing up a mandarin orange tree. Fierce concentration at their furnaces frequently cost tatara steel workers the loss of an eye. The fact created one-eyed blacksmith divinities legend which in its turn are considered to have been diverted to single-eyed ogres of legend, oni (鬼). It is, presumably, in this context that toponyms such as Onimura (鬼村) and Onigashiro (鬼ヶ城) are often located close to iron mines.

Images of the Goddess/God Kanayago are largely categorized into the following three styles:

A) A Goddess on a Fox
A goddess in a Chinese dress, wearing a long, thin scarf (領巾) rides on a white fox, with a sword in one hand and a gemstone in the other. In other instances, she may have a magic cane, or wear a jewelled crown and armor, holding a pouch in one hand. The fox wears a jewel in its tail, and may sometimes have a hoe in its mouth. The goddess in Chinese dress, who wears the long, thin scarf (領巾) and carries the sword and gemstone, resembles, in appearance, Dakini (荼吉尼天), the harvest divinity. However Dakini is recognized as the original Buddhist form (honji 本地) of Inari-gami in accordance with the philosophy of honji suijaku (本地垂迹) a theory expounding the correspondence of Shinto and Buddhist deities. Imaginably, Inari-gami and Dakini, both of whom came to be accepted and worshipped as fire and blacksmith divinities, could have been confused to be represented both in the same scene.

B) A Goddess and Two Attendants (Male and Female)
Mainly found in hanging scroll images, which depict the story of the origin of Kanayago Shrine or scenes of steel-making and blacksmithing. Frequently a long-haired woman in sacerdotal kimono, attends a holy area located close to a mountain top and sanctified with a set of hallowed straw ropes (注連縄). A lady of the court in a red hakama and over-robe would be found on the right and a nobleman on the left, both may be standing or seated, ready to serve the goddess. A white fox may accompany the two attendants. At the foot of the mountain, there is a smith’s yard with the foot-pedaled bellows humming with steeling and refining. Court-attired noblemen and blacksmiths (in their medieval hats, eboshi, and aprons, hitatare) would be found laboriously at work.

C) Sampo-kojin (三宝荒神) Image
A series of monochrome hanging scrolls in wood block print, which Kanayago Shrine issued and distributed from the end of the Edo to the early Meiji periods, would find the Kanayago deity seated on a lotus pedestal as Sampo-Kojin. In northern Tohoku, Sampo-kojin as a standing figure is frequently painted on hanging scrolls as a blacksmith divinity. Composition-wise, Sampo-kojin often stands erect on the boxed bellows and blacksmiths are working underneath. Oni, the ogres, are also at work in the smith’s yard, sending wind to the bellows or hammering down as Sente, the assistant hammers.



Okinawan Images of Blacksmith Divinity

 The four blacksmith divinity scrolls that we were able to view during our field studies in the Yanbaru (山原) area, northern Okinawa, had basically the same composition, although they differed in the details. They belong to Type C, as mentioned above, in which the blacksmith deity is expressed as Sampo-kojin (三宝荒神). Furthermore, the four scrolled images show three Oni (鬼), ogres, that are assisting as Sente (先手), a woman in kimono, who is operating the bellows as Hakozashi (箱差し) or Fuigozashi (鞴差し) and a man wearing formal headwear (烏帽子) and an apron (直垂), working as Yokaza (横座). During the forging of iron, the boxed bellows would be found in totally different positions in Mainland Japan, Okinawa and China. At least in the latter medieval period (the Kamakura and the Muromachi eras) in Mainland Japan, it is believed to have been a common practice that Yokaza alone, without Fuigozashi, operated the bellows. On the other hand, it was a characteristic on Okinawa to have Fuigozashi sit behind Yokaza and operate the boxed bellows, as Yokaza worked without touching the bellows. The first job that an apprentice, in an Okinawan blacksmith’s yard, would be assigned to was Fuigozashi. If so, even though Meuchi (前打 i.e. Sente) and Yokaza are painted in different positions, the four hanging scrolls do not contradict with blacksmithing practices in Okinawa, because they depict how Yokaza and Fuigozashi played distinguishable roles from each other, as Asaoka indicates. Most hanging scroll images from Iwate and Gifu Prefectures (Mainland Japan) have also been found to differentiate between Yokaza and Fuigozashi.
However, the female Fuigozashi (bellows operators) that are in blacksmithing images in hanging scrolls from Okinawa (fig.21,23,24) are rarely found elsewhere. As we have discusssed, most blacksmith divine images in Okinawa are believed to be copies of the originals (that are presumed to have their roots in, and have come to Okinawa from, Mainland Japan, or have been drawn, relying upon information that had been passsed on by word of mouth. Akakanja would have made models of such originals for the many blacksmith divinity hanging scroll images that they created. It is, therefore, not totally deniable that changes might have been made by the painters to reflect more of the real blacksmithing practices in Okinawa.
Although the three headed Sampo-kojin-like figure was depicted frequently as the blacksmith deity in the hanging scrolls that we viewed (fig.24), the balcksmith deity in Okinawa is also imagined as a goddess at times(fig.23). It may be possible to assume the influential role that the myth of the Goddess Kanayago from Izumo Province had while crossing over the sea to Okinawa. We found an example in which a Sampo-kojin-like Blacksmith Divine is represented by three female faces while wearing feminine clothing, whereas Sampo-kojin should be represented by wrathful faces. This image was likely adopted by local painters to fill the gap between the faith of the people and the diffusion of painted images.
Did the images of blacksmith divinities accompany the bellows when they were introduced onto Okinawa from Mainland Japan, or could the images have possibly taken different routes? The question entails further progress in these studies, as well as the discovery of more blacksmith divine images from Okinawa which have hitherto been unseen.

 The widespread practicing of bellows festivals was, presumably, fueled by the orders and policies issued by the royal government of the Ryukyus, according to Asaoka (Ironware Culture of Japan–Comparative Ethnology of Blacksmithing, p.257). Blacksmith divinity scrolls could well have been one of the most significant ritual tools that popuralized the bellows festivals. In the 20th year of the King Sho Shitsu (尚質: 1667), the dynasty of the Ryukyus started the “Stationed Blacksmith System” (在村鍛冶制) administered by Ko shoken (向象賢). As Kaji-yaku (blacksmith officials) assigned to villages were non-craftsmen, the system is considered to have spurred the presence of Akakanja and other specialized blacksmith families, as well as that of traveling blacksmith (廻村鍛冶) which was to emerge later. The roles of the Kaji-yaku are assumed to have shifted from blacksmithing to the management of the bellows festivals and smiths’ yards. (Ref. Asaoka, Ironware Culture of Japan– Comparative Ethnology of Blacksmithing, pp. 152, 193, 224, 249).

 In Okinawa the Blacksmith Divinity is worshipped at many uganju (praying spot). Also blacksmith tales are sung in ancient ballads like “Kajiyadi Fu”. Believed to have brought forth the advent of farming with iron farming tools, the balcksmith divinity is also identified with the farming deity. (Ref. Hiroaki Fukuchi, Okinawan Blacksmiths, pp. 255 to 266). According to legend the Kunigami Aji (国頭按司 chief of Kunigami Village), Kaniman (金万・金満), who was the second son of Okuma Ufuya(奥間大親, the head of Jana Village in the Urasoe quarter, and a younger brother of King Satto (察度王), was believed to have founded the Okuma Kanja Blacksmith family. For helping Kanemaru (金丸), the future King Sho En (尚円), Okuma Kanja was said to have had his second son authorized as Kunigami Aji. The presence of Okuma Kanja continues to date as the ancestor of all Okinawan blacksmiths. Having the power attained through blood-related Monchu (門中) clans and the privileges, such as tax exemptions, and abounding riches, received through such ties, this glorious story of how one family member was promoted to Kunigami Aji is considered to have been suitable for the descendants of blacksmiths. Furthermore, they connected the legend of Okuma Kanja to the myth of the farming divinity and the advent of farming, through which Kaniman was, likely, idealized and idolized as a great ancestor and founder of blacksmith families. Today, Kaniman Aji and his wife are enshrined as founders of Uekaneshi Tunchi (上兼次殿内) or Kaniman Tunchi (金万殿内), in Kaneshi, Nakijin Village (今帰仁村), where the image of the blacksmith divinity has been traditionally recognized as that of Kaniman-sama(fig.35).

Source: Explanation of Blacksmith Divinity


Although the word “tatara” is said to have its origin in India, it is more likely to have a Volga-Ural region origin as Tartar identity is synonymous with a Turkic (or Mongol-Turk) identity, as not only is are the blacksmithing and forging skills of the “Tartars” legendary, the region is among the earliest metallurgical centers of the world, and is also the origin of the one-eyed Cyclopian-ogre tales. … Alternatively, the blacksmith migrant arrivals in Japan were Saka nomads hailing from from Northern India (Saka-stan, having sojourned there from the Caucasus) in which case, the oral tradition of the origins of the tatara-production may prove to be true after all. The Hittites were said to have been the earliest (or among the earliest) iron-workers, and both India and the Volga-Ural region were known to have had Hittite populations, from whom the Tartars could have learned iron-making.

The tale of that a “snowy egret carried Kanayago on its back and flew from Harima Province to a Japanese Judas tree in Kuroda Forest, Nishihida village, Nogi County, Izumo Province” is likely a euphemistic funerary reference to the death of the original ancestral chief, as birds were often the shaman priest’s helpers on their journeys in the Other World in prehistoric times.

The tatara culture is said to have been brought into Japan by Kaya lineages, who first established themselves in the enclaves of Kibi(Okayama), Kawachi province (Osaka), Takeuichi in Yamato, Ikenokami site of Fukuoka. They are said to have arrived in such notable numbers initially that they were called the Imaki-kun, the “now arriving khans” (ima meaning now, ki, coming and “kun” synonymous with the “khan” title used by nomads of continental Eurasia (the Korean cognate was “han”) – Source:Young Sik-Lee, Recent research  trends on the history of Kaya of Korea, Int Journal of History of Korea, vol. 1 2000

Read more about the swordsmithing apprentice Pierre Nadeau’s life here and on the making of a traditional Japanese sword at his Soulsmithing Blog

See also Turks, Tartars and Mongols of European Russia and What it means to be a Turk

And detailed descriptions out of the Khorasan or Kharezm court of who the Turks and Tatars are to be found at:

The Shajrat ul atrak, or genealogical tree of the Turks and Tatars

The haplogroup N/Tat-C “controversy” is finally over. This haplogroup N is distributed throughout Northern Eurasia. It is the most common Y-chromosome type in Uralic speakers (Finns and Native Siberian). This lineage most likely originated in northern China or Mongolia and then spread into Siberia where it became a very common line in western Siberia. See:

Rootsi et al., A counter-clockwise northern route of the Y-chromosome haplogroup N from Southeast Asia towards Europe, European Journal of Human Genetics advance online publication 6 December 2006; doi: 10.1038/sj.ejhg.5201748
“…detailed analysis of hg N suggests that its high frequency in east Europe is due to its more recent expansion westward on a counter-clock northern route from inner Asia/southern Siberia, approximately 12–14 ky ago. The widespread presence of hg N in Siberia, together with its absence in Native Americans, implies its spread happened after the founder event for the Americas.The most frequent subclade N3, arose probably in the region of present day China, and subsequently experienced serial bottlenecks in Siberia and secondary expansions in eastern Europe. Another branch, N2, forms two distinctive subclusters of STR haplotypes, Asian (N2-A) and European (N2-E), the latter now mostly distributed in Finno-Ugric and related populations. These phylogeographic patterns provide evidence consistent with male-mediated counter-clockwise late Pleistocene–Holocene migratory trajectories toward Northwestern Europe from an ancestral East Asian source of Paleolithic heritage. …
14 N2-individuals from Turkey, data from Cinnioglu et al6 (updated in this study), belong to the Asian subcluster N2-A, suggesting that the clade N2 might have geographically expanded from Siberia westward by at least two different flows: one northwest through the Volga-Ural region, giving rise to N2-E, probably mainly via the Finno-Ugric group, and the other, N2-A, southwest together with Turkic languages.”

Cyclopes (Encyclopaedia Mythica)

On the similarity between metallurgical traditions of extreme west-east ends of Eurasia, we may come to an understanding by tracing the early metallurgical centres to the taiga and forest-steppe zone to the north. An important network of contacts stretched from the Ural mountains to the Altai, giving rise to a common north-Eurasian metallurgical tradition at first based on the hollow casting of bronzes (and later iron – see  (See: Korya.Bronze). This was the ancestor to both of the Chinese bronze-casting tradition for ritual vessels of the Shang and Zhou periods, and of advanced types of hollow-cast weapons and tools (spearheads, axes) in northern Europe. Due to the spread of the kurgan civilization, the impact on Chinese technology was the incorporation of the steppe chariot-complex in the later Shang period (See: Shang period). Contacts between the western and eastern ends of Eurasia were thus established across the intervening region at the time of the Bronze Age civilizations in each area, and account for certain common features, despite the very different character of these societies.


The Comparative Lexicon for Metals

(Copper technology began in East Anatolia by 6500 BC with some researchers suggesting a possible origin in the Vinca Culture..)


Sumerian KAxUD.BAR (or) UDxKA.BAR (or) SI.BAR … also URUDU
Latvian varš (pronounced “varsh”), dim. VARiņš… also Latvian RUDU- “copper colored”, RUDVARIS (var. RUDU VARA)
Lithuanian      varis viz. varias  
Old Prussian wargien  
Latvian svars “weight” *sa-VARS 
Akkadian    SIPARRU 
Hebrew      SEPER
Urdu/Hindi  Tanba

Gujerati      Tabu

Pali                Tamba

Tibetan      zangs

Southern Min  Tang

Hakka            Thung

Chinese        Tong

Japanese      Dou

Vietnamese  Đồng

Thai                ทองแดง thongdaeng


Latvian          Dzelzs

Lithuanian   Geležis


Azerbaijani Dəmir

Chuvash      Timĕr 

Kazakh         temir 

Khakas         Timîr

Kirgiz            Temir

Turkic           Demir 

Turkmen      Ütüklemek, Demir 

Uighur          tömür

Uzbek           Temir

Mongolian  tömör

Hakka           Thiet
Chinese        Tie / Tit
Southern Min Thih
Japanese     Tetsu
Korean         Ceol 
Thai               lek
Tibetan        lcags 
Gujerati (India) lokha’ḍa 
Tin lead
Turkish Kalay  Used in most of the Balkan as well as in the Altaic languages
Baltic  Alavas (Baltic)The Baltic Alavas is used in Eastern Slavic languages (Russian Олово). In Western Slavic languages this is the name for Lead.

Azerbaijiani Qalay
Chuvash     Тăхлан [Tăhlan]
Kazakh       Къалайы [k"alajy]

Mongolian  Цагаан тугалга [cagaan tugalga]

Turkish       Kalay

Uighur قەلەي [qäläy]
Uzbek         Qalay
Georgian     kala
Hakka           Siak
Chinese        錫 [xi / sik]
Japanese スズ [suzu]
Korean      주석 [juseog]
Thai       ดีบุก [dībuk]
Vietnamese    Thiếc 
Germanic      Gold 
Bengali            Gold
Gujerati          Sonu
Latvian           Zelts 
Russian          Zoloto
Lithuanian    Auksos
Armenian      Oski
Khakas            altin
Uighur             altun
Uzbek              Oltin
Hakka                kim
Southern Min Kim
Japanese          kin
Chinese             金jin / gam
Korean              금geum
Source: Krogt; Salonen; Kassiteros at Eedle’s homepage.

The legend of Lake Titicaca and how the Japanese ended up in The Americas

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Photo: Wikipedia

A Japanese documentary recently broadcasted on NHK terrestrial TV, featured the theory of the origin of the name Lake Titicaca, and various lines of evidence supporting the theory that Japanese settlers arrived to populate the Americas (forming one of several waves of Asian migrants). The article “Establishing Japanese Ancestry” by Ariel Takada sums up the same points examined and made in the documentary:

- Waves of migration from Asian Siberia to the American Alaska occurred approximately 14,000 years ago. From then on, a slow movement southward began to take place all the way to Chile itself.

- In a substantial Brazilian project of ethnic research, for instance, researcher Heinz Budweg affirms that across the ocean “the Japanese, Chinese and even Indians traveled constantly to South America between 2,000 and 3,000 B.C.”

- Some of these migrants arrived via the land bridge, others by sea. The Japanese are thought to be later arrivals on the American continent

- Traces have been found demonstrating their presence have become increasingly more significant. Of these, here are a few examples:

1) Japanese vases of the Mid-Jomon period (1,600 B.C.), excavated at Napo, Ecuador. [Much earlier work focused on the similarity of Valdivian pottery to the Jomon period pottery of Japan]

2) The use of Japanese words for place names in the Americas. Here are two examples: “water” in Japanese is “mizu,” and it is suggested that it may have been the root basis for naming the Missouri River. The name of Mount Suyama in Bolivia is thought to have been derived from “yama,” which means “mountain.”

3) At the end of the ’70s, archaeologist Charlotte Emerich lived with a tribe of the Upper Xingu, proved that they communicated by way of an ancient Japanese dialect.

4) In December 1999, a team of Japanese scientists led by Kazuo Yajima of the Center of Cancer Research of Nagoya discovered Chilean mummies, buried more than 1,500 years ago, that were infected with the HTLV-1 virus (a leukemia variant), which is particular to certain regions of Japan and a few other spots in Asia. (The Chilean mummy — “Miss Chile” — infected with the virus can be found at the Museo San Pedro de Atacama in Arica.)


The Legend of the Japanese naming of Lake Titicaca

Excerpted from “Establishing Japanese Ancestry: “A Japanese myth that we grew up with and that mentions Chile talks about one of those possible currents. Additionally, the story brings to light a number of geographical names that remain in use, as well as the possible realization of a dream that may have given grounds for genetic and cultural influences over the Amerindian peoples:

“It is said that the oldest son of a great Japanese lord, obsessed with a prophecy foretelling that he was destined to be the founder of an empire across the ocean, set sail, accompanied by several faithful followers, around the year 1,100 B.C. The ocean current ‘kuro-shiö’ brought them to a beach they called ‘Arika’ (Arica), which can be translated as ‘here it is.’

Later, they traveled south while looking for the promised land, but they came to a halt at “Asaban” (“morning and night” – Azapa [in Spanish] to us) after surmising that they were on the wrong track. They retraced their steps and traveled northwest from the ‘Yutoo’ (Lluta) River, which means ‘something better’ or ‘better than the other.’ They crossed desert and mountain ranges, finally arriving at a great lake they called ‘Chichi-haha’ (‘Dad and Mom’ — Lake Titicaca), which was supposed to have been the divine sign that would lead them down the final route to the place where the prophecy would be fulfilled.”


Chichi means “father” and haha means “mother” in Japanese. Lake Titicaca a.k.a. Titiqaqa (Quechua) is a lake in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia. By volume of water, it is the largest lake in South America.

Why the Maneki Neko beckons to you…

Maneki neko beckons to you

Maneki neko beckons to you

Reblogged and sourced from JNTO:

Since old times, cats had been kept at home in Japan to get rid of rats that gave damage to crops. And in about 18th century, cats had come on the scene as “Maneki Neko,” a cat doll that brings good luck. In today’s Japan, Maneki Neko is frequently found sitting near the entrance of shops. Shop owners put it there wishing for prosperity in business. There are interesting legends about the origin of Maneki Neko.

In the Edo Period, when the feudal lord of Hikone walked by a temple in Edo on his way home from falconry, the temple’s cat was beckoning to the lord in front of the temple gate. So he stopped by at the temple and had some rest. Just then, the clouds covered the sky all the sudden and a severe thunderstorm arrived. Not getting wet, the lord was so glad that he made a lot of donation to re-build the poverty-stricken temple. And he designated this temple as his family temple. This temple is Gotokuji Temple which still exists in Tokyo. When the cat died, Shobyodo temple (beckoning cat temple) was built in the temple’s ground and the cat has become a god called Shobyo Kannon. Visitors to the temple started to offer Maneki Neko, a cat doll to show their gratitude when their wish came true.

In Hikone where the castle of the feudal lord is, Hiko-nyan has born as the mascot for the 400th anniversary of Hikonejo Castle. It is said that Hiko-nyan is modeled after the Gotokuji Temple’s cat.

There is another legend in Edo (Tokyo). An old woman was forced to let go of her dear cat due to extreme poverty. And she let the cat go in Imado Shrine. That night the cat appeared in her dream and said, “You will be happy if you make a doll in the image of me.” So she made ceramic dolls in the image of her cat and sold them to see what happens. Soon after, the dolls became popular and that made the old woman happy. Today, a pair of female and male Maneki Neko sitting close together in Imado Shrine has become famous. And the shrine is popular among young women as a shrine of “Enmusubi (tying the knot)” that helps to get married. At the shrine a big beckoning cat welcomes the visitors.

There are a number of folk tales in Japan that animals such as dog, fox, rabbit and crow show people a way to happiness. As it tells, Japanese have been creating stories and lucky charms in their life using their creativity to wish their happiness. A wide variety of Maneki Neko is sold at souvenir shops in popular tourist sites such as Asakusa. There are whine ones, black ones, ones holding coins etc. How about getting one for yourself?

Gotokuji Temple
2-24-7, Gotokuji, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Get off at Odakyu Electric Railway “Gotokuji” Station from Shinjuku, and 5-min walk
Get off at Tokyu Setagaya Line “Miyanosaka” Station from Sangenjaya, and right outside the station

Imado Shrine
1-5-22, Imado, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Get off at Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Asakusa Line or Tobu Isesaki Line “Asakusa” Station, and 15-min walk

Source: “what is that cat?” JNTO Japan’s monthly web magazine Apr 2014 issue

Kyoto’s Mt. Potola, and the poor and vagrant’s Juichimen Kannon and entrance to the Six Realms

The temple house a number of statues of the Heian and Kamakura periods that have been designated Important Cultural Properties, including a Kamakura period image of its founder Kūya, as well as a Heian Jūichimen Kannon that is a National Treasure

The Rokuharamitsuji temple house a number of statues of the Heian and Kamakura periods that have been designated Important Cultural Properties, including a Kamakura period image of its founder Kūya, as well as a Heian Jūichimen Kannon that is a National Treasure

The Rokuharamitsuji temple is located on Fudarakusan – Mt Potola (Kannon’s Paradise Island). In this temple, Kuya Shonin laid to rest the souls of the dead who had been dumped at the entrance to the cemetery, too poor to afford a proper burial. In naming the temple after the mythical heaven of Potolaka, Kuya clearly felt that his temple was Kannon’s Western Paradise for the poor of Kyoto.

About Rokuharamitsuji:
The name of the temple refers to the “Practice of Perfection in the Six Realms of Existence”. It is said that souls wander throughout these six realms – the realm of hell, the realm of the hungry ghosts, the animal realm, the realm of the titans, the human realm and the realm of the gods – until they reach a state of enlightenment. Nearby was the entrance to the great Toribe cemetery extending up the mountain side. Those who couldn’t afford a burial would be unceremoniously dumped at the entrance. The crossroads by Toribeno, were called the Rokudo no Tsuji – “Crossroads of the Six Realms”, a liminal space between this world and the next that was said to be the entrance to the underworld. It was next to this intersection that Rokuharamitusji was built.

Description English: portrait of monk Kūya(ACE930-972), total about cm height, wood, coloured, ACE13th century, Sculptor is Kosho(early 13th century), in Rokuharamitsu-ji temple, Kyoto, Japan

Portrait of monk Kūya(ACE930-972), total about cm height, wood, coloured, carved in 1207 by Unkei ‘s fourth son Kosho, in Rokuharamitsu-ji temple, Kyoto, Japan

Kūya Shōnin, nembutsu monk, and son of Emperor Godaigo

Kūya Shōnin 空也上人 (903-972) was the son of Emperor Daigo and was tonsured as a monk at a young age. He rose through the clerical ranks to become the abbot of an important temple before forgoing all titles and becoming a wandering holy man instead. He became famous for his unique dance which he enacted as he chanted the Nembutsu. This dance is still performed and is called “Kuya’s Dancing Nembutsu”.

Until Kuya’s time, Buddhism was far too difficult for the common person to understand. So Kuya would travel around the countryside tapping a bell he wore around his neck, dancing to the beat and chanting “Namu Amida Butsu” as a way of bringing Buddhist practice to ordinary citizens.

He also built roads and bridges as well as digging wells for towns without water. He put his whole effort into helping the people of the villages and countryside. Always wearing shabby poor clothing and living a simple and frugal life, Kuya came to be revered as “The Marketplace Saint”, referring to his habit of preaching and dancing the Nembutsu in the village marketplace.

One year a terrible plague struck the people of Kyoto and one after another many people died. Kuya carved an image of Juichimen Kannon and mounted it onto a little cart which he pulled around Kyoto dancing the Nembutsu and giving medicine to the sick. In this way many people were cured of the plague. He stationed himself on a corner in the Gion district and dispensed a special tea made of pickled plums and kelp, called oyubukicha皇服茶. This tea became famous for its curative powers and sick people came from all over the city to drink it. Not only the poor people of the city came but also the nobility for the plague affected everyone regardless of rank. Gradually, the plague dissipated.

Thereafter the people commemorated the end of the plague by drinking Kuya’s tea ōbukucha on New Year’s Day, calling the tea “Prevention from Disaster Tea”. Nowadays people drink this tea on the third day of the New Year when it is considered to bring good luck for the year.

After the plague had run its course, he received Imperial permission to build a temple at the edge of Toribeno in order to continue praying for the souls of the dead.

One time, when Kuya was living amongst the beggars in Kyoto, a high-ranked priest named Senkan recognized him at the river side and asked Kuya, “Please tell me how I can be saved after death.” Kuya, recognizing the priest, humbly answered, “Surely it is I who should be asking you such a question. I’m just a poor vagrant who wanders around in confusion. I’ve never thought about such things.” But Senkan wouldn’t give up and very respectfully asked him once again. Feeling that an answer of some kind was due, Kuya replied, “Just discard your body anywhere,” and hurried off.

History of Rokuharamitsuji

After Kūya Shōnin’s death in 972, the temple he left behind prospered under the care of Nakanobu Shōnin中信上人, and the district gradually lost its gruesome reputation as the charnel ground of the poor. It even became fashionable when the all-powerful Taira clan, headed by Taira No Tadamori (1096-1153), established its mansions and military headquarters here, in the middle of the twelfth century. At the peak of its splendor, the temple complex covered the entire area from the river to the mountains, and there were over five thousand people living here. Unfortunately, when the Taira were destroyed by the Genji or Minamoto clan in 1183, after one of the most epic struggles of Japanese history, the whole district was destroyed by fire by the enemy. The temple was later rebuilt, but Rokuharamitsuji never grew very large again and remained a neighborhood temple. Japan’s first military ruler, Taira no Kiyomori平清盛 (1118–1181) became a monk and lived at the temple until his death.

From this time onwards the fortunes of Rokuharamitsuji went up and down along with the prevailing political and military winners and losers. Through the ascendancy and fall of the Hōjō and Ashikaga clans and later through the civil wars of the late 16th century, the temple and its buildings were regularly burned down and rebuilt by the subsequent winners. However, it was never able to rise to the glory it experienced in its heyday of the early 12th century. The temple was extensively renovated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi after the civil war, in early 17th century. However, when the Meiji Restoration implemented its State Shinto nationalist agenda, this Buddhist temple was attacked and ruined. It remained in a ruinous state until the thousand year anniversary of the founding of the temple in 1969, when the building was completely dismantled and renovated.

Pothigai Malai in Tamil Nadu, believed to be Mt Potola or Potolaka.

Pothigai Malai in Tamil Nadu, believed to be Mt Potola or Potolaka.

The origin of Mt Potala and the Six Realms is believed to be India:

Six Paths (Jp. = Rokudō 六道 or Rokudō-rinne 六道輪廻 or Mutsu no Sekai 六つの世界). Buddhist concept stemming from Hindu philosophies. Commonly translated in English as the “Six Realms of Karmic Rebirth.”

Long before Buddhism’s introduction to India, Hindu (Brahman) beliefs and traditions held sway. One important concept was “transmigration,” more commonly known in the West as “reincarnation.” It holds that all living things die and are reborn again. Your rebirth into the next life will be based on your behavior in your past life. This rebirth occurs again and again. When Buddhism emerged in India around 500 BC, it too stressed this Hindu belief in transmigration, one that still plays a major role in modern Buddhist philosophy. The modern Buddhist concept of Karma is also a byproduct of ancient Hindu beliefs in transmigration and reincarnation.

Among Buddhists, all living beings are born into one of the six states of existence (Samsara in Sanskrit, the cycle of life and death). All are trapped in this wheel of life, as the Tibetans call it. All beings within the six realms are doomed to death and rebirth in a recurring cycle over countless ages — unless they can break free from desire and attain enlightenment. Further, upon death, all beings are reborn into a lower or a higher realm depending on their actions while still alive. This involves the concept of Karma and Karmic Retribution. The lowest three states are called the three evil paths, or three bad states. The Japanese spellings of all six, plus brief descriptions, are shown … here, along with more the rest of the article “Cycle of suffering; Cycle of Samsara” (Onmark productions).

Where is Mt. Potola?

Mt. Potola aka Potalaka, Potikai, Potiyil, (Putuo mountain in Chinese) and the cult of Avalokiteśvara

The Japanese scholar Shu Hikosaka on the basis of his study of Buddhist scriptures, ancient Tamil literary sources, as well as field survey, proposes the hypothesis that, the ancient mount Potalaka, the residence of Avalokiteśvara described in the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra and Xuanzang’s Records, is the real mountain Potikai or Potiyil situated at Ambasamudram in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu. Shu also says that mount Potiyil/Potalaka has been a sacred place for the people of South India from time immemorial. With the spread of Buddhism in the region beginning at the time of the great king Aśoka in the third century B.C.E., it became a holy place also for Buddhists who gradually became dominant as a number of their hermits settled there. The local people, though, mainly remained followers of the Hindu religion. The mixed Hindu-Buddhist cult culminated in the formation of the figure of Avalokiteśvara.

In Tibet, the name of the Tibetan Dalai Lama’s Potola Palace (winter palace since the 7th c.)  stems from the same Indian-origined tradition pointing also, to an origin in southern India, and thus bears the above interpretation and theory out:

“From as early as the eleventh century the palace was called Potala. This name probably derives from Mt. Potala, the mythological mountain abode of the Bodhisattva Chenresi (Avilokiteshvara / Kuan Yin) in southern India.” –The Potola Palace

The compassion of Avalokitevara/Kuan Yin/Kannon for the poor and vagrant

An etymology of the Tibetan name Jänräsig (Jainraisig) is jän (eye), rä (continuity) and sig (to look). This gives the meaning of one who always looks upon all beings (with the eye of compassion).

The name Avalokiteśvara is made of the following parts: the verbal prefix ava, which means “down”; lokita, a past participle of the verb lok (“to notice, behold, observe”), here used in an active sense (an occasional irregularity of Sanskrit grammar); and finally īśvara, “lord”, “ruler”, “sovereign” or “master”. In accordance with sandhi (Sanskrit rules of sound combination), a+iśvara becomes eśvara. Combined, the parts mean “lord who gazes down (at the world)”. The word loka (“world”) is absent from the name, but the phrase is implied.

It was initially thought that the Chinese mis-transliterated the word Avalokiteśvara as Avalokitasvara which explained why Xuanzang translated it as Guānzìzài (Ch. 觀自在) instead of Guānyīn (Ch. 觀音). However, according to recent research, the original form was indeed Avalokitasvara with the ending a-svara (“sound, noise”), which means “sound perceiver”, literally “he who looks down upon sound” (i.e., the cries of sentient beings who need his help; a-svara can be glossed as ahr-svara, “sound of lamentation”). This is the exact equivalent of the Chinese translation Guānyīn. This etymology was furthered in the Chinese by the tendency of some Chinese translators, notably Kumarajiva, to use the variant Guānshìyīn (Ch. 觀世音), literally “he who perceives the world’s lamentations”—wherein lok was read as simultaneously meaning both “to look” and “world” (Skt. loka; Ch. 世, shì). This name was later supplanted by the form containing the ending -īśvara, which does not occur in Sanskrit before the seventh century. The original form Avalokitasvara already appears in Sanskrit fragments of the fifth century.

The original meaning of the name fits the Buddhist understanding of the role of a bodhisattva. The reinterpretation presenting him as an īśvara shows a strong influence of Hinduism, as the term īśvara was usually connected to the Hindu notion of Krishna (in Vaisnavism) or Śiva (in Śaivism) as the Supreme Lord, Creator and Ruler of the world. Some attributes of such a god were transmitted to the bodhisattva, but the mainstream of those who venerated Avalokiteśvara upheld the Buddhist rejection of the doctrine of any creator god.

According to Mahāyāna doctrine, Avalokiteśvara is the bodhisattva who has made a great vow to assist sentient beings in times of difficulty, and to postpone his own Buddhahood until he has assisted every sentient being in achieving Nirvāṇa.

The Lotus Sūtra (Skt. Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra) is generally accepted to be the earliest literature teaching about the doctrines of Avalokiteśvara. These are found in the Lotus Sūtra chapter 25, The Universal Gateway of Avalokitasvara Bodhisattva (Ch. 觀世音菩薩普門品). This chapter is devoted to Avalokitasvara, describing him as a compassionate bodhisattva who hears the cries of sentient beings, and who works tirelessly to help those who call upon his name. A total of 33 different manifestations of Avalokitasvara are described, including female manifestations, all to suit the minds of various beings. The chapter consists of both a prose and a verse section. This earliest source often circulates separately as its own sūtra, called the Avalokitasvara Sūtra (Ch. 觀世音經), and is commonly recited or chanted at Buddhist temples in East Asia.

When the Chinese monk Faxian traveled to Mathura in India around 400 CE, he wrote about monks presenting offerings to Avalokiteśvara. When Xuanzang traveled to India in the 7th century, he provided eyewitness accounts of Avalokiteśvara statues being venerated by devotees of all walks of life, from kings, to monks, to laypeople. Avalokiteśvara remained popular in India until the 12th century when Muslim invaders conquered the land and destroyed Buddhist monasteries.

In Chinese Buddhism and East Asia, practices for an 18-armed form of Avalokiteśvara called Cundī are very popular. These practices have their basis in early Indian Esoteric Buddhism. Cundī is also referred to as “Cundī Buddha-Mother” or “Cundī Bhagavatī.” The popularity of Cundī is attested by the three extant translations of the Cundī Dhāraṇī Sūtra from Sanskrit to Chinese, made from the end of the seventh century to the beginning of the eighth century. In late imperial China, these early traditions of Esoteric Buddhism are known to have been still thriving in Buddhist communities. Robert Gimello has also observed that in these communities, the esoteric practices of Cundī were extremely popular among both the populace and the elite.

The significance of six

In the Tiantai school, six forms of Avalokiteśvara are defined. Each of the bodhisattva’s six qualities are said to break the hindrances respectively of the six realms of existence: hell-beings, pretas, animals, humans, asuras, and devas.

In Shingon Buddhism, the mantra for Avalokiteśvara is:

おん あるりきゃ そわか
On Arurikya Sowaka
The Mahākaruṇā Dhāraṇī (Great Compassion Dhāraṇī), also called the Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī, is an 82-syllable dhāraṇī for Avalokiteśvara.

While the Avalokiteśvara has an extraordinarily large number of manifestations in different forms (including wisdom goddesses (vidyaas) directly associated with him in images and texts), the form it takes At the Rokuharamitsuji, is the eleven-faced Avalokitesvara. The additional faces manifested are meant to teach all the 10 planes of existence. (Source: Avalokitesvara)

This image of Avalokitesvara is said to have been by Kuya himself, which he carted around on his nembutsu rounds (Source: Sacred Japan)

This image of Avalokitesvara is said to have been by Kuya himself, which he carted around on his nembutsu rounds (Source: Sacred Japan)

Mani wall carving of Avalokitesvara, Ghap, Nepal (Photo: Manaslu's Mountains of Travel photo gallery)

Mani wall carving of Avalokitesvara, Ghap, Nepal (Photo: Manaslu’s Mountains of Travel photo gallery)

The 11-headed Kannon with the four arms, and a lotus, of the Rokuharamitsuji temple, however, appears to be a form of iconography in between the Nepali(mani carving at Ghap) form and the Tibetan one, which also has a distinctive Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara, worshipped by all Tibetans as “Chenrezig”, the Holder of the White Lotus.

Eleven-Headed Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, 17th-18th c., Metropolitan Museum

Eleven-Headed Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Tibet, 17th-18th c., The Art Institute of Chicago

However, unlike the Japanese form, The Tibetan one is in the male form which has two hands in the praying gesture while the other two hands hold his symbols, the Crystal Rosary and the Lotus Flower (see Kuan Shih-Yin). Compare the Japanese iconography also with the Nepali one called the Mani Wall in Ghap, as well as the Tibetan one. Each of the four arms is said to represent a different aspect of his compassionate nature. For an exposition of the relationship, development and meaning of the Indian, Nepali,  Tibetan and Chinese forms of Avalokitesvara, see Eleven-headed Avalokitesvara, 17th-18th century, Tibet.

According to the Metropolitan Museum’s theory, the Japanese Juichimen Kannon of Mt Fudaraka is derived from trade with the Chinese port of Ningpo:

“Described in the sutras as a mountainous island in the southern sea, Mount Fudaraka (Sanskrit: Potalaka[Putuoshan]) is said to be the residence of the bodhisattva Kannon (Sanskrit: Avalokiteshvara). This place was popularly identified in China as an island off the coast of Ningbo in Zhejiang province. Because Ningbo was the main port of entry for ships from Japan during the medieval period, the cult became known in Japan and was eventually assimilated into syncretic mountain worship shugendō) there. Certain sacred Japanese mountains, such as Kumano and Kasuga, came to be revered as Pure Land abodes of Kannon, who is viewed as an emanation of the Buddha Amida (Sanskrit: Amitâbha). In this case, the bodhisattva is shown with eleven heads (jūichimen), one of the most commonly depicted of the deity’s thirty-three forms.

Here, details of the landscape, such as the spring blossoms and autumn leaves, reflect the painting’s role as a virtual pilgrimage to the sacred site, which is approached by a supernatural boatman to the right and the daughter of the Dragon King who emerges from the sea at left. Kannon’s luminous form is rendered by the painstaking technique of applying color to the reverse of the silk. That aspect, as well as the brushwork and the formal composition, suggests the hand of a thirteenth-century painter with formal influences from Song-dynasty China.”


Hirosaka, Shu. The Potiyil Mountain in Tamil Nadu and the origin of the Avalokiteśvara cult

Rokuharamitsuji (Sacred Japan)


Images: Wikimedia Commons

Crossreference 10th c. Heian image of two-armed juichimen kannon sculpture, Shizuoka prefecture, Museum of Art

Further reading:

Kannon notebook (Onmark Productions)

The Foxes’ Wedding — a weather or ghostly phenomenon, an astronomical and shrine ritual

A real wedding ceremony to be held tomorrow in Takasaki, Gunma, being a re-enactment of the Fox's Wedding folktale and shrine legend

A real wedding ceremony to be held tomorrow in Takasaki, Gunma, being a re-enactment of the Fox’s Wedding folktale and shrine legend (source: NHK Asaichi TV program)

The “Fox’s Wedding”, one of the most mysterious and romantic myths of Japan, is a popular folktale being re-enacted in actual weddings and shrine festivals in today.

Minowa no Sato no Kitsune no Yomeiri

Minowa no Sato no Kitsune no Yomeiri

Above is a photo of the re-enactment of the “Fox’s Wedding” held in the castle town of Minowa. The wedding ceremony passed down the generations in the Takasaki City Misato area is portrayed in a fox’s wedding and people made up to look like foxes march along in a parade. (Contact the Misato Branch Office of Takasaki City for tourist info, and see this blog). It is celebrated by locals in Gunma Prefecture’s Takasaki City on  6 (Sun) October.

The fox’s wedding, the legend

The fox bride and the fox groom

The fox bride and the fox groom, in a festival of  Takasaki, Gunma

As the legend goes,

Once upon a time there was a young white fox, whose name was Fukuyémon. When he had reached the fitting age, he shaved off his forelock and began to think of taking to himself a beautiful bride. The old fox, his father, resolved to give up his inheritance to his son, and retired into private life; so the young fox, in gratitude for this, laboured hard and earnestly to increase his patrimony. Now it happened that in a famous old family of foxes there was a beautiful young lady-fox, with such lovely fur that the fame of her jewel-like charms was spread far and wide. The young white fox, who had heard of this, was bent on making her his wife, and a meeting was arranged between them. There was not a fault to be found on either side; so the preliminaries were settled, and the wedding presents sent from the bridegroom to the bride’s house, with congratulatory speeches from the messenger, which were duly acknowledged by the person deputed to receive the gifts; the bearers, of course, received the customary fee in copper cash.

When the ceremonies had been concluded, an auspicious day was chosen for the bride to go to her husband’s house, and she was carried off in solemn procession during a shower of rain, the sun shining all the while.* After the ceremonies of drinking wine had been gone through, the bride changed her dress, and the wedding was concluded, without let or hindrance, amid singing and dancing and merry-making.

The bride and bridegroom lived lovingly together, and a litter of little foxes were born to them, to the great joy of the old grandsire, who treated the little cubs as tenderly as if they had been butterflies or flowers. “They’re the very image of their old grandfather,” said he, as proud as possible. “As for medicine, bless them, they’re so healthy that they’ll never need a copper coin’s worth!”

As soon as they were old enough, they were carried off to the temple of Inari Sama, the patron saint of foxes, and the old grand-parents prayed that they might be delivered from dogs and all the other ills to which fox flesh is heir.

In this way the white fox by degrees waxed old and prosperous, and his children, year by year, became more and more numerous around him; so that, happy in his family and his business, every recurring spring brought him fresh cause for joy.

*A shower during sunshine, which we call “the devil beating his wife,” is called in Japan “the fox’s bride going to her husband’s house.”

(This account of the story appears in Tales of Old Japan, by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford. It and its illustrations are reused according to the terms of the Project Gutenberg License online at

Associations of the myth with weather phenomenon, such as sunshowers and fox-rain

In the Kantō region, Chūbu region, Kansai region! Chūgoku region, Shikoku, Kyushu, among other places, sunshowers are called “kitsune no yomeiri.”

Like kitsune-bi foxfires and atmospheric ghost lights, this phenomena is called various names depending on area. In the Nanbu Region, Aomori Prefecture, it is called “kitsune no yometori” (狐の嫁取り, the fox’s wife-taking), and in Serizawa, Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture and the mountainous areas of Oe District, Tokushima Prefecture, it is called “kitsune-ame” (狐雨, fox rain).  In the eastern Isumi District, Chiba Prefecture, it is called “kitsune no shūgen” (狐の祝言). In the Higashi-Katsushika District, Chiba Prefecture, it is referred to as “kitsune no yometori ame” (狐の嫁取り雨, the fox’s wife-taking rain) like in Aomori, but this stems from the fact that this area was once a farming area, and seeing as how wives were noted for their labor, wives were thought as ones who existed to be “taken” for the sake of the prosperity of the family.

The relation between a fox’s wedding and the weather also differs by area, and in the Kumamoto Prefecture, it is when a rainbow appears, and in the Aichi Prefecture, it is when graupel falls that there is a fox’s wedding.

The “Kitsune no Yomeiri-zu” from the Edo period by the ukiyo-e artist Hokusai Katsushika was based upon this weather-related folk belief, and it depicted various people surprised by a fox’s wedding procession and a sudden shower, and their bustle to take in their crop. This has been pointed out to be an unusual example where the imaginary background of the foxes and the real customs of farming villages are depicted at the same time in a painting.

Detail of Hokusai's

Detail from “Hokusai’s Kitsune-no-yomeiri-zu”

A poem of Kobayashi Issa, a haiku poet of the same era, reads, “in the autumn flames and mountains, there is the rain of fox’s weddings” (秋の火や山は狐の嫁入雨). Also, in the works of the Meiji period waka and haiku poet Kobayashi Issa, there was a tanka that read, “when the rain falls on the village from a blue sky at the hour of the horse, perhaps the king fox is getting married” (青空にむら雨すぐる馬時狐の大王妻めすらんか).

From the ningyō jōruri “Dan no Ura Kabuto Gunki” (壇浦兜軍記) first performed in 1732, one hears the refrain “it was quite clear weather all the way up to now, but then I heard it, the playful rain of the fox’s wedding” and in the period novel Onihei Hankachō published after the war, there was one volume titled “fox rain” (狐雨).

In Edo period kusazōshi and kibyōshi such as “無物喰狐婿入” (illustrated by Kitao Masayoshi) published in 1785 (Tenmei 5), “Mukashigatari Kitsune Yomeiri” (昔語狐娶入) (illustrated by Kitao Shigemasa), and “Anasaka Kitsune Engumi” (穴賢狐縁組) (illustrated by Jippensha Ikku), as well as in Kamigata e-hon such as the “Shūgen Kitsune no Mukoiri” and “Ehon Atsumegusa,” there are depictions of “foxes weddings” of humanized foxes going through weddings. There was a genre of works called “yomeiri mono” (嫁入り物, “wedding things”) of humanized animals going through weddings, but foxes had the special characteristic of concretely having the name Inari no Kami attached to them. This is seen to be an indication that faith in the god Inari as well as “yomeiri mono” both deeply permeated among the common people.

The foxes' wedding as depicted in Shugen Kitsne no Mukoiri

The foxes’ wedding as depicted in Shugen Kitsne no Mukoiri

Among local people, in Akaoka, Kōchi Prefecture (now Kōnan) among other places, there is the children’s song in which we hear “when rain falls in good weather, it’s the fox’s wedding” (日和に雨が降りゃ 狐の嫁入り, hiyori ni ame ga furya, kitsune no yomeiri), and it is said that an actual fox’s wedding precession was seen on a day of a sunshower.

The foxes’s wedding as an auspicious wedding reenactment (or wedding rite for the reversal of ill-fortune)

In the Suzakihamamiyashinemei Jinja in Miyado, Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, during setsubun, a shinto ritual called “kitsune no yomeiri dōchū (the fox’s wedding journey)” performed in the Edo period, and revived during the postwar period, and a man and woman who were in a yakudoshi or “unlucky age” that year would dress up as a little fox, the head envoy of the gods, and a girl fox, the envoy of the god of Suzakihamamiyashinemei Jinja, and then re-enact a wedding, which at that time it can be seen to flourish with several tens of thousands of visitors to the shrine. [The dressup as foxes was probably an act of deception intended to trick the gods into not knowing the couple's true identity, so as not to attract misfortun while allowing them to go ahead with their wedding rites.)


Fox sightings, supernatural and ghostly encounters and -- omens of death

The abovementioned auspicious tale has an ominous and foreboding counterpart legend in Tokushima prefecture, where the lantern procession and fox's wedding weather phenomena sightings, are an omen that someone is about to die, a part of a funeral ritual.

Generally at night in the mountains or at riverbeds, it is said that countless kitsunebi would come together in a line and look like a procession of paper lanterns, and it is said that the foxes are lighting paper lanterns for a wedding ceremony, and thus it is called "the fox's wedding." These mysterious flames have the particular characteeristic that they can only be seen from afar.

In the essay "Kokon Yōdan Shū" from the Edo Period, there was a story where someone actually encountered the wedding. In Kanpō 5 (1745), a man appeared in the ferry landing in Takemachi, Honjo, and since there was a wedding ceremony in the home of his employer who he works for, he requested many ferryboats to gather, and as a gift to the host of the ferry landing, he gave one ryō as a tip. The host happily prepared the boats and waited, and since a splendid wedding procession came, the host courteously escorted the procession. However, the next morning, not to mention the tip, all of the ferry money turned into tree leaves. Local rumors have it that there was a wedding between deities(?) of Handa Inari in Kanamachi, Kasai (now Katsushika, Tokyo) and Yasuzemon Inari in Asakusa.

There are many foxes that live in Kirinzan in the Niigata Prefecture, and it is said that at night, there was a wedding procession with hanging paper lanterns. For this reason,  there is a festival called the Kitsune no Yomeiri Gyōretsu is performed in the Tsugawa region, Aga, Higashikanbara also in the same prefecture. Originally a place famous for kitsunebi, an event related to kitsunebi was performed starting from Shōwa 27, the wedding precession (yomeiri gyōretsu) is today an annual sightseeing event, with about 40 thousand sightseers.

A topography book of the Echigo province (now Niigata Prefecture), from the Hōreki period, the "Echigo Nayose" (越後名寄), includes the following statement about the appearance of the "kitsune no yomeiri":

At whatever time at night, whatever place, on occasions when it becomes extraordinarily quiet, flames like paper lanterns or embers can be seen continuing far into the distance, far surpassing even one ri. They are quite rare in all places, but they appear occasionally in the Kanbara district. This is said to be the wedding of young foxes.

In here, lines of atmospheric ghost lights that stretch close to 4 kilometers are called "kitsune no kon," and also in Nakakubiki District, Niigata Prefecture, and Uonuma of the same prefecture, the Akita Prefecture, Sakuragawa, Ibaraki Prefecture, Nanakai, Nishiibaraki District of the same prefecture(now Shirosato), Hitachiōta of the same prefecture, Koshigaya, Saitama Prefecture, Higashichichibu of the same prefecture, the Tama area of Tokyo, the Gunma Prefecture, the Tochigi Prefecture, Mukawa, Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture, the Mie Prefecture, Kashihara, Nara Prefecture, and Nanbu, Saihaku District, Tottori Prefecture, among other places, when atmospheric ghost lights (kitsunebi) are seen in the countryside at night, the phenomenon is called "kitsune no yomeiri."

What it is called can vary depending on area; for example, the phenomenon is called "kitsune no yometori (狐の嫁取り, the fox's wife-taking)" in Sōka, Saitama Prefecture and Noto, Fugeshi District, Ishikawa Prefecture (now Noto, Hōsu District)[15][16] while referred to as “kitsune no shūgen” (狐の祝言) in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture. Several theories exist as to why the bride and groom are seen as foxes. One such theory says that although the lights appeared to be signifying a wedding, there was actually no wedding anywhere and the entire thing was an elaborate trick played by foxes.

Past phenomenon in Toyoshima in Edo (now Toshima, Kita ward, Tokyo, and Ouji, of the same ward), allegedly include the atmospheric ghost lights that continuously appear and quiver and shake around in the darkness is called “kitsune no yomeiri,” –the phenomenon is counted as one of the “seven mysteries of Toshima” told about in this village.


The superhuman and supernatural

Stories of marriages between foxes that were shown to humans are disseminated country-wide.

One such example, was the folk legend of Sōka, Saitama prefecture, in the Sengoku period, where a certain woman promised to marry with her lover, but who died to an illness, and foxes were said to have been inspired by the regretfulness of this situation … into holding the fox’s wedding procession spotted taking place near the woman’s grave.  Also, according to a folktale in the Shinano Province (now Nagano Prefecture), there is a story where when an old man helped a little fox, he was eventually greeted by the wedding procession of the fox when it grew mature, and as a gift of thinks to the old man, he was taken along it. In stories of weddings like these, natural phenomena like those written about above as well as supernatural “kitsune no yomeiri,” function like stage settings, and weddings that take place in the day frequently take place in a sunshower, and those that take place at night frequently take place among atmospheric ghost lights.

There are various stories of strange wedding processions that were witnessed, and recorded, especially in old Edo literature which involved sightings of actual foxes, like in the essay “Konjaku Yōdan Shū” (今昔妖談集) of Kan’ei period of one taking place in Takemachi, in the Honjo area of Edo, as well as the written work “Edo Chirihiroi” (江戸塵拾) where one was seen at the Hacchō canal in Edo, as well as the kaidan collection “Kaidan Oi no Tsue” (怪談老の杖) of the Kansei period where one was seen in the village of Kanda, Kōzuke (now Gunma Prefecture).

The fox myths, as linked to the Inari deity and Inari shrine agricultural tradition, where the fox is deified as a god of harvest OR a messenger of the grain deity Inari.

In the Hanaoka Tokufuku Inari-sha in Kudamatsu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in the Inari festival held in November 3 every year, the “kitsune no yomeiri” is performed. This is not related to either atmospheric ghost lights or sunshowers, but is rather a re-enactment of a wedding between foxes, and is due to the efforts of volunteers after the old practice of praying for good harvest at the Inari festival at that shrine ceased in the chaos of the postwar period, and the re-enactment refers to the fact a white fox couple at that shrine was looking for something lost, and was deified as a god of good harvest and thriving business. The ones who perform as the fox couple are selected among the people of Kudamatsu, but it is said that as the female who plays the part of one of the newlywed is going to be blessed with a good match, there is a benefit to a marriage at that same shrine.

See Hatsu Uma Festival commemorates the day that Inari, the grain deity descended upon Mt Inari

The fox is associated with Inari, a grain deity who descended upon Mt Inari

The fox is associated with Inari, a grain deity who descended upon Mt Inari

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社?) is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan. The shrine that sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari, is predominantly patronized in early Japan by merchants.

The earliest structures were built in 711 on the Inariyama hill in southwestern Kyoto, but the shrine was re-located in 816 on the request of the monk Kūkai to the current Fushimi-ku location in Kyoto. The shrine became the object of Imperial patronage during the early Heian period. In 965 Emperor Murakami decreed that messengers carry written accounts of important events to the guardian kami of Japan. Inari shrine was among the 16 shrines, these heihaku were initially presented to. From 1871 through 1946, Fushimi Inari-taisha was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社?), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines.

The clear link between foxes and Inari is documented in Edo period kusazōshi and kibyōshi such as “無物喰狐婿入” (illustrated by Kitao Masayoshi) published in 1785 (Tenmei 5), “Mukashigatari Kitsune Yomeiri” (昔語狐娶入) (illustrated by Kitao Shigemasa), and “Anasaka Kitsune Engumi” (穴賢狐縁組) (illustrated by Jippensha Ikku), as well as in Kamigata e-hon such as the “Shūgen Kitsune no Mukoiri” and “Ehon Atsumegusa,” there are depictions of “foxes weddings” of humanized foxes going through weddings. There was a genre of works called “yomeiri mono” (嫁入り物, “wedding things”) of humanized animals going through weddings, but foxes had the special characteristic of concretely having the name Inari no Kami attached to them. This is seen to be an indication that faith in the god Inari as well as “yomeiri mono” both deeply permeated among the common people.

The foxes’ legend as a cosmological myth of great antiquity and with a broader common origin

The most probable explanation for the fox’s wedding, and other fox, legends, is that it was an ancient agricultural and seasonal astronomical precessional rite, that was inherited from the Altaic-or Northern Chinese continental migrants who brought grain agriculture into the land, both millet and rice. From studies of archaeology and astronomical knowledge, fox legends are believed to have a four thousand year old history, associated with prehistoric earth and sky agricultural rites and a part of the ancients’ rich body of calendrical knowledge of cyclical-seasonal readings. Fox sculptures are known in archeaology from Turkey’s Gobleki Tepe site, and fox myths and temples are found in abundance pan-Mesoamerican and -South American, the fox temples featuring earth offerings and sightings of celestial bodies’ alignments and seasonal predictions.

A 2011 study, published in the Journal of Cosmology, reviews the “evidence associated with the fox representations [and] argues that the beginnings of hierarchy in Andean South America occurred with the rise of a priestly cult who maintained a complex knowledge of astronomy.” The article entitled “Ancient South American Cosmology: Four Thousand Years of the Myth of the Fox”, excerpted below states,

“The mythology of the South American fox is associated with both the sky, into which he ascended, and more strongly, the earth below. He brought back carbohydrates from the heavens in the form of agricultural plants, and animal protein in the form of fish. His association with climate change and prediction of crop success is told in stories over much of South America. His constellation is visible to indigenous peoples in a number of South American countries. From coastal Peru to southern Ecuador, shamans still use the fox to make prophesies, and variations on the fox myths are still heard from Central to South… The first representations of the Andean fox were found at the site of Buena Vista, Chillón Valley, Perú.


The fox representations at Buena Vista are the earliest three‐dimensional art in the Americas (Benfer et al. 2010). These 4,000‐year‐ago acts marked a point where stories about the fox first became expressed visually in sculptures, murals, paintings, and architecture. The archaeological representations of the fox at Buena Vista are associated with temples where one could observe sky‐events and make offerings to the earth.

These associations of the fox with the earth and the sky persisted from the Late Preceramic until the time of the Incas and are still known today among Andean peoples, both Quechua‐speakers and Aymara‐speakers….

An Andean constellation of his personage is widely known throughout much of South America. The fox of contemporary SA indigenous peoples’ cosmology appears to be the same fox that by 2000 BC was first represented in art associated with monumental architecture at Buena Vista.”

“The rising of the Andean Fox constellation in the Milky Way marked seasonally important dates such as solstices (Benfer et al. 2010) and lunar standstills (Adkins and Benfer 2009) between 2200 and 2000 BC. So, too, the Maya constellations and the Milky Way marked solstices.”

The authors argues for a distant common origin of the fox myths, having found that there were common elements of Mesoamerican and South American origin fox myths, such as nocturnal associations, trickery and associations with earth and agricultural offerings and a relationship between the fox and the sacred mountain: “The South American fox monitors offerings to the earth, which are reviewed for adequacy by animated mountains”.

In Japan, with its adopted western Gregorian calendar, the calendrical associations of fox myths are for the most part forgotten, however, vestiges of the seasonal significance remain. For eg.,according to legends of Fukushima Prefecture, it is said that at evening on 10th day of the 10th month on the lunisolar calendar, if one wears a suribachi on one’s head, and sticks a wooden pestle in one’s waist, and stand under a date plum, it is possible to see a fox’s wedding, and in the Aichi Prefecture, it is said that if one spits in a well, intertwine one’s fingers and look through a gap in between, one is able to see a fox’s wedding.

Shapeshifters, a separate Indo-European or Indo-Iranian development

The same 2011 study emphasized that stories of shape-shifting foxes belong to a separate tradition and possibly a later Indo-European/Aryan development. This appears to accord with the Japanese situation where shapeshifting foxes are mostly medieval developments showing diversified late Silk Road Eurasian influences.

There are also stories of weddings not just between foxes, but also between a human male and a female fox, and a representative work, which also became a ningyō jōruri, is the story about the birth of the Heian period onmyoji, Abe no Seimei in Kuzunoha. There is also a similar tale in the Nihonkoku Genpō Zen’aku Ryōiki, as well as in the “Tonegawa Zushi” (利根川図志) a topography book published in 1857 (Ansei).  The town of Onabake (女化, literally meaning “shapeshift into woman”) in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture got its name from this, and the a fox is deified in the Onabake Jinja in Ryūgasaki of the same prefecture.

Also, in the Konjaku Monogatarishū as well as the “Honchō Koji Innen Shū” (本朝故事因縁集) published in 1689 (Genroku 2) and the “Tamahahaki” (玉掃木) published in 1696 (Genroku 9), there is the story of a fox who appeared before a married man, shapeshifted and disguised as that person’s wife. Also, in the kaidan collection “Tonoigusa” (宿直草) published in 1677 (Enpō 5), there is the reverse story where a male fox fell in love with a female human, shapedshifted and disguised as that woman’s husband and intercourse, and resulted in the birth of children with atypical appearance.

See also She-Wolf, Were-Wolf Wives and wolf shrines of Japan

In Descended from Wolves: Wolf Symbolism, I draw upon the writings of Daniele Guizzo’s work, “”Blessed and cursed: Wolf”s totemism and tabooisation between the Caucasus and Iran“(p. 117~) says the fox was interchangeable with wolves in Iranic symbolism and the shapeshifting and other wolf attributes were indistinguishable in the Iranian and Caucasian world, — to show that wolves, werewolves originated in a Proto-Indo-European or Aryan homeland and moved westwards, from early Turk-Mongol centres, while the fox shapeshifter can be traced out of Iranic Central Asian dispersing through eastwards in East Asian cultural spheres (through China, Korea and Japan), perhaps in tandem with the spread of millet and rice agriculture (foxes’ tails are often compare with millet).

Finally, in Myths and Legends from Korea: An Annotated Compendium of Ancient and Modern Materials (edited by James Huntley Grayson) at pp.396-7 the Korean Fox Wife tale is compared with its counterpart Fox Wife tale from Japan, and at the same time, it is suggested from the background of the next tale of the fox who became the Empress of China, that the fox-ancestry or fox-descent tales of both Korea and Japan originate from Chinese sources [which in turn may have originated from Iranic or Dravidian sources), and are a variant of the Mongolic wolf-descent tales. The three Chinese-Korean-Japanese mythic cultural spheres are clearly related, for they share the same mythical nine-tailed fox iconography with genealogical significance (and therefore possibly the same royal bloodlines?). Korean tales, however, tend to portray the fox mountain spirit as evil, while foxes are more often than not regarded as benevolent by the Japanese.  History books like Book of Zhou and story collections like Extensive Records of the Taiping Era, depict the nine-tailed fox as a beast of fortune. Sent by the heavens, the nine-tailed fox was seen as a sign of fortune, peace and luck. In the Han dynasty, it is the protector of royal blood.

Nine-tailed fox from the Qing period Shanghaijing.

Nine-tailed fox from the Qing period Shanghaijing.

Source and references:

“Ancient South American Cosmology:
Four Thousand Years of the Myth of the Fox”, Journal of Cosmology, 2011

Kitsune-bi (

Wikipedia entry “kitsune no yomeiri

For more resources on foxwives and nine-tailed foxes and more, see this page

Namahage – friend or foe?



The Namahage stories and traditions are so ancient, nobody can agree upon their origins anymore…

The Namahage is a demon-or ogre-like creature which features prevalently in an annual New Year’s tradition in Akita prefecture. On the 31st of December, young men don a demon mask and straw raincoat, and carry a pail and a weapon made of wood. They roar menacingly, dance around bonfires, play taiko drums and visit every house in the village, searching for indolent and disobedient children to drag away into the mountains. Once the children have been sufficiently chased around and frightened, parents assure the Namahage that there are no bad children in the house, and appease them with food and sake. The Namahage encourages the children to keep studying and working hard, and the children make a new year’s resolution to behave. Finally, the Namahage wishes prosperity and good health on the family before moving on to the next house.(source: ilovejapan website)

The Namahage’s role thus reminds us a little of Santa Claus (or Saint Nicholas’) …”better be good, better be nice,  Santa knows…” as the carol goes. Actually, in this repsect, the Namahage has a very close counterpart in the Krampus demon found in Germanic areas of Europe. This suggests the diffusion of a very distant common tradition from a common origin in the early Aryan/Caucasus/Eurasian steppelands (or homeland of the proto-Europeans). See the Horned demons of Europe and Images of oni from Onmyodo traditions and beliefs

The namahage’s purpose was to admonish laggards who sit around the fire idly doing nothing useful. One of the refrains used by the namahage in the olden days was “Blisters peeled yet?” (なもみコ剝げたかよ namomi ko hagetaka yo?). Namomi signifies the heat blisters, or more precisely hidako (火だこ hidako?) (Erythema ab igne or EAI), a rashlike condition caused by overexposure to fire sitting by the dugout irori hearth. Thus “Fire rash peeling” is generally believed to be the derivation of the name namahage.

Some of the namahage’s other spoken lines of old were “Knife whetted yet?” (包丁コとげたかよ hōchōko togetaka yo?) and “Boiled adzuki beans done yet?” (小豆コ煮えたかよ azuki ko nietaka yo?). The knife apparently signified the instrument to peel the blisters. And it may be mentioned in passing that it was customary to have azuki gruel on the “Little New Year”.

Although the namahage takes the form of a type of oni or ogre, it was originally thought to be a custom where youngsters impersonated the kami who made visitations during the New Year’s season. Thus it is a kind of toshigami.

The namahage would typically receive mochi from the households they visited, but newlywed couples were supposed to play host to them in full formal attire and offer them sake and food.

Some ethnologists and folklorists suggest it relates to a belief in deities (or spirits) coming from abroad to take away misfortune and bring blessings for the new year, while others believe it is an agricultural custom where the kami from the sacred mountains visit. See the related marebito concept.

Namahage visits are nowadays practiced on New Year’s Eve using the Western Gregorian calendar. But it used to be practiced on the so-called “Little New Year” (小正月 Koshōgatsu?), the first full moon night of the year. This is 15th day of the first lunar calendrical year, which is not the same thing as January 15 as it fluctuates and usually falls around mid-February, exactly two weeks after the Chinese New Year (Japanese: Kyūshogatsu).


From the Oga peninsula, comes a great favorite folktale that paints the Han Chinese as unwelcome maurauders in the distant past…

The Legend of the 999 Stone Stairs and the Namahage

Legend has it that the Emperor Wu of Han (d. 87 BC) China came to Japan bringing five demonic ogres to the Oga area, and the ogres established quarters in the two local high peaks, Honzan (本山)and Shinzan (真山). These oni, as ogres are most commonly called in Japan, stole crops and young women from Oga’s villages.

The citizens of Oga wagered the ogres that if they could build a flight of stone steps, one thousand steps in all, from the village to the five shrine halls, [variant: from the sea shore to the top of Mt. Shinzan, all in one night, then the villagers will supply them with a young woman every year.  If on the other hand, the oni failed in their task, they would have to leave Oga never to return again.

The ogres accepted the wager and had reached 999 stairs when a quick-witted villager mimicked a cock crowing at dawn. So the ogres departed dismayed, believing they had failed.


In other regions, namahage act as village guardians and protectors against disaster… Eg., at the Namahage Sedo Festival

This famous winter rite is the union of the folk Namahage tradition and a Shinto festival.

The festival begins with Chinkamayu no Mai, a sacred kagura dance particular to the area. This is followed by the dynamic Namahage dance and drums. Finally, fifteen Namahage march down from the mountain bearing torches, bringing the night to its climax. The sticky rice cakes passed out by the demons themselves(unlike elsewhere where they are bribed with mochi cakes), are said to ward off disaster.



Sources and further reading:

Namahage  Museum

Yamamoto, Yoshiko (1978). The Namahage: a festival in the northeast of Japan. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, Inc. p. 114. ISBN 0-915980-66-5.

Wikipedia’s entry “Namahage”

Banishing the demons one bean at a time

Horned demons of Europe

Images of oni from onmyodo traditions and beliefs


Namahage image: own work



How Taoist-Confucian ideology helped the Yamato rulers accommodate the indigenous fertility and phallic cults in Japan


Hōnen Matsuri at Tagata Shrine in Komaki

Hōnen Matsuri at Tagata Shrine (Wikipedia)

The Tagata and O-Agata shrines of Japan attract a great deal of interest both from locals as well as from abroad … for the phallic cult and fertility festivals.

The Tagata shrine and its paired O-Agata shrine actually enshrine and venerate a royal princess, who according to local tradition, was the daughter and husband of feudal lords who belonged  with the warrior aristocrat retinue from Nara. The Tagata shrine lies over the former residence of the Tamahime princess. This begs the question as to why the Yamato royal elites would be presiding over the phallic fertility festivals of the region they had settled or pacified.

Harvest Festival at Oh-Agata Shrine (Hime-no-miya Shrine)

Harvest Festival at Oh-Agata Shrine (Hime-no-miya Shrine) image: Japanguides

For clues to the answer, we look to the Taoist worldview and ideology that had been borrowed from China.

In Nara, the centre of Yamato state rule, the royal courtly culture was strongly influenced by continental traditions and customs, and Taoist beliefs governed every aspect of their daily lived. A veritable “Ministry of Magic” called the Bureau of Divination or Onmyoryo, headed by Taoist priests laid down yin-yang /in-yo rules for daily life and through its divination ritual practices, influenced the major and most important decisions of the day, such as when and whether to go to war, or to cross the seas in undertaking diplomatic missions or military expansions.

Phallic cults and festivals are often identified with Shintoism and assumed to be strictly local and indigenous since phallic rods and henges have been erected during prehistoric times and in early Japan. As such, they are commonly believed to be unconnected to or uninfluenced by royal customs which were foreign continental practices.

However, we suggest that the local indigenous phallic rituals and corresponding vaginal fertility cultic practices and beliefs were easily accommodated by the new system of Taoist beliefs that were taking root in Japan and forming the Way of Yin and Yang, the traditional Japanese traditional esoteric cosmology. The local fertility cults co-existed and appear to have been encouraged, institutionalized and presided over by the royal elites from Nara who established themselves as feudal lords over expanded local areas. As support for this idea, we highlight the interplay of phallic and womb-fertility component concepts inherent in Taoism-Confucian culture as it existed in the Longshan and Shang warring aristocrat communities, the continental cultural crucible for the ideas imported into Nara Japan. It may also be profitable to note the interaction of the idea of the Confucian Heavenly Divine mandate with Taoist beliefs on the continent,  may have influenced the structure of “heavenly” ruling clan deities of Yamato vs. the “earthly deities” of the localities seen in the Kojiki and Nihongi chronicles.

For support of the foregoing, we draw upon Don Lehman jr.’s writings “The Tao of China”, in which Lehman sees the historical events of the Eurasian continent as a polarization and interplay of cultures of the Bronze Age warring nomadic aristocracies and the sedentary farming agri-cultures as the former group impinges upon the lands of the latter. At Chapter 24 he lprovides a new geophysical paradigm for understanding the interaction of and interplay between the indigenous fertility phallic-womb beliefs of early prehistoric and protohistoric Japanese and the warrior and central ruling ideologies that were intrusions of the central governance from Yamato court:

“…during the Shang dynasty that there was a differentiation between the Government and the Clan. In this section we will see that during the Shang the religion of government differentiated itself from the indigenous fertility cults. The religion of government eventually became Confucianism, while the religions of fertility became Taoism. The yang phallic quest for power separated itself from the yin vaginal quest for fertility. While the religion of government was phallic, Taoism was vaginal. The roots of Taoism are in the Paleolithic as exhibited by their injunction against dependency upon agriculture. Because of their reliance upon Nature, Taoism is predicated upon a greater trust of the Tao of Heaven.

Phallus power vs. Vaginal fertility cultures

Phallic symbols represent Shang Gods

Traditionally the military cultures based upon the pursuit of power have been male based and phallus oriented. This started with the phallic spear of Homo erectus. The Shang culture followed this pattern. Their most important god was Shang Ti, the supreme ancestor. Next in importance was Shê, the god of the earth. The archaic pictogram for both ancestor and Shê is a phallic symbol. These cults have continued down to the present day. [1] This phallic orientation probably was a continuation of the Longshan with its emphasis on warfare. This stratified society with the phallic male on top is certainly reflected in the Confucian hierarchy with the male emperor on top of the father-dominated family. Hence Confucianism is based upon the Bronze Age military culture.

Vaginal symbols Taoist [ see photo of female rocks at O-agata shrine]

While the power-based cultures are normally centered on the phallus, the fertility based cultures oriented upon generation and creativity have been gynocentric, i.e. focused upon the female vagina. Taoism follows this pattern. The Taoist symbolism is riddled with references to the mysterious female, pregnancy and birth. Below is just one of the many vaginal references from the Taoist Bible, the Tao Te Ching.
“#10. Can you play the role of the female in the opening and closing of the gates of Heaven.”[2]

Vaginal Taoism polar opposite to Phallic Empire

Taoism was and is linked to the female vagina, emulating the pregnant state of the woman, to give birth to oneself. The Taoists tend to advocate small and decentralized political structures. The Shang ancestor worship was linked with the phallus, the male, the father, a patriarchy. This eventually connects up with the imperial structure with Confucianism. Thus the phallic orientation of the religion of the state oriented around Shang Ti, is a polar opposite to the vaginal orientation of Taoism whose focus is upon vitality and creativity.

Taoism/fertility: Confucianism/power

Worshipping the fertility of the woman, Taoism has been main force behind Chinese artistic expression. Behind Confucianism is the warrior ethic, which developed during the Shang…Taiji Quan has its roots in Chinese warrior training of the Shang dynasty. Confucianism, in worshipping the power of the man, has been the main force behind all of Chinese politics. This split occurred during the Shang, with its stratification of society into a military aristocracy, an agri-cultural peasantry, and the artistic class.

Taoism Paleolithic not Neolithic

The focus of Taoism upon female fertility links it with the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer fertility cults. While fertility was worshipped by the agri-cultures, it was linked with the fertility of the soil. The fertility worshipped by the hunter-gatherers had to do with fertility of Nature itself. First these cultures worshipped the propagation of the species as symbolized by their many fertility figurines. Second as hunter-gatherers they were dependent upon the annual rebirth of the natural flora and fauna. The female fertility figures, which symbolize this northern fertility culture, originated deep in the Paleolithic and were merely continued in the Neolithic agri-cultures…. Due to the sedentary and annual nature of agriculture, their [farmers'] freedom was severely limited. Also because of the nature of the military aristocracy, the farmers were and are always prone to domination.”

“Unpredictability of Nature brings freedom

While the unpredictability of nature was insecure, it brought freedom. Cultures depending only upon the bounty of Nature were simultaneously the most insecure and the freest. This worship of nature is very different from the worship of nature by the agri-cultures. The agri-cultures worship the rainfall and the ground to bring good crops which they need to feed themselves and their livestock. The agri-cultures have taken matters into their own hands, depending upon their own efforts rather than trusting Heaven’s Will.

Livestock, the original corruption

One Taoist story is of a Taoist going to live in the freedom of a mountain. A friend gives him a goat. Caring for the goat leads the Taoist into the binding agricultural lifestyle, complete with fences and dependency upon the soil[4]. In this story the livestock lead to the inhibited agricultural lifestyle. …

Yielding to the Tao or The trust in divinity

…Ironically one of Adam’s sins was the lack of trust in divinity. He wanted to taste the duality of choice rather than depend upon the wisdom of greater powers. The knowledge of Good and Evil fragmented his original wholeness into parts. Depending upon the unpredictability of Nature, means the cultivation of trust. The unpredictability of natural events can be so anxiety provoking as to be paralyzing. At that point of an individual becomes paralyzed by fear or anxiety, no matter how slight it might be, freedom is gone. Thus while unpredictability can lead to freedom it can also lead to anxiety that paralyzes. Each of us has our own line at which time too much freedom becomes paralyzing. Where the line is drawn is based upon our level of trust of nature or divinity or whatever.

Trust in the continuity of cycles: Up always follows the down

The first level of trust is simply believing that one day, that one season, and that the years will follow with some regularity and continuity. Believing that the fertility of spring will follow the barrenness of winter, relieves the anxiety of winter. The anxiety we experience in each of our personal winters, the darkness before the dawn, is eliminated if we unswervingly trust that day follows night as surely as spring follows winter. The long-term perspective based upon trust relieves the anxiety of being too present. Children even go through periods of fear of the dark, which only reflects their anxiety that they might not survive the night. Many anxieties are rooted in this lack of trust during the down cycles…From the Tao Te Ching:

“5. Heaven-and-Earth is not sentimental;
It treats all things as straw dogs.”
Highest level of trust in the Tao of Heaven

For those that discriminate, the trust that everything happens for the best is insufficient to relieve anxiety. For the Taoist the highest level of trust according to my limited perceptions is the trust that aligning oneself with the Tao of Heaven is the best one can do, regardless of outcome or consequence. If one is given an evil or tragic role, one must still fulfill it to the best of one’s ability.
This level of trust is rooted in the unreality of the phenomenal world …

This higher level of trust is rooted in the Buddhist notion of unreality of the phenomenal world. Investing in the polarities of good and evil, life and death, (as did Adam and Eve) only leads to disappointment and suffering. In between the polarity of yin and yang is Taiji. Taking a yin yang bath in the non-duality of existence divests one of attachment.

Yielding to the Will of Heaven

Hence this higher level of trust is based upon the trust in Nature, not because natural events are for the best or a punishment for past transgressions, but only because Nature is so powerful that we are helpless before it… This type of trust is of a slightly different nature. The trust is a yielding to the Power of Nature, Divinity, the Will of Heaven. Hoping to fulfill Destiny but unattached. Relaxed before the potential of our aborted fate. Not assuming that because we are good people that we are blessed and protected by the almighty. But instead blessing each moment as the Grace of Conscious existence.

Taiji: trust in the Tao, not technique

In Taiji, the trust comes from the same root. Fear is based upon investment in duality. The divestment in the duality lessens the fear. The trust is based upon being in the Womb of the Mother. It is so comfortable and warm that even if she asks for your sacrifice you are thankful for the few brief moments that you have been able to reside in her womb. … Hence the trust in Taiji is not based upon trust of technique but instead upon the trust in existence. If your technique is not sufficient and you take a few knocks, so be it.

Trust that quietude will reveal the Will of Heaven

For the Taoist there is one other primary trust. This is the trust that the Tao of Nature, the Will of Heaven, is revealed in the midst of extreme quietude. While the Buddhists seek quietude in the pursuit of detachment, the Taoists seek quietude to allow the Tao of Nature to emerge and be listened to. The Buddhists seek the emptiness of the Void. The Taoists see the Void between yin and yang, but it is not empty. It is filled with purpose and meaning.


The ancestor worship of the Longshan clans and Shang government was oriented around phallic power, while the Taoism has always been oriented around vaginal fertility. The traditions based around the government and ancestor worship eventually coalesced around Confucianism, while the traditions centered upon cultivating fertility became associated with Taoism. Taoism is based in the freedom and insecurity of the Paleolithic while Confucianism is based in the military aristocracy of the Bronze Age. The insecurity of freedom is neutralized by the trust that doing the Will of Heaven, the Tao of Nature, is the best that we can do…”

We can see Lehman’s described dynamic of the underlying warrior-rule and dominance as well as the Taoist-Shinto elements at work in the fertility phallic-vs.-womb pairing of the respective Tagata and O-Agata shrines. It is significant that both shrines enshrine the Tamahime goddess who according to local tradition was the princess and daughter of Ogata, feudal aristocrats from the Nara court.

Manifesting the dualism of in-yo harmony, the Tagata shrine’s phallic-penis displays are paired with the “vaginal” womb celebrations of the nearby O-Agata shrine, see Green Shinto’s “Fertility festival (Ohgata shrine)

“Oh-agata Jinja is a shrine near Nagoya dedicated to Oh-Agata, a kami who is said to have founded the local area of Owari County. It’s known for its female fertility symbols and attracts women seeking marriage or the birth of a child. As such it’s paired with nearby Tagata Jinja, famed for its ‘big penis’ festival about which I wrote recently.

A central role is played by the Hime no miya subshrine, where the daughter of Oh-Agata is worshipped. Known as Tamahime no mikoto, she is a goddess of marriage, pregnancy, safe birth and happy conjugal life. ‘Above all,’ says the shrine brochure, ‘she is worshipped as the guardian goddess of women.’

The shrine’s Grand Festival takes place on the Sunday prior to March 15, when the Tagata festival is held. Like similar fertility festivals, it is aimed at securing good harvests and prosperity. The parade is led by Sarutahiko, kami of showing the way, and features unmarried women and a vaginal symbol made of pink rice.”


That the paired Tagata and O-agata shrines show the Taoist yin-yang principles at work, is also confirmed by the commentary on Honen Matsuri in the Encyclopedia of Shinto:

Good Harvest Festival. A festival held at Ōagata Shrine (Ōagata jinja) in Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture. The Sunday closest to March 15 is the festival day. Also called the Hime no Miya Hōnen Festival. The festival complements the Good Harvest Festival of Tagata Shrine and is famous for the worship of genitalia. Called the Yin (in or female) festival in contrast to the Yang (yō or male) festival of Tagata Shrine, rocks symbolizing the female genitals are enshrined. There is a procession of a sacred palanquin (mi-koshi) representing the female genitals, great banners (ō-nobori), and decorated horses. Good luck mochi are scattered from a sacred palanquin carrying a giant clam. In front of the shrine hall onlookers scramble for valuable items hanging from the large sakaki. These are talismans for safe birth, getting married, and satisfaction in married life.
There is also the Good Harvest Festival on the Sunday closest to March 15 at Tagata Shrine in Komaki City, Aichi Prefecture. It is said that this transporting of the deity rite is based on a legend about the enshrined kami, Takeinazumi-no-mikoto, who had an enormous penis and took to wife the local Aratahime-no-mikoto. The festival involves the transporting of the deity from Shinmei Shrine or Kubo Temple to Tagata Shrine. A linga (penis) almost two meters in length rides on the sacred palanquin, following a large banner upon which a penis is drawn. The banner is carried by youths, and at the shrine the onlookers scramble to claim pieces of it. The talismans that are on the banner pieces are skewered, and it is said that if these are placed in the fields the harvest will be good. It is also said they will bless one with good relationships and keep away sexual diseases. It is said that if one does not attend both this festival and the Yin festival at Ōagata Shrine then one will not prosper. — Mogi Sakae


Sources and Further readings:

Honen Matsuri, the Encyclopedia of Shinto

Don Lehman jr.’s writings “The Tao of China”, Chapter 24

The Tagata shrine and the “vaginal” womb celebrations of the nearby O-Agata shrine, Shinto’s “Fertility festival (Ohgata shrine or O-Agata shrin)

The Bureau of Yin-yang Divination, Onmyodo (the Encyclopedia of Shinto)

Eccentric Spaces, Hidden Histories: Narrative, Ritual, and Royal Authority from the Chronicles of Japan to the Tale of the Heike by David T. Bialock

Bishamon(ten) and why paper tigers are placed around Chougosonshi-ji Temple

Mt Shigi (Image: Shigisan Chouson

Tiger figurine and Chogosonshiji Temple on Mt Shigi (Image: Shigisan Chogoshonshi-ji Temple)

Mt. Shigi is said to be the first place in Japan where Bishamonten appeared. Legend has it that when Prince Shotoku Taishi prayed for victory over Mononobe no Moriya, – an opponent of the Buddhism that the prince was promoting – Bishamonten appeared on Mt. Shigi at the hour of the tiger, on the day of the tiger, in the year of the tiger, and led the prince to victory. To express his deep gratitude, the prince built a temple dedicated to Bishamonten in 594 and named the temple Shigi-san which can be translated as “the mountain to be trusted and respected”. This anecdote is believed to be a reason why paper-tigers are placed around the temple. Affectionately known as “Shigi no Bishamon-san”, the temple is especially crowded with visitors during their first visit of the year (New Year’s Day).  As the temple enshrines Bishamonten, the original god of war and warriors, and also has a tiger as a guardian god, Chougosonshi-ji Temple is also famous for attracting professional baseball players from the Hanshin Tigers who go there to pray for victory.

Shigi-san Chougosonshi-ji Temple is the head temple of the Shigi-san faction of Shingon Buddhism and is located in Mt. Shigi in Heguri Town, Ikoma, Nara Prefecture. It is also the head temple of Bishamonten, one of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune.

Painting of Tamonten, the Guardian of the North (one of the Four Guardian Kings). 13th century

Painting of Tamonten, the Guardian of the North (one of the Four Guardian Kings). 13th century (Image: Wikipedia)

The “Bishamonten” are dedicated to the God of war. There are three famous Bishamonten in Japan. Saishouji Temple, in Oiwa, holds one of them, the Oiwa Bishamonten. The other two are located on Kurama mountain in Kyoto Prefecture as well as the abovementioned Shigi Mountain in Nara Prefecture. The main hall was rebuilt in 1762(Houreki 12nen) and in 1993 it was widely repaired. The principal image is 1.8inches tall and is made of pure gold. It is said to have been made by Shotoku Taishi(the regent of Emperor Suiko in the Nara period). Here many votive pictures of horses are dedicated.

More historical background is given in The Seven Propitious Gods: Bishamonten – Wealth or War – Which is it?:

“Mimi Hall Yiengpruksawan in a 1998 publication of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies said that Bishamon has his origins primarily in Central Asia and not India. He emerged in the sixth and seventh centuries as a militant protector of Buddhism and Buddhist rulers.” She added that “There were also legendary accounts of the barbarian-quelling powers of Bishamonten.” These became popular in both China and Japan. “Later a Japanese emperor, Kanmu 桓武, would install a monumental sculpture of Bishamonten in the upper story of Rajōmon 羅城門, the main gate to his new imperial capital, Heiankyō (the predecessor of Kyoto), which he had ordered built and occupied as the Emishi wars came to a close… [¶] This is an iconography that helps explain… why shrine-temple complexes and military outposts bear so many similarities, why pagodas, to name but one example, are reminiscent watch towers.”

Bishamon is the patron saint of (among others) priests, soldiers, doctors and missionaries – All of this makes sense. This god defends the faith, i.e, Buddhism, he is militant, at least, in costume, he wards off evil – which includes things that could harm one’s health …

Henri Joly, who didn’t always get things exactly right, cited Ernest Eitel about Bishamon in saying that “…he was canonized as God of Riches by Hiuen Tsung in 753, and plays an important part in exorcism….

Getty notes that “In Japan [Vaiśravaṇa] is worshipped under the name Bishamon, and is represented in armour ornamented with the seven precious jewels, and is generally standing on one or two demons. In his left hand he holds either a small shrine or the flaming pearl, while in his right is a jewelled lance.” The shrine is said to represent the Iron Tower in India where the Buddhist scriptures were found. Bishamon is often shown looking at the shrine as a symbol of him overseeing the treasures of that religion.

In 1902 Clarence Brownell referred to Bishamon as “the lucky god of War.”

In a 1906 volume of Kokka there is a one page entry entitled “Portrait of Bishamon-ten (The Indian Mars)”.  Joly in 1906 identified Bishamon as one of thesan-sen-jin (三戦神) or war gods. This figure he says is represented by a head with three faces riding on a boar.

August Karl Reischauer, Edwin O’s father, said he is in his Studies in Japanese Buddhism originally published in 1917. That same year Basil Stewart concurred, but added that Bishamon was also the god of glory.

On the other hand, L. Beatrice Thompson wrote in 1906 that “…in spite of Bishamon’s armour and ferocious aspect, he is not more especially the god of war than is Daikoku, and quite as much the god of riches as he…”

Bishamon as the god of wealth – A number of ancient Japanese texts say that Vaiśravaṇa is the same as Kuvera (sometimes Kubera) the ancient Hindu guardian of wealth. According to Chaudhuri “These writings projected the image of Vaiśravaṇa as a god of wealth to the common Japanese, in addition to that of a protector of the country. Thus he became a god of fortune.


The article Bishamonten draws our attention to the earliest introduction of Bishamonten in Japan as one of the four compass or directional deities:

“This armor-clad, weapon-wielding, demon-stomping deity was introduced to Japan in the 6th century AD as one of the four Shitennō (Four Heavenly Kings Protecting the Four Directions), wherein he is known as Tamonten 多聞天, the guardian of the north and protector of the holy places where Buddha expounds the teachings. The Four Kings soon rose to great prominence in rites to safeguard the Japanese nation. In later centuries, however, Tamonten became the object of an independent cult, supplanting the other three in importance. When worshipped independently, he is called Bishamonten (or Bishamon, Bishamon Tennō, Tobatsu Bishamon), but when portrayed among the Shitennō he is called Tamonten.”

Despite Bishamonten’s associations with warriors and war, the article Bishamonten appears to make a distinction saying that “Bishamon is the god of warriors (but not of war) and prayed to for victory prior to battle. He is also a god of defense against foreign invaders, a deity of healing with the power to save emperors from life-threatening illness and to expel demons of plague…, to keep personal enemies at bay, and to reward followers with riches, good fortune, and even children.  Around the 15th century, he was enlisted as one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods owing to his association with treasure and wealth. He is identified with various other deities, including the Hindu god of wealth Kubera / Kuvera; the Buddhist deity Tobatsu Bishamon (protector of capital cities and dispeller of foreign invaders); the Great Black Warrior of Vedic lore Mahākāla (aka Daikokuten, another member of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods); the goddess of wealth and beauty Kichijōten (his wife in Japanese Buddhist lore); and with various syncretic deities including Sanmen Daikokuten, Tenkawa Benzaiten, Shōgun Jizō, and Sōshin Bishamonten.”

Tamonten statue at Tōdai-ji, Nara

Tamonten statue at Tōdai-ji, Nara (Image: Wikipedia)

In particular, the article Bishamonten highlights the deity’s role as expeller of plagues:

“The Shigisan Engi Emaki 信貴山縁起絵巻 (Illustrated Handscroll of the Legends of Mt. Shigi), was painted in the 12th century as a tribute to Bishamon’s miraculous power to ward off illness and expel the demons of plague. It includes the story of how Bishamon cured Emperor Daigo 醍醐天皇 (885-930) by dispatching Kumāra 倶摩羅 (Bishamon’s youthful dōji 童子 attendant) to help the sick emperor.Bishamon appears in other painted scrolls of the same period. Says the Tokyo National Museum (about adjacent image): “Here, Bishamonten is portrayed as a benevolent deity who protects devotees of the Lotus Sutra. Examples of Bishamon holding a bow, as he is painted here, are found in Chinese works of the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. This scroll, called the Extermination of Evil (Hekija-e) or Exorcists Scroll, is conjectured to have been made during the time of Emperor Goshirakawa (1127-92, r. 1155-58) in the latter part of the Heian period (794-1185) and kept in the treasure house of Rengeo-in Temple (Sanjusangendo). All the deities shown here [in the five scolls] are considered, in China, to be benevolent deities who expel the demons of plague. This set was originally mounted as a handscroll that was known as the ‘second edition of the Masuda family Hell Scroll.’ After the war, the hand scroll was cut into five sections and the paintings mounted as hanging scrolls. The acts of each of the gods in exterminating evil are briefly explained in the texts accompanying the illustrations. <end text from Tokyo National Museum


The Indian equivalent of Bishamonten or Tamonten is Vaiśravaṇa -  the Indian guardian of the northern direction, and his home is in the northern quadrant of the topmost tier of the lower half of Mount Sumeru. He is the leader of all the yakṣas who dwell on the Sumeru’s slopes. In the Pāli scriptures of the Theravāda Buddhist tradition, Vaiśravaṇa is called VessavaṇaVessavaṇa is one of the four Great Kings, each of whom rules over a specific direction. Vessavaṇa‘s realm is the northern quadrant of the world, including the land of Uttarakuru. According to some suttas, he takes his name from a region there called Visāṇa;  Vessavaṇa has the authority to grant the yakkhas particular areas (e.g., a lake) to protect, and these are usually assigned at the beginning of aVessavaṇa‘s reign. When the Buddha was born, Vessavaṇa became his follower, and  often brought the Buddha and his followers messages from the gods and other humans, and protected them (Source: Wikipedia entry on Vaisravana. )  It maybe a somewhat futile or frustrating task to sort out whether the origins of Bishamon are Chinese or Indian as Buddhism originated in India and Buddhist figures and concepts filtered to Japan, not only via China (after having evolved or having been transformed there) but also directly by Indian monks to Japan or interacting with Japanese monks.

In Japanese iconography, Bishamon is portrayed holding a spear in one hand and a small pagoda in the other hand, the latter symbolizing the divine treasure house, whose contents he both guards and gives away. For images of Bishamonten in Japan, see the BISHAMON, BISHAMONTEN article.



Sources and references:

Shigisan-chougo-sonshi-ji Shigi-san Chougosonshi-ji Temple

New Year Rituals in the Temple of the God of War (Ancient Worlds)


The Seven Propitious Gods: Bishamonten – Wealth or War – Which is it? Vegder’s Blog


Yama-no-kami, the mountain deity, and the folk culture of the fishing communities

Statue of Ebisu, Kessennuma

Statue of Ebisu, Kessennuma, image: Wikipedia

In today’s post, we would like to highlight the research of Johannes H. Wilheim, whose paper “Traditional Ecological Knowledge in the Beliefs of Japanese Fishing Villages: With Special Reference to Yoriiso (Miyagi) and the Sanriku Region”, on the folk beliefs of fishing village communities. In particular, we draw attention to the keen insights the paper gives us on the all-important role of the yama-no-kami or mountain deity in the ceremonial life and fishing culture of the Sanriku northeastern coastal fishing villages as well as the related ideas of fertility and ritual impurity, their impact on gender division of labour, and upon the organization of social institutions. This is a rare paper because most writings on the yama-no-kami focus only on the mountain and rice-field aspects of the religion (cf. Encyclopedia of Shinto) but this paper shows how the mountain kami concept (the Ebisu deity is the most prominent of the fisherfolk deities) relates to fishing and maritime spheres as well.  The salient parts of his paper touching on these themes are excerpted below:

“An essential factor in the beliefs of Japanese coastal fishing culture is the concept of yama[defined earlier as a concept related to a "turning point", a boundary and the transition of zones, rather than a mountain]. For instance, in many fishing villages a yama no kami is worshipped near an adjacent forest or inside a shrine, and often, these are located at boundaries of a settlement. Generally, the yama no kami in fishing communities is believed to be a female deity affecting numerous aspects of everyday life. For example, in many communities she is associated with the forest and thus to fire (wood). She is said to bring easier childbirth to women but is worshipped by male (foresters and rangers), too.18 At the same time, however, the yama no kami is regarded to be a very jealous deity and dislikes the presence of other women in her territory.19 At occasions such as pregnancy, when villagers have to “meet the goddess,” it often happens that exclusively men are allowed to perform the ceremonial duties to avoid angering her. In addition, reverential installation of male phallic symbols in the yama is a common custom that can be found in many regions.

In the following, yama-related aspects of beliefs and customs in a typical fishing village (Yoriiso, Miyagi Prefecture and surrounding areas) are described. We will see that yama cannot be reduced to a topographic feature, but as concept rather symbolizes a “turning point.”20 Another feature of yama as concept is femaleness that is woven into a complex system of beliefs and ceremonies.”

“The wakagi mukae is a ceremony on January 6 that ritually opens the mountain for woodcutting. Male villagers cut down twigs and sticks from several trees and bushes. These are bundled and offered with kiri-mochi to the yama no kami.38 Until 1951, this was the first time in a year to enter the yama, because the shishi-buri shifted from January 16 to January 5 in 1952.

A similar ceremony to the wakagi mukae, the yamanokami mairi 山神参り (lit. “procession to the yama no kami”), is carried out on January 12 by women of the yamanokami-kØ.39 The yama no kami is worshipped at a “sacred stone” (Map 1, Y)40 serving as shintai beneath a tree located at the eastern boundary of Yoriiso to the forest that leads to the neighboring settlement of Maeami. There, the women make offerings and pray for an easy and safe delivery. After this, the group convenes at a member’s house and enjoys a feast-like banquet for the rest of that day. On days of yamanokami-kØ, all members of the group are freed from profane work …

… In Japan, New Year (shØgatsu 正月) is, next to the ancestor’s festival (bon盆) in summer, the most important part of the annual ceremonial cycle, the nenchË gyØji. A cycle of New Year ceremonies usually continues until ko-shØgatsu 小正月 (lit. “small New Year”) on January 15. In Yoriiso, on the first day of a year there is the obligatory genchØ mairi 元朝参り (commonly known as hatsu mØde 初詣) at the local Kumano shrine 熊野神社 (Map 1, K), and the first sunrise (hatsu hi no de 初 日の出) is regarded to be best seen on top of Azumamoriyama. Also kuzen 供膳 (ceremonial food offerings) are prepared by female members of a household in advance for these days of ritual renewal at the turn of a year. This ceremonial food is placed by male members in front of a household’s kamidana and later removed from there (also done by male) to be eaten by the family. The go-nensho mawari 御年始回り, the “first day visit” to several households of the community, is also customarily done in Yoriiso by the major domus of a household.28 Also, division of actors by gender can be observed, however, there are other ceremonies in which this is more evident.

The “first ride on a boat” (nori some 乗り初め) is celebrated on the second day of a year. One important part of this ceremony is the veneration of the funadama 船霊 (or 船玉; Illustration 2), the guardian deity of a vessel. Its shintai is usually a small wooden box with female hair next to sugoroku 双六 (dice), old coins or even puppets and other objects inside (TRS 1984: 41, Yoshida 1981: 93), and on modern vessels it is also possible that there are two of them aboard, for example, one at front deck and one in the cabin each venerated at ceremonies, and, at last, “invisible” funadama are also known. Yet, on old style sailing boats, the box is mostly located below the mast of a vessel, where the shipbuilder installs the shintai – in some cases secretly – before the launching. This place aboard is often called mori 森 (lit. “where many trees are” = forest or mountain) or muro 室 (room) (Sakurada 1934: 148). In many Japanese fishing villages, people consider the funadama as a spirit that is embodied in female human beings, and there are even cases, in which women are considered to be the manifestation of a funadama deity.29 For this reason, a female’s hair – containing elements of the yama (i.e. wood [fire] and the soil) – is believed to protect a vessel from being shipwrecked. In other places of Japan, the funadama is also said to bring good wind direction or even attract fish (Sakurada 1934: 162), an interesting analogy to Ebisu.30


Funadama ritual and female deity

As for Yoriiso, descriptions of nori some is rudimentary, we instead refer to the one in Kesennuma 気仙沼 (about 50 km north of Yoriiso) as described in Kawashima (2003: 71-73). The nori some in Kesennuma begins with a ritual purification of the vessel. Among others, the fishing vessel is turned to southern direction so that the ship-owner (or sendØ) can look at the mountains from starboard, while praying words like “Shall the yama at hakari be visible!” or “Please show the yama soon!” to the sai no kami 幸神 (deity of luck), which is regarded as metaphor of the yama no kami. A piece of kiri mochi 切り餅 (cut rice cake) is offered as ceremonial food, which is dipped with a hook into seawater thrice. After a recitation to the oki no kami 沖の神 (offshore deity), this piece of mochi is denoted oki no mochi 沖の餅 and it is said that this consecrated mochi helps people suffering illness in the mountains. In analogy, there exists a yama no mochi 山の餅 that helps when suffering from seasickness consecrated at the wakagi mukae 若木迎え (lit. “greeting the young tree”; described below). The nori some continues with a first ceremonial catch (hatsuryØ). Some of the caught fish are offered at the kamidana. The rest of the fish is sold at the first, rather ceremonial, sale.”

The article also contributes to our understanding of how the yama-no-kami concept affects social organization and institutions:

“Society in Yoriiso is structured by a relatively intact system of age-grade- groups (nenrei kaitei-sei 年齢階梯制; Table 1) that is historically traceable to mid- 18th century (OHI 1988: 978). For instance, women of bearable age are associated with a specific group called yamanokami-kØ 山神講.22 At the same time, women become members of the jizØ-kØ 地蔵講, the group of the children’s guardian deity. Together these groups are called jo-kØ 女講 (women’s group) to which the women belong until the age of about 42.23 The fujin-kai 婦人会 (women’s association) is a much newer social institution and is not directly related to the yama no kami. Today, most of these women in Yoriiso are associated with both groups, the traditional jo-kØ and the modern fujin-kai; i.e. no clear distinction of membership is drawn between the groups. We often find such overlays between traditional and modern social institutions in Japanese fishing villages..” The male counterpart of the jo-ko, “The jitsugyØ-dan is the backbone of Yoriiso’s village self-management, especially in ceremonial matters (TRS 1998: 50). Other important functions are activities for mutual aid (at childbirth, funerals, shipwreck), management of common property (common land and forests) and local public services (for instance, concerning education of children = local school and related matters) and also at certain degrees financial aid in form of a mutual credit association (tanomoshi 頼母子, in which credits are allocated by lottery) for impoverished members or those needing capital for investments such as for building or renewal of a house. The jitsugyØ-dan was called keiyaku-kØ 契約講 (“contract group”) until 1878, then (possibly under the influence of state ShintØ, but this is questionable) renamed jinp ̈-kØ 神風講 (“group of the divine wind”) and since 1923 named jitsugyØ-dan (OHI 1988: 978). A memorial stone in Yoriiso documents that the local keiyaku-kØ was founded in 1808 (OHI 2002: 514), however, as has been noted above, it is possible that there existed a preceding group with similar functions since mid of 18th century (OHI 1988: 978) or even before.26 There used to be two annual meetings of this group held on February and November 11, yet, these days, it convenes only once after the ceremonial cycle of New Year on January 20 (TRS 1984: 50).

We can see that everyday life in Yoriiso is structured by social institutions that can be characterized as gender-specific age-grade groups. Each of these groups is assigned a specific domain of ceremonies. The keiyaku acts as core institution and is therefore the most important group among all. In Yoriiso, labor at sea was until recently exclusively done by males. An exception was the collection of seaweed and other benthic species from the shore, which was mainly done by women…”


18. There are in fact many facets of the yama no kami. Shibusawa comprehends yama no kami as a multi-layered deity that can be a “mountain spirit” or a deity of hunting, fishing, agriculture, sericulture, forestry, pharmacy or even one with explicit territory and power to rule (Shibusawa 1959: 172). Although, not focusing on the yama no kami in fishing villages, Naumann (1963/1964) presented a detailed study on several traditions of this deity. For the purpose of this paper, however, the yama no kami is simply seen as found during fieldwork in Yoriiso and other places by the author, i.e. as an important deity in village life that is in several ways related to the mountains.
19. According to contemporary legislation women older than 18 must not work in tunnel construction (Japanese Labour Standards Law 労働基準法 64, 2; http: //www. as of Feb. 15, 2005). Administration insists that this law is to secure pregnant women from hard and dangerous work, but a closer look at the history shows that menstruating women were banned from such work at least since the Edo period because they were “ritually unpure.” This can be seen in connection to beliefs of the yama as female deity.
20. Yama-ba 山場 (lit. “place of yama”) denotes a “turning point” in Japanese and not a “mountain place.”
22. KØ 講 in most cases denotes a social institution found in most Japanese villages that can be characterized as “cult groups,” yet, the term kØ can also denote a day of veneration for a specific deity or kØ-group, such as the Ebisu-kØ found in many fishing villages. They originate in Buddhistic seminars in ancient times. During the Edo-period (1603-1867) they became a widespread social institution in many villages and can be characterized as gender specific age or generation groups. These have also been characterized as age-grades (e.g. Norbeck 1953).To avoid confusion, these are simply called groups in the following.
23. Although in Yoriiso the yamanokami-kØ and the jizØ-kØ are regarded more or less the the same, days of worship can differ. There are communities on Oshika peninsula that clearly make differences between the two, i.e. younger (married) women belong to the jizØ-kØ and later join the yamanokami-kØ.
29. Interestingly, fishermen, on the other hand, often avoid taking a single women aboard a vessel. (Makita 1954: 224-225). See also Sakurada (1934: 134) and Yoshida (1981: 91-92). In the Sanriku region, especially pregnant women play an important role in ceremonies concerning fishing vessels. Yoshida translates funadama as “guardian spirit of the boat” (1981: 92).
30. The Ebisu is enshrined in every kamidana of a net-shed (naya 納屋), too (TRS 1984: 40- 41). A special ceremony for the Ebisu is held in Yoriiso on the 20th of January and October. In these ceremonies Ebisu is worshipped by offering rare crops from the yama and the sea together with sake 酒 in front of the kamidana and the funadama.

Source: Johannes H. WILHELM, “Traditional Ecological Knowledge in the Beliefs of Japanese Fishing Villages: With Special Reference to Yoriiso (Miyagi) and the Sanriku Region”, Japanese Religions 30, 1&2

Read the rest of the article here.

Further information on Ebisu:

Ebisu, the visiting deity of fishing and good fortune - more excerpts here focused on Ebisu from Wilheim’s paper

Wikipedia entry on Ebisu

The Wise Scarecrow of Japan and the origin of Scarecrow Festivals, Rituals and Legends

Origin of the scarecrow and Kakashi Matsuri Scarecrow Festival

Japanese scarecrows in a rice paddy field

Japanese scarecrows in a rice paddy field

The word “kakashi” is supposed to be derived from a meaning of something that smells hideously awful, and is said to have been  derived from the Edo period word “kagashi” (although the word etymology inexplicably resembles somewhat the Bengali word for scarecrow Kaktadua (কাকতাডুয়া)) or Kag-darawa (काग-डरावा) from the Hindi, which suggests possible connections with the Indo-Sakas, source: Scarecrow). Many fascinating tales and legends surround the use and character of the kakashi in the rice field in Japan.

In Kojiki, the oldest surviving historical chronicle in Japan (compiled in the year 712), a scarecrow known as Kuebiko appears as a deity who cannot walk, yet knows everything about the world.

The (ca. 712) Kojiki (“Record of Ancient Matters”) has the earliest reference to Kuebiko in the myth of Ōkuninushi (“Great Land Master”). When Ōkuninushi was at Cape Miho in Izumo, a small kami arrived in a boat. Nobody knew his name, but a toad suggested asking Kuebiko, who revealed the god was a scion of the goddess Kami-musubi (神産巣日) named Sukuna-bikona (少彦名神). In Basil Hall Chamberlain‘s translation,

Then the toad spoke, saying: “As for this, the Crumbling Prince will surely know it.” Thereupon [the Deity Master-of-the-Great-Land] summoned and asked the Crumbling-Prince, who replied, saying: “This is the Little-Prince-the-Renowned-Deity, the august child of the Deity-Producing-Wondrous-Deity.” … So [the Deity here] called the Crumbling Prince, who revealed the Little-Prince-the-Renowned-Deity, is what is now [called] the scarecrow in the mountain fields. This Deity, though his legs do not walk, is a Deity who knows everything in the Empire.[2]

Many cultures have knowledge deity myths. Kuebiko is paralleled by two other Japanese kami of widsom: Fukurokuju and Omoikane. Source: Wikipedia article “Kuebiko

Excerpted from The Encyclopedia of Shinto:

Kuebiko a.k.a. Yamada no Sohodo (Kojiki)

kami incapable of walking but possessing broad knowledge of things in the world. According to Kojiki, a kami arrived from across the ocean at Cape Miho in Izumo, where the kami Ōkuninushi was residing. Since no one knew the identity of the kamiŌkuninushi accepted the advice of a toad and asked Kuebiko, whereupon the latter answered correctly that the kami arriving was Sukunahikona, offspring of Kamimusuhi. With the identity of Sukunahikona thus established by Kuebiko, Ōkuninushi had a partner to help in making and developing the land. The name Yamada no Sohodo is interpreted to mean “someone left soaking wet from standing guard over mountain rice fields,” a euphemistic reference to a “scarecrow.” Kue means “disable,” and indicates someone physically handicapped but endowed with wisdom.” -Mori Mizue

Till this present day, Kuebiko is worshipped as the god of agriculture or scholarship and wisdom. The Kuebiko Shrine (Kuebiko jinja 久延彦神社), a subordinate shrine (massha) of Ōmiwa Shrine in Sakurai, Nara, is dedicated to this deity (See the Kuebiko shrine page)

From the Yamagata Kakashi Matsuri Facebook page:

“The Scarecrow Festival or Kakashi Matsuri takes place in autumn, from 8th-16th September. It is best known as a custom of the rice-producing Yamagata prefecture in Japan. But also a popular festival with many villages elsewhere.

At first the Japanese farmers would hang old rugs, meat or fish bones from bamboo poles in their fields and then set them on fire. The smell was so bad that the birds and other animals would stay away from the rice.

Now it not only function as a prop to scare little animals away but a creative centre piece for one’s crop! “

Japanese farmers invited the god of agriculture to leave his home in the mountains each spring and enter their scarecrows, called kakashi. The kakashi could see everything, and the birds who landed on them whispered secrets to the god. When the autumn harvest was completed, the kakashi were taken down and stacked in a pile. The farmers prepared rice cakes to thank the god for his service and to provide food for his long journey back to the mountains. After the rice cakes were placed around the kakashi, the pile was set ablaze and the god was released. The ceremony was known as “The Ascent of the Scarecrow.” - Source: Scarecrow Magick by Lynne Stutevant

Another history of scarecrows has this account, see The History of Scarecrows  :

Japanese farmers also began making scarecrows to protect their rice fields about the same time the Greeks and Romans made their wooden statues.  At first the Japanese farmers hung old rags, meat, or fish bones from bamboo poles in their fields.  Then they set the sticks on fire and the smell was so bad that birds and other animals stayed away from the rice.  The Japanese farmers called their scarecrows kakashis which means something that smells badly.  Soon Japanese farmers also made scarecrows that looked like people.  They were dressed in a raincoat made of reeds and a round straw hat that rose to a peak in the middle.  Bows and arrows were often added to make them look more threatening.  These scarecrows were also called kakashis even if they didn’t stink!

Imaizumi Area Kakashi Festival is held from September 7 (Sun) to September 28 (Sun)

Chris Drake’s Scarescrow (Kakashi) has more fascinating details on the background of the origins of the kakashi, including its being “possessed” by the mountain god until he returns to the otherworld in winter …

In the Edo period, this word was pronounced “kagashi”, meaning something that smells hideously, because the farmers used to hang up rotten fish or hides from animals. In my area, somethimes they hang up dead crows or even small wild boars to let them rot .. and smell.

Usually done on the tenth day of the tenth lunar month.

A custom of Nagano prefecture.

The scarecrow is taken from the field and placed in the garden of the home, harvest offerings to the god of the fields (ta no kami) are then made.

Perhaps Issa is also remembering that in most areas of Japan farmers worship scarecrows as the physical representatives of the local shamanic mountain god, who (like the hototogisu “nightingale”) comes down from the mountain (and the other world) when the weather grows warm to invigorate and protect the paddies and fields until the crops are harvested.

By “possessing” the bodies of the scarecrows in a shamanic manner, the mountain god is able to directly watch over the crops and ensure they grow well while also protecting the fields from birds. In fact, Issa’s hometown is located in an area famous for a ceremony carried out on lunar 10/10 called “sending off the scarecrows” (kakashi-age). During this ceremony farmers move their scarecrows from their paddies and fields to their own yards, where they put broad rush traveling hats on them and place offerings of rice cakes in front of them in order to send off the mountain god as the god returns to its mountain and the other world during the winter. So Issa’s personification of the scarecrow as the protector of a young child in this hokku may have roots in these rural beliefs as well as in his own protective instincts.

At the same time, in Issa’s age the most common rural name for wife was “mountain god” (yama no kami), an old word that perhaps reflected the predominance of women in Japanese shamanism and ancient matrilocal marriage customs. Husbands tended to explain the word as a reflection of the absolute power commoner (as opposed to ruling-class) wives had inside a household as well as the power of women’s wrath, which could be as fierce as any divine retribution. – Chris Drake’s Scarescrow (Kakashi) 

 If we could establish an ancient origin for the practice of making scarecrows that were connected to visiting vegetative spirits from the mountains in spring that left in winter for the other world, it is suggested here that the practices had in common with those across Eurasia.  In Juliette Wood’s The Great Scarecrow In Days Long Ago’: Gothic Myths and Family Festivals‘,  it is suggested that the Gothic scarecrow was an ancient practice of making a straw effigy that represented a vegetative deity or spirit, and part of pre-Christian fertility rites. On the subject of effigies and vegetative or agricultural spirits, James Frazer’s “Golden Bough” is an authority on the subject. With the clear custom of the Japanese mountain god descending the mountain to possess the kakashi scarecrow and leaving in winter for the Otherworld, it seems we must consider a highly likely connection with continental practices such as those involving Frazer’s many Indo-European and Eurasian examples of dying and rising vegetative deities.  

The most secret Primordial Pair: Kamuro-gi and Kamuro-mi

We tag the following passages from Michael Witzel’s “The Origins of the World’s Mythologies” for their great value in giving us important insights into the premier strata of the Japanese deity pantheon:

“… in the Kojiki 1.1 we find:

At the time of the beginning of heaven and earth, there came into existence in Takamanohara a deity called Ame-no minaka-nushi-no Kami, next Kami. These three deities all came into existence, as single deities, and their forms were not visible. Next, when the land was young, resembling floating oil and drifting like a jellyfish, were sprouted like reed-shoots [ashi-kabi].175

It is important to note that the three first gods of the Kojiki creation myth are invisible and worshipped in the Imperial Palace but otherwise only at Ise and in some other minor shrines,176 as well as those of ancient esoteric sects, especially in Kyushu.177 however, the ancient prayer (Norito) texts of the period reveal that these are two gods who existed even before all other creation, the male Kamuro-gi and the female Kamuro-mi.178 Interestingly, these two (apparently, very secret) primordial gods occur only in ritual and are never mentioned even in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. However, they survived in Norito, in oharae purification rituals, and in worship at Ise and other shrines. They may, especially represent the Primordial Pair in Indo-European terms, Father Heaven and Mother Earth… The ultimate primordial gods often are surrounded by secrecy. They are known to only a few initiated specialists.” — Source: “The Origins of the World’s Mythologies” by Michael Witzel, at p. 126

More information is given in an entry in The Encyclopedia of Shinto:

“Terms referring generically to male and female ancestral kami (sojin). Examples can be found in the Shoku Nihongi, Engishiki, norito, Nakatominoyogoto, Hitachinokuni fudoki, Izumonokuni fudoki, Shoku Nihonkōki, and Kogoshūi. Commentators are agreed that the truncated kam means kami, while gi and mi refer, respectively, to male and female, but opinion is divided regarding the significance of the element ro. Kamo no Mabuchi interpreted kamuro to mean divine king, with the result that he understood the terms as referring to emperor and empress. Motoori Norinaga added the concept of ancestral deity to Mabuchi’s interpretation, claiming that the two referred to divine ancestral deities of the emperor and empress. In the most general sense, the deities can be understood as ancestral kami. When the two deities are mentioned individually, they refer respectively to male and female kami, and when mentioned jointly as a pair, they refer to ancestral kami as a whole.

 Various suggestions have been made regarding to which specific kami these names might have originally referred. The Kogoshūi claims that the two refer to the kami of begetting, Takamimusuhi and Kamimusuhi, but Kamo no Mabuchi argues that the reference is broader, extending to all imperial ancestral kami. In contrast, Motoori understands the terms to refer to Takamimusuhi and Amaterasu. At present, the terms are believed to refer not to any specific kami, but to different beings in accordance with the context of the historical materials in which the terms are found.”
-Endō Jun

A loose translation of the norito made by goes as follows:

Prayer of Heaven

In the highest planes of heaven
Primeval Kamurogi and Kamuromi live.
And in accord with them, Izanagi,
In a grove of pine at Tsukushi,
Bathed at a river’s clear mouth.

As he bathed purifying spirits were born.
Of them we ask that all baseness,
Fault, and filth be washed away.
Humbly, we plead they be dispelled
And we made pure.
Please, divine spirits,
Legions of heaven and earth,
Answer our plea.
And just as the dappled horses of heaven
Perk their ears at the slightest rustle,
Hear our meek prayer.”

– The Amatsunorito: Background and Translation

Further sources and references:

Norito: A Translation of the Ancient Japanese Ritual Prayers
edited by Donald L. Philippi

Takama Shrine

The shrine legends of Shinojima island, the island of sea bream and puffer fish

Shinmei Shrine retains the magnificence of the Ise Grand Shrine. Once every year, the male spirit of Hachioji Shrine is said to visit Shinmei Shrine (a female shrine). On that day, all the lights on the island are turned off awaiting the ritual’s end. Photo credits: The Yomiuri Shimbun


“In the Edo period (1603-1867), travel and transportation were restricted under the Tokugawa shogunate, and the only major trip most people could take was to visit the Ise Grand Shrines in Mie Prefecture once in their lifetimes. Surprisingly, the famous shrines apparently weren’t the final destination for the worshippers.

After visiting the Ise Grand Shrines, pilgrims crossed Ise Bay by boat to reach a shrine on Shinojima island off the Chita Peninsula in Aichi Prefecture. Their worship is completed with their visit to the island shrine. At least, that’s the story passed down on the island, even if the Ise shrines deny the legend. The discrepancy intrigued me.

Amid the gusting winter winds, I disembarked from a high-speed boat onto Shinojima. I noticed a sign reading “The island of onbe-dai and fugu.” Onbe-dai is a salted preparation of sea bream, which is made as an offering for the Ise shrines.

Legend has it that Yamatohime no Mikoto, a daughter of Emperor Suinin, once paid a visit to Shinojima island. The princess, who is said to have established the Ise Grand Shrines, loved sea bream caught near the island so much that she decreed Shinojima to be the sole source of sea bream to be presented at the grand shrines. For more than 1,000 years since, exactly 508 of the chosen sea bream are devoted to the shrines each year, spread across three separate occasions.

Certainly, there must be lean years. But the designated number of sea bream of very specific sizes must be collected for the offering each year. It must be a difficult duty.

“We want to give good fish to the gods. I can’t call it a hard job,” said Yoshichika Kinoshita, 54, of the Shinojima fishery cooperative association, who has been responsible for the work for more than 30 years. …

The one fishing town on this small island, which has only about 6 kilometers of shoreline, is like a labyrinth. The roads are so narrow that I can touch either side with my arms outstretched. The alleys twist in irregular turns. And at one corner of this labyrinth stands a magnificent shrine—which seems somewhat out of place with the rest of the island’s scenery. It’s the main structure of Shinmei Shrine, which enshrines some of the same gods enshrined at the Ise Grand Shrines.

Thanks to this auspicious background, one of the old halls from the Ise Grand Shrines is given to Shinmei Shrine, once every 20 years, in the year following the regular renewal of the Ise shrine halls. That’s why pilgrims in the past headed to Shinojima to pray, and why islanders have passed down the lore.

When Shinmei Shrine receives a new hall from the Ise shrines, its existing hall is moved a short distance to Hachioji Shrine, whose hall will be moved to another shrine in turn. The halls, made of 200-year-old Japanese cypress, have been recycled this way over many long years. “

Read more about the legends of Shinojima island here..

From Golden Egg to Saena-Simurgh-Phoenix to Ashes and Worm(?) : Will the real firebird please step forward?

Ho-ho bird

In this article, we aim to look at the various forms of the Phoenix in Japan, and compare its iconography with that found elsewhere.

In Japan, the phoenix is identified as the Ho-ho (alternatively, ho-o) bird. As is common in east Asia, it is a sunbird … the sun is often represented in the art form of a bird. The ho-ho bird is a messenger of goodwill comes to earth and sits on top of the torii. Below are some of the early representations of the phoenix in Japan and its neighbours in East Asia.

A very early art representation of the phoenix in Japan is the Vermilion Bird (Suzaku) in the 7th -8th c. Kitora Kofun tomb in Asuka, Nara, for more details, visit Steve Renshaw’s “Kitora Kofun” astronomy homepages.

Suzaku, Red Bird of the South, (Image credit: National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Nara)

Suzaku, Red Bird of the South, (Image credit: National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Nara)

Similar iconography may be found in the Red phoenix (one of the Four Guardian Deities, defenders of the four directions on each wall to guard the soul of the deceased against demons), Kangso Middle Tomb built between the second half of sixth century and the first half seventh century AD, Namp’o, North Korea  Image credits: Yonson Ahn, Japan Focus

Both the Korean and Japanese Four Guardian Deities tomb murals are evidence of the reach of the Chinese Han dynasty empire. See a comparable Han dynasty example of the Red Bird below:

The Vermilion Bird on the gates of a Han Dynasty  Shen family mausoleum complex in Sichuan, China

The Vermilion Bird on the gates of a Han Dynasty Shen family mausoleum complex in Sichuan, China Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Simurgh in Uzbekistan (see tile mural below) is a more graceful birdlike form resembling the Chinese and other East Asian phoenixes, while the Saena depicted with peacock-tail on Sassanian silk (next next image below) takes on more composite bestiary fantasy forms. A diversity of art iconography and storylines are found in Persia.

Simurgh or Phoenix decorative motif outside of Nadir Divan-Beghi madrasah, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Simurgh or Phoenix decorative motif outside of Nadir Divan-Beghi madrasah, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

In one late version of the Saena bird, the bird is said to have carried Rustam the Persian cultural hero off to China.

Samruk motif on a piece of Sassanid silk textile of the 6th - 7th c.

Simurgh motif on a piece of Sassanid silk textile of the 6th – 7th c. Image: Wikipedia


The Simurgh (/ˌsɪˈmərɡ/; Persian: سیمرغ‎), also spelled simorgh, simurg, simoorg or simourv, also known as Angha (Persian: عنقا‎), and Anka (Arabian) is a benevolent, mythical flying creature. The figure can be found in all periods of Greater Iranian art and literature and is also evident in the iconography of medieval Armenia, the Byzantine empire, and other regions that were within the sphere of Persian cultural influence.

While the task of sorting through the variant evolving versions of the phoenix symbol (both art iconography and mythical tradition) is fraught with difficulty, tracking down the source(s) of the iconic Phoenix can theoretically be done by tracing a number of characteristics back through time and across geographical locations and space, linguistic etymological variants and the mythical descriptions as well as iconic artwork. We will make an attempt at a series of observations about the origins and evolutionary phases of the iconic Phoenix symbol.

First, a number of preliminary observations about the early phase in the evolution of the phoenix:

a) The Indo-Iranians seem to have started out with a tale of two birds — two raptor birds – falcon or eagle-hawk types: the Syenah/Saena and Cīnāmrōš/(C)amros/ (C)amru.

b) On etymological cognates and groupings based on linguistics: Avestan mərəγō Saēnō and / Saena (also Turkic)/ Sanskrit śyenaḥ (read a version of the tale here)

The Middle Persian term derives in turn from Avestan mərəγō Saēnō “the bird Saēna”, originally a raptor, likely an eagle, falcon, or sparrowhawk, as can be deduced from the etymological cognate Sanskrit śyenaḥ (“raptor, eagle, bird of prey”) that also appears as a divine figure. Saēna is also a personal name, which is root of the name.

c) The Saeno-Saena-Syenah-Xarnah group of bird icons have to do with fortune, health and wealth or prosperity, including nourishing rain for a bounty of crops. Saena is a rain-bringer (with a role much like a sky- or thunder-deity’s)…this characterization datable to 6th century BC through 2nd century, CE.

In the Avestan Yašt 14.41 Vərəθraγna, the deity of victory, wraps xᵛarnah, fortune, round the house of the worshipper, for wealth in cattle, like the great bird Saēna, and as the watery clouds cover the great mountains, which means that Saēna will bring rain. In Yašt 12.17 Saēna’s tree stands in the middle of the sea Vourukaša, it has good and potent medicine, is called all-healing, and the seeds of all plants are deposited on it. This scanty information is supplemented by the Pahlavi texts.

The bird Cīnāmrōš (Camrōš) collects the seeds and disperses them where Tištar (Sirius) will seize the water with the seeds and rain them down on the earth. While here the bird breaks the branches with his weight, in Bundahišn 16.4 (tr. Anklesaria) he makes the tree wither, which seems to connect him with the scorching sun. An abbreviated form of this description is found in Zādspram 3.39; a gloss on the Pahlavi translation of Yašt 14.41 confuses the tree of many seeds with the tree of the White Hōm. Two birds are involved in the scattering of the seeds also in the New Persian Rivāyat of Dārāb Hormazyār (tr. Dhabhar, p. 99), here called Amrōš and Camrōš, Amrōš taking the place of Sēnmurw; these names derive from Avestan Amru and Camru, personal names taken from bird names.

d) Simurgh is said to be derived from Middle Persian Pahlavi Sēnmurw (and the earlier Sēnmuruγ), also attested in Middle Persian Pāzand as sīna-mrū.

Cinamros-and Sina-mru transform easily into the Central Asian Turkic cognate Samrug falcon-  or eagle-like raptor.

–>In Central Asia, Samran, and Samruk.

—> In Persia, Sēnmuruγ–> Senmurw—>Simurgh

—–> in West Asia, Semrug, Semurg

In Kazakhstan, the official  version of the Samruk legend goes as follows:

“In the centre of the composition is a depiction of the Baiterek Tower, a monumental structure representing the ‘tree of life’ with a large ‘egg’ nestling in its branches. The monument is situated in the centre of Astana and it has come to represent the thrusting ambitions of the capital and the country itself….

At the base of the Baiterek motif, there is a decoration symbolizing ‘birds wings’ which refers to the mythical sacred bird Samruk, which is associated with freedom and happiness (in Kazakh mythology, the Samruk lays its golden egg in the Baiterek or poplar tree and when the Samruk flies away, a snake eats the egg… The bird returns a year later, lays another, and the snake eats it and so on… ). Like the legend of the phoenix, the tale of the Samruk is a regeneration myth that suits Kazakhstan well.” – Embassy of Kazakhstan

Local folklore adds a few more details, “

“>Baiterek, AstanaKazakh legends have it that on the World River bank, there grows the Tree of Life, called Bayterek. Samruk the holy bird of happiness is flying to it to lay a golden egg in the nest, located on its top. The egg symbolizes the Sun, granting life and hope. But beneath, there is Aydakhar, a wicked dragon, hiding among the roots, and wishing to eat the egg.” –photo of Baiterek credit: Advantours

The Persian-Iranian Simurgh evolved diverse forms … according to Magickal, Mystical Creatures: Invite Their Powers Into Your Life by D.J. Conway:

The Early Persian Sinamru was an immortal half bird-half mammal or dog-bird, with access to two worlds –>

The Sasanians’  Senmurv was a dragon-peacock with role of friend and helper, healer and an enemy of snakes –>

The Simurgh’s giant bird beast that’s part lion-peacock-snake-griffin, lived where haoma grew—>

Simurg is a benevolent giant bird that nested in the highest peaks of Alburz mountains Of North Iran … He helped a wizard bring Rustam into this world with the help of magical feathers, Rustam is a giant —>

11thc. Simurg and Rustam defeated evil prince Isfandiyar with magical feathers —>

The Iranian’s Simurgh is a noble vulture, that helps the adventurer on his journey who is trapped in the Underworld to get back to the middle world.

The Metropolitan Museum adds some further insights:

“In the rich heritage of monstrous beings that fell to the Sasanians when, at the beginning of the third century A.D., they became the masters of the Near Eastern kingdoms, there is little evidence of one demon who was to become a favorite during the three hundred years of Sasan- ian domination. A very ornate example of this creature, the senmurv, appears on a bronze plate (Figure 2) purchased last year by the Metropolitan Museum. The head is doglike, with open mouth displaying a forked tongue and a row of pointed teeth. The forelegs and paws are canine or feline, with sharp claws. The animal forepart then comes to an abrupt halt and the back half of the creature is a bird. Wings come from the shoulders and long slender feathers rise above the head. Finally a rich tail of double plumes curves out behind.
In the Avesta, the great book of the Zoroastrian religion that flourished in Iran from the Achaemenian through the Sasanian periods,from the fifth century B.C. to the seventh century A.D., there are a few references to a great bird, the saena, who was probably the senmurv. But our only real description of the creature comes from a collection of Pahlavi writings concerned with Zoroastrian mythology and compiled in the centuries after the fall of the Sasanian empire. The senmurv is said to be of three natures, and his actions are described thus: “The tree of all germs was produced, from which all species of plants continuously grow. And the senmurv has his resting place upon it; when he wanders forth from within it he scatters the dry seed into the water and it is rained back to the earth with the rain.”2 His service to mankind as the distributor of the seeds of plants is obviously a beneficent one, and this explains his frequent appearance in Sasanian art, in metal, stucco, stone, textiles- in all mediums except seals. The small stone stamp seals carved during the Sasanian period are varied in subject matter and show a number of composite creatures, but almost never the senmurv. This is hard to understand, since there is no question of either his popularity or his importance. In a seventh century rock relief at Taq-i-Bostan in western Iran he is carved on the garment worn by the king, and many fine textiles of the Sasanian period which were worn by nobles or used as hangings in the royal court are decorated with medallions each enclosing a senmurv.
The lion-griffin and the serpent-dragon are similar in many ways to the senmurv, but the feathered ending of the latter, the purely bird- like termination of his body, is not to be found in any of the animal conglomerates known from the heart of the ancient Near East, Iraq, or Iran.
Probably the first true prototypes of the sen- murv came from the art of the nomads who spread westward across the Russian steppes in the beginning of the first millennium B.C. and infiltrated the lands on the northern borders of these ancient civilizations. The Scythians appeared in the seventh century B.C. around the shores of the Black Sea and in the Caucasus between the Black and Caspian Seas. Their art was rich in fantastic animal-bird combinations, often including forms that were taken over from the Near East and elaborated by the native artists. Imagination, fantasy, and a distinct taste for the decorative are all characteristics of the style they developed while they were in touch with the cultures of the Near East. It is here that the closest parallels to the senmurv appear from the fifth century B.C. onward. The variety characteristic of both the animal and bird parts in these early examples disappears by the time of the Sasanian empire and the form becomes relatively standardized.” –The Senmurv

Some tentative conclusions may be made here:

  • There appears to be strong linguistic relatedness in the etymologies of the Simorghian-Saena-Samrug(k)-Senmuruy-Semurg-Simurgh cognates from Central to West Asia…as well as to East Asia at the other extreme end of the Silk Road.
  • The Turkic-Hun-Mongols were nomads with a central role in the transporting and the trading of silks, textiles from China To the West. The mythical bird is a motif found in silks and woven textiles also found in the mythology of the Turkic peoples of Central Asia, which is an indigenous form called Kerkés, thought to closely connected to  the Indo-Iranian (perhaps proto-Indo-European) derivative Semrug, Semurg, Samran, and Samruk. The diffusion of the Simurgh-Phoenix motif took place along the Silk Road trails.
  • The Persian-Greek Simurghs-Phoenixes forms are often said to be derived from the Egyptian Benu sunbird (or the Ba of Ra bird) and this has been accepted as truth without much detailed discussion(Herodotus attributes the phoenix’s origins to the Arabs rather to the Egyptians), nevertheless, we intend to reexamine this assumed derivation and source. We see no reason why the European and West Asian phoenixes could not have been derived from an Eastern source and/other Central Asian sources as well, as a result of the vast Sassanid and Persian and extensive Eurasian Silk Road trade routes. The West Asian griffin-like birds that often change and assume forms as part dog- or lion- or bat-forms rather than birds, appear to be late-comers (griffin metalwork forms also appear in a more eastern location in the Altai mountains in Scythian burials) … later than the West Asian Persian-Turkic eagle-motifs or the more heron-like slender forms from China/East Asia.  …  Cina / Sina was an ancient appellation and pre-fix for China [Sina (Chinese 支那), old Chinese form of the Sanskrit name Cina (चीन)] See Geoff Wade’s “The Polity of Yelang and the Origin of the Name ‘China’“, Sino-Platonic Papers, No. 188, May 2009], so that one would have thought it reasonable to posit that Sina-mru or Cinamros indicated a provenance from China or even the vague eastern region where the ancients thought China lay. There may have also have been two or more distinct forms of West vs. Eastern birds before their properties became conflated into the more prominent  Simorghian or proto-Phoenix forms.]
  • The Simurgh is seen as withering the tree in the Bundishne… i.e. scorching the tree and therefore associated with the sun. Therefore, the Simurgh may have been the origin of the Phoenix as Sunbird, however Matteo Compareti is of the view that the Senmurv shows up rather late in history — the evolution of the Phoenix as a Sunbird and Solar Symbol may have radiated from a centre in Central Asia, or even more easterly location as follows:

—>In West Asia, Semrug, Semurg
—-> Earlier Sēnmuruγ –>Middle Persian Pahlavi sēnmurw.

——>in Middle Persian Pāzand as Sīna-mrū. (si is said to mean “thirty”, bird seen as large as thirty hands, and of thirty colours) but Sina is a word often used in association with China, and therefore, the origin of the Sina-mru is likely a bird that came from the East.

Association with the Tree of Life

The evolution of the phoenix as a fertility and healing symbol (eagle) at the top of the Hom Tree.

Iranian legends consider the bird so old that it had seen the destruction of the world three times over. The Simurgh learned so much by living so long that it is thought to possess the knowledge of all the ages. In one legend, the Simurgh was said to live 1,700 years before plunging itself into flames (much like the phoenix).
The Simurgh was considered to purify the land and waters and hence bestow fertility. The creature represented the union between the Earth and the sky, serving as mediator and messenger between the two. The Simurgh roosted in Gaokerena, the Hōm (Avestan: Haoma) Tree of Life, which stands in the middle of the world sea Vourukhasa. The plant is potent, life-giving, medicinal and is called all-healing, the seeds of all plants are deposited on the Hom tree … seeds that cure all the illnesses of mankind.

The association with the Hom, results in another variant name for the bird, Homa or Huma which has a Persian origin, and which also reflected in Avestan Humāya.

—-> Early diffusion of bird on top of tree motif into northern and western China as the Feng-huang niao atop the Paulawnia tree, its adoption as one of the Four Directional Guardian Deities, is common throughout East Asia, as a result of the Han dynasty’s influence, as well as Hun-Mongolic movements on the continent.

In the Mēnōg ī Xrad (ed. Anklesaria, 61.37-41) the Sēnmurw’s nest is on the “tree without evil and of many seeds.” When the bird rises, a thousand shoots grow from the tree, and when he (or she) alights, he breaks a thousand shoots and lets the seeds drop from them.

From the Persian: As the seeds floated around the world on the winds of Vayu-Vata and the rains of Tishtrya cosmological motif developed and diffused eastwards on the Silk Road [... This corresponds to the Chinese phoenix's role as the Heaven descended bird.]

For the worshipper, fortune/glory “around the house of the worshipper, for wealth in cattle, like the great bird Saena, and as the watery clouds cover the great mountains” (Yasht 14.41, cf. the rains of Tishtrya above). Like the Simurgh, farrah is also associated with the waters of Vourukasha (Yasht 19.51,.56-57). In Yašt 12.17 Simorgh’s (Saēna’s) tree stands in the middle of the sea Vourukaša, it has good and potent medicine and is called all-healing, and the seeds of all plants are deposited on it. — Encyclopedia Iranica’s “Simorg”

–> Did the Ho-o Bird in Japan originate from the source of the Hom? Homa? Huma? Hol? Or from the indigenous Ho-musubi (fire) deity

(—-> Feng-hom –> Feng-huang?)

The relationship between the Simurgh and Hōm is extremely close for Iranians, and especially in Zoroastrianism. Like the simurgh, Hōm is represented as a bird, a messenger of god, and the essence of purity that can heal any illness or wound. Hōm – appointed as the first priest – is the essence of divinity, a property it shares with the Simurgh. The Hōm is in addition the vehicle of farr(ah) (MP: khwarrah, Avestan: khvarenah, kavaēm kharēno) (“divine glory” or “fortune”). Farrah in turn represents the divine mandate that was the foundation of a king’s authority.

The Simurgh-Phoenix is a Symbol of Investiture It appears as a bird resting on the head or shoulder of would-be kings and clerics, for Iranians indicated Ormuzd’s acceptance of that individual as his divine representative on Earth; Falconry had already developed as a trademark sport of nomadic chieftain kings throughout Hunnic Eurasia and the Persian and Chinese royalty, and a legacy seen in medieval European royalty. The sport arrived in Korea and Japan, soon after the arrival of kurgan-tumuli building and horse-riding elite chieftain immigrants. In Korea and Japan, the phoenix’s association with Hom tree shows evident strong influences from the Chinese Han dynasty as well as of Iranian or Persian ones, due to Silk Road exchanges and trading activities.

Reconstruction of fine filigree-work on a gilt crown with a tree and bird motif in a Japanese tumuli of the Kofun period

Reconstruction of fine filigree-work on a gilt crown with a tree and bird motif in a Japanese tumuli of the Kofun period

—–> At the same time, the “bird-alighting on the shoulder of the anointed king” concept is known to be one that is especially significant for the chiefdoms deriving legitimacy as royal lineages on the Korean peninsula, hence the identification of Korean kings (and queens in earlier times) with the Phoenix (see Phoenix Throne of Korea). The idea of a bird as a messenger of the Sky God or sky deities, becomes a cornerstone of the myths of divine kingship or heavenly descent in East Asia, and sacred birds feature prominently in many court-chronicled myths as well as folklore surrounding the royals of Korea and Japan. Genetically and culturally, the Koreans (and certain Korean lineage-related Japanese) are closely related to ancient North and Northeast Asian populations. Given that Jewish or Hebrew communities were known to have existed in various parts of China like Kaifeng, Luoyang and elsewhere in South China, we also cannot discount the intriguing possibility that the Japanese phoenix called Ho-o may be derived from a source connected to Jewish (or Jewish-Iranian) priestly lineages — the Rabbis called the phoenix the hol phoenix, the closest etymology for the Japanese phoenix so far (although hom is a another close cognate) … and there are those who have speculated that the danjiri resembles the holy ark of the Jews.

“The Talmudic version goes like this:”The Talmud tells how the phoenix (Hol) was the only animal allowed to stay in the Garden of Eden, because it refused to eat the forbidden apple. God granted the bird immortality for its obedience.” – “The phoenix through the ages”

A pair phoenixes adorn the rooftops of the danjiri deity carrier during a festival in Takayama, Gifu prefecture.

A pair phoenixes adorn the rooftops of the mikoshi- danjiri deity carrier during a festival in Takayama, Gifu prefecture.

Identification of the phoenix with which bird? Eagle? Rooster? 

According to Encyclopedia Iranica, with a very large, three-fingered bird, probably the Golden Eagle, on account of its being also the bird identified with the constellation Aquila.

The Fenghuang of the Chinese, said to live atop the Kunlun mountains, is also called the “August Rooster” (Chinese: 鶤雞; pinyin: kūnjī) with solar symbolism as an animal signalling the dawn sun and since it sometimes takes the place of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac (although its features have evolved to comprise the composite features of six  celestial beast over time) It is a symbol with positive connotations, symbolic of high virtue, grace and prosperity, associated with rulership like its Central Asian counterparts. The Chinese feng-huang was also often portrayed as a male-female yin-yang pair of birds, with the female being an emblem for the Empress. The Chinese regard the phoenix as a rare phenomenon (like its counterparts elsewhere) seen only in times of peace, and symbolizing conjugal bliss. — see Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature, by Jane Garry, Hasan El-Shamy. Charles Saba’s comparative writings on astrological charts and numerology establishes that Chinese astrology, zodiac and numerology systems were deeply influenced and fundamentally based on Chaldean sources (as were Greek, Indian Vedic and Egyptian ones):

“According to Chinese scholars, astrology was introduced in 2637 BC, as a result of the commercial trade between Emperor Huang Ti and the Chaldean Royalty. These origins made Chinese astrology primarily and deeply based on Numerology.

There are striking similarities between Chinese, Chaldean and Egyptian astrology, which goes beyond the use of 28 hsui and 12 animal types, as in the case between the Chinese Lunar Mansions and the Egyptian Lunar Mansion system.

The same occurs between the predictions of the Shih Chi (historical record) of Ssuma Chien, and the Chaldean ‘Enuma Anu Enlil’. These predictions, deal with the rising of the planets, their conjunctions and paths through the stars. It is strong enough to suggest that communication between the Chinese and Chaldean astrologers existed long before 1000 BC.

The newly acquired Chaldean astronomical sciences were translated into Chinese, and were imbued with the Chinese philosophical thought and influences. The numerological basis of Chinese astrology lies in the use of a specialized numbering system that counts from 1 to 60.

Since the general public is less familiar with this system, additional information will follow to provide a more comprehensive overview.

The numbers in this system consist of a first digit, from a series of ten ‘Heaven Stems’ (Tiangan), and the second from a series of twelve “Earth Branches” (Dìzhi).

The numbering system of 60 is used to count days, years and hours, thus arranging time into sixty-unit ‘cycles’, repeating it into the infinite past and future. Each year is numberedin an ever repeating 60-element cycle. So is each month, day, and hour.

Similarly, Heaven Stems and Earth Branches provided a progression of spaces in the circle of the horizon (each pair corresponding to 6 degrees in the western division of a circle into 360 degrees). Thus space and time could both be associated with units of measurement.

There are three systems used for counting and classifying the years: The Ten Heavenly Stems, the Twelve Earthly Branches(12 animals), and the Five Elements. The year of birth indicates a certain phase or aspect of a sixty-year cycle of time.

All throughout this process, is the ever present concept of Yin and Yang. The terms given to the complementary, dynamic forces that keep the universe in balance at every level.

In event predictions, hours, days, and years are associated with some pairs of Heaven Stems and Earth Branches, and depending on the combination, may be considered to be favorable or unfavorable for various activities, especially for people born at hours, days, or years associated with other combinations of Heaven Stems and Earth Branches.

Chinese astrology includes Five Elements instead of four: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood. They are agents or modifiers that subtlety alters the nature of whatever they represent.

There are ten Heaven Stems, and the pairs of Heaven Stems are aligned with the five elements and hence with various other significations connected with the ‘Five Elements’.

The significations associated with the ‘Five Elements’ range from flavors, colors, virtues, organs, and notes of the scale. Through the linkages between Heaven Stems and the Five Elements, time and direction was even more subtly linked with these other features of human experience.

Because there are ten Heaven Branches, and because the cycle is used to count years, the Heaven Branch is predictable from the western year. A Western year ending in 0 always corresponds to a Chinese G (Geng) year. Thus a Western year ending in 1 will be a Chinese H (Xin) year, a year ending in 2 an I (Rén) year, and so on.

The ancient Chinese use the 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Earthly Branches, but the 12 animals were designated to equate to the 12 Earthly Branches in order remember them more easily.

Therefore, the twelve Earth Branches are aligned with the famous year animals used in Chinese astrology. But they are also associated with the constellations used in the West for signs of the zodiac, and with twelve Chinese hours of the day (each two hours long by international calculation), and with directions around the horizon.”

(The foregoing might lead us to infer a possible Middle or Near Eastern connection —> Feng-hom –> Feng-huang?)

The Japanese rooster is associated with Amaterasu, and a Phoenix or Rooster often sits on top of the wooden cart or palanquin that carries the deity on procession about town from a shrine during a festival. This identification of the phoenix with another solar symbol and sunbird August-Rooster, suggests another intriguing connection — one with the Hepthalites (alternatively, Hata and Hatays from Hattusha or Nysa) … See Encyclopedia Iranica’s entry “Simorg”:

“The Sēnmurw is very prominent on the coinage of the Hephthalites in the seventh and eighth centuries C.E. It is distinguished from the standard Sasanian form by having rather a cock’s than a peacock’s tail and also frequently showing reptilian features, which are rare in the Sasanian form. Its head occurs as a crown-emblem in several issues (nos. 208-10, 241-243, 246, 254-255 in Göbl I, cf. the drawings in IV, pls. 6-7); in one issue (no. 259) the whole animal appears on the top of the crown. The head and neck, or the complete animal, are also used as countermarks (KM 102, 106, 107, 101, 106, 107, 101, 105, 3a-d, 11A-K, 1, 10 in Göbl II, 141ff., IV pl. 10). When carrying a pearl necklace in its mouth (Issue 255.1), the Sēnmurw is probably the conveyer of the investiture (Göbl, p. 156), whether the necklace can be identified with the xᵛarnah or not….

In the chapter on the classification of animals of the Bundahišn the three-fingered Sēn is called the largest of the birds (13.10), and also the Sēnmurw is of the species of birds (13.22); they are obviously identical. The three-fingered Sēn was created first among the birds, but is not the chief, a position held by the Karšipt (according to the Indian Bundahišn 24.11 a carg, falcon or hawk), the bird that brought the religion to the enclosure (var) of Jamšēd (cf. Vd. 2.42) (17.11). In 13.34-35 the Sēnmurw has come to the sea Frāxkard (Vourukaša) before all the other birds. In Zādspram 23.2 the Karšipt and the Sēnmurw are singled out among the birds to attend the conference with Ōhrmazd on the animals, the creatures protected by Wahman. Bundahišn 13 contains serious contradictions. While in 10 and 22 the Sēnmurw is a bird, … Zādspram 3.65 … counts … the Sēnmurw among the birds, though they are of a different nature, having teeth and feeding their young with milk from their breasts. Bundahišn 13.23 contradicts not only 10 and 22 but also 15.13, where the Sēnmurw is counted among the oviparous birds. From this state of affairs it can be inferred that there was an older version, in which the Sēnmurw was a bird pure and simple as in the Avesta, …..

An identification of the original Sēnmurw with a known bird is difficult. The Sēn’s being called three-fingered is puzzling, since most birds have four claws. Herzfeld (1930, pp. 142-43) suggested the ostrich, which has only three claws, but this is impossible because the ostrich is an African flightless bird. The epithet may then be based on the observation of the bird when perching on the branch of a tree when only three claws are visible. The Sēnmurw in representative art also has only three claws but, contrary to my earlier opinion (Schmidt, p. 59), it is hardly the source of the description. The three-fingered Sēn is the largest bird (Bundahišn 13.10) mentioned among the large birds, side by side with the eagle (āluh) and the lammergeier (dālman); this excludes the falcon, which is much smaller than either of them. In size and habitat the closest possibility would be the black vulture (Aigypius monachus), which nests mostly in trees, but as a scavenger does not hunt live prey. Therefore I would suggest the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), particularly if the identification with the constellation Aquila is correct. That the Simorḡ was not known solely as a mythological being, but also as a real bird, can be inferred from the fact that in Judeo-Persian the word translates the Hebrew näšär‘eagle’ (cf. Asmussen).” – Simorg

Born from an Golden Egg associations  Turkic Kerkes tradition may be a close source or one of the underlying sources or provenance for the East Asian phoenix icon, particularly for Koreanic (Korean-descended Japanese lineages) because of King Suro of Gaya/Kaya and various Kim-Royal lineages of Silla, all said to be born from a golden egg, like the Turkic Kerkes which is…

“A Turkish version of the Phoenix and Bennu. It arises from a burning tree. It was at first represented by a wagtail but later it took the appearance of a heron with two long feather protruding from its head and red legs. It lived for 500 years and then at the end of its life it would be consumed in fire and was reborn as a golden egg to hatch again. It was the first creature to be created and it emerged from the primordial mud.” – See more here from

Here, in this connection, we bring the Greeks in, because they are said to have given the Phoenix the name of Circe, cognate with Kerkes.

“According to Greek mythology, the bird lives in Arabia, near a cool well. Every morning at dawn it bathes in the water and sings a beautiful song. So beautiful is the song, that the sun god would stop his chariot to listen.

The phoenix bird symbolizes immortality, resurrection and life after death. The Greeks probably got the idea from the ancient Egyptians. In ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology, it is associated with the sun god, the phoenix represented the sun, who dies in flames each evening and emerges anew each morning. The Arabs had an incombustible cloth woven of flexible asbestos that was thought to be its hair or plumage. There was only one phoenix at a time, and it lived for 500 years. It laid no eggs and had no young, and it was there when the world began. It was the quintessential firebird, young and strong” — on “Rukh, Benne, Phoenix”

Recall that the earlier mentioned Kazakh Samruk (Uzbekistan) is also born from a golden egg.  The Greek-Arab account of the Kerkes bird is however, strangely different in one respect from the Turkic Kerkes and the Kazakh Samruk … it lays no eggs. It is a self-contained, self-sufficient and the primordial sunbird. In all other accounts, phoenix eggs traditionally need fire in order to hatch.

Medieval mixed identities of the Simurgh:

Eagle and rain associations “The Armenian paskuc and the Georgian p’asgunǰi both translate the Greek gryps ‘gryphon, griffin’ in the Septuagint (Marr, p. 2083). It is also glossed as ‘bone-swallower’ (ossifrage, osprey) (Marr, p. 2087 n. 2), but also mentioned as a kind of eagle native to India. In Modern Armenian paskuč is the griffin vulture (Gyps fulvus). In Georgian sources ap’asgunǰi is described as having a body like that of a lion, head, beak, wings and feet like those of an eagle, and covered in down; some have four legs, some two; it carries off elephants and injures horses; others are like a very large eagle (Marr, p. 2083). In late mediaeval Georgian translations of the Šāh-nāma, Georgianp’asgunǰi renders the Persian simorḡ (Marr, p. 2085f.). In a Georgian parallel to the Armenian and Kurdish tales quoted earlier, the bird there called Sīnam and Sīmīr is replaced by p’asgunǰi (Levin-Schenkowitz, p. 1ff.). In a Talmudic tale a giant bird pwšqnṣʾ swallows the giant serpent that has swallowed a giant toad and settles on a very strong tree; Daniel Gershenson (personal communication) interprets this as a metaphor for the coming of the rainy season: the frog represents water, the snake drought, and the Pušqanṣā the rainy season. The tale is thus a reworking of the Sēnmurw story. Talmudic commentators identify the bird as a gigantic raven. In an illustration in the Gerona manuscript of Beatus’s commentary on the Book of Revelation, the picture of the Sēnmurw opposite that of an eagle is found with the subscript coreus (read corvuset aquila in venatione “raven and eagle on the hunt” (Grabar, pl. XXVIII fig. 2). ***This evidence shows that the Sēnmurw took different shapes in different cultures and that the same name was used for real birds and fabulous composites as well as for benevolent and malevolent beasts.”***

Senmurw and Camros have starry associations  The seasonal activity of the Sēnmurw in conjunction with Camrōš and Tištar can be interpreted consistently in astronomical terms. The symbolism of the Persian senmurw or Simurgh bird in astronomy and the pairing of stars/birds also influenced the dualist nature of the feng-huang, Chinese ideas about the peaceful and prosperous reign and sovereignty and Taoist cosmology and the meaning of the Chinese (East Asian) phoenix. The identity of Tištar with Sirius, the brightest star of the constellation Canis Major (the Great Dog), is well established, and it can be assumed that Sēnmurw and Camrōš are stars, too. For Sēnmurw the constellation Aquila (Eagle), or its most prominent star, Altair (Ar. al-ṭayr ’the bird’), is the most likely candidate. The heliacal rise of Sirius in July corresponds to the setting of Aquila. Camrōš may be identified with Cygnus (Swan), which sets some time after Aquila. The influence of Greek astronomy and astrology is well attested in Sasanian Iran, but itself goes back to Babylonian sources, and it is quite possible that the Avestan source was dependent on them (contra Schmidt, p. 10). The assumption that the rise of Tištar signals the beginning of the rains, as it does in Egypt, and must therefore be a direct borrowing, is not compatible with the climate of most of Iran. Historical ties between the Sassanian, Persian and Chinese empires are known.

Serpent/Dragon are enemies of the Simurgh     From Azerbaijani folklore, we see that the dragon as enemy of the Simurgh-phoenix developed, adopted from a common source of cosmological knowledge as the Chinese idea of the Four compass directions -Four Guardian Deities, and the similar display of the oppositional pairing of the Feng-Huang and the dragon together, as mortal enemies.

The Simurgh and Phoenix is sometimes like a genie helping out a hero on his journey (sometimes in the Netherworld or a distant land. Derived from the Middle Persian and Iranian common stock of stories, Simurgh is transformed into “Sīmīr” in the Kurdish language. The scholar Trever quotes two Kurdish folktales about the bird. In one of the folk tales, a hero rescues Simurgh’s offspring by killing a snake that was crawling up the tree to feed upon them…introducing the Tree-and-Serpent-and-Bird Triad motif…a motif also seen in central and East Asia. As a reward, the Simurgh gives him three of her feathers which the hero can use to call for her help by burning them. Later, the hero uses the feathers, and the Simurgh carries him to a distant land. In the other tale, the Simurgh carries the hero out of the netherworld; here the Simurgh feeds its young with its teats, a trait which agrees with the description of the Simurgh in the Middle Persian book of Zdspram. In another tale, Simurgh feeds the hero on the journey.

The idea of the Phoenix emerging from the Worm /Silkworm in the ashes … probably diffused from the East, along the Silk Road, as a bird that resurrects itself, the Silkworm cocoon to butterflymoth to egg cocoon cycle, analogous to the Worm to Phoenix Cycle. With the idea of the resurrective power of the Phoenix, it becomes an important symbol of immortality, and appears on the mural walls of funerary tumuli of kings. The concept holds sway until Buddhist ideas of reincarnation take hold, and remains an important iconic symbol even thereafter. More below:

“In a Persian translation of Kazini’s Geography … we find this story, without the mention of a divine intervention but with explicit mention of the rain: when rain has fallen on the ashes of the Phoenix it gives rise to a work on with wings grow, and from this there develops a bird that lives and dies in the same way as its predecessor? In this last text it is especially clear that the rebirth of the bird is a consequence of the rain. The same perhaps finds expression in a Syriac text on the Phoenix that otherwise does not refer to the origin of the bird; Therefore there is moisture there, thanks to that kind of worm is born3. We shall have to go in some detail into the Judae-Christian conception of the developing the rain as the means by which God brings the dead to life4. This idea must also underly the motif of the rainfall on the ashes.

On the 3rd day it appears t o be a mature bird exactly like its predecessor … the detail of the life-inducing rain*probably received several Oriental version of the Physiologas: to be inferred from the Syriac text that is strongly dependent on the Physiologus, and Epiphanius’ version of the Phoenix myth clearly showing that he too was influenced by the world as indicated by this work, as indicated for instance by his mention of the period in which the worm develops in which the worm develops into a full-grown Phoenix.(*only found in the East)

Only the Physiologus and the texts related to it say that the worm developed into a Phoenix in 3 days. Most of the versions and translations state that the priest of Heliopolis examines the ashes on the altar on the morning after the burning and finds a worm. On the second day, the worm has acquired feathers and has become a young bird and on the third day, it appears to be a mature bird exactly like its predecessor” — Broek, “The Myth of the Phoenix”

Four "worms" motif on a bronze mirror excavated from a Japanese tumuli of the Kofun period

Four “worms” motif on a bronze mirror excavated from a Japanese tumuli of the Kofun period

Development of solar imagery, and the tradition of the self-immolating or self-combusting bird. According to several sources (Epiphanius, Zeno of Verona, Ambrose, Pseudo-Bede, but also the Turkish Kerkes tradition — the Phoenix causes itself to burst into flames after striking its wings together or spreading its wings.

We are also told in Broek’s book that…

“the Didascalia [Apostolum 40] stresses the fact that… the Phoenix makes a deep impression when it enters Egypt….It is also in this book that we first encounter the report that before setting itself afire, the phoenix faces the east and the rising sun, and then, utters a prayer.”  Another suggestion here is that the phoenix is a foreign import, and a tradition from the east, is by Philostratus, who tells us that the Indians supplement the well-known singing dying Phoenix story by saying that like the dying swan, the Phoenix sings its own dirge as it is consumed in its nest.

The Greek discourses and subsequent retellings of the Phoenix story have disseminated the motif to the rest of the Greco-Roman world and leaving a lasting literary and art legacy to the modern world today. A 2,500 year version went like this:

“The fabled bird is said to live 500 years or more, and when the old bird is tired, it flies from Arabia to land in Heliopolis, Egypt, the “City of the Sun.” There, it gathers cinnamon twigs and resin to build a nest of spices atop the Temple of the Sun. The sun ignites the nest and the old phoenix dies in flames. A new, young phoenix emerges from the ashes and wings back to Arabia to live another life cycle. The bird’s features have changed over the centuries, but most agree it’s an eagle-like bird with shining red, golden, and purple plumes.”  - The Phoenix Through the Ages

The modern English noun phoenix is derived from Middle English phenix (before 1150), itself from Old English fēnix (around 750). Old English fēnix was borrowed from Medieval Latin phenix and, later, from Latin phoenīx, deriving from Greek φοίνιξ phóinīx. With the deciphering of the Linear B script in the 20th century, however, the ancestor of Greek φοίνιξ was confirmed in Mycenaean Greek po-ni-ke, suggesting a provenance in Hittite-Luwian Anatolia.

During the Classic period, the name of the bird, φοίνιξ, was variously associated with the color purple, ‘Phoenician’, and the date palm. According to an etymology offered by the 6th- and 7th-century archbishop Isidore of Seville, the name of the phoenix derived from its purple-red hue, an explanation that has been influential into the medieval world, and the bird was considered “the royal bird”.

Garden and magic apple associations  In Azerbaijan, the Simurgh goes by the name of Zumrud (emerald). In an ancient tale about Malik Mammad, the son of one of the wealthiest kings of Azerbaijan, that king had a big garden. In the center of this garden was a magical apple tree that yielded apples every day. An ugly giant named Div stole all the apples every night. The king sent Malik Mammad and his elder brothers to fight the giant. In the course of this tale, Malik Mammad saves the Zumrud-Simurgh’s babies from a dragon. Slavic myths hav# variant, and the Russian “Firebird” folktale is now classified as Slavic which is in keeping with the results of genetic studies (#scroll down to the reference section)

Plant associations  Through cultural assimilation the Simurgh was introduced to the middle East and Arabic-speaking world, where the concept was conflated with other Arabic mythical birds such as the Ghoghnus, a bird having some mythical relation with the date palm, and further developed as the Rukh (the origin of the English word “Roc“). In an illustration of a manuscript of the Thousand and One Nights the Simorḡ is identified with the monstrous bird Roḵ (cf. Casartellli, p. 82fIn Arabic translations of the Physiologus of Pseudo-Basil, twining vines and twigs of grape-vines, were a symbol of immortality that was associated with the Simurgh.

We can make one final observation, that the later the newcomers on the scene, such as the Slav settlers of the Siberian steppes, or the relatively late invaders of the Arab Islamic empire, the more likely the myths are to lose the mytheme of the phoenix as a beneficent provider of wealth, grace, immortality and divine legitimacy, and the more the likely these near-modern firebird myths will have a feature such as a garden with apples, a cultural folkhero or adventurer journeying very likely in the Underworld, elements introduced from other folktales as well as a more fantasaical and composite form of the phoenix beast, with body parts (such as its feathers that grant wishes) that are embued with magical charms or amulet powers, or other strange bestiary features.

Sources and further readings:

The Myth of the Phoenix: According to Classical and Early Christian Traditions. by R. Van den Broek, pp. 199-204

Hanns-Peter Schmidt,”Simorg” in Encyclopedia Iranica

The Phoenix Through the Ages” by Heather Shumaker, Swarthmore College bulletin, October 2008

Simorgh, the fabulous mythological bird, Tehran Times, Sept 2012


Charles Saba’s writings on astrological charts, numerological systems and on “History: China”

#MOROVA, Irina et al. Russian ethnic history inferred from mitochondrial DNA diversity, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Volume 147, Issue 3, pages 341–351, March 2012,

The 2012 study indicated that the core of the Russian gene pool is the mixture of two genetically different groups, the northern and southwestern, which are apparently related to the two major inflows of Slavic settlers from Western Europe to the East European Plain.

See Wikipedia entry’s “Firebird (Slavic) Folklore”:

The Senmurv by Prudence Oliver Harpe

Magickal, Mystical Creatures: Invite Their Powers Into Your Life by D.J.ConwayThe so-called senmurv, an old Iranian theory  reconsidered by Matteo Compareti

Senmurv silk fragments at the Victoria & Alberts

See fresco depiction of simurghs inside medallions (evoking motifs found on Sassanid textiles) in the church of Tigran Honents at Ani. P Donabedian and J. M. Thierry, Armenian Art, New York, 1989, p. 488.

In Cappadocia, Turkey, a row of simurghs are depicted inside the “Ağaçaltı” church in the Ihlara gorge. Thierry, N. and M., Nouvelles églises rupestres de Cappadoce, Paris, 1963, p. 84-85.

A. Jeroussalimskaja, “Soieries sassanides”, Splendeur des sassanides: l’empire perse entre Rome et la Chine (Brussels, 1993) pp. 114, 117f, points out that the spelling senmurv, is incorrect (noted by David Jacoby, “Silk Economics and Cross-Cultural Artistic Interaction: Byzantium, the Muslim World, and the Christian West”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 58 (2004:197-240) p. 212 note 82.

The Tang Dynasty’s Son of Heaven cosmic worldview that Japan inherited during the Nara Period

Layout of cosmically heaven-aligned city, Changan of the Tang Dynasty, Shaanxi History Museum: "Scenes of Flourishing Tang", P27. Zhejiang People's Fine Arts Publishing House, 1999.

Layout of cosmically heaven-aligned city, Changan of the Tang Dynasty, Shaanxi History Museum: “Scenes of Flourishing Tang”, P27. Zhejiang People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, 1999.

During the Nara period, the Japanese court actively sought to absorb the body of advanced ideas and knowledge of astronomy, engineering and city-building, medicine, technology, arts and music and governmental organization, that were coming out of the Chinese Tang Dynasty’s capital city Changan (Cho-an to the Japanese).  These ideas were transmitted via two-way diplomatic missions between Nara and the Changan capital, and for the most part, the incoming corpus of knowledge and ideas, studied, embraced and adopted enthusiastically, including its fashions — much of which almost wholesale. More details and background on this here.

Plan of Nara (image source: wiki college notes by Angelo di Franco

Plan of Nara (image open source: Wiki College Study Blue notes by Ornello di Franco)

The city of Changan, according to the US State Department’s report entitled, “Chang’an”…

“continued to be the principal capital of the empire and entered the greatest period of its development under the Tang Dynasty (618-907). “At the height of its glory in the mid-eighth century, Chang’an was the most populous, cosmopolitan, and civilized city in the world” (Richard B. Mather, foreword to Xiong, p. ix), occupying some 84 sq. km. with around one million inhabitants. It suffered major damage during the An Lushan rebellion in the mid-8th century, but even toward the end of the Tang period, when the empire was in disarray, the “enormous size” of the city impressed an Arab visitor.

Under the Tang, the city was a major religious center, not only for Buddhism and Taoism but also for several religions which were relatively recent arrivals in China: Zoroastrianism, Nestorianism and Manichaeism… a Japanese pilgrim noted in 844 that there were over 300 Buddhist temples in Chang’an.”

The writer Anthony Aveni in “Bringing sky to earth” gives us a good account and concise summary of the Tang Empire-Son of Heaven’s worldview that would have been transmitted to Japanese during the Nara period.

“…cities with long written histories – like Beijing – provide us with some unanticipated connections.

The written legacy helps us understand the reasons behind the desire to orientate one’s capital to the stars. A strong bond existed between astrology and good government: a mandate from heaven underlay all Chinese dynastic ideology.

Chinese society has always been bureaucratically organized. Family histories contain lengthy chapters on astronomy, with data such as where and when celestial objects appeared or disappeared, their colour, brightness, direction of motion and their gathering together in one place. These histories also suggest implications that such data might have on family affairs: thus one Chinese historian and court astrologer explains that when planets gather, either there is great fortune or there is great calamity. He knows this because when they gathered in Roon (Scorpio), the Zhou dynasty flourished, but when they gathered in Winnowing Basket (Sagittarius), Qi became the emperor.

The Chinese called their constellations the ‘heavenly minions’. But when they looked among them in the north they saw not a pair of wheeling bears flanked by a dragon as we do, but rather a celestial empire. Which constellations did they recognize and what do the Chinese stars tell us about their ideas concerning rulership and the orientation of the city? Confucius compared the emperor’s rule with Polaris, the north star: just as the emperor was the axis of the earthly state, so his celestial pivot was the polar constellation. The economy revolved around the fixed emperor the way the stars turn about the immoveable pole. According to one legend, the Divine King was born out of the light radiated upon his mother by the Pole Star. Four of the seven stars in what we know as the Little Dipper, plus two others, constituted the Kou Chen or ‘Angular Arranger’ of the Chin Shu dynasty. These stars made up the great ‘Purple Palace’ and each of their celestial functionaries had its terrestrial social counterpart. One member of the group was the crown prince who governed the moon while another, the great emperor, ruled the sun. A third, son of the imperial concubine, governed the five planets, while a fourth was the empress, and a fifth the heavenly palace itself. When the emperor’s star lost its brightness, his earthly counterpart would sacrifice his authority, while the crown prince would become anxious when his star appeared dim, especially when it lay to the right of the emperor.

The four surrounding stars of the palace proper are Pei Chi, the ‘Four Supporters’. On Chinese star maps they appear well situated to perform their task, which is to issue orders to the rest of the state. The ‘Golden Canopy’ is made up of seven stars, most of them corresponding to the pole-centred stars of our constellation Draco. It covered the palatial inhabitants and emissaries. Beyond them lay the stars of the Northern Dipper. More concerned with realizing celestial principles in the earthly realm, these ‘Seven Regulators’ are aptly situated to possess the manoeuvrability to come down close to Earth so that they can inspect the four quarters of the empire. According to one version, the Big Dipper is the carriage of the great theocrat who periodically wheels around the central palace to review conditions. Its stars are the source of Yin and Yang, the two-fold way of knowing what resolves the tension between opposing polarities: male and female, light and dark, active and passive. Yin and Yang wax and wane with cosmic time and make up the potentiality of the human condition. For every affair of state the starry winds of good and bad fortune blow across the sky.

Why this royal fixation with the stars of the north? Like the power invested in royalty, they were eternally visible, never obscured by the horizon. Indeed in temperate latitudes the stars that turn about the pole are raised quite high in the sky. The fixity of the polar axis is a cosmic metaphor for the constant power of the state.

Given the close parallel between the events surrounding the palace economy and the celestial arrangement, it seems logical to enquire whether Chinese royal architecture, like that of Stonehenge and Teotihuacan, is also situated in perfect harmony with the land- and skyscape.

To harmonize the arrangement of the royal capital with the local contours of cosmic energy, the king would call in a geomancer to perform the art of feng shui. This expert would decide where to select and how to arrange a site. His sources of cosmic knowledge were the local magnetic field, the paths of streams and the land forms; he might also consult oracle bones, engraved pieces of bone and shell used in divination. Sometimes workers would need to remove vast quantities of boulders or plant forests of trees to regulate the disposition of Yin and Yang energies passing in and out of the site.

There is an account of the foundation ritual associated with the city of Lo-yang of the Zhou dynasty at the close of the second millennium bc. On the second day of the third month:

Diog-Kung, Duke of Zhou, began to lay the foundations and establish a new and important city at Glak (Lo) in the eastern state. The people of the four quarters concurred strongly and assembled for the corvée … In the second month, the third quarter, on the sixth day in the morning the King walked from the capital of Diog (Chou) and reached P’iong (Feng). The Great Protector preceded Diog-Kung to inspect the site. When it came to the third month … on the third day the Great Protector arrived at Glak in the morning and took the tortoise oracle as bearing on the site. When he had obtained the oracle, he planned and laid out the city. On the third day the Great Protector and all the people of Yin began work on the public emplacements in the loop of the Glak river.

The attention to detail regarding place and time suggests that acquiring proper urban form depended on getting things right with nature – especially the cardinal axes. If it were to function properly, the city needed to be accurately partitioned into its quarters.

Beijing still preserves its ancient cosmic plan. If you stand in Tiananmen Square you can line up the Bell and Drum Towers, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong on a perfect north-south axis. Continue that line and you’ll discover that it runs through the gates of the old city. Today the cosmic axis is defined by a marble pavement that marks the imperial meridian. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, which houses the emperor’s throne, lies at its northern terminus; this symbolizes the circumpolar region where the earth meets the sky.

Beijing offers a lasting reminder of the cosmically ordained duties of the emperor. He had to perform a specific task at the beginning of the first month of each season, these being determined by the court astronomers who followed the course of the moon and sun and the five planets across the lunar mansions of the Chinese zodiac. The emperor would go to the eastern quarter ouf his domain to start the new year every spring equinox to pray for a sound harvest; then, followed by his ministers, he would plough a ceremonial furrow in a field. At the other seasonal pivots he would visit the other quarters of his city.

This calendar would have been familiar to any farmer, for it was based on what he could see in the sky. At the beginning of summer Antares lay due south at sunset, while on the first of winter the Tristar of Orion’s Belt took its place. Of course, farmers knew well when they could plant, but they needed to be aware that the official time to do so occurred when the handle of the Dipper pointed straight down, for then was it the first day of spring – the time for the king to come forth and speak to the people about the new year’s harvest.

The keeping of the observations and the preparation of the calendar resided in the state observatory. This institution lay hidden within the bowels of the Purple Palace. The importance of astronomical observing in the world of politics made secrecy a necessity. One directive issued by a ninth-century Tang Dynasty king reads:

If we hear of any intercourse between the astronomical officials or of their subordinates, and officials of any other government departments, or miscellaneous common people, it will be regarded as a violation of security relations which should be strictly adhered to. From now on, therefore, the astronomical officials are on no account to mix with civil servants and common people in general. Let the Censorate see to it.

And so the astronomers, spurred on by their government, performed their appointed task: to give the correct time so that the affairs of state might be properly conducted. “

Source of article excerpt: Bringing the Sky Down to Earth by Anthony Aveni | Published in History Today Volume: 58 Issue 6 2008 (retrieved online Jan 25, 2014:

Anthony F. Aveni is the Russell Colgate Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Anthropology and Native American Studies at Colgate University. He is the author of People and the Sky: Our Ancestors and the Cosmos (Thames & Hudson).

Further recommended sources and readings:

Nara capital built in the shadow of the Chinese empire & under the influences of the Silk Road  (Heritage of Japan wordpress blog)

C. Cullen, Astronomy and Mathematics in Ancient China (Needham Resarch Institute, 2007)

Victor Cunrui Xiong, Sui-Tang Chang’an: A Study in the Urban History of Medieval China (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan, 2000).

King Enma and his ogres take a winter vacation from tormenting people

Azuchi-Momoyama period wallscroll depicting King Enma, Nara, Japan

Azuchi-Momoyama period wallscroll depicting King Enma, Nara, Japan

Tochigi temples hold events for King Enma

(NHK World, Jan 15, 2014)

Buddhist temples in Ashikaga City, north of Tokyo, have held events for King Enma, the ruler of Hell and suffering.

According to the teachings of Buddhism, January 16th is the king’s winter holiday, when the lids on the cauldrons of Hell are removed and Enma and ogres stop tormenting people there.

Yakushido Temple showed pictures of Hell to the public on Thursday.

The pictures of torture from centuries ago during the Edo period are said to frighten children and leave them unable to sleep at night.

Another temple, Rishoin, held a service for Enma, continuing 200 years of tradition.

Visitors prayed for good business and safety for their families before a 2-meter-tall statue of Enma.

One supporter of the temple said King Enma is popular among students preparing for entrance exams because he is tough on liars but grants wishes to hard workers.

Source: NHK World


“Enma face” (閻魔顔 Enma-gao?) is an idiom used to describe someone with a fearsome face.
“If you lie, Lord Enma will pull out your tongue” (嘘をつけばと閻魔さまに舌を抜かれる?) is a superstition often told to scare children into telling the truth.
A Japanese kotowaza states “When borrowing, the face of a jizō; when repaying (a loan), the face of Enma” (借りる時の地蔵顔、返す時の閻魔顔?). Jizō is typically portrayed with a serene, happy expression whereas Enma is typically portrayed with a thunderous, furious expression. The kotowaza alludes to changes in people’s behaviour for selfish reasons depending on their circumstances.


The deity Yama, a deity of Indo-European origin (Indian “Yama” and Iranian “Yamaxaita”, I-E etymology “yemos” or “ymyos”,  North European-Finno-Ugric deity Ymir) arrived in Japan and Korea via China…consistent with the frequent portrayal of Yama in Chinese bureaucratic garb.

For more on see “King Yama Lord of the Dead: Comparing counterparts and cognates in Central Asia and Southeast Asia”

 Yama's Court and Hell. The Blue figure is Yama with his consort Yami and Chitragupta. A 17th-century painting from the Government Museum in Chennai.

Yama’s Court and Hell. The Blue figure is Yama with his consort Yami and Chitragupta.
A 17th-century painting from the Government Museum in Chennai.

In Hinduism, Yama was the son of sun god Surya and presided over Naraka, the Hindu underworld. Adopted into Buddhism, Yama’s exact role is fairly vague in canonical texts, but is clearer in extra-canonical texts and popular beliefs, although these are not always consistent with Buddhist philosophy.
In the Pali canon, the Buddha states that a person who has ill-treated their parents, ascetics, holy persons, or elders is taken upon his death to Yama. Yama then asks the ignoble person if he ever considered his own ill conduct in light of birth, aging, sickness, worldly retribution and death (mrtyu). In response to Yama’s questions, such an ignoble person repeatedly answers that he failed to consider the kammic consequences of his reprehensible actions and as a result is sent to a brutal hell “so long as that evil action has not exhausted its result.”
In the Pali apocrypha, the scholar Buddhaghosa’s commentary to the Majjhima Nikaya describes Yama as a vimānapeta (विमानापता), a “being in a mixed state”, sometimes enjoying celestial comforts and at other times punished for the fruits of his karma. However, Buddhaghosa considered his rule as a king to be just.

Modern Theravādin countries portray Yama sending old age, disease, punishments, and other calamities among humans as warnings to behave well. At death, they are summoned before Yama, who examines their character and dispatches them to their appropriate rebirth, whether to earth or to one of the heavens or hells. Sometimes there are thought to be two or four Yamas, each presiding over a distinct Hell.[Source: Wikipedia entry on Enma]

Wagtail myths of Japan and their parallels elsewhere

Image: Kevin Short, excerpted from the  Yomiuri Shimbun article (see article below)

Image: Kevin Short, excerpted from the Yomiuri Shimbun article (see article below)

The Ainu of Japan have a tale of creation (among many versions) involving the wagtail:

In one version the creator deity sends down a water wagtail to create habitable land in the watery world below. The little bird fluttered over the waters, splashing water aside and then he packed patches of the earth firm by stomping them with his feet and beating them with his tail. In this way islands where the Ainu were later to live were raised to float upon the ocean. Source: “A Dictionary of Creation Myths” - “Ainu Creation” Leeming, David Adams; Leeming, Margaret Adams (2009).  Oxford University Press. [See also Barbara C. Sproul's (1979). Primal Myths. HarperOne HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN 978-0-06-067501-1].

In another more detailed version (Batchelor), the wagtail takes on a Cupid-like role:

CHAPTER VII. Cupid and the Hero Okikurumi. The water- wagtail as Cupid — He instructs husbands and wives in their conjugal duties — Legend of Okikurumi in lov — Yoshitsune not worshipped — The shrine at Piratori. If the ancient Greeks and Latins had their Cupid, the Ainu also are human enough to have theirs. But, instead of being a saucy, winged, chubby child, with a malicious smile and cunning twinkling eyes, he appears in this case with wings indeed, but the wings of a bird. He is, in fact, no other than the water- wagtail. It has already been shown elsewhere that, by one account, this bird is supposed to have brought the earth out of chaos, and by another to have simply made rough places plain and level. We are now about to learn that he first taught the ancestors of the Ainu race their duties to each other as husbands and wives, and that he has been known to act as Cupid in watching over love-stricken people. I find that some young Ainu men keejj the skins and skeletons of these birds in boxes, as love charms, carefully wrapped up in 171(70 shavings. These they sometimes worship, especially if their possessors are in love or want a wife. The legend recounting this is as follows : — ‘ The water-wagtail is called Ochiu-cJiiri by some people, and this means the ” bird of passion” or “desire.” He is thus named because he has strong sensual desires. After God had created human beings and placed them in the world, the water-wagtail came to them, and first taught them their duties to one another as husbands and wives.

It is through his kindly offices of instruction that men increased and multiplied in the world. He is known to be a good charm, and therefore to be highly prized. Once upon a time a man killed one of these birds, and used the body as a charm. It was soon observed that its possessor was becoming very lustful, and was continually getting into all kinds of trouble. He had to pay a great many fines for his misdeeds. This kind of thing lasted just six years. After that time had elapsed he repented, and completely turned over a new leaf, and grew very rich indeed. This was all owing to his possessing a water-wagtail as a charm. Whoever, therefore, keeps this kind of fetish must expect to be very wicked for the space of six years ; but after that time he may, by exercising care, repent and grow rich.’ In the first chapter of this book, which was on the subject of the origin of the Ainu, we had occasion to discuss an ancient hero named Okikurumi. It was there shown that in all probability this person was no other than the Japanese Yoshitsune, who is said to have come to Yezo and married an Ainu damsel. The following legend shows him to have been really in love with his bride, and the purpose of it appears to be to teach young lovers never to despair, even though they cannot always obtain the object of their affections, and to show young men that they ought never to look too much after the softer sex. It also shows the water- wagtail acting in his capacity of Cupid.

The Water-Wagtail a Cupid.

Ainu Man abuut to Drink.

‘ The great Okikurumi fell deeply in love ; he became very ill, yea, exceedingly love-sick ; he lost his appetite and bodily strength ; he lay down in his hut in sullen despair, and would eat neither good food nor bad ; he was, in short, ready to die of love. And, mark you, all this happened through taking just one glance at a beautiful woman. ” Dear, dear!” says the legend, “how badly he felt!”

Therefore let the young beware. ‘ But Okikurumi was cured of his dangerous malady, A little bird, the water-wagtail, flew to the cause of this affliction — the object of his affections. Word was brought to her of his deep-seated love and critical condition. The pretty little bird wagged his tail, and whispered in the lady’s ear that if Okikurumi died the soul of Ainu-land would also depart. Therefore the bird begged her to have mercy upon poor Okikurumi for the sake of Ainu-land. The intercession was successful. An unreal, unsubstantial woman was made in the likeness of the beauty with whom Okikurumi had been smitten. She was brought to his hut, and forthwith proceeded to arrange the mats, furniture and ornaments. Okikurumi took a sly glance at her through his sleeve ; he was encouraged ; he got up, rejoiced, ate food, was revived, and felt strong again. This done, the lady took her departure ; she was not. What then did Okikurumi do ? Why, he saw that he had been deceived in the woman, and, as there was nothing to be done, nothing to be said, he got ,well again, like a sensible man.’

Okikurumi in Love.

The following is the explanation of the legend : — ‘ The goddess {i.e. the beautiful maiden) felt lonely, and gazed upon the inside and surveyed the outside of the hut. She went out, and behold ! the clouds were floating and waving about in beautiful terraces upon the horizon of Ainu-land. Yes, that is what she saw ; so she returned into the hut back- wards and took down her needlework.’ (By this we are taught how it happened that Okikurumi first caught sight of this beautiful woman with whom he fell in love. She had been sitting in the hut, and now felt a little lonesome, restless, or tired. Her eyes had been wandering about from one object to another with weary solicitude. She gets up, goes outside in an aimless kind of way, and scans the horizon, which she sees Is very beautiful In its grandeur, the clouds being piled one upon another In terrace-like masses. She revives and returns into her hut. But we are told that she returns backwards. This Is a sign that she was paying great respect to someone or something out-side. The Ainu say that she was paying respect to the Ijrilliant beauties of Nature which were depicted upon the heavens ; hence she came into her hut reverently walking backwards. Now women never pray to the- heavens, indeed, they never worship any deities at all ; I therefore venture to think that she was paying her respects to Okikurumi, whom she saw outside.)

‘Again, she looked to the point of her needle, and fixed her gaze upon the eye-end thereof.’ (That is to say, she paid great attention to her work.) ‘Then came a little bird, called the water-wagtail, and sat upon the window shutter. He wagged his tail up and down, and waved it from right to left. ‘ Then two chirps and three chirps came to her and touched the inside of her ears, and what she heard was this: “The mighty Okikurumi, who is governor of all Ainu-land, went out of doors for a little while, and seeing you, has fallen ill of love on your account. And though two bad fish and two good fish were placed before him for food he refused to eat.” ‘ (Two good and two bad fish is merely an expression meaning that whatever food was placed before Okikurumi he could not touch it, he was so love-sick.) ‘ “Now, if Okikurumi should die, the soul of Ainu-land will depart.” ‘ Then the little bird called water-wagtail, waving its tail, spake two words to her and said, ” Have mercy upon us, that Okikurumi may live.” ‘ Thus, then, by simply looking out upon the world, Okikurumi fell so sick of love that though two bad fish and two good fish were set before him he could not eat. ‘ Dear, dear, how badly he felt !

The Shrine at Piratori. ‘ Therefore the form of a woman resembhng the go.ddess was made and sent down to Okikurumi. ‘ The house was set in order; that woman who was sent down put things to rights. ‘ Then Okikurumi looked through his sleeve, and saw the beautiful woman. He got up greatly rejoic- ing. He ate some food ; strength came back to his body, and — the woman was gone! ‘Okikurumi saw he had been deceived ; but there was nothing to be done and nothing to say, so he got well.’ It has been thought by many that Okikurumi or Yoshitsune has been and is still worshipped by the Ainu, and the fact that a shrine has been set up to him at Piratori has lent colour to this idea. But that shrine is of purely Japanese manufacture, while the idol within it, which is also of Japanese make, only dates back one hundred and ten years. Beyond this there is nothing of antiquity about it. Indeed, no Ainu would think of offering prayer at this shrine. The very idea of such a thing would have been ridiculed by the people twenty years ago. As a matter of fact, Yoshitsune was not spoken at all well of by the Ainu when I first came to Piratori. It is true, indeed, that he is supposed to be the maker of some things in creation. But of what kind of objects ? The cuckoo, for example, which is looked upon as a bird of evil omen ; and snakes also, which are not pleasant creatures by any means. I have sometimes seen iiiao offered at the above-mentioned shrine, and on one occasion heard a semi-prayer said, which was as follows: —

‘ O my divine Yoshitsune, through thy divine favour I am frequently getting sake. I salute thee; I thank thee.’ This can hardly be called proper prayer, and it was old Penri who said it. This old gentleman is very fond of sake, as is shown in another chapter, and this shrine used often to be the means by which he obtained it Indeed, the nickname the shrine used to be called by, a very few years ago, was ‘ Penri’s sake trap.’ He considered it a great joke when some Japanese appointed him keeper of the shrine, and was duly pleased and thankful.

– Source: pp. 75 – 80, of John Batchelor’s “Ainu and their Folklore” at

The wagtale features not only in the indigenous Ainu people’s creation myth, but in the earliest written royal chronicles of Japan as well, which is given special treatment in the article below:

Excerpted from Kevin Short’s*  December 12, 2013 Special to The Japan News Nature in Short / Adaptable wagtails peck out a living in the city:

“… The fields, paddies and woodlands of the countryside are home to a rich biodiversity, so I often find myself pulling over to observe and photograph a variety of flowers, insects and birds. One day, however, I encountered a bird in a most unlikely spot. I had stopped to fill up with gas. As I stepped out of the car, I noticed a small black-and-white bird with a long tail, just a few meters away. The bird completely ignored me and other customers, seemingly intent on foraging on the concrete ground around the pumps.

The bird was a wagtail, a member of a group of passerine birds classified in the genus Motacilla, distributed widely across Eurasia and Africa. Their most easily recognized common trait is a long tail, nearly as long again as the body, which they continuously flick up and down as they move across the ground. This behavior is the base for their generic English name. In Japanese they are referred to as sekirei.

About a dozen or so species of wagtail are found worldwide. Half of these have been recorded here in Japan, but only three species; the White Wagtail, or Haku-sekirei (M. alba)—the Japanese Wagtail, or Seguro-sekirei (M. grandis); and the Grey Wagtail, or Ki-sekirei (M. cinerea)—are common. The rest are rare migrants.

Both the white and Japanese wagtails are common year-round residents in the Kanto area. These two gray, black-and-white feathered species look alike at a distance, but up close can be readily distinguished by the amount of black on their face, head and back, which is noticeably greater in the Japanese wagtail (the Japanese names mean “white” and “black-backed,” respectively).

Both these species usually prefer countryside or waterside habitats. They are primarily insectivorous, feeding on or close to the ground. Their long, thin bills are well adapted to plucking insects out of low vegetation and shallow water. Another typical foraging behavior is jumping up to snatch disturbed insects as they try to escape. Over the past several decades, however, the wagtails have dramatically expanded their range to include suburban and even hard core urban habitats.

The gas station bird was a white wagtail. For more than five minutes, I watched it pecking away at what seemed to me to be nothing more than bare concrete. I have also seen these birds foraging out on my 20th floor verandah, and even dodging dump trucks on the national highway asphalt. No matter how hard I looked, I could see nothing that might be edible.

One might easily imagine that the wagtails have somehow evolved a method for extracting nutrients from tiny pebbles of concrete, or maybe from spilt motor oil. My ornithologist friends, however, assure me that the birds are simply picking up tiny seeds or minuscule scraps of food dropped by people. By widening the scope of their diet, these adaptable critters have been able to move into new urban and suburban habitats.

Wagtails also play a small but significant role in Japanese classic mythology. According to the traditional creation myth, a pair of kami deities was dispatched from the Celestial Realm to found a new world here on earth. Arriving on a portal bridge, the male deity Izanagi stirred the primeval chaotic sea with his magical spear. Brine dripping from the spear coalesced to form the first island.

Izanagi and his mate, Izanami, then erected a pillar, around which they danced in anticipation of the task of giving birth to the land. When all was ready, however, they found that being a bit naive and inexperienced, they didn’t actually know just how a man and a woman should go about producing offspring. Fortunately, just at that crucial moment, a pair of mating wagtails happened by. Izanagi and Izanami simply watched what they were doing and tried it out for themselves. The result was the land we now call Japan.”

*Short is a naturalist and cultural anthropology professor at Tokyo University of Information Sciences.

Comparing the Japanese wagtail myth with parallels elsewhere, we find that the wagtail features as myth in many of the ancient civilizations (Egypt, India, Australia, Greek and Japanese aboriginal):

  • Egypt — The tale there appears to be of great antiquity and its prototype tale may have moved through connected to lineages through Central Asia to Japan (perhaps, via Manchuria or China): “In Heliopolis, at least from the building of the Heliopolitan sun temple, around 2660 BC, Ra, the sun and Atum were linked to the wagtail, and then the heron, or some other mythical bird with a likeness to the heron. It became known as the benu, perched on the original mound, on the benben, which in Egyptian mythology had emerged from the primeval watery chaos, and was closely linked to the original rising sun. The benu was the carrier of sunlight from the gods to mankind in the daily resurrection of the sun and in rebirth in general. The benu became an aspect of Atum was later the Ba soul aspect of Re and afterwards was linked to Osiris. The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-420 BC) associated the benu on the benben with the Greek mythological Phoenix. Perpetual sunlight was carried from the gods to mankind.” Source:  Egypt, Trunk of the Tree, Volume 1 by Simson R. Najovits
  • Manchurian tale: A Nisǎn shamaness, a Manchu of Chinese Manchuria, was described having to cross a river where there was no ferry, and beseeching the spirits including that of a golden wagtail, she stood on her shaman drum, and managed to cross the river in an instant, whereupon she conjured up a great soaring bird in various guises, including “the Eikuli yekuli silver wagtail Eikuli yekuli circling the sea” (Source: Art, Myth and Ritual  byKwang-chih CHANG, Kwang-chih Chang at pp. 69-70)
  • India: To the Hindus, the wagtail was a”prophetic bird. Prophecies are made based on the direction from which the bird arrives and from the place where it alights.” Source: The Mythology Dictionary‘s entry on wagtail.  In another Hindu myth, the yellow wagtail was the bird that got its color, because it was made to bear the disease jaundice, see p. 16 of James Frazer’s “The Golden Bough“, and an ancient medical ritual from the Atharvaveda (roughly 1000 BC) involves curing jaundice with a whole range of red (good) and yellow (bad) things, ultimately transferring the disease to the yellow wagtail. Frazer tells us that the Greeks have a similar myth [this suggests that the Hindu myth may be derived from the Greek incursion into India or possibly both versions were derived from the same proto-Indo-European source].
  • The wagtail also features in Greek, African and Bornean myths:

The genus of birds ANTHUS gets its name from Greek Anthos, named for the yellow wagtail, ” which was according to a Greek tale, was a kind of bird which had originally been a boy turned into the bird after having been trampled to death by his father’s horse. (Source: Birds of the Sierra Nevada by Edward C. Beedy and Edward R. Pandolfino) The tale is further elaborated upon in a version from an unverified Internet source: “The family’s hungry mares eat the son, Anthos, as he cries out to the gods for help. Dad did nothing and got turned into a bittern; mom fought the mares and got turned into a crested lark; Anthos became the yellow wagtail, which is scared of horses and yet sounds a little like neighing when it takes off. Pitcher suggests the horses have eaten poison plants…”

“In Greek mythology, wagtails were seen as a gift from Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and the wagtail was a symbol of love. In India the wagtail is a bird of divination and bears a holy caste mark. The situation in which it appears is an omen: if it is near a lotus flower, elephants, cows, snakes or horses it is favorable; if near bones, ashes or refuse it presages evil and the gods should be placated.

Wagtails featured strongly in tribal life among the Xhosa people of South Africa in the early twentieth century. The wagtail (primarily the cape wagtail, possibly also the African pied wagtail) was widely known as “the bird of the cattle” and “the bird of good fortune.” It was held in high regard and was protected because its presence was thought to assure the increase of stock, while its call was likened to a herd boy’s whistle. The departure of cape wagtails from a region was seen as a sign that war was about to take place.

Despite their often striking display flights, the more cryptic and less approachable pipits hardly seem to have figured in myth and legend. However, young Zulu men in South Africa formerly manufactured love charms from pipits and it is interesting to note that the Xhosa people were aware of the close relationship between pipits and wagtails.

In the remote hinterland of Borneo, the Kelabit people determine their crucial rice-planting cycle by the arrival of a series of migratory bird species from far northern breeding grounds. These birds, which include the yellow wagtail, indicate the sequence of clearing, planting, bedding, weeding, protecting and harvesting the rice crop, and give their names to the months.” – Source: Focus on the Wagtail (The Secret World)

Demon-repelling arrows

Around this time of the year, and especially after the New Year shrine visits, lots of people in the crowds can be spotted at train-stations bearing arrows, especially children and young people. See below, an extract from Yomuri Shimbun:


These arrows are called “hamaya” and its etymology and symbolic meaning are explained in an entry by the Encyclopedia of Shinto as follows:

Literally, “demon-breaking arrow,” a decorative arrow sold at shrines at New Year’s to ward off misfortune and to attract good luck. Hamaya are popular among New Year’s visitors to shrines as one type of good-luck charm or engimono. From the Edo to the early Meiji period, hamaya were given as gifts to celebrate the first New Year of a male baby’s life, frequently in a set together with a pair of decorative bows called hamayumi(“demon-breaking bows”). The custom of selling the arrow alone is thought to be a later abbreviation of this custom. Even today, the custom persists of standing such symbolic bows and arrows at the northeast and southwest corners of a new house (called kimon, the directions thought particularly susceptible to evil influences) on the occasion of the roof-raising ceremonies (jōtōsai). The etymological significance of hama is not clear, but it is said to have been an ancient word for an archery target or an archery contest. The practice of making round targets of braided bamboo or straw, or circles of wood, and throwing them into the air or rolling them on the ground as archery targets was a common children’s pastime, but it was also known as a form of New Year’s divination used to foretell the fortunes of the coming year (toshiura). When these elements are considered in the context of the current use of hamaya as New Year’s good-luck charms, one must consider that the current interpretation of hamayaand hamayumi as “demon-quelling” arrows and bows was rejected by the Edo-period scholar Ise Sadafumi, who asserted that the characters used to express hama were originally adopted merely for their sound, and that the word’s true meaning lay elsewhere.

-Suzuki Kentarō

The arrow as an amulet charm has its equivalent elsewhere, particularly in Central Asia. For example, amongst the Bhotiyas tribe of the Sikkim uplands and Tibet, they have among their demon-repelling arsenal a number of charms considered necessary for killing one’s enemy, including a three-animal-headed axe (a pig-headed snake-headed and bull-headed) and a bow and arrow:

“Hang a bow and an arrow on the left and load him (the effigy made of wheat inside the pig’s mouth) with provisions on his back. Hang an owl’s feather on right and a rook’s feather on left; stick a piece of the poison tree on the upper part of the body and surround him with red swords on al sides. … the arrow on the right will repel all the inauspicious cases, and the bow in the left will repel all the hosts of The-u-brang demon.

Source: p. 122 Mountains of the God: Spiritual Ecology of Himalayan Region (by K.S. Gulia, ed.)

Keeping arrows or arrowhead as charms and amulets were a widespread practice held by the Indo-Europeans, and the practice probably began in the Bronze Age sometime soon after bronze weaponry-making as well as by the Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan peoples. In The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems, by William Thomas and Kate Pavitt, [1922], at

“The Arrow-head in its symbolism had a similar significance to that of the Axe, and in Japan flint. Arrow-heads were thought to have been rained from Heaven, or dropped by flying spirits. They were very popular in the early days of the present civilisation as Amulets to protect the wearer from disease and to avert the Evil Eye; whilst throughout Europe they were regarded as the product of Elves (Elf-shots, or fairy weapons), water in which they had been dropped or dipped, being considered very efficacious in curing feminine ailments (see Illustration No. 17, Plate I) “

For more details on the arrowhead amulets and charms called “elf-arrows” made and kept by the ancient Scots, see Scottish charms and amulets: Elf-arrows.

Ta-no-kami: Water god of the rice paddy field

Ta-no-kami: “Kami of the rice paddy,” a tutelary of rice production.


Ta-no-kami, to see various statues of the deity and the source of this image, visit the Tanokami page

The general term ta no kami can be found nationwide. While the ta-no-kami has undergone synthesis and conflated with other folk beliefs and deities from other lineages, such as Daikoku and the Lord of the Mountain (Yama no Kami) and is now thought of as a male mountain spirit, it is plausible that the early Ta no kami was originally a female water goddess, given that such a goddess was venerated throughout Eurasia, and much of Central and Southeast Asia and given that the sound of “Ta” is similar to the “Da” shortened Indian form of the Danu / Dana / Dhanya goddess.

The Ta no kami is depicted usually as an abstract deity or holding phallic symbols — see Green Shinto’s Ta no kami for an image of the deity, and the article from which the excerpted description of the deity below was taken:

“The Ta no Kami cult is widespread throughout the country, and is at the heart of Japanese rural folk cosmology. The Japanese imbue rice with a sacred reverence … In most regions, the Ta no Kami are represented abstractly, with tree branches decorated with strips of paper, sometimes stuck into mounds of sand. In a restricted area of southern Kyushu, however, there is a tradition, dating back to at least the early 18th century, of carving unique stone representations, locally called Ta no Kansa. This tradition centers in Kagoshima Prefecture but includes a small portion of neighboring Miyazaki Prefecture as well…”

It is possible that the Ta-no-kami (lit. the “Ta” deity) may have been derived from the Eurasian Proto-Indo-European Dana/Danu->Da deity.

Like the Ta-no-kami which is clearly a water god,  Danu, is associated with the Celtic goddess also regarded as a river or water flow deity … the name of the river Danube is believed to be derived from this Celtic origin. Hindu mythology similarly, has a goddess called Danu, who may be the Indo-European cognate. When we consider the etymology of the word “danu” as a word for “rain” or “liquid”… that dānu is compared to Avestan dānu “river”, and the existence of a Danu river in Nepal, and the many river names of the Eurasian steppes like DonDanubeDneiperDniestr, etc. the association is likely.

“The Rigvedic Danu was the mother of a race of Asuras called the Danavas. A shortened form of the name appears to have been . The Greek goddess of agriculture Demeter (Da-mater, Da being the Doric form of De, see Online Etymology Dictionary), is also associated with water several times. [2] Julius Pokorny reconstructs the name from the PIE root da:-: “flow, river”, da:-nu: “any moving liquid, drops”, da: navo “people living by the river, Skyth. nomadic people (in Rigveda water-demons), fem. Da:nu primordial goddess , in Greek Danaoi(Danaans, Greek tribe, Egypt. Danuna).” — Source: Danu (Irish goddess)

According to Balinese Cosmology and its Role in Agricultural Practices by Julie Melowsky:

In Balinese cosmology, the Goddess Dewi Danu resides at and rules the lake on the second-highest peak in Bali, Mount Batur. Her counterpart, the God of Mount Agung, rules the highest and is symbolically associated with kings and kingdoms. The Goddess has no such relationship with powerful beings on earth. Instead she rules over several hundred subaks, or associations of farmers who share water from a single source, who make pilgrimages to her temple called Pura Ulun Danu Batur, or the Temple of the Crater Lake. The goddess “is believed to be responsible for the gift of the waters that irrigate their fields” (Lansing, 1987), therefore farmers believe that, “’those who do not follow her laws may not possess her rice terraces’” (Lansing, 1995). There are twenty-four permanent priests, chosen in childhood to serve the goddess at her temple. In addition, there is a single high priest, Jero Gde, who is selected as a young child by a virgin priestess who, in a trance, allows the Goddess of the Lake to posses her voice to describe the boy she has chosen”.

From the above passage, just as Mt Agung is the male counterpart of the Danu goddess (the role of the Dew-Danu & Agung pair in creation is similar to that of Izanami and Izanagi in the creation of the island, see Lansing’s chap 4 “The Goddess and the Green Revolution“, p. 78 of The Balinese), the Japanese Ta-no-Kami have been merged with the Yama-no-Kami, since the Danu goddess is also considered a goddess of the Underworld.

And in the Sanskrit cognate, we have “dhānya” which means “rice paddy”; CC Adi 13.114 dhānya  paddy; CC Adi 13.117dhānya-rāśi  heaps of paddy; CC Adi 12.12.  “South Indians call rice Anna Lakshmi. Anna means “food” and Lakshmi is the Goddess of prosperity. From ancient times, Dhanya Lakshmi has been depicted holding a few sheaves of rice in her hand” …  “At a harvest festival, Thai Pongal, rice is ceremoniously cooked. Surya, God of the sun, is worshiped and the nature spirits are thanked. …But this reverence for rice is not restricted to India. The Angkabau of Sumatra use special rice plants to denote the Rice Mother, Indoea Padi. The people of Indochina treat ripened rice in bloom like a pregnant woman, capturing its spirit in a basket. Rice growers of the Malay Peninsula often treat the wife of the cultivator as a pregnant woman for the first three days after storing the rice. Even the Sundanese of West Java, who consider themselves Muslims, believe rice is the personification of the rice goddess Dewi Sri.”(Source: Rice, Rice lore, and the Rice Goddess Dewi Sri).

According to Wikipedia’s entry on Tano Kami:

“According to their agricultural calendars, farmers observe kami ceremonies related to Tano Kami in the spring and autumn. These include the ceremony of the beginning of a year, beginning of farming in early spring, the start of rice plant farming, rice plant transplantation (accepting kami at the start of transplantation, called Saori) (sending kami at the end is called Sanaburi) and harvest time. They also pray for the elimination of disasters or harmful insects. Finally, they conduct the ceremony of thanking kami for a good harvest, the real ceremonies and their names differ from place to place, although dancing, eating a special dish or rice cakes, or visits to the community kami, and burning ceremonies are some of them. Scarecrows are variations of Tano Kami, since they are expected to prevent bad spirits of animals and birds. Niinamesai is one of the festivals of the Japanese Imperial family, the eating of freshly harvested rice with kami, a variation of the festivals of Tano Kami.”

From the above, we begin to see the connection between the Mother goddess Dana-Ta-Dewi of the water flow-paddy and who is consequently identified with all life that emerges or issues from her, be it the rice grain that grows out of it, or the serpent that was observed to be frequently found in rice fields. Unfortunately, we can also attribute to this connection, the reason why maidens in ancient times were frequently sacrificed to the waters or in peril to be taken by the voracious appetites of the serpents that inhabited the marshes, lakes or paddies…and therefore in need of rescuing by some mythical local folk hero.

The Hindu Danu, mentioned in the Rigveda, is the primordial goddess and mother of the Danavas. The word Danu described the primeval waters which this deity perhaps embodied. In the Rigveda (I.32.9), she is identified as the mother of Vrtra, the demonic serpent slain by Indra

In Japan, the land is rampant with ancient myths of the dragon that inhabits the marshes, lakes, water pools, paddies. The Japanese mythical equivalent of Indra the serpent-slayer, is Susa-noo (lit. of “Susa” or “man” from Susa, suggesting a West Asian-Persian connection) and his slaying the eight-headed Orochi serpent strongly suggests that the Susanoo myth is derived from the same Indo-Iranian (also recalling West Asian the Hittite and Sumerian archetypal dragon slayings) sources as the Indra-Vrtra pairing.

If the Japanese Ta-no-kami originated from an Indo-Iranian Danu-Dana-Da deity source, the idea that the all-pervasive ancient belief that dragons and serpents inhabit the watery pools, paddies and rivers then makes sense, since the Orochi serpent is the cognate of Vrtra and the Ta-no-kami must then be a cognate of Danu/Dana, the primordial goddess of the waters, from which emerge the watery dragon-serpent.

Other indications that the Ta-no-kami deity come from the same traditions as the Proto-Indo-European ones, are the associations with fertility and with of vestal virgins, cranes and her role as protectress of the crops from the storm and her association of the boar/pig.

From “The Roman Goddess Ceres” by Barbette Stanley Spaeth (at pps. 128 – 139 ):

“… Grain, particularly wheat is a characteristic attribute of Demeter/Ceres in both Greek and Roman art, where she is often represented wearing the wheat-stalk crown holding stalks of wheat, or having wheat at her side.19″
Demeter is also identified with the “crane which was considered in antiquity to be the herald of Demeter (Porph. Abst. 3.5). This interpretation of the crane provides a direct connection between the side figures of the relief, the nymphs, and its central figure, the goddess Demeter/Ceres.
The cult sites of Demeter were generally near water, either salt or fresh, and special arrangements were made at many sites for the use of water in the rituals of the goddess. Her worship at many sites is frequently combined with that of the lcoal water divinities, and Demeter herself may bear cultic epithets that connect her with water nymphs.96 …
“In her role as a protectress of agricultural fertility, Ceres guards the crops against the storm.110 In the Georgics Vergil instructs the farmer to guard the storms that destroy crops by worshipping the gods, especially Ceres:

“Among the first things, revere the gods and repeat the annual rites to great Ceres, worshipping on the joyful grasses near the very end of winter, now in the fair spring. (Cerg. G. 1.338-340)
The central figure of the relief is Ceres, who protects the farmers and the crops from the storm signaled by the attributes of the two nymphs represented at the sides of the relief.
On yet another level, the two nymphs beings of fresh water and the sea, point to the goddess’s connections with two different kinds of water, as Piccaluga has defined them: “useful”water (acqua utile), that is, frewh water to be used for watering plants, for fertilization; and “nonuseful” water (acqua non utile), that is, sea water, or water as an element, a power of nature.111 “Useful”water is associated with Demeter/Ceres as an agricultural divinity who controls the fertility of plants. “Nonuseful” water is tied to her role as one of the supernatural beings who gave form to the cosmos at its time of origin through manipulating hte elements of nature. In this association, the goddess operates as a liminal divinity who helped to bring about the transition from chaos to order at the very beginning of the universe.”

In Gabi Greve’s Ta no Kami Yama no Kami, he associates Ta no Kami with the wolf:

The belief in the Ta no Kami might be related to the WOLF lore in Japan.

… there seems also to have existed a belief that if one encountered an okami (wolf) on a mountain and “treated him kindly”, he would bestow kindness in return, and protect the man against other dangers. This may have to do with the belief, current in many parts of Japan, that the okami is a messenger of the gods, especially also of Yama-no-kami, the Mountain-deity, who during agricultural activities of the humans descends from her mountain residence to act as Ta-no-kami, the Field-deity.

Is it mere coincidence that grain goddess Ceres (the Roman equivalent of Demeter) is considered to originate from the twins Romulus and Remus who were nursed by the wolf when discovered by the god Mars on the marshy banks of the River Tiber? See p. 141 “The Roman Goddess Ceres” by Barbette Stanley Spaeth.

And is it also coincidence that the Ta no Kami is associated by people in the Izumo region with the wild boar — they use the term i no kami (kami of the wild boar), just as the boar or sow was sacrificed to Demeter, see p. 217, G. Elliot Smith:

“This fact seems to have played some part in fixing upon the pig the notoriety of being “an unclean animal”.  But it was mainly for other reasons of a very different kind that the eating of swine-flesh was forbidden. The tabu seems to have arisen originally because the pig was a sacred animal identified with the Great Mother and the Water God, and especially associated with both these deities in their lunar aspects. … The sacrifice of the sow to Demeter is merely a late variant of Hathor’s sacrifice of a human being to rejuvenate the king Re. How the real meaning of the story became distorted I have already explained in Chapter II (“Dragons and Rain Gods”). The killing of the sow to obtain a good harvest is homologous with the sacrifice of a maiden to obtain a good inundation of the river. The sow is the surrogate of the beautiful princess of the fairy tale. Instead of the maiden being slain, in one case, as Andromeda, she is rescued by the hero, in the other her place is taken by a sow. …

The pig was identified not only with the Great Mother, but with Osiris and Set also. With the pig’s lunar and astral associations 1 do not propose to deal in these pages, as the astronomical aspects of the problems are so vast as to need much more space than the limits imposed in this statement. But it is important to note that the identification of Set with a pig was perhaps the main factor in riveting upon this creature the fetters of a reputation for evil. The evil dragon was the representative of both Set and the Great Mother (Sekhet or Tiamat); and both of them were identified with the pig. Just as Set killed Osiris, so the pig gave Adonis his mortal injury. 1 When these earthly incidents were embellished with a celestial significance, the conflict of Horus with Set was interpreted as the struggle between the forces of light and order and the powers of darkness and chaos. When worshipped as a tempest-god the Mesopotamian Rimmon was known as “the pig” and, as “the wild boar of the desert,” was a form of Set.”– “Evolution of the Dragon” by G. Elliot Smith

In “The Roman Goddess Ceres” Spaeth at p. 118 tells us that and that both Demeter and Ceres were associated with fertility and that Demeter is linked with children with a variety of epithets given her such as “Child Nourisher(kouro trophos)” while Ceres, from an inscription, is known as the “mother of the fields (mater agrorum)”. Rituals for Ceres included carrying the wedding torch in honor of Ceres during the festival and the sprinkling of water on the wedding bride so that she might come home chaste and pure to her husband, in order to share fire and water with her husband (see p. 116).

These torch festivals and water-sprinkling festival rites are well attested practices in Japan as well as in Southwest China and Southeast Asia, carried along the Indian northern to northeast corridor to Southeast and into Japan.

Sources and references

Tanokami(Encyclopedia of Shinto)

Rice, Rice lore, and the Rice Goddess Dewi Sri

Danu (Wikipedia)

Tano Kami (Wikipedia)

Ta no Kami Yama no Kami (Gabi Greve)

The Roman Goddess Ceres” by Barbette Stanley Spaeth

Evolution of the Dragon” by G. Elliot Smith

Balinese Cosmology and its Role in Agricultural Practices by Julie Melowsky

J. Stephen Lansing, The Balinese, see chap 4 “The Goddess and the Green Revolution”

Yugawara Yukake Festival

The Water-Sprinkling Festival


The curious crocodile “wani” connection between the Watasumi sea god and Hooderi and Hoori brothers royal myth

COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Stenen_beelden_in_de_vorm_van_een_makara_op_de_Candi_Kalasan_TMnr_10015966 (1)

Above left: A 1st century B.C. Greco-Roman Egyptian chest depicting a king making an offering to a solar form of Sobek — from the Walters Art MuseumBaltimore. Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Above right: Stone makara sculptures at the Candi Kalasan, Indonesia (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Wani 鰐 is a mythical sea-monster, translated as both “shark” and “crocodile” (as well as Kuma-wani 熊鰐 “bear (i.e., giant or strong)-shark/crocodile”* is mentioned in two ancient legends [note: Combined totems were common in the ancient world when merging two tribal clans (Frazer's pp. 85-88, "Totemism" refers]. In one legend, the sea god Kotoshiro-nushi-no-kami transformed into an “8-fathom kuma-wani” and fathered Toyotama-hime, while another has a kuma-wani piloted the ships of Emperor Chūai and his Empress Jingū. The wani is pictured below: The wani crocodile, as depicted in the Wakansansaizue. The illustration is borrowed from Wild in Japan’s excellent article: The White Hare of Inaba and Crocodile vs. Sharks which looks at the wani in the White hare of Inaba story in the Okuninushi-Izumo myth cycle, giving evidence of the existence of estuarine crocodiles in Amami and the Okinawan island of Iriomote. Below we go on to explore the possible origins of Wani crocodile, and its connections with the triple Japanese Gods of the Sea, the Watasumi Sanjin and associated mythical themes, characters and symbols. The following text is from the Wikipedia article “Watasumi:

a legendary Japanese dragon and tutelary water deity. In Japanese mythology, Ōwatatsumi kami (大綿津見神?, “great deity of water god”) is another name for the sea deity Ryūjin 龍神; and the Watatsumi Sanjin (綿津見三神?, “Three Watatsumi gods”) ruling the upper, middle, and lower seas were created through the divine progenitor Izanagi’s ceremonial purifications after returning from Yomi “the underworld”.

The earliest written sources of Old Japanese diversely transcribe the sea kami 神 “god; deity; spirit” named Watatsumi. The ca. 712 CE Kojiki (tr. William George Aston 1896) writes it semantically as 海神 lit. “sea god”, and transcribes it phonetically with man’yōgana as Wata-tsu-mi 綿津見 lit. “cotton port see” in identifying Ōwatsumi kami and the Watatsumi Sanjin. The ca. 720 CE Nihongi (tr. Basil Hall Chamberlain 1919) also writes Watatsumi as 海神 “sea god”, along with 海童 “sea child” and 少童命 “small child lords” for the Watatsumi Sanjin. In the modern Japanese writing system, the name Watatsumi is usually written either in katakana as ワタツミ or in kanji phonetically 綿津見 or semantically 海神 “sea god”.

Note that in addition to reading 海神 as watatsumi, wata no kami, or unagami in native Japanese kun’yomi pronunciation, it is also read kaijin or kaishin in Sino-Japanese on’yomi (from Chinese haishen 海神 “sea god”). Watatsumi has an alternate pronunciation of Wadatsumi. The original Watatsumi meaning “tutelary deity of the sea” is semantically extended as a synecdoche or metaphor meaning “the sea; the ocean; the main”. The etymology of the sea god Watatsumi or Wadatsumi is uncertain. Marinus Willern de Visser (1913:137) notes consensus that wata is an Old Japanese word for “sea; ocean” and tsu is a possessive particle, but disagreement whether mi means “snake” or “lord; god”. “It is not impossible” he concludes, “that the old Japanese sea-gods were snakes or dragons.” Compare the Japanese rain god Kuraokami that was similarly described as a giant snake or a dragon. The comparative linguist Paul K. Benedict proposed (1990:236-7) that Japanese wata 海 “sea” derives from Proto-Austronesian *wacal “sea; open sea”. The Kojiki version of the Japanese creation myth honorifically refers to Watatsumi 海神 with the name Ōwatatsumi kami 大綿津見神 “Great Watatsumi god”. Compare this sea god with mountain god named Ohoyamatsumi 大山積. The world-creating siblings Izanagi and Izanami first give birth to the Japanese islands (kuniumi) and then to the gods (kamiumi ) . When they had finished giving birth to countries, they began afresh giving birth to Deities. So the name of the Deity they gave birth to was the Deity Great-Male-of-the-Great-Thing; next they gave birth to the Deity Rock-Earth-Prince; next they gave birth to the Deity Rock-Nest-Princess; next they gave birth to the Deity Great-Door-Sun-Youth; next they gave birth to the Deity Heavenly-Blowing-Male; next they gave birth to the Deity Great-House-Prince; next they gave birth to the Deity Youth-of-the-Wind-Breath-the-Great-Male; next they gave birth to the Sea-Deity, whose name is the Deity Great-Ocean-Possessor; next they gave birth to the Deity of the Water-Gates, whose name is the Deity Prince-of-Swift-Autumn; next they gave birth to his younger sister the Deity Princess-of-Swift-Autumn. (tr. Chamberlain 1919:28) Chamberlain (1919:30) explains mochi 持ち “having; taking; holding; grasping; owning” behind translating Ōwatsumi kami as “Deity Great-Ocean-Possessor”, “The interpretation of mochi, “possessor,” though not absolutely sure, has for it the weight both of authority and of likelihood.” A subsequent Kojiki passage describes Watatsumi’s daughter Otohime and her human husband Hoori living with the sea god. After Hoori lost his brother Hoderi’s fishhook, he went searching to the bottom of the sea, where he met and married the dragon goddess Otohime. They lived in the sea god’s underwater palace Ryūgū-jō for three years before Hoori became homesick. So he dwelt in that land for three years. Hereupon His Augustness Fire-Subside thought of what had gone before, and heaved one deep sigh. So Her Augustness Luxuriant-Jewel-Princess, hearing the sigh, informed her father, saying: “Though he has dwelt three years [with us], he had never sighed; but this night he heaved one deep sigh. What may be the cause of it?” The Great Deity her father asked his son-in-law saying: “This morning I heard my daughter speak, saying: ‘Though he has dwelt three years [with us], he had never sighed; but this night he heaved one deep sigh.’ What may the cause be? Moreover what was the cause of thy coming here?” Then [His Augustness Fire-Subside] told the Great Deity exactly how his elder brother had pressed him for the lost fish-hook. Thereupon the Sea-Deity summoned together all the fishes of the sea, great and small, and asked them, saying: “Is there perchance any fish that has taken this fish-hook?” So all the fishes replied: “Lately the tahi has complained of something sticking in its throat preventing it from eating; so it doubtless has taken [the hook].” On the throat of the tahi being thereupon examined, there was the fish-hook [in it]. Being forthwith taken, it was washed and respectfully presented to His Augustness Fire-Subside, whom the Deity Great-Ocean-Possessor then instructed. (tr. Chamberlain 1919:149) Watatsumi instructs Hoori how to deal with Hoderi, and chooses another mythic Japanese dragon, a wani “crocodile” or “shark”, to transport his daughter and son in law back to land(see also Sahimochi for detailed comparisons of the Kojiki and Nihongi accounts of the wani). Two Nihongi contexts refer to Watatsumi in legends about Emperor Keikō and Emperor Jimmu. First, the army of Emperor Keikō encounters Hashirimizu 馳水 “running waters” crossing from Sagami Province to Kazusa Province. The calamity is attributed to the Watatsumi 海神 “sea god” and placated through human sacrifice. Next he marched on to Sagami, whence he desired to proceed to Kadzusa. Looking over the sea, he spake with a loud voice, and said: “This is but a little sea: one might even jump over it.” But, when he came to the middle of the sea a storm suddenly arose, and the Prince’s ship was tossed about, so that he could not cross over. At this time there was a concubine in the Prince’s suite, named Oto-tachibana-hime. She was the daughter of Oshiyama no Sukune of the Hodzumi House. She addressed the Prince, saying: “This present uprising of the winds and rushing of the waves, so that the Prince’s ship is like to sink, must be due to the wishes of the God of the Sea. I pray thee let me go into the sea, and so let the person of thy mean handmaiden be given to redeem the life of the Prince’s Augustness.” Having finished speaking, she plunged into the billows. The storm forthwith ceased, and the ship was enabled to reach the shore. Therefore the people of that time called that sea Hashiri-midzu. (tr. Aston 1896:206) Second, the genealogy of Emperor Jimmu claims descent from the goddess Toyotama-hime, the daughter of Hori and Otohime, who is identified as the daughter of Watatsumi 海童. The Emperor Kami Yamato Ihare-biko’s personal name was Hiko-hoho-demi. He was the fourth child of Hiko-nagisa-takeu-gaya-fuki-ahezu no Mikoto. His mother’s name was Tamayori-hime, daughter of the Sea-God. From his birth, this Emperor was of clear intelligence and resolute will. (tr. Aston 1896:109-110) There is uncertainty whether Nihongi scribes wrote tsumi with dō 童 “child; boy” simply for pronunciation or for some semantic significance. The Three Watasumis: Watatsumi Sanjin When Izanagi’s sister-wife dies giving birth to the fire god Kagutsuchi, his destroying it creates various deities, including the water dragon Kuraokami. After Izanagi goes to the underworld in a futile attempt to bring Izanami back to life, he returns to the world and undergoes ritual purifications to cleanse himself of hellish filth. He creates 12 deities from his garments and belongings and 14 (including the 3 Watatsumis) from bathing himself. With the tsu 津 in these three dragon names being read as the genitive particle “of”, they rule different water depths in the sea, soko 底 “bottom; underneath”, naka 中 “middle; center”, and uwa 上 “above; top” (Kojiki) or uwa 表 “surface; top” (Nihongi). Chamberlain (1919:48) notes, “There is the usual doubt as to the signification to be assigned to the syllable tsu in the second, fourth and last of these names. If it really means, not “elder” but “possessor,” we should be obliged to translate by “the Bottom-Possessing-Male,” etc.” The earlier Kojiki version of the “Three Watatsumi Gods” calls them Wakatsumikami 綿津見神 “Wakatsumi gods”: Sokotsu Watatsumikami 底津, Nakatsu Watatsumikami 中津綿津見神, and Uwatsu Watatsumikami 上津綿津見神. Thereupon saying: “The water in the upper reach is [too] rapid; the water in the lower reach is [too] sluggish,” he went down and plunged in the middle reach; and, as he washed, there was first born the Wondrous-Deity-of-Eighty-Evils, and next the Wondrous-Deity-of-Great-Evils. These two Deities are the Deities that were born from the filth [he contracted] when he went to that polluted, hideous land. The names of the Deities that were next born to rectify those evils were: the Divine-Rectifying-Wondrous Deity, next the Great-Rectifying-Wondrous-Deity, next the Female-Deity-Idzu. The names of the Deities that were next born, as he bathed at the bottom of the water, were: the Deity Possessor-of-the-Ocean-Bottom, and next His Augustness Elder-Male-of-the-Bottom. The names of the Deities that were born as he bathed in the middle [of the water] were: the Deity Possessor-of-the-Ocean-Middle, and next His Augustness Elder-Male-of-the-Middle. The names of the Deities that were born as he bathed at the top of the water were the Deity Possessor-of-the-Ocean-Surface, and next His Augustness Elder-Male-of-the-Surface. These three Ocean-Possessing Deities are the Deities held in reverence as their ancestral Deities by the Chiefs of Adzumi. So the Chiefs of Adzumi are the descendants of His Augustness Utsushi-hi-gana-saku, a child of these Ocean-Possessing Deities. These three Deities His Augustness Elder-Male-of-the-Bottom, His Augustness Elder-Male-of-the-Middle, and His Augustness Elder-Male-of-the-Surface are the three Great Deities of the Inlet of Sumi. (tr. Chamberlain 1919:45-46) The later Nihongi version describes the “Three Watatsumi Gods” as Watatsumi Mikoto 少童命 “small child lords”: Sokotsu Watatsumi Mikoto 底津少童命, Nakatsu Watatsumi Mikoto 中津少童命, and Uwatsu Watatsumi Mikoto 表津少童命. These Watatsumis are paired with three O Mikoto 男命 “male lords”. Moreover, the Deities which were produced by his plunging down and washing in the bottom of the sea were called Soko-tsu-wata-tsu-mi no Mikoto and Sokotsutsu-wo no Mikoto. Moreover, when he plunged and washed in the mid-tide, there were Gods produced who were called Naka I tsu wata-dzu-mi no Mikoto, and next Naka-tsutsu-wo no Mikoto. Moreover, when he washed floating on the surface of the water, Gods were produced, who were called Uha-tsu-wata-dzu-mi no Mikoto and next Uhai-tsutsu-wo no Mikoto. There were in all nine Gods. The Gods Soko-tsutsu-wo no Mikoto, Naka-tsutsu-wo no Mikoto, and Soko-tsutsu-wo no Mikoto are the three great Gods of Suminoye. The Gods Soko-tsu-wata-dzu-mi no Mikoto, Naka-tsu-wata-dzu-mi no Mikoto, and Uha-tsu-wata-dzu-mi no Mikoto are the Gods worshipped by the Muraji of Adzumi. (tr. Aston 1896:27) Aston notes translations of “Bottom-sea-of-body”, “Middle-sea-god”, and “upper”. There are numerous Shinto shrines dedicated to the sea god Watatsumi. Some examples include the Ōwatatsumi jinja or Daikai jinja 大海神社 in Sumiyoshi-ku, Osaka (associated with the Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine), the Watatsumi jinja 海神社 in Tarumi-ku, Kobe, and the Watatsumi jinja 綿都美神社 in Kokura Minami-ku, Kitakyūshū. Given the distribution of crocodiles in the Indian continent-to–ISEA region, it is possible that the Watatsumi deities originated in the ports of the Indo-Iranian or Indo-Sakka region, i.e. North-western coast or Bay of Bengal coastal areas (which would make sense of the reference to the Indian “cotton-ports”, from which came the goods (cotton and silks, stones and jewels) coveted by the Greek and Roman merchants  (see Voyage around the Erythaean Sea #56-57 ). The crocodile was the (totemic?) mount of the Indian-Iranian sea deity Varuna or Waruna. It has been said that the myths of Hoori and Hoderi, the Watatsumi sea deities and the Ryugu dragon are Korean in origin (Japanese Myths of Descent from Heaven and Their Korean Parallels), however, this seemingly makes nonsense of the idea of Toyotama-hime’s taking the form of the totem animal of her native land, the crocodile, since crocodiles are obviously non-native to Korea:

“…wani is a fundamental theme in the myth of the demigod brothers Hoori and Hoderi. The sea god Watatsumi or Ryūjin” summoned together all the crocodiles” (tr. Chamberlain 1919:150) and chose one to escort his pregnant daughter Toyotama-hime and her husband Hoori from the Ryūgū-jō palace back to land. Soon after their arrival, the beautiful Toyatama-hime made a bizarre request concerning her shapeshifting into a wani.

Then, when she was about to be delivered, she spoke to her husband [saying]: “Whenever a foreigner is about to be delivered, she takes the shape of her native land to be delivered.” — Wani (Dragon)

The very earliest etymology of the Watatsumi deity poses a perplexing problem, as its inclusion of the component characters for cotton-port 綿津 make no sense whatsoever, since China did not begin cotton production till around 1200s (according to a medieval manual on agriculture), and Japan around the 1500s … the Japanese first imported raw cotton and finished cotton goods from China (as well as from India) from the 15th century and also from India – (See Schlingloff’s Cotton-manufacture in Ancient India at pg 85 and A Short History of Japanese Textiles) Watatsumi was likely an Indian deity that had arrived directly from the India, or possibly via China, a Chinese text mentions that a Gupta king sent cotton stuffs to China in 6th c. AD, so the Chinese characters likely indicated the trading connection with India’s cotton ports (see Schlingloff’s Cotton-manufacture in Ancient India pg 6). However, a mere trading connection should not be sufficient for an Indian sea deity to be included in the royal ancestral genealogy, so that we suggest the likelihood of Indian-Iranian ancestral lineages being included here.  If we consider that the fact of the Korean peninsula’s first king of Kara, King Suro’s marriage to an Indian princess, and that many Indo-Scythian or Indo-Iranian elements are manifested in the tomb culture of Silla, Paekche and Gaya+ chiefdoms thus evidencing trading contacts with Indo-Iranian (perhaps Indo-Sakka or Indo-Bactrian) culture and alliances with people from the Indian subcontinent, then the mythical themes of crocodiles, naga-like dragons and sea-deities, princesses, and jewels, then the abovementioned tales begin to make a lot of sense. We also find names such as Vani, Wani as common tribal names in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in Goa and Maharashtra, India, Wain in Kashmir, while Kumaon and Kumaun (from which kuma-wani may have been derived) are found in the Himalayas. Wani is a historical characters a Paekche scholar who is recorded in Nihongi as having introduced writing to Japan in AD 284(see  “A History of Writing in Japan“) [+Note: Given that Gaya is a the name for the loose tribal confederacy of chiefdoms, and many location names in the related region include Gaya, it may well indicate that the Korean Gaya lineages were part or mostly Indo-Iranian in origin as well, and Gaya a reference to Gaya Maretan, the first mortal human (and ancestor) in Indo-Iranian(or Indo-Aryan) mythology; Similarly, King Suro's name may have been a variant of सूर (sū́ra, “the sun”), or the Vedic Sanskrit सूर्य   surya  all derived from Proto-Indo-Iranian *súHr̥,  Source: Etymology, Wiktionary]. The Indian totemic symbolism and meaning of the crocodile as a mount of Varuna/Baruna as well as the Indo-European Ouranos have been suggested to have been derived from the god Sobek, one of the beings who emerged from the watery chaos at the world’s creation (see James Hewitt’s “The ruling races of prehistoric times in India, southwestern Asia, and southern Europe“). In Onmark Production’s Dragons article points to the source of the lore involving dragon kings at the bottom of the sea:

“The HACHIDAI RYUU-OU 八大竜王: EIGHT GREAT DRAGON KINGS IN BUDDHIST LORE, the Hachidai Ryuu-ou (Eight Great Dragon Kings) are mentioned in the Lotus Sutra (HOKEKYOU 法華経) and they appear sometimes in Japanese artwork. These eight are dragon kings said to live at the bottom of the sea, apparently in reference to the eight dragon kings, each with many followers, who assembled at Eagle Peak to hear the Lotus Sutra as expounded by the Historical Buddha. According to the Kairyuo Sutra (Sutra of the Dragon King of the Sea), dragons are often eaten by giant man-birds called Garudas, their natural enemy.”

While the above sutras appear to have been brought to Japan by via Chinese monastery sources, A. Berriedale Keith on Indian mythology) suggests an Indian subcontinental setting:

“In it Buddha settled the struggle between the Asuras and Gods and that between the Garudas and Dragons. Anyone who repeats it may become enlightened and get protection from all the eight departments of protectors, namely, Deavs, Nagas, Yaksas, Gandharvas, Asuras, Garudas, Kinnara, and Mahoraga”

We are further directed by C. M. Chen’s article Dragon-King Sutra Stanzas CW30_No.58 more specifically to the Zoroastrian lands encompassing Dahi, Balkh, northern Afghanistan, Margiana and Merv or Mouru (modern day Turkmenistan); Sogdiana (modern day Sugd in north-western Tajikistan and southern Uzbekistan) as the originating region of the lore as the context of the battle between Asuras (cf. ahura Iranian) and deva/daeva gods (see Pre-Zoroastrian Mazda, Asura and Deva Worshippers: Religious Wars and Separation.

In the next article “Hoori (Hohodemi) vs. Hoderi(Hohoderi) – the quarreling brothers motif

, we will explore the origins of the Hoori and Hoderi myth and the origins of the universal twins or warring brothers myth.


Sources and references: Visser, Marinus Willern de. 1913. The Dragon in China and Japan. J. Müller. De Visser (p. 141) found strong similarities between Indonesian myths from the Kei Islands and Minahassa Peninsula and the Japanese Hoori-Hoderi myths. Sahimochi (The Encyclopedia of Shinto) on the “one-fathom wani” crocodile Voyage around the Erythaean Sea #56-57 Wani (Dragon) Japanese Myths of Descent from Heaven and Their Korean Parallels Onmark Productions’ Dragon article, see the section on Dragon lore from Japan as well as the section on the eight great dragon kings in Buddhist folklore

Seeley, Christopher, “A History of Writing in Japan” p. 6

J.G. Frazer’s pp. 85-88, “Totemism” refers

Schlingloff, D. Cotton-manufacture in Ancient India, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 17, No. 1, Mar., 1974 

Ed. note: This article was first published as Watasumi or Owatatasumi and the curious appearance of the crocodile “wani”

The embracing Sky Father and Mother Earth and the Heavenly Ropevine

Meotoiwa, "husband and wife cliff", Futami, Mie, Japan 夫婦岩、三重県二見町 Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Meotoiwa, “husband and wife cliff”, Futami, Mie, Japan 夫婦岩、三重県二見町 Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Meoto* Iwa (夫婦岩), the Husband-and-Wife Couple or the Wedded Rocks, are a couple of small rocky stacks in the sea off Futami, Mie, Japan. They are joined by a shimenawa (a heavy rope of rice straw) and are considered sacred by worshippers at the neighbouring Futami Okitama Shrine (Futami Okitama Jinja(二見興玉神社). According to local lore and Shinto beliefs, the rocks represent the union of the creator kamiIzanagi and Izanami. Although the above Meioto Iwa rocks are the most famous ones, there are many other meioto iwa rocks to be found elsewhere in the Japanese landscape, see More Unfamiliar Glimpses of Japan’s page on “Meioto iwa on husband and wife rocks“.

Such iconography and the idea of a Creator-Couple or Cosmic Couple are rampant throughout the ancient prehistoric world, and particularly widespread among the tribes of the Austro-Asiatics, the ISEA-Austronesians as well as the Polynesians.

Separation of the heavens and Earth. This map shows the distribution of the story of the separation after the watery serpentine darkness of chaos from the South and West Pacific up to the northwest through China South Asia and then the Middle East and ending in northern Europe.

Separation of the heavens and Earth. This map shows the distribution of the story of the separation after the watery serpentine darkness of chaos from the South and West Pacific up to the northwest through China South Asia and then the Middle East and ending in northern Europe.

Stephen Oppenheimer writes about the mythical belief at p. 321of his book “Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia”:

The story of creation with Sky Father locked in close and dark sexual union with Mother Earth, is found in a band stretching from NZ to Greece. The locked-couple picture is seen at its fullest in a little understood string of islands, the Lesser Sundas of eastern Indonesia. And in the surviving megalithic societies of Sulawesi, Maluku and the Nusa Tenggara, a concept of Father Sky and Mother Earth, who were previously locked in a tight embrace remains central to cultural beliefs. According to the Mappurondo faith of the Torajas of Sulawesi, Heaven, as in other megalithic groups of the archipelago, is called Langi; Mother Earth is Padang or Pngkapadang. These names are cognate with Rangia and Papa of the Maoris. Langi appears as a sky god further west among the Donggo of Sumbawa, but this time as the primary god of a trinity that includes a water god Oi and a wind god Wango. In the mountainous island of Flores there are myths telling of Mother Earth and Father Sky who were previously bound together by a sacred vine. The vine was chewed up by a dog. As a result the lovers flew apart and were permanently separated. Accordingly to the people in Western Flores, the proof of this is seen in the behaviour of the  bamboo, which bends towards the earth as if it is still pushed down by the weight of the sky on his over. Throughout this region the ideas of the duality of godheads and the duality of their sex are explicit in the architecture and arrangement of houses. In the highlands of Flores each village has two sets of shrines, one phallic and the other box-like to represent the two sexes. Menhirs and dolmens also take in the respective gender symbolism in this area.

Also it is just interesting to note that just as are found in the highlands of Flores phallic and box-like couple shrines, such paired shrines can also be found in highlands of Nagano in Japan.

What does the heavenly rope vine symbolize and what is its origin? Below we explore some possible ideas and explanations for the celestial ladder twine.

The straw rope tying the husband and wife together is a visual metaphor recalling the myth from Flores Island (an island arc extending east from Java island of Indonesia).  As mentioned in the excerpt from “Eden in the East” above, a rope twine used to tie the Sky Father and Earth Mother together until a dog chewed up the vine, causing the two to fly apart, a mythical explanation for the separation of Sky and Earth.

In Ayahuasca, shamanism, and curanderismo in the Andes, Steve Mizrach examines the concept of a otherworldly “soul vine”, a concept that seems to have diffused to the Americas from the Altai-Siberia or Mongolia. In Brazil, there is a  term ayahuasca that comes from the Quechua, meaning literally “the vine of souls,” — it is also called “the visionary vine” or the “vine of death.” The folk term refers to the botanical species of liana known as Banisteriopsis Caapi , which is also known as Yage among the Indians of Brazil. The Andean shaman uses Yage, “the vine of souls,” to contact the dead as well as to divine the location of water.

Mizrach draws a connection between the vine as a connector between the Underworld with passages of water [perhaps similar to the proverbial River of the Dead or River Styx?]:

“The ancestors’ spirits residing within the huacas are thought to guard underground water. Perhaps one of the “ceremonial” uses of the lines are for the shaman to travel during his “spirit journey,” guiding him like a magnet to the places of the dead where he can bargain for water. Indeed, during their “soul flights,” shamans typically report that they are “guided” on their journey by “spirit paths” that lead them to the appropriate destination. One of the ayllus’ main responsibilities are water rights, and they maintain this role through their link to the ancestors who guard the water for their descendants. (Lamadrid 1993.) This may not be a (meta)physical journey, per se, but the shaman at least uses the lines as a symbolic , imaginal path for the journey to the places of the dead.”

The yage is used to help the shamans achieve shamanic flight and to ascend the heavens up the Milky Way as well.

“In their visions, the “vine of souls” stretches out to become a milky serpent, becoming the Milky Way, “the road of souls” which they use as a rope to climb into the heavens. But are such beliefs found among the indigenous peoples of the Andes?

Schultes reports that indigenous shamans using Yage in the Andes claim to feel a “rushing wind” pushing upwards which then they realizes is the torrent of “water” forcing them up the Milky Way. (Schultes 1992.) After ascending the Milky Way, they are then able to talk with those ancestors who were also able to ascend to the “celestial Paradise.” As a mortal, however, the shaman cannot remain, but while in his ‘spirit body’ he may ask questions of the heavenly beings, who may know antidotes for sorcery he has not otherwise been able to counteract. There seems to be the mythic belief that rainbows and the Milky Way are diurnally related phenomena. A shaman trapped in the underworld may not be able to return unless he can find the “rope” of the Milky Way.” 

The Ladder-to-Heaven documents a ladder made of reed or vine among the South American tribes (the Nivalke, the Mataco, the Tupi, Sikuani and the Chorote). For eg., the Chorote of Gran Chaco identify

“a hummingbird named Sen as the hero of the primeval ascent. In the early days of the world Sen began shooting arrows one after the other until he had a long chain extending from heaven to earth. Shortly thereafter, a spider came along and spun a web alongside the arrow chain thereby creating a rope-like structure reaching to heaven. It was along this rope that Sen and the other Chorote heroes, as birds, ascended to heaven…

“Suddenly, from up there, where the stars come out, a ladder descended. It was made from the same kind of reeds that the Indians used for the shafts of their arrows. 
Suddenly a ladder made of reeds appeared; it reached from the sky down to the ground.”16

The Shipaya also envisaged the ladder-to-heaven as composed of reeds.”

In Myth in History: Mythological Essays, Peter Metevelis (p. 255) tabulates the countries that possess:

  •  a myth of ropeway access to the Upperworld as including Iceland, India, China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Melanesia, North and South America, and Polynesia;
  • a myth of a vine to sky rope as including Indonesia, Philippines and North and South America

In the case of the Japan Iwato myth, the straw vine appears as a boundary marker that marks off where the entrance to the Underworld or Heavenly River is, and it is used to quickly fence off the entrance after Amaterasu emerges from the Iwato cavern thus preventing the Japanese sun goddess from returning to the Underworld. This myth is said to be closest to the myth found in the Indo-Iranian Vedic literature — of Usas, the Dawn woman and heralder of the rising sun, who is hidden in a cave on an island in the middle of the Rasa stream at the end of the world, according to Michael Witzel in his Vala and Iwato The Myth of the Hidden Sun in India, Japan and beyond.

This idea of a rope-ladder is also found among the Australian aborigines, the Tungus shamans of Manchuria who refer to the celestial rope as a “road” to heaven.

Whether the celestial rope as a heavenly ladder, road or path to and from heaven, originated from Africa or is found there as a result of back migrations, we do not know … but African sacred traditions of the Dinkas speak of heavenly path or rope that men once traversed freely to and from heaven to converse with the gods, but which collapsed or was destroyed in primeval times as a result of an accident, after which Heaven has been separated from Earth.

There are many other variants of this ladder to heaven that Peter Metevelis identifies, including spider spun webs (Nicobar, Micronesia, Polynesia, Africa, North and South America), iron chain from heaven (Greece, Korea); Heavenly being’s hair (Germany, Australia), Earth’s navel-string (Indo-China).

From South Asia to East Asia, however, the most closely related ideas to the rope or vine-ladder-to-heaven are those of the Churning Rope and Churning Rod and its role in the Ocean of Milk and the production of the Elixir of Immortality Indian tale, as well as the East Asian Cosmic Pillar and the Dancing Cosmic Couple around it, viz. Izanagi and Izanami as well as the Miao Cosmic Couple and Pillar article for more on this.

* Meoto suggests Indo-European influences from the Black Sea area, if not migrating lineages from the area, as it recalls Maeotis, the body of water mentioned in the Pseudo-Hymn Seneca, Oedipus:

“… the fierce lands of the Zalaces have felt it, and those wandering tribes whom neighbouring Boreas smites, and the nations which Maeotis‘ cold water washes, and they [i.e. the Skythians] on whom the Arcadian constellation looks down from the zenith and the wagons twain.” – Seneca, Oedipus 401 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.)

Lake Maeotis was the ancient name for the Sea of Azov, the body of water which was connected to the northwestern corner of the Euxine (Black Sea); also called the Maeotian Lake or Maeotic Lake by the ancient Greeks; approximately 14,000 square miles (36,260 square kilometers) in area.

David Braund’s article Map 84 Maeotis discusses at length the location of Maeotis, the associated terms, archaeological settlements, burial landscapes and Maeotae or Maiotai peoples.

The Wikipedia article Maeotae states that the best attested tribe among the Maeotae was the Sindi, and that there are speculations among scholars that the Maeotes and the Sindes may have been Indo-Aryans, connected with the Mitanni rulers of Assyria one millennium before Herodotus.

Among Russian scientists, archeologists, historians and ethnographers in the Soviet period however, it was concluded that Maeotae is one of the names of the tribes called норода Adyghe people (Circassians). In the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (in the article Adyghe people) they are described thus:

«The Kuban tribes (Adyghe people) are usually referred to by the ancient writers under the collective name Maeotae».

In Russia in 1998 published a book with the title “Maeotae, the ancestors of the Adyghe (Circassians)

Origin of the 9-9 autumn harvest festivals

Nagasaki Kunchi

Nagasaki Kunchi Photo: Wikimedia Commons

There are a great many local autumn harvest festivals within the country of Japan, but today, we choose to focus only upon those matsuri that were originally associated with the Ninth day of the Ninth month of the lunar calendar (although this has been formalized and is now held during the solar calendar October 9th).

A particularly famous and spectacular autumn festival held from October 9th to 11th, is the Nagasaki Okunchi 長崎おくんち, with gorgeous floats, parades, odoriko dances, as well as their lion dance. Begun as a celebration of autumn harvests in the late 16th century it became a shrine festival when Suwa Shrine was founded in 1642. See some spectacular photos here.

In the city of Karatsu, Saga prefecture, on Kyushu island, the Karatsu Kunchi (唐津くんち; the suffix “kunchi” simply meaning festival) is a major annual Japanese festival event that features daily parades (between the 2nd to the 4th) of fourteen hikiyama, massive floats in the form of samurai helmets, bedecked with paper lanterns, sea breamdragons, turtle and other fantastical creatures, all constructed from wood, lacquer, and other materials. The Hikiyama being used today, were offered to Karatsu Shrine between 1819 and 1876.

On the second day, with the portable shrine of Karatsu Shrine leading the way, the Hikiyama are pulled to the sand beach of Nishinohama, a sandy beach (source: Karatsu Kunchi, Wikipedia and Japan Atlas Festivals.

In Japan, the ninth lunar month is called the Chrysanthemum Month, a seasonal festival to celebrate the autumn harvest, see Gabi Greve’s Chrysanthemum month 9 9:

This autumn hokku is from the 9th month (October) of 1822, when Issa was in the area near his hometown. One name for the 9th lunar month was the Chrysanthemum Month, because chrysanthemums came into bloom then and especially because the Chrysanthemum Festival, one of the five large seasonal festivals, was held on 9/9. Actually it was held from 9/8 to 9/10, so it was a very big festival during which people went around and greeted all their neighbors and relatives and friends to wish them good health and a long life. According to Daoist legend, chrysanthemums were such a vigorous and refined flower that if you drank dew from the petals of certain large chrysanthemums growing in the mountains, you could live an extraordinarily long life. The next best thing to that was to drink “chrysanthemum sake,” or sake with chrysanthemum petals in it, which was believed to protect the drinker from sickness and bestow long life. Numerous cups of chrysanthemum sake were exchanged during the Chrysanthemum Festival at parties and during visits to people’s houses to make festival greetings.

Since the Chrysanthemum Festival was held around the time of the fall harvest, informal festivities tended to be extended far beyond 9/10, and for chrysanthemum lovers the 9th month could almost be called the Sake Month, since drinking chrysanthemum sake was thought to be healthful, and the mood was festive and favored tipsy merrymaking”.

It was around the 8th century AD that Chrysanthemums were introduced into Japan and adopted by Emperor Gotoba 後鳥羽 (1180-1239) as an emblem for his official seal.  Drinking the dew off a chrysanthemum was supposed to help retard aging or according to Chinese/Taoist folk beliefs, to grant immortality, see commentary on Ki no Tomonori’s poem 270Kokinshu Book Va: Autumn part 2 (249-280) A day before the Chrysanthemum festival) there was also a traditional practice of placing cotton silk floss covers outside over the chrysanthemums to catch the evening dew. On these morning of the 9th, these garments were used to wrap the body of court ladies, a custom since the Heian Period. This was said to ward off evil and lead to a healthy ripe old age. Summer cotton garments are traditionally put away after this date and the winter garments taken out in their place.

The Chrysanthemum 9-9 festival was likely derived from the Chinese Double Ninth festival, which may in turn, have had ancient origins in the Indian subcontinent. Chinese folklore suggests that the Double Ninth festival originated as a day to drive away danger and pestilence and a celebration of the defeat of monsters.

Curiously, the Nine-nine, i.e. Ninth day of the Ninth lunar month festival has a parallel in the Navatri festival of Southern India that has many parallels with traditions and customs in Japan, particularly the hina doll tradition. See Wikipedia on the Navatri festival:

The Navatri festival corresponds to a nine-day Taoist celebration beginning on the eve of 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which is observed primarily by the ethnic Chinese of Min Nan linguistic group in Southeast Asian countries like MyanmarSingaporeMalaysiaThailand and also the Riau Islands called the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

The beginning of spring and the beginning of autumn are considered to be important junctions of climatic and solar influences. These two periods are taken as sacred opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother Durga. The dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar.

Navaratri represents a celebration of the Goddess Amba, (the Power).

Navaratri or Navadurga Parva happens to be the most auspicious and unique period of devotional sadhanas and worship of Shakti (the sublime, ultimate, absolute creative energy) of the Divine conceptualized as the Mother Goddess-Durga, whose worship dates back to prehistoric times before the dawn of the Vedic age….Further incarnations of the Divine Mother are: Brahmcharñi, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidatri in that order. These nine manifestations of Shakti, are worshipped as “Nava-Durga”. The fifth chapter of the Rudra Sanhita of Shiva Purana also vividly describes the various Divine Emanations of Durga….

In the Vedic Age of the Indian Culture, the religious philosophy and devotional practices were focused towards true knowledge and ultimate realization of the supreme power of Gayatri (Bram Shakti)…Gayatri Mantra was the core-focus of daily practice of sandhya-vandan (meditation and devotional worship) for everyone. As guided by the rishis, specific sadhanas and upasanas of the Gayatri Mantra were sincerely practiced during the festival period of Navaratri”

The Japanese idea of hina doll gift-giving to daughters may have been originated in India where Navaratri Golu dolls and figurines are displayed in the Navratri festival for girls and women in South India (Source: Navratri (Wikipedia). This is a nine-day sacred period for the worship of the Mother goddess Shakti or Durga, which is said to a devotional practice of purification by the water-washing at the waterfront (similar to the Japanese o-harae practices) carried out since prehistoric times before the dawn of the Vedic age, prescribed according to the Gayatri Mantra of the Puranic verses.

Navatri Golu dolls on the left; Hina ningyo dolls on the right

The Navratri Golu doll traditional display bears a remarkable resemblance to that of the Hina doll display. While hina dolls are set up on steps to resemble the Heian period’s imperial court, the Golu dolls are similarly arrayed on steps or padis (in Tamil) in usually nine or odd numbers like seven, or five, representing a durbar or the court of Goddess Durga before she leaves to eliminate Mahishasura or the buffalo-demon. Many a collection of dolls also carry themes from mythology, like the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, scenes enacting the romance of Radha and Krishna or events from the life of lord Krishna as a child, etc. While the emperor and empress are at the centre of the hina doll court display, a pair of male and female dolls called Marapachi Bommai Dolls, carved out of this reddish wood called “Marapachi” are at the traditional core of the Golu display. Marapachi bommais are special dolls from Tirupathi, the land of Lord  Venkateshwara. The word Marapachi is said to be a special kind of wood that has medicinal values and hence the name Marapachi Bommai. 

A pair of the Marapachi dolls are gifted and presented by the parents of the bride at every wedding so that the bride might initiate the yearly tradition of Navarathiri Gollu in her new home with her husband. Tradition dictates that the bommais are brought out in display, every year, at the time of Navarathiri.  These bommais are couples dressed in their wedding attire, start of the bride’s Gollu collection, which then grows over the years with the addition of various clay dolls signifying various Gods and Goddesses.

How the Indian Navrati Golu or marapachi doll tradition found in the southern states of India, viz. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, could have been transferred to the Japanese Heian court or influenced the Edo period hina doll giving to daughters- practices is unknown, but the marked similarities suggest a definite connection between the two.

The origin of the Hina-doll festival is often attributed to the ancient Chinese ceremony (held on the 3rd day of the third month of the lunar calendar) of conducting purification rites by the waterfront when paper or straw human doll effigies were cast out onto the river or sea as substitutes bearing away one’s iniquities. These practices have been practised since the ancient Nara period. These paper human figures are said to have been the origin of the Hina doll.

The glamorous noble court culture flourished in Japan from the Heian period. The Hina doll, or Kyo-hina (literally “Kyoto doll”) which was the Imperial-Court doll and the Ichimatsu doll together with a variety of different dolls of the Heian period were made by famous artisans. Hina dolls are clothed with traditional costumes (namely the Jyuni (12) Hitoe) derived from different periods of the history. The words “Hiyina” and “Hiyina Play” were found in the ancient Japanese literature works of “The Tale of Genji” and “Makuranososhi”. While the word “Hina” at the time conveyed the idea of lovely and cuteness, the Hiyina Play was a play in which the pair of boy and girl dolls would be dressed up with costumes and accessories. However, the “giving doll as a gift” was became a custom only in the Muromachi period.

During the shogunate of Tokugawa Iemitsu (1623-1651), it became customary to make a present of a set of hina dolls to all the baby girls newly born in the inner palace. It is said the custom began when members of the Shogunate’s cabinet presented a set of hina dolls to Chiyohime, eldest daughter of Iemitsu, on March 1, 1644, to commemorate her 7th birthday.

The making of increasingly luxurious commoners’ hina doll sets, however, are said to have been popularized and to have caught on from the glamorous and splendid “Youshoku Hina” doll collections and displays of the royals, courtiers and the samurai in Kyoto (the birth place of the study of the well-versed usages in practices of the royals and nobility). “Youshoku Hina” (1751~72), were dolls clothed in noble costume in style of the Kyoto noble families of Yamashina and the Takakura and were regarded a way to preserve and pass on the royal culture.

Possibly, some Indian migrant monks, craftsmen or merchants in the service of the Tokugawa shogunate gave the warrior classes the idea of gift-giving, eventually merging the symbolism of the Chinese-derived Peach festival, the nagashi-bina practice of launching straw or paper effigy dolls onto rivers with that of the Chrysanthemum 9-9 festival with the Hina matsuri festival (see below).  

From The Doll Festival:

“Also called “Momo-no-Sekku (Peach Festival),” it originates in “Jomi,” representing one of five seasonal periods, which falls on a day of serpent in early March. Sekku, or festival in English, held on each period has been an event wishing health and driving  the season’s sins and bad luck away using the seasonal flowers, trees and herbs, since the Heian Period (794-1185).

Even the Jomi day, however, was gradually taken over by “Nagashi-bina,” a ritual of setting paper dolls adrift on rivers, together with people’s sins and bad luck. “Hina” or “bina” in Japanese originally mean a “model” in English, which refers to a doll that is modeled after people.

Dolls thereby started to spread as an indoor play thing and people gradually started using them as displays on the Peach Festival. We can even find the word “dolls” in the famous Tale of Genji. Dolls in the early period are said to have been extremely simple, and it is presumed that children played with them, changing their clothes and playing at keeping house.

In the Edo Period, the government proclaimed March 3 the day of Peach Festival. Of the five Sekku, all but Choyo, or Chrysanthemum Festival on September 9, have remained even up to this day, being celebrated as traditional festivals. (Other three festivals are Jinjitsu, or Feast of the Seven Herbs of Health on January 7, Tango, or the Boy’s Festival on May 5, and Shichiseki, or Star Festival on July 7.)”

It is customary in some regions (eg. Osaka, Tokushima, Ise), particularly in Western Japan, to decorate the hina dolls on March 3rd (double prime numbers, and considered an auspicious date). In some places, small straw dolls are also released onto rivers and along the coast in the evening. See Hina Doll Festival (hina matsuri 雛祭). There was an ancient Royal Lords cult which involved the rite of floating and burning boats that a custom prevalent among southern Chinese and Siberian Khanty peoples. The Royal Lords cult required the performance of plague expulsion festivals, which included the sending off of a “plague boat”—small wooden boat—bearing away the community’s accumulated afflictions. That the imagery of a River of Plague or Disease may have been widely known to Central Asia in ancient times, is suggested by the study, “Common Symbols in Eurasia-Pacific 
Unconscious Cultural Heritage: A Case Study Of the Taiwanese 18 Deities’Cult

The archaic use of Taoist doll amulets charms in Central Asia may have been a practice learned from contacts with the Graeco-Indo-Iranian world. According to Velizar Sardovskis Ritual Spells and Practical Magic for Benediction and Malediction: From India to Greece, Rome and Beyond (Speech and performance in Avesta and Veda), pp. 334-348 the use of doll effigies and amulet figurines made of various materials was common among the Iranians, Greece (Romans too) and the Near East (Egyptians and Assyrians) and with the ancient Indians too. The pre-Islamic Arab nomads as well as the Indo-Iranians were known to have been fond of many forms of charms and amulets (see p. 16-18 of  Fifty Charms (Iran)). Both India and Japan, share a tradition of prehistoric clay figurine-making that goes back to the respective Indus Valley and Jomon periods.

During the mid-Edo period, a tradition separate from that of the Ninth Day festival, called Hina Festival became the first festival for girls, when the custom for Japanese girls also developed (paralleling the Indian one) for them to bring their own Hina dolls with them when they got married. The Hina Festival holds special symbolism as a prayer for girls’ healthy growth and happiness in life. Today, probably on account of the high cost of the hina doll sets, it is more common for a set of heirloom hina dolls to be given by grandmothers upon the birth of a grand-daughter (a separate set for upon the birth of boys).

Fertility, health and immortality symbolism

Marapichi bommai dolls

Marapichi bommai dolls

While potted peach blossoms are included in the Japanese display suggest immortality or long life, a kumbham pot of pomegranate (or coconut) suggesting fertility, amongst mango leaves is arranged either at the top most level or at the bottom), the latter receiving ritual worship during the nine days of Navratri. (As the Hina festival held in spring, peach blossoms are seasonally  appropriate). Like the doll effigies in the nagashina-bina rites, the hina dolls are thought to serve the function of trapping and containing bad luck and so they must be put away after the period of display.

 hina doll (雛人形) set, featuring the Emperor (御内裏様) and Empress (御雛様). The optional lampstands are also partially visible.

Hina ninogyo doll (雛人形) set, featuring the Emperor and Empress as a couple in Heian dress, with peach blossoms in the centre.

The marapachi dolls are also thought to have been originally presented to the bride and the groom at the time of marriage as toys for the couple … in times past, it was not uncommon for two children, to be married at the age of ten in the Indian culture and society.

The Hina Matsuri A Living Tradition is an article in the Daruma magazine that provides an excellent account on the ancient practice of using dolls as amulet charms:

“They were worn as amulets to protect children wherever they went, placed by their bedsides to divert evil from the sleeping infants and promote future fertility.

Temple records hold that in the 26th year of Suinin Ten’no’s reign (3 BC) at the shrine dedicated to the Shinto goddess Ameterasu at Ise, a grass doll was blessed by the shrine priestess and thrown into the river Isuzu to purge all human sins. Although this tradition is believed to have been part of popular culture long before this event, the Ise hina is one of the earliest record of a doll as warding agent.

In later centuries tradition also holds that Ise Shrine sold male and female doll pairs that could be dressed and were meant for display throughout the year, presumably guarding the home. These would have been kept on the kamidana, a shelf often in the kitchen area which housed images of different protective gods in the Shinto faith. The display of dolls on the shelf is seen as precursing the more elaborate display of the festival.

In China, cut-out paper dolls were used by Taoist priests for both positive and negative influences. Paper dolls in Japan, known as hitogata, the old reading of the modem word ningyô, seem to have appeared soon after paper technology was introduced by the Korean Priest Doncho in 610 AD.

Also known as kami-bina (paper hina), they were often used in misogi or purification rituals as “stand-ins” and burnt yearly to get rid of any evil influences or sins.

The word ‘hina’ itself, although translated as doll actually seems to be a contraction of hitogata or man shape, referring back to the use of hina as stand-ins for people.

Two other important early forms of talismans were theamagatsu (“heavenly child”) and hoko dolls. Also known as guardian dolls or hoko-hina (“lowly child dolls”), these figures were kept by a child’s bedside to ward off evil. Amagatsu were of simple construction. Pairs of sticks were strapped together forming a T-shape, a stuffed silk cloth head was attached and clothing draped on it.

It is thought that a child’s clothes would be hung on the T-form of the amagatsu to take any evil elements away from the clothes. The hoko consisted of white silk stuffed with cotton and was presented to a child on his / her birth, often as an ubuyashinai (gift to a baby on the 3rd, 5th, and 9th nights).

Used for both boys and girls, these dolls were a constant in their early life. Boys would keep them until the age of 15, when their “guardians” would be consecrated at a nearby shrine.

Girls kept these dolls until marriage when they were replaced with an otogiboko or “nursery crawling doll” which had strong fertility symbolism and would be an integral part of her trousseau, with the inu-bako. The pairing of the larger amagatsu with arms thrust to the side and smaller hoko is often held to forerun the dairi-bina.”

Curiously, there does not appear to be a parallel doll amulet custom in the Korean culture, nor the equivalent of the grand hina doll display in either the Korean or Chinese court culture. The closest parallel practices are to be found in faraway India.

Finally, on the subject of autumn harvest festivals, there are a great many harvest festivals in Japan, so many that we have not covered them all, having focused only on the 9-9 festival. Find out more about other Japanese harvest festivals in the article links below.

Source readings and references:

Japanese harvest festival

Japan Tori-no-ichi festival

Honen (fertility) matsuri

O-tsukimi, Japan’s harvest moon festival

Navrati Golu

Navarathri Golu – 2010 & Significance of Marapachi Dolls

Kolu Matsuri: The Indo-Japanese Connection

The history of the hina doll (

Chrysanthemum Festival 9-9

Rivers of death in Japanese myth and folklore and in other parts of the world
Hinamatsuri  (

Himatsuri (Wikipedia)

Owl deity – Chikap Kamui, owls of Japan, owl tales and talismans

Owl sculptures and amulets at the Ainu Kotan Village, Lake Akan in Hokkaido

According to Michael Ashkenaz’s “Handbook Of Japanese Mythology“, Chikap Kamui is an owl kamuy or deity of the Ainu people. He is believed to oversee the behavior of humans … since the Ainu believed that the owl watched over the local kotan (domain), Chikap Kamuy came to be represented as the master of the domain.  He is worshipped as a deity of material success. In some areas, his tears were said to be gold and silver.

From Wikipedia’s Chikap Kamuy:

“As the story goes, famine had struck the land, and humankind was starving. Chikap Kamuy wished to send a message to heaven inquiring about the cause of the famine, and he asked Crow to be his messenger. His message and instructions were very lengthy, however, and it took him days to recite them. On the third day, Crow fell asleep, and Chikap Kamuy grew angry and killed him. Chikap Kamuy next asked Mountain Jay to be his messenger, but on the fourth day, Mountain Jay fell asleep and was killed in turn. The third messenger was the Dipper Bird, who listened respectfully for six full days until Chikap Kamuy finally completed the recitation of the message. Dipper Bird then flew to the heavens, and returned with news that the kamuy of fish and game were angry because humans had stopped showing proper respect for the gifts they gave. Accordingly, Chikap Kamuy went to the humans and taught them the proper rituals to be enacted after killing a fish or a deer. Once the humans began performing these rituals, the kamuy were appeased, and the famine ceased.”

In our travels around Hokkaido, we had encountered lots of owl carvings and amulets especially at the Ainu Kotan Village at Lake Akan in Hokkaido. We’d also seen lots of owl amulets on the Izu Peninsula, and some homes around my neighborhood have owl pottery figurines on their gate, so my curiosity has been piqued as to what they might symbolize.

Here’s what I’ve found so far:
When we were visiting the Maruyama Zoo in Hokkaido, at the aviary section I saw a plaque that said Japan was the “owl capital of the world” (I haven’t been able to confirm this by a google search but…) and it noted that there were around twelve species of owls indigenous to or that breed mainly in Japan.

Blakiston fish owl (Bubo blakistoni), Kushiro Zoo

Japan seems to shares a Central Asian veneration of owls, as in Japan owl pictures and figurines have been placed in homes to ward off famine or epidemics. In Central Asia feathers of the Northern Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo), particularly from its breast and belly, were valued as precious amulets protecting children and livestock from evil spirits. Talons of the Northern Eagle Owl were said to ward off diseases and cure infertility in women.

Also hinting of the antiquity of these beliefs – are the Ainu’s owl beliefs: the Blakiston’s Fish Owl (Ketupa blakistoni) was called “Kotan Kor Kamuy” (God of the Village) by the Ainu, the native peoples of Hokkaido, Japan. The traditional Ainu people were hunter-gatherers and believed that all animals were divine; most admired were bear and the fish owl. The owls were held in particular esteem and, like the people, were associated with fish (salmonids) and lived in many of the same riverside locations. The Fish Owl Ceremony, which returned the spirit of fish owls to the god’s world, was conducted until the 1930′s.

Bird symbolism in Japan mirrors that of Central Asia and Siberia, since the tumulus age, there has been a persistent image of the bird as a bird of death. There are images of a bird on a prow in ancient etchings, tomb murals and funerary statuary. Although the chicken and flying waterfowl are more common imagery as the bird of death, the owl shares the same symbolic meaning. As in many cultures, owls signal an underworld or serve to represent human spirits after death; in ancient times along with other Siberian cultures, owls represented supportive spirit helpers and allow humans (often shamans) to connect with or utilize their supernatural powers.

It is not surprising that with owls having been very common in the olden days and they are associated with shinto shrine groves, that there are several legends and folktales to do with owls:   - see the Little Horned Owl (an Ainu tale) and “Colored” ; a really famous folktale about how the crow, originally a white bird, became black and “The Owl of the Three Jewels (from the nine gothic “Tales of Moonlight and Rain” by Ueda Akinari).  According to some lore, some owls are seen as divine messengers while others, particularly Barn or Horned owls, are viewed as demons.


On a more modern note,  a Japanese Lucky Owl is one of the most popular lucky charms in Japan because ‘owl’ in Japanese is ‘fukurou’ which means ‘no hardship’ or ‘no trouble’.

Gold Mini Owl
By the way…

Japanese scientists use several words for ‘owl’. Scientific names are conventionally written in katakana

* フクロウ fukurō is applied to owls without ‘ears’, in particular the Ural Owl.
* ズク zuku and ミミズク mimizuku are somewhat less common terms for owls with ‘ears’, such as various types of Scops owl and the Eagle Owl


Further information and readings on owls that are found in Japan:

Collared Scops Owl

Japanese Scops Owl

Little Horned Owl (Ainu legend, NOVA Online)

Ryukyu Scops Owl

Snowy Owl (National Geographic in English) Snowy Owl (in Japanese)

A well-known owl folktale from Japan has a page that lists books about owls

Japanese Lucky Owl (The Japanese Shop)

How many owls are there? (World Owl Trust)


Source readings and references:

Ashkenazy, Michael. Handbook of Japanese Mythology. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 2003.

Wikipedia’s Chikap Kamuy


Note: A version of this article was first published as Guardians of Ga’Hoole, owls of Japan, owl tales and talismans on March 11, 2011 on the Education in Japan blog

The god of Arima-Ontouguu shrine and the three crows of Arima

Arima Hotspring has an interesting legend where three crows of Arima have a central role:

The history of Tousen Jinja (Shrine) which is familiarly known as the protecting god of Arima Hot Springs says that Onamuchi-no-mikoto and Sukunahikona-nomikoto discovered Arima Hot Springs. When the two gods visited Arima, three injured crows drank water from a pool. A few days later, they found the pool curing their injuries, which proved the pool was a Spa.
Only these three crows who found the place of the Spa were permitted to live in Arima and are called “Three crows of Arima”
An Imperial visit of the 34th Emperor Jomei (593 – 641) and the 36thEmperor Koutoku (596 – 654) made the name of Arima popular.  Jomeiki of Nihonshoki, Chronicles of Japan, says The Emperor Jomei stayed at Arima-Ontouguu (shrine) in Settsu to enjoy bathing for 86 days from September 9th till December 13th since 631.

Shakunihonki, a commentary of Chronicles of Japan, says the Emperor Koutoku liked Arima Hot Springs and he stayed there for 82 days with his ministers, Abe-no-Kurahashimaro and Soga-no-Ishikawamaro and his guardians for 82 days from October 11th till his Imperial vist on New Year’s Eve in 647.

The monk Gyoki enshrined

??Arima Hot Springs History tells the story that Arima Hot Springs declined gradually after the famous period of the Imperial visit of the Emperor Jomei and Koutoku. The monk Gyoki founded and rebuilt the Arima Hot Springs.
Gyoki whom the Emperor Shomu (701 – 756) trusted deeply was a high monk who dedicated himself to building ponds and bridges, digging ditches and enshrined temples.

When Gyoki dug a big pond in Koya Itami, northern part of Osaka plain, he met one person. The person pleaded with Gyoki, “I have a bad tumor and it has made me suffer for a long time. I heard the Spa in Arima mountain cures illness. Could you kindly take me there?” To meet the person’s demand, Gyoki took the person to Arima and fulfilled the person’s wishes. Then the person changed to a gold solemn Buddha and rode the clouds to fly to the east.

Gyoki was moved deeply by this, and wrote down Nyohoukyou and buried it in the pond, and built a life-sized Yakushi Nyorai ;Buddha who deals with medicine to enshrine the temple. Yakushi Nyorai ;Buddha who deals with medicine ;who felt Gyoki’s virtue made him open Arima Spa, found Arima’s prosperity.

In fact, it is said that Arima prospered for 370 years since Gyoki constructed the temple.

In the Heian era, much literature tells of many writers, Emperors, ministers who had visited Arima.  Seishonagon(an old lady writer) also wrote “The Spas are Nanakuri Spa, ArimaSpa, Nasu Spa, Tsukasa Spa and Tomoni Spa” in Makuranosoushi, sho highly valued Arima Hot Springs as one of the three famous Spas like Sakakibara Onsen Spa in Ise in those days.”

Source: History  of Arima, the Arima Onsen website

Another version of the legend goes:

In olden times, the gods Onamuchi-no-Kami and Sukunahikona-no-Kami descended to earth one day and saw three injured crows bathing in a puddle. Some days passed when the gods happened again upon the three crows. To their amazement, the crows had been cured. Thinking this was remarkable, they took a closer look at the puddle and discovered that it was, in fact, a hot spring with a miraculous healing effect. This is how the world came to know the magical properties of the hot springs of Arima. From this day forward, the crows and two gods have been worshipped as guardian deities of Arima Onsen.

There is a sloping path called “Slope of Wish” extending from Onsenji Temple to Nenbutsuji Temple. Along the way there is “Garden of Wish”, where there are statues of the three crows and Saint Gyoki. The gods Onamuchi-no-Kami and Sukunahikona-no-Kami are worshipped at the Tosen Shrine. – Folklores of Arima

See also The Legend of the Three Crows of Arima (by Daily Glimpses of Japan) which mentions the Ainu legend:

Michael Ashkenazi wrote in his book on Japanese mythology about crows as well. He mentions an Ainu story, saying that at the beginning of times, the sun was swallowed by a monster. And the crow, Pashkuru Kamui, pecked at its tongue until it released the sun, the source of light and warmth. On another occasion, when the first Ainu were starving, the crow led them to a stranded whale, saving their life (page 117 of the book mentioned above). So generally, the crow is a bird of good omen in Japan.

See also my earlier article The Legend of Yatagarasu and its possible origins

The Japanese rain doctor (sorcerer) and Qiangic Shibi shaman, and the origin of rain related doctrines in Japan


Pictured above: Mt. Oyama or Afuriyama or Afurisan, “Rainfall-inducing Great Mountain” (Source of photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Japanese rain wizard or sorcerer

The Japanese shaman of the Yayoi period onwards resembled the Shibi shaman of the Qiangic people, he was the rain sorcerer, the intercessor for bountiful harvests and for successful outcomes in major events and to reverse the bad luck during disasters. His role is to lead in sacred dances to influence the divinities and during activities that entail the “worshipping divinities, praying for divine blessing, holding funerals, exorcizing diseases and demons, and also praying for rain when in drought”. Taoist rain dances using sacred Big Dipper swords are still performed in Japanese Shinto shrines, have an origin in China.

Etching of shaman found on Yayoi pottery shard (Photo source: Heritage of Japan)

The  Taoist rain sorcerer’s dance has also survived in essentially-the-same form with southern Chinese migrants to other parts of Asia, especially in the relic dance of the Tang-ki shaman rain-sorcerer’s dance which is a veneration of King or Emperor Yu, the first ruler of the Xia dynasty and the earliest recorded archetype of the Chinese rain sorcerer. See  The Tang-Ki as Cosmic Actor by Margaret Chan, cf. p. 7):

“The tang-ki ritual sword has a double-edged blade engraved with the zig-zag pattern of the constellation and is believed to be imbued with the very spirit of the star group, so that the sword is worshipped as a deity in its own right. The zig-zag star motif is one of the twelve imperial insignias and can be seen printed on all sorts of talismans”

The Taoist associations with weather prayers and raindances seem borne out at least with the sword-waving dance offering of the Yasaka shrine during the Ine Festival, prayers for abundant crops, as well fish-catches. Similar tachifuri sword dances such as the Tabayashi-juni-kagura handed down at Tabayashi Atago Shrine are held at the ruins of Marumori Castle in Marumori Town, Miyagi Prefecture, as well as at the  Kono Jinja Shrine during the Aoi Festival (source).  The annual festival held April 24 at Kono Shrine in Miyazu City, Kyoto Prefecture is also called the Aoi Matsuri. From the Encyclopedia of Shinto, on the Aoi Festival:
Known as the sword-waving rite (tachi-furi shinji), swords three shaku long (about 90.9 centimeters) are enclosed inside poles four shaku long. Tassels of paper are attached to both ends of the poles, which are then positioned on the backs and at the hips of the performers and waved about. They also join in an accompanying festive song known as the sasa-bayashi. The livestock market held during this Aoi Festival is called the Aoi ushiichi (“Aoi cow market”).
The Budo World blog has more on the Big Dipper associations of the Taoist sword (see The Sword of Ancient Taoism) and its diffusion path to Japan via Korea. However, in our article Dragon-slaying sacred swords and kusa-nagi grass-cutters, we explore our theory that the idea of dragon-slaying sacred swords may have been of North-west Indian and/or Iranic origins.
Rain doctor/wizards who summon the rain with rain-stones on rain-making mountains

The clearest evidence of the rain sorcerer practice is perhaps to be found in the relic Oyama cult on Mt. Oyama’s Oyamadera temple-shrine complex in Kanagawa. Although the temple is also Buddhist, the syncretic Buddhist and Shinto elements both reveal the early rain-related functions and Omayadera’s main hall was first constructed in 1900 at the site exactly where Afurisan Oyamadera used to stand. The name Afuri of the Shrine is short for Amefuri, which is literally “rainfall.” As the word indicates, Oyama is believed to be a rain doctor, and in time of drought, farmers conducted special service of prayers to the god of the Shrine for rain. See the Oyama Afuri Jinja Shrine article on the history and practices of the temple-shrine complex:

“In the early times, there was a shrine called Sekison atop Mt. Oyama, which is 1252 meters above sea level, enshrining a natural, giant and holy stone as its principal object of worship. (Seki is a stone and son is a honorific suffix). Halfway up the mountain, they built a temple sacred to Fudo Myo-o in association with the stone statue Priest Roben had found. In other words, it had a Shinto shrine on the top, and Buddhist (Shingon) temple in the mid-slope of the mountain. Like other temple/shrine complex, however, Buddhist elements were more pronounced in this complex as well, and it was Buddhist priests, if anything, who controlled the institution. In the Shrine’s case, Shingon Esoteric Buddhism prevailed under the name of Afurisan Oyamadera, which, is literally a “rainfall-inducing-great-mountain” temple and Sekison was called Sekison Daigongen. (Gongen denotes manifestation of Buddha).

Meanwhile, people in Kanagawa and western Tokyo knew that if the top of the mountain was veiled by clouds, it would rain momentarily. At a long spell of dry weather, they offered a prayer and petition for rainfall to Sekison enshrined at the top of the mountain as if Sekison had been a rain doctor. Hence the Shrine was called Afurisan, or rainmaker-mountain. Incidentally, the present name Afuri of Afuri Jinja is also short for a rainfall in Japanese.”

For more on rainstones and rain doctors or rain wizards, see A study of rain deities and rain wizards of Japan.

In Nihon shoki (or Shoku-Nihongi, the 8th c. chronicle), it is written that in 763, a black horse was specially dedicated together with Heihaku (strips of paper symbolizing offerings of clothing). From that time on, it became a custom to dedicate a black horse in offering a prayer for bringing rain and a white horse for bringing a good weather.
Shrines were often established and dedicated to rain or water gods. According to the records of the Niu kawakami shrine, it was founded in 676, when the god said, “If you set up the holy pillars of my shrine in this deep mountain, I will bring the blessed rain instead of the damaging rain for the people of this country.” Niu Kawakami Shrine’s Lower Shimo-sha located in Shimoichi-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Pref. is one of the three Niu Kawakami shrines that have existed since the ancient times and it enshrines Kura Okami no Kami (the god of water and rain(Source: Nippon-kichi).

We also know historically that Kukai, or Kobo-Daishi, “the Grand Master who propagated Buddhist Teaching” (774-835) summoned the rain which involved a rite to summon the third nāga princess of the Nāga King Sāgara, the emanation of Cintāmaṇicakra Avalokitēśvara Bodhisattva to come from the snowy mountains of the Himalayas. (Kukai arrived in Fujian but proceeded to Changan and he studied Chinese Buddhism in earnest at  the famous Tang dynasty Ximingsi temple as well as Sanskrit with the Gandharan pandit Prajñā (734-810) who had been educated at the Indian Buddhist university at Nalanda. He was also initiated into esoteric Buddhist traditions upon meeting in 805 Master Hui-kuo (746 – 805) at Changan’s Qinglong Monastery (青龍寺).)

Rain dances and Dipper sword dances

Compare the roles of the Japanese rain-sorcerer to the Shibi sorcerers of the Qiang group ( below:

“Within the settlement of Qiang Ethnic Group in the upper reaches of Min River of Sichuan Province, sorcerers are called Shibi in the southern dialect. …

In the primitive society, like other ancient ethnic groups with a long history, Qiang Ethnic Group could not understand many natural phenomena. They vaguely felt that there seemed to be supernatural force underlying happiness, affliction, success and failure. They looked forward to times of good harvests, prosperity and peace, thus giving birth to Shibi. As the messenger of divinities, Shibi is a key figure who holds varied conventional activities like sacrificial ceremonies and who spreads culture of Qiang Ethnicity. Dancing runs through all sacrifices and other conventional activities which are held in Qiang settlement. Shibi presides at all these activities, so he is the indispensable protagonist. Therefore, not only is Shibi an important figure presiding at various activities, but he is also an art teacher good at singing and dancing, as well as a proactive creator of folk dances of Qiang Ethnic Group. By fulfilling his sacred obligations, Shibi plays a decisive role in the content and form of Qiang dances.

Qiang Ethnic Group will carry out activities of offering sacrifices, under such circumstances as worshipping divinities, praying for divine blessing, holding funerals, exorcizing diseases and demons, and also praying for rain when in drought. During these activities, there will be a traditional folk ceremony called Buzila, namely sheepskin-drum dance. Dancing while beating a drum, Shibi will carry a sacred stick on his shoulder, and hold in his hand a dish-like bell made of copper. Besides, when there is a battle, hunting or memorial ceremony for national heroes, Shibi will run around outside the altar, holding a torch and wearing cowhide loricae. He will stoutly lead people in the “loricae dance”. Moreover, at wedding ceremonies, Shibi is characterized by easy and slow motions, gentle behavior, and melodious incantations which seem to pray that the newly-wed will always enjoy happiness, prosperity and good luck. Everything done by Shibi seems to be making arrangement for life. Consequently, he is the most authoritative in the conventions and life of the entire Qiang Ethnic Group. The deity genealogy of an ethnic group is a complicated system of cultural symbols, by means of which the group understands, reflects, interprets and controls its society. Shibi is recognized as the critical link of this system. Accordingly, Shibi occupies an eminent position and plays an essential role in dances of Qiang Ethnic Group. “Dancing is very solemn and grand for them. It is more a religious ritual and special incantation than entertainment.”

Buzila (sheepskin-drum dance) is popular in places like Wenchuan and Lixian Counties. No matter whether the dance is to exert mysterious magic influence on divinities or to entertain them, its ultimate purpose is to pursue prosperity by asking divinities for protection.”

Incidentally, the name Shibi is still a rather commonplace in Japan, as a location name and names can be found in the earliest historical chronicles of Japan.

See also Rain dances of Qiang ethnic group.


The many Kojindani’s swords – largest cache discovered in Japan (Kojindani Museum) were likely ritual swords used to summon rain. According to the Kojindani Museum, the swords originated from China. See Taiji sword dance of Wudang mountain and we have already mentioned the Taoist sword and rain-sorcerer’s dances above.

Rain related symbols and ritual objects – white horses, roosters and dragon-serpents

White horse, black horse symbolism Other practices that originated from China (but which may have had earlier roots in Scythic-Indo-Saka steppeland practices elsewhere) were the offerings of black and white horses such as the ones still seen at the Festival at Niu Kawakami Shinto shrine in Shimoichi-cho, Nara. The shrine has revived an ancient ceremony once held as a state festival in 763 — the Imperial court would present a black horse to the water deity at the shrine or a white horse to stop excessive rains and damage from the tsunami/typhoon.

White horse sacrifices were also presented at the Kifune-jinja, see A study of rain deities and rain-wizards of Japan. The Kamigamo shrine of descendants of the Kamo clan, still keeps a sacred white horse tethered in a small hut, see photo here and here. The practice of keeping sacred or sacrificial white horses died away as Buddhist prohibitions against taking animal lives, led to votive ema offerings as substitutes, see photo of ema white horse votive tablets here.

Cosmic Couple dance around the Cosmic Pillar The mytheme of the Primordial Couple and Cosmic Pillar is closely connected with Chinese The Deluge or Diluvial concepts (see the Handbook of Chinese mythology – origin of flood myths, Nuwa legends and brother and sister primordial pair and Miao cosmic pillar courtship dance) and manifest the common origin of the origin of the Japanese cosmic couple Izanagi and Izanami (although the roots of the myth appear to have been Iranic-Vedic in character, so a common Iranic connection or influence is possible see # below).

Rooster symbolism

Japan also shares the Rooster symbolism of the Miao people – although the cock is mainly known for its Underworld funerary associations, additionally, “in the Miao’s flood myths, the thunder god is in charge of the rain, and the image of the thunder god is a rooster.” (See Chicken and Family Prosperity: Marital ritual among the Miao in Southwest China).

Other rain-connected mythemes of common East Asian origin are dragon and serpent concepts connected with rain and spring sources and with immortality concepts (see Towadako: Lake so popular a dragon and serpent fought over itToyo no Kuni and the Spring of Immortality.)  The ubiquitous rain dragon symbols in Japan clearly have a Chinese connection (see the Evolution of the Chinese dragon symbol)

Rain drums and bronze bells

Other symbols connected with rain are bronze drums and bronze bells.

Diorama depicting how a Yayoi bronze bell may have been used (Photo source: Heritage of Japan)

Bronze bells and drums are also a symbol of rain-making pleas for agricultural communities of Japan and China… and Southeast Asia. The use of rain bronze drums and bronze bells(see Treasure! Bronze bells and magical mirrors), for instance, appears to have been a key cultural of the southerly tribes in Yunnan (see Ancient bronze bells at Jianshui, Yunnan) and Dong son tribes of Vietnam. The early rain drums of Jomon and Yayoi were however, superceded by the taiko prototypes from Central Asia (possibly of Indian or Indian-Saka origin).

Bronze bells were almost certainly used in agricultural ritual or festive contexts, as depicted in the context of tribal festivity shown in the ancient mural in Yunnan, China.

Bronze bells were almost certainly used in agricultural ritual or festive contexts, as depicted in the context of tribal festivity shown in the ancient mural in Yunnan, China.

The genetic connection and ancient continental links

Two genetic connections with Chinese prehistoric populations and the Japanese are evident in the M7 haplogroup of the Miao tribe (Early Japanese belong to the M7 (mtDNA) family of Austronesian Southeast Asia), as well as in the Y-DNA O3 haplogroup connection between Di-Qiang and the Japanese prehistoric population, see Zhao YB, et al., Ancient DNA evidence supports the contribution of Di-Qiang people to the Han Chinese gene poolAm J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Feb;144(2):258-68. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21399. Epub 2010 Sep 24.

“Han Chinese is the largest ethnic group in the world. During its development, it gradually integrated with many neighboring populations. To uncover the origin of the Han Chinese, ancient DNA analysis was performed on the remains of 46 humans (1700 to 1900 years ago) excavated from the Taojiazhai site in Qinghai province, northwest of China, where the Di-Qiang populations had previously lived. In this study, eight mtDNA haplogroups (A, B, D, F, M*, M10, N9a, and Z) and one Y-chromosome haplogroup (O3) were identified. All analyses show that the Taojiazhai population presents close genetic affinity to Tibeto-Burman populations (descendants of Di-Qiang populations) and Han Chinese, suggesting that the Di-Qiang populations may have contributed to the Han Chinese genetic pool.”

Furthermore, regarding the Chinese creation myth, it is interesting to note that Derk Bodde, believed the Pangu myth “to be of non-Chinese origin” (Bodde 1961:383) and who linked it to the ancestral mythologies of the peoples such as Miao people and Yao people in southern China. (Source: Professor Qin Naichang, head of the Guangxi Institute for Na, Chinese creation myth). Given the similarity with Japanese myths of the emergence from caves of deities, of the primordial pair, jade tadpole symbolism, gourd tales, sacrifices to rice spirits, underworld worldview, there is also a possibility that these beliefs issued from the wild Wa country in Northern Indo-China, which may have been connected to the Japan’s Wa-kuni (Wa country) of the Yayoi Period (see Anthropogonic myths of the Wa in Northern Indo-China by Taryo Obayashi). Thus a more southerly proto-Mongoloid provenance of such beliefs should also be contemplated and explored.

For comparing similarities in the gene pools of Chinese and Japanese populations (suggesting affinities or common origins), see other relevant sources below:

The population in Yunnan, like the population in Japan, are predominantly of the Y-DNA haplogroup D (with YAP+alleles*)…as are the Japanese whose Y-DNA haplogroups are D-P37.1 (34.7%) and therefore suggest common or close ancestral origins in ancient times. For sources see Shi, Hong et al. (2008). “Y chromosome evidence of earliest modern human settlement in East Asia and multiple origins of Tibetan and Japanese populations”BMC Biology (BioMed Central6: 45. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-45PMC 2605740PMID 18959782YAP in 25 ethnic groups from Yunnan China and The geographic polymorphisms of Y chromosome at YAP locus among 25 ethnic groups in Yunnan, China also studies by Shi Hong et al.

*The YAP allele defines haplogroup DE of the human Y-chromosome phylogeny, which joins together the haplogroup E, found in Negroids and Caucasoids, with haplogroup D, found mainly among Mongoloids, including the archaic Ainu, but also non-Mongoloid populations such as the Andaman Islanders. It has also been suggested that the patrilines belonging to haplogroup D are possibly the first modern human groups in East Asia based on the Out of Africa theory because their ancestor haplogroup DE is found in Africans in Nigeria along with Tibetan in East Asia (Source: Shi, Hong et al. (2008). “Y chromosome evidence of earliest modern human settlement in East Asia and multiple origins of Tibetan and Japanese populations”.

A 2007 study by Nonaka et al. reported that Japanese males in the Kantō region, which includes the Greater Tokyo Area, mainly belong to haplogroup D-M55 (48%), haplogroup O2b (31%), haplogroup O3 (15%) (see Nonaka, I.; Minaguchi, K.; Takezaki, N. (February 2, 2007). “Y-chromosomal Binary Haplogroups in the Japanese Population and their Relationship to 16 Y-STR Polymorphisms”. Annals of Human Genetics(John Wiley & Sons71 (Pt 4): 480–95. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1809.2006.00343.xPMID 17274803.)

Nonaka I et al., Y-chromosomal binary haplogroups in the Japanese population and their relationship to 16 Y-STR polymorphismsAnn Hum Genet. 2007 Jul;71(Pt 4):480-95. Epub 2007 Feb 2.

Using 47 biallelic markers we distinguished 20 haplogroups, four of which (D2b1/-022457, O3/-002611*, O3/-LINE1 del, and O3/-021354*) were newly defined in this study. Most haplogroups in the Japanese population are found in one of the three major clades, C, D, or O. Among these, two major lineages, D2b and O2b, account for 66% of Japanese Y chromosomes. Haplotype diversity of binary markers was calculated at 86.3%. The addition of 16 Y-STR markers increased the number of haplotypes to 225, yielding a haplotype diversity of 99.40%. A comparison of binary haplogroups and Y-STR type revealed a close association between certain binary haplogroups and Y-STR allelic or conformational differences, such as those at the DXYS156Y, DYS390m, DYS392, DYS437, DYS438 and DYS388 loci.

# Note the possible Iranic interaction sphere and provenance of the primordial couple mytheme from Michael C. Witzel’s Vala and Iwato – The Myth of the Hidden Sun:

…there are indications of the high status of brother-sister marriage in a wide swath, between Egypt, Iran48 and Polynesia where it occurred as late as the early 1800’s. King Kamehameha who unified the Hawaiian islands was born of one such carefully planned union, which made him magically strong.49…..

Apparently even primordial incest between siblings was not tolerated both in Yamato and in Vedic myth. Instead, the union of Wo and Amaterasu is carefully obscured, and this is matched in the Veda where incest50 between brother and sister was likewise forbidden even for the first mortals (Yama and Yamī, RV 10.14), while it was allowed in Iran. The intriguing Apålå hymn (RV 8.91, Schmidt 1987) tells, again in a rather veiled fashion, of a marriage proposal made by the young Apålå to the great demiurge god Indra. In this hymn51 a young woman, Apålå, is looking for a husband. She goes down to a river, finds and chews some Soma stalks (A 6). The clanking of her teeth is enough to attract Indra, who yearns for his favorite Soma drink. The similarity with Amaterasu is clear: both women, standing at the river (of heaven) invite their partner to produce children or to marry, both chew some objects and exchange the results. Such food exchange is typical for many marriage ceremonies. Apålå is to be regarded as Indra’s wife.52 Usually a wife does not carry a name of her own but is called, like most other Vedic goddesses, after the husband: she is Indrå􏰁ī, ‘the one belonging to Indra…

…there are indications of the high status of brother-sister marriage in a wide swath, between Egypt, Iran48 and Polynesia where it occurred as late as the early 1800’s. King Kamehameha who unified the Hawaiian islands was born of one such carefully planned union, which made him magically strong.49…..

Footnote no. 49:

In India, the Buddhist version of the Råmåyana, too, has the conjugal pair Råma and Sītå as siblings, which fits the Iranian-like concepts of some dynasties of eastern North India (Buddha legend, see Witzel, forthc. §2, with n. 101 sqq). Note that the marriage between Adam and Eve fits the Iranian version closely: though the ‘birth of Eve’ from Adam’s rib is an isolated feature, both are ‘siblings’ like Yima/*Yamī, the later Jam/Jai in Iran; the motif is not found in the RV, though Parśu (‘the rib/sow’) is said to have had of 20 children (10.86.23 parśur ha nåma månavī såka􏰆 sasūva vi􏰆śatim).

Source references and readings:

Shibi sorcerers of the Qiang group (

Notes: Qiangic populations and their traditions and beliefs

Witzel, M., Vala and Iwato – The Myth of the Hidden Sun

Han Xiaorong (1998) The Present Echoes of the Ancient Bronze Drum: Nationalism and Archeology in Modern Vietnam and China A Journal of the Southeast Asian Studies Student Association, Vol 2, No. 2 Fall 1998

Articles also by me (Aileen Kawagoe @ Heritage of Japan):

The Adoration of the Sword: Dragon-slaying sacred swords and kusa-nagi grass-cutters

Magic, superstitions, religious rituals of the Yayoi culture

A study of rain deities and rain wizards of Japan.

Treasure! Bronze bells and magical mirrors

Role of a shaman

Kukai (Wikipedia); Ximingsi temple

Nimenseki: Statue with two faces of good vs. evil

Nimenseki: Two faces of Good & Evil

Nimenseki: Two faces of Good & Evil

There is in Nara’s Asuka village, a stone called “Nimen-seki” with the two faces of good and evil carved back to back. It is one of the ancient strange stones in the now famous and much visited historic village. The stone is located at Tachibanadera in Asuka-mura, Takaichi-gun. Tachibanadera is a temple of Tendai Sect. Its formal name is “Butto-zan Jogu Oin Bodaiji Temple.” According to the temple tradition, the name “Tachibana (mandarin orange tree)” refers to the story that Emperor Suinin sent Tajima-mori to Hitachi province (present Ibaraki Prefecture) to fetch the everlasting fruit of the mandarin orange tree, and who returned with some which were planted at this place. The temple site is also famous for the other historical reason that it was where Emperor Yomei’s detached palace, Tachibana Palace, was located and where Prince Shotoku was born. The temple is one of 7 temples founded by Prince Shotoku. Source: NIPPON-KICHI

The two-faced statue may have been probably a locally commissioned (Sogdian / Kushan-looking?) variant of the well-known Roman-Janus or the Iranian-Zoroastrian Vayu versions:

Janus Bifrons at the Vatican Museum

“… Janus was originally nothing but the god of doors. That a deity of his dignity and importance, whom the Romans revered as a god of gods and the father of his people, should have started in life as a humble, though doubtless respectable, doorkeeper appears very unlikely. So lofty an end hardly consorts with so lowly a beginning. It is more probable that the door (janua) got its name from Janus than that he got his name from it. This view is strengthened by a consideration of the word janua itself. The regular word for door is the same in all the languages of the Aryan family from India to Ireland. It is dur in Sanscrit, thura in Greek, tür in German, door in English, dorus in old Irish, and foris in Latin. Yet besides this ordinary name for door, which the Latins shared with all their Aryan brethren, they had also the name janua, to which there is no corresponding term in any Indo-European speech. The word has the appearance of being an adjectival form derived from the noun Janus. I conjecture that it may have been customary to set up an image or symbol of Janus at the principal door of the house in order to place the entrance under the protection of the great god. A door thus guarded might be known as a janua foris, that is, a Januan door, and the phrase might in time be abridged into janua, the noun foris being understood but not expressed. From this to the use of janua to designate a door in general, whether guarded by an image of Janus or not, would be an easy and natural transition.   8

If there is any truth in this conjecture, it may explain very simply the origin of the double head of Janus, which has so long exercised the ingenuity of mythologists. When it had become customary to guard the entrance of houses and towns by an image of Janus, it might well be deemed necessary to make the sentinel god look both ways, before and behind, at the same time, in order that nothing should escape his vigilant eye. For if the divine watchman always faced in one direction, it is easy to imagine what mischief might have been wrought with impunity behind his back. This explanation of the double-headed Janus at Rome is confirmed by the double-headed idol which the Bush negroes in the interior of Surinam regularly set up as a guardian at the entrance of a village. The idol consists of a block of wood with a human face rudely carved on each side; it stands under a gateway composed of two uprights and a cross-bar. Beside the idol generally lies a white rag intended to keep off the devil; and sometimes there is also a stick [as is observable in the nimenseki statue] which seems to represent a bludgeon or weapon of some sort. Further, from the cross-bar hangs a small log which serves the useful purpose of knocking on the head any evil spirit who might attempt to pass through the gateway. Clearly this double-headed fetish at the gateway of the negro villages in Surinam bears a close resemblance to the double-headed images of Janus which, grasping a stick in one hand and a key in the other, stood sentinel at Roman gates and doorways; and we can hardly doubt that in both cases the heads facing two ways are to be similarly explained as expressive of the vigilance of the guardian god, who kept his eye on spiritual foes behind and before, and stood ready to bludgeon them on the spot.” 

According to Wikipedia article on Janus, he was “likely the most important god in the Roman archaic pantheon. He was often invoked together with Iuppiter(Jupiter)” and :

Janus as the god of beginnings and transitions is based on a third etymology indicated by CiceroOvid and Macrobius, which explains the name as Latin, deriving it from the verb ire (“to go”).[7]

Modern scholars have conjectured that it derives from the Indo-European root meaning transitional movement (cf. Sanskrit “yana-” or Avestan “yah-”, likewise with Latin “i-” and Greek “ei-”.).[8] Iānus would then be an action name expressing the idea of going, passing, formed on the root *yā- < *y-eð2- theme II of the root *ey- go from which eō, ειμι.[9] 

The function of ‘god of beginnings’ has been clearly expressed in numerous ancient sources, among them most notably Cicero, Ovid and Varro.[22] As a god of motion Janus looks after passages, causes actions to start and presides over all beginnings, and since movement and change are bivalent, he has a double nature, symbolised in his two headed image.[23] He has under his tutelage the stepping in and out of the door of homes,[24] the ianua, which took its name from him,[25] and not viceversa.[26] Similarly his tutelage extends to the covered passages named iani and foremost to the gates of the city, including the cultic gate of theArgiletum, named Ianus Geminus or Porta Ianualis from which he protects Rome against the Sabines.[27] He is also present at the Sororium Tigillum, where he guards the terminus of the ways into Rome from Latium.[28] He has an altar, later a temple near the Porta Carmentalis, where the road leading to Veii ended, as well as being present on the Janiculum, a gateway from Rome out to Etruria.[29]

The connection of the notions of beginning (principium), movement, transition (eundo), and thence time has been clearly expressed by Cicero.[30] In general, Janus is at the origin of time as the guardian of the gates of Heaven: Jupiter himself can move forth and back because of Janus’s working.[31] In one of his temples, probably that of Forum Holitorium, the hands of his statue were positioned to signify the number 355 (the number of days in a year), later 365, symbolically expressing his mastership over time.[32] He presides over the concrete and abstract beginnings of the world,[33] such as religion and the gods themselves,[34] he too holds the access to Heaven and to other gods: this is the reason why men must invoke him first, regardless of the god they want to pray or placate.[35] …

... in IE religions there is an introducer god (as Vedic Vâyu and Roman Janus) and a god of ending, a nurturer goddess and a genie of fire (as Vedic Saraswati and AgniAvestic ArmaitiAnâitâ and Roman Vesta) who show a sort of mutual solidarity: the concept of ‘god of ending’ is defined”.

From the Wikipedia article  “Vayu“, we note another important icon deity that has widespread influence along the Silk Road from the Greek god (Boreas?) found in Hadda, to the Kizil wind deity to the Japanese Fujin wind god:

“Vāyu-Vāta or Vāta-Vāyu (IPA: ʋɑːyu-ʋɑːt̪ə) is the Avestan language name of a dual-natured Zoroastrian divinity of the wind (Vayu) and of the atmosphere (Vata). The names are also used independently of one another, with ‘Vayu’ occurring more frequently than ‘Vata’, but even when used independently still representing the other aspect.

The entity is simultaneously angelic and demonic, that is, depending on the circumstances, either yazata - “worthy of worship” – or daeva, which in Zoroastrian tradition is a demon. Scripture frequently applies the epithet “good” when speaking of one or the other in a positive context.

In Zurvanism (Zurvanite Zoroastrianism, a now-extinct form of Zoroastrianism), Vata-Vayu represented two facets of the quaternary Zurvan. In this arrangement, Vata-Vayu represented “space” while the other two facets represent “time.”

Vayu-Vata has Indo-Iranian roots, and has the same name in historical Vedic religion.”

Gabriel J. Gomes noted the Indo-Iranian origin for the dual-good vs. evil nature in his “Discovering World Religions: A Guide for the Inquiring Reader”:
“Another important deity was Vayu, the same as the Vedic Vayu (wind), initially believed to be twins, good and bad winds—the basis for Zoroaster’s cosmic dualism of good and evil spirits.” 
The ideology of dualism, see “Dualism” by Hannah MG Shapero is most prominent from the Iranian/Iranic world from whence it spread to much of the world, influencing the semitic and Christian religions and China. Given that the idea of dual-faced good vs evil trait is more pronounced in the Vayu-Vata image than in the Janus image, it is more likely that this statue represented the Indo-Iranian sphere of influence than the remoter Roman one. This statue possibly demonstrates the early influences and reach of the Iranic/Zoroastrian (or perhaps Manichaen) thought upon ancient Japan.
Iconographical evolution of the Wind God. Left: Greek wind god from Hadda[disambiguation needed], 2nd century. Middle: wind god from Kızıl[disambiguation needed], Tarim Basin, 7th century. Right: Japanese wind god Fūjin, 17th century

Iconographical evolution of the Wind God.
Left: Greek wind god from Hadda[disambiguation needed], 2nd century.
Middle: wind god from Kızıl[disambiguation needed], Tarim Basin, 7th century.
Right: Japanese wind god Fūjin, 17th century Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This possibility thus comes to mind: This other dualistic image involves the wind deity Vasu, only the juxtaposition is made against the sun god, and it is a famous and recognisable image of the “The Sun God and The Wind Deity” found at the Kizil cave site of the ancient Kuchan (Kushan) kingdom along the Silk Road — that made its way into Japan’s iconography. The Indian or Mithraic iconography has undergone some transformation due to Buddhist ideology, see Tian Shu Zhu’s article “The Sun God and The Wind Deity“.  However, since the wind and sun deities are usually portrayed as paired deities rather than on one statue or pillar, and also since the windbag (or billowing scarf) that is usually iconic of the wind deity is not a visible part of the Asuka statue, the Asuka statue is likely to have been based on the earlier dualistic Vayu imagery than on the Kizil version.

The Adoration of the Sword: Dragon-slaying sacred swords and kusa-nagi grass-cutters

The Serpent With Eight Heads, French ed. 1897(Meiji 30) Photo: KUFS

The Serpent With Eight Heads, French ed. 1897(Meiji 30) Photo: KUFS

The sacred sword called the ‘kusanagi-no-tsurugi’ has been written about in both academic and popular literature a great deal (for eg., see The kusanagi sword by Nelly Nauman) because it is a part of the Imperial Regalia of Japanese royalty, and because as an emblem of mythical dragon-slaying heroes such as Susanoo who slew the Eight Headed Yamato-no-Orochi Serpent (see Protocol of the Gods: A Study of the Kasuga Cult in Japanese History by Allan G. Grapard, cf. p. 43) … such sacred swords with magical powers have always captured the imagination of man through the ages.
Catalogue No. 113    資料ID:513368(書誌詳細画面へ接続) Photo: KUFS

Catalogue No. 113
   資料ID:513368(書誌詳細画面へ接続) Photo: KUFS

Ritual swords have been found in Japanese archaeological sites since much earlier times, see sword dance, kaguras such as Aramai or Furious Dance which involves the Setsurugi/Tetsurugi or Hand sword: 

This dance is also called “Three-men-passing-through Dance,” and is said to ward off evils by three gods and an enchantment dance to avoid disasters. But it is unknown what the dance shows because there is no verse of the dance. First,, three dancers without masks perform furiously, and after taking off their masks, they pass through each other holding their swords and drawing a circle, which is a thrilling and interesting program.

Early ritual sword dance symbolism, with the ritual swords in China, Korea and Japan retaining star constellation, particularly the Dipper associations … these Taoist influences from Tang dynasty China probably survived and gained momentum during the Achaemenid-Sasanian-Persian eras –  (see Taiji sword dance of Wudang mountain and The Tang-Ki as Cosmic Actor by Margaret Chan, cf. p. 7):

“The tang-ki ritual sword has a double-edged blade engraved with the zig-zag pattern of the constellation and is believed to be imbued with the very spirit of the star group, so that the sword is worshipped as a deity in its own right. The zig-zag star motif is one of the twelve imperial insignias and can be seen printed on all sorts of talismans”

The Taoist associations with weather prayers and raindances seem borne out at least with the sword-waving dance offering of the Yasaka shrine during the Ine Festival, prayers for abundant crops, as well fish-catches. Similar tachifuri sword dances such as the Tabayashi-juni-kagura handed down at Tabayashi Atago Shrine are held at the ruins of Marumori Castle in Marumori Town, Miyagi Prefecture, as well as at the  Kono Jinja Shrine during the Aoi Festival (source).  The annual festival held April 24 at Kono Shrine in Miyazu City, Kyoto Prefecture is also called the Aoi Matsuri. From the Encyclopedia of Shinto, on the Aoi Festival:
Known as the sword-waving rite (tachi-furi shinji), swords three shaku long (about 90.9 centimeters) are enclosed inside poles four shaku long. Tassels of paper are attached to both ends of the poles, which are then positioned on the backs and at the hips of the performers and waved about. They also join in an accompanying festive song known as the sasa-bayashi. The livestock market held during this Aoi Festival is called the Aoi ushiichi (“Aoi cow market”).
The Budo World blog has an elaborate well-written article on the Big Dipper associations of the Taoist sword, see The Sword of Ancient Taoism and its diffusion to Japan via Korea.
But the most elaborate and ornate ones, with ostensible Iranian (Achaemenid or Sasanian) styles have been found from the Kofun tumulus era of Japan.
We seek to explore the possible origins of the word ‘kusanagi’ and also the proto-types for the sword. It is our contention today that the idea and etymology of the word kusanagi-no tsurugi’ sword (tsurugi means sword) has its roots in the Indo-Scythian spheres:
The Word “Kusa”
The word “kusa” is a word from the ancient Sanskrit language.  In ancient India the word became the name for a storied, ceremonial grass:  the sacred kusa grass.  The legend of a “sacred grass” rises out of the mists of time at the beginning of history in the ancient East.   At the root of the legendary kusa grass resides one of humanity’s great myths. Click on this link for more on Kusa “Sacred Grass.”

About The Word “Kusa”

The word “kusa” is a word from the ancient Sanskrit language.  In the fullness of time, the word came to be used in India as a name for a storied, ceremonial sacred grass:  the kusa grass.  Behind the legendary kusa grass lies one of humanity’s great myths.  The legend of a “sacred grass” rises out of the mists of time at the beginning of history in the ancient East.

Just as a human mother nourishes her offspring, humanity at the beginning of history perceived a “great vegetal mother” whose green plants made human life possible through nourishment.

Humanity’s ancient legend of a special “sacred grass” (the kusa grass), pays tribute at its root to this concept of a great vegetal mother whose botanic bounty sustains all life on earth.

The cereal grains are humanity’s most important, renewable, human food resource.  As such, they have rightly been called “culture elements” (pillars of civilization).  Because of their life-or-death importance, the cereal grasses have been from time immemorial respected as “sacred grasses” by many peoples around the world.

We thus believe from the origins of the word ‘kusa-nagi’ that the origins of Japanese royal mythology lie in the broad Hindu Kush region in the area where the Rgveda was written (RV, Pāli, Prakrit; Gypsy – Dardic (Kalasha, Shina, etc.) – Sindhi – Lahnda Panjabi – W. Pahari- Kumaoni – Nepali – Assamese – Bengali – Bihari – Maithili – Hindi - O. Marwari – Gujarati – Marathi – Sinhala) …and in the culture of the Indo-Saka Iranian Scythian tribes, a small elite tribe who likely made their way to Japan and who made significant contributions to the tumulus culture of the Kofun era.

The legendary hero Susanoo is specifically noted as having saved the ashinanuchi i.e., the Ashina clan (descendants of the Xiongu clan and royal elites of the ancient Turks). The Ashina clan is known to have formed the royal elites of the Indo-saka tribes (the Ashina are said to have come from one of the Saka languages of central Asia and means “blue”, gök in Turkic) as well as the Khazaria state. Indo-sakas are Central Asian Scythians, thought to be hybrids of Indo-Aryan Scythians (attested by Vedic sources) and Eastern Hunnish races such as the Xiongnu and Ashina. Indo-sakas and the Ashina have close and admixture relations. The name ‘Ashina’ survives as geographical locations (e.g. Ashina-gun county, Hiroshima and Ashina-Hayama) and a clan family name in Japan, see feudal lord Ashina Yoshiro of Aizu (芦名義広/蘆名義広) . ‘Kusa’ is sacred grass in Indo-European language Sanskrit and its usage is most prominently seen among the Indo-sakas to the later Kushan and Khotanese-Saka tribes.  Read more at Kusa and Kusanagi: A word about grass and the grasscutter sword for a fuller exposition of the etymology and origins of the ‘kusanagi’.  A lot more is written about The Search for Kusanagi, the Lost Imperial Sword here as well as at the Wikipedia article Tsurugi.

Ritual swords

On the matter of ritual swords, the most famous among which, is probably the seven-branched sword ‘Nanatsusaya no Tachi’ mentioned in Nihon Shoki and given by the King of Baekje (though whether in tribute vassalage is a matter of huge historical controversy), see The Art of Swords and the Seven-Branched Sword. The original sword is kept by the Isonokami Shrine (see video clip) in Nara Prefecture of Japan and is not shown to the public, but a replica is on display at the War Memorial in SeoulSouth Korea, called chiljido. According to Isonokami Shrine, “this sword was presented by the King of Paekche in the 52nd year of the regency of the Empress Jingu (372)”. The Shrine further informs the visitors that:

The god Futsu-no-mitama-no-ookami, enshrined in Isonokami Jingu Shrine, is the deification of the sword said to be owned by the god Takemikazuchi-no-kami. Futsu-no-mitama-no-ookami has been known from ancient times as the god who protects the state and keeps peace among the people, as well as being the patron god of the accomplishment of all things.

In Japanese mythology it is said that this god (the sword god) contributed to the subjugation of the country, and also defeated false gods and rebels on the eastern campaign of Emperor Jimmu (the mythological first emperor, said to have been enthroned in the 7th century B.C.) . Thereafter, Emperor Jimmu commanded Umashimaji-no-mikoto, the ancestor of the Mononobe clan said to be the head of the warriors, to enshrine this sword eternally within the imperial court. Later, during the reign of Emperor Suijin (around the 1st century B.C.) the sword was transferred from the court to Takaniwa of Isonokami-furu, the present site, and this was said to be the origination of Isonokami Jingu Shrine.

Since then the emperors worshipped this shrine, donated many weapons in preparation for any emergeney in the state and prayed for harmony in especially during times of war. The shrine also received the worship of famous generals and warriors. Many clans offered sacred treasures to the storehouse called Hokura and prayed for the safety of the imperial family and for the peace of the state

Analysis shows that the sword’s origins lie in Jin Dynasty China in 369, although Korea claims the sword was originally made in Paekche (or Baekje), the Korean kingdom.

Seven blades of the sword likely correspond to the astral symbolism of seven stars (or seven rishis) of the Big Dipper in Taoism, that may have been adopted from other Central Asian religions of the time. From The Art of Swords:

“The link between belief in seishin (the stars and constellations) and the sword dates back a very long time. For instance, in the text “Kokon Token-roku” (a record of ancient and modern swords), during the Xia Dynasty (approx. 2100 –1600 BCE), there is a description of a person named Kei (said to be the child of the Yu, creator of Xia Dynasty) who scribed the shape of the stars into the swords that he cast. Just as Yu, Kei also had legends told about him, and although the historical credibility of this text is weak, it is perceivable that the connection between faith in astrology and swords is very old.

Furthermore, in the text used towards the end of the Spring and Autumn era (approx. 770–403 BCE) to deal with various matters, the “Go Etsu Shunjū”, it is said that the great commander Goshisho of the state of Go had seven stars (possibly the Great Dipper) engraved on his sword.

This association between astrological beliefs and the sword are rich within Taoist concepts, particularly in the developments resulting from its links to the magic arts and warding off evil spirits. In ancient China also, the sword was revered in accordance with the stars. However, it is also interesting that although the stars did not descend from heaven, they were still carved directly onto the sword.

Other possible interpretations of the symbolism of seven stars or branch-levels or blades may be found in the Essene Tree of Life (which “represented …seven of them heavenly or cosmic forces and seven earthly or terrestrial forces. The Tree was pictured as having … seven branches extending up toward the heavens, thus symbolizing man’s relationship to both earth and heaven”; seven levels of the Shamanic Seven-branched Tree and the latter explains the cosmic symbolism of Seven as follows:

“We see these stars within being the same as the stars of the Seven Sisters or the Pleiades group of stars. We know that those stars in the sky are the same stars that are within us… Over one or more lifetimes a person might climb this tree of life, spiritually developing as he goes ever higher… Upon the seventh branch resides Eagle with his head extending into the realm of the eighth. Because the realm of the eighth resides beyond us, it is not for all people to be able to make the journey there. The “Keeper of the Starry Heavens” resides within the realm of the eighth, preventing those who attempt to enter his realm from doing so. It is said that only those who have undergone shamanic initiation of intentful death and return and blessings that may then journey to the ninth level of awareness. … The use of the number seven is an integral part of the Essene tradition which has been transmitted to Western cultures in various outer ways, such as the seven days of the week. Each root and branch of the tree represented a different force or power. The roots represented earthly forces and powers, the Earthly Mother, the Angel of Earth, the Angel of Life, the Angel of joy, the Angel of the Sun, the Angel of Water and the Angel of Air. The seven branches represented cosmic powers, The Heavenly Father, and his Angels of Eternal Life, Creative Work, Peace, Power, Love and Wisdom. These were the Essene angels of the visible and invisible worlds. In ancient Hebrew and Medieval literature these heavenly and earthly forces or angels were given names, Michael, Gabriel and so on. Man, in the center of the Tree, was seen to be surrounded as in a magnetic field, by all the forces, or angels, of heaven and earth. He was pictured as in the meditation posture, the upper half of his body above the ground and the lower half in the earth. This indicated that part of man is allied to the forces of heaven and part to the forces of earth. This concept closely parallels that of Zoroaster who represented the universe as a framework of realms with man in its center and the various forces above and below him. It also corresponds to the Toltec ritual performed on the steps of their pyramids with man in the midst of all the forces“).

Other sources and writings on sacred swords to explore:

The Search for Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi and the Lost Imperial Sword 

Naga and Nagi (see Sanskrit and Pali forms of Naga). A Nagi is female snake in India and in Southeast Asia. Naga serpents also have totemic and symbolic significance as well as among the Khmer-Cambodians who are also known as the Naga peoples:

The Khmer dragon, or neak is derived from the Indian nāga. Like its Indian counterpart, the neak is often depicted with cobra like characteristics such as a hood. The number of heads can be as high as nine, the higher the number the higher the rank. Odd-headed dragons are symbolic of male energy while even headed dragons symbolize female energy. Traditionally, a neak is distinguished from the often serpentine Makar and Tao, the former possessing crocodilian traits and the latter possessing feline traits. A dragon princess is the heroine of the creation myth of Cambodia. See the entwined neak at the base of a temple at the Angkor Neak Pean temple.

Naga peoples have been described as the Scythic race — see Naga From “Cyclopedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia” by Edward Balfour (1885), we are told that The Naga Serpent race of Scythia:

NAGA, a Scythic race who appear to have occupied part of India prior to the appearance of the Aryans. In the mythology of India they are described as true snakes. In the Persepolitan inscription, Xerxes calls himself Nagua or Nuka, the Greek Auax, and some writers have surmised that this may be the true meaning of the Naga dynasties of Kashmir and Magadha. A Naga race ‘seem to have ruled in Magadha until dispossessed by the Aryan Pandava. Whether they came from the N.E., whilst the Aryan race advanced from the N.W., is not known. But the races seem to have come in contact in the lands where the Jumna joins the Ganges, at a time when the Aryans were divided as to the object of their worship between Indra, Siva, and Vishnu. Oue of the opening scenes of the Mahabharata de scribes the destruction of the forest of Khanduva, and a great sacrifice of serpents ; and though the application of the term Nag or Naga has come to be taken literally, there can be no doubt that the descriptions in the Mahabharata, and as to Krishna’s exploits against snakes, relate to the opposing Naga race. In India the term Nag or Naga is applied to the cobra serpent, and the race who were so designated are believed to have paid their devotions to that reptile, or took it as their emblem. They are mentioned in the Mahabharata (n.c. 1200) as causing the death of Parikshit, which led to their great slaughter by Janemajaya. But a Naga dynasty’ ynasty was still dominant n.c. 691, like wise when (s.c. 623) Sakya, a prince of the Solar race, was born, and it was this race who placed Buddhism on a secure basis in India, and led to its adoption by Asoka as the state religion.

A Naga dynasty ruled over Magadha at the date of Alexander’s invasion; and the reigning prince bore the name of Nanda. His minister Chandragupta, the Sandracottus of the Greeks, assassinated the Naga prince, and seized upon the throne for himself ; and a Naga dynasty, tributary to the Gupta, were ruling to the south of the Jumna during the first three centuries of the Christian era. A Naga race are said also to have ‘occupied Ceylon, on the northern and western coasts, before the Christian era: Colonel Tod shows, in the annals of Marwar, that the Rahtor race conquered Nagore, or Naga drug (the Serpent’s Castle), from the Mohil, who held 1440 villages so late as the fifteenth century.

So many of the colonies of Agnicula bestowed the name of serpent on their settlements, that he was convinced all were of the Tak, Takshak, or Nagvansa race from Sakadwipa, who, six centuries anterior to Vikramaditya, under their leader Sehesnaga, conquered India, and whose era must, he thinks, be the limit of Agnicula antiquity.

The Nagbansi chieftains of Ramgarh Sirguja have the lunettes of their serpent ancestor en graved on their signets in token of their lineage. The Manipur rulers were also Scythic, and most of the Manipur people continued to worship snakes till the beginning of the 19th century, as indeed is still the custom amongst all Aryan and non Aryan tribes throughout the Peninsula of India.

Naga and Takshak* are Sanskrit names for a snake or serpent, the emblem of Buddha or Mercury. The races who dwelt in India prior to the advent of the Aryans are alluded to in ancient books as Naga, Rakshasa, Dasya, Asura. The whole of the Scythian race’ are mythically descended from a being half snake and half-woman, who bore three sons to Hetacles [a typo variant of Heracles] (Herod. iv. 9, 10), the meaning of which probably is that the ancestral pair were of two races, and the offspring took the snake as their emblem, similarly to the Numri or Lumri Baluch of the present day, who are foxes, and the Cuch’hwaha Rajputs, who are tortoises. The snake race seem to have spread into North America. Abbe Domenech mentions an Indian race there who traced their origin from the snakes of Scythia. The serpents who invaded the kingdom of the Lydians just before the down fall of Creesus, were probably the Scythian Naga (Herod.) race.

The Naga race were so numerous in Ceylon that it was called Nagadwipo, as Rhodes and Cyprus received the designation of Ophiusa, from their being the residence of the Ophites, who introduced snake-worship into Greece. According to Byrant, Eubeea is from Oubaia, and means serpent island. Strabo calls the people of Phrygia and the Hellespont the Ophio or serpent races.—Tod’s Rajasthan.

[*Note: The two Persian clans entombed at Persepolis were called Taḵt-e Jamšīd, and Naqš-e Rostam (cf. Strabo 15.3.3: “There the Persians had their tombs, on ancestral sites” ... i.e. possible cognates for the Sanskrit Naga and Takshak*)

Ophiuchus, the snake holder, is the adjoining constellation that holds this serpent, and his name means serpent-holder (ophis, serpent + okhos, holder). The Greeks knew Serpens as Ophis which comes from the Indo-European root *angwhi-, 'Snake, eel'. Derivatives: ophidianophioliteophite (a green rock), ophicleide ('serpent-keys', a musical instrument of the bugle family), ophiologyOphiuchus (the adjoining constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent-Holder), ophiuroid, (these words from Greek ophis, snake, serpent). 2. Taboo deformation or separate root *eghi-; echino-,echinus, from Greek ekhinos, hedgehog (< 'snake-eater'), echidna (from Gk. ekhidna 'snake, viper,' from ekhis'snake'). [Pokorny angw(h)i- 43. Watkins] The term ophiasis means a winding bald patch on the head, or a form of leprosy in which the patient sheds his skin like a snake. — Source: Serpens (

There might be a connection between the two words sophia and ophis:

The image of the serpent as the embodiment of the wisdom transmitted by Sophia (from sophos, meaning ‘wisdom’) was an emblem used by gnosticism, especially those sects that the more orthodox characterized as ‘Ophites‘ (‘Serpent People’)” — Wikipedia article Serpent symbolism

 “.. sophos, the Greek for wisdom, and Sophia, the Virgin of Light, may be traced to is ophis, the ‘light of ophis,’ the Serpent” [The Lost Language of Symbolism, Harold Bayley, p.219.]

“…the Greeks call the Marsians ‘Oscians,’ as if it were ophskoi, because they had many serpents, and ophis means ‘serpent.’ They are also said to be invulnerable to the sorcery of spells. Like the Umbrians they inhabit the region of the Apennine mountains”

– Source: The Etymologies of Isidore Seville

Naga-serpent symbolism is also significant amongst the Druids Naddreds as well as among the Hebrews and Christians and Gnostics of the Middle and Near East, see the Hebrew and Biblical forms of serpent – ‘m’opheph

The Biblical Texts Reviewed

“The burden of the beasts of the south: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent,” (Isaiah 30:6).

In this verse the Bible mentions an intriguing creature, the fiery flying serpent.  The Hebrew words are m’opheph [translated flying] and saraph [translated fiery snake].   It is here distinguished from the viper.  Moreover, Isaiah 14:29 states: “Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.” Here the same animal is listed as distinct from all serpents in general.  What exactly is this ancient flying creature referenced by the prophet Isaiah?

The scriptural word “flying” in the original Hebrew is of interest. About it, Goertzen writes:

That Hebrew word, m’opheph Jpvfm, is a polal participle; a form used only by Isaiah when describing the reptilian saraph (14:29 and 30:6). 

The Greek word used by Josephus for “snake” is the same one employed by Christ in John 3 (and also by Paul in I Corinthians 10:9) to describe the attacking serpents in the wilderness (ophis, or ophesi in its masculine, dative, plural form). It is also the same as the Septuagint version of the wilderness account.

– Source: The fiery flying serpent

Considering possible origins for the Japanese word ‘orochi’ dragon-serpent:

  1. URULÓKI: This is the name of a sub-species of wingless fire-breathing dragon, also known as the fire-drake. They appear in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and were probably sired by Glaurung. A single Urulóki is called an Urulokë.

  2. OPHIUCHUS (Ὀφιοῦχος): Greek name meaning “serpent bearer.” This is the name of one of the constellations listed by Ptolemy, depicted as a man supporting a serpent. The man depicted in the constellation is thought by some to actually be the demigod Asclepius.

  3. ORMARR: Old Norse name composed of the elements orm “serpent” and herr“army,” hence “serpent army.”

  4. ORMR: Old Norse byname derived from the word ormr, meaning “dragon, serpent, snake.”

  5. OROCHI (大蛇): Japanese name meaning “big snake.” In mythology, this is the name of an eight-forked serpent who demanded virgin sacrifices. He was killed by the god-hero Susanoo.

Source: Dragon names


‘Uruti’ in the Tamil language, a word that approximates the closest to the Japanese form ‘orochi’ means ‘promise’ (source: Language in India), indicating a possible origin of the word in ancient Dravidian or Vedic Indo-Aryan times, or a source close to the prototype of the Greek etymology?   ‘Orochi’ seems to be a blend of European Norse and Indian forms ‘Uruti’ and ‘Uruloki’ and ‘Orphiuchius’.


Considering next, Sword typologies and the Scythian practice of the Adoration of the Sword

Having posited the Indo-Saka-Ashina provenance and possible Indo-European/Sanskrit etymology of the words, ‘kusa-nagi’ and Uruti-Uruloki-Orphiuchius-Orochi origins, we look next at the typology of sacred swords and the symbolism sacred swords to their owners. The most famous swords of the Scythians were the akinakes swords which were regarded as the sacred swords of the day…coveted as Greek booty and offered in the Acropolis, this was likely to have been the prototype of the sword retrieved from the Orochi tail by Susanoo. Thus, as we look to the Iranians as sources and forgers of the akinakes, we look also to them for the symbolism of the akinakes as explicated by Michael Shenkar as follows:

“The most famous manifestation of “material aniconism” among the Iranians is the worship of a warrior-god in the form of a sword thrust into the ground. Herodotus, writing about Scythian rituals, tells us that:”…their sacrifices to Ares are of this sort. Every district in each of the governments has a structure sacred to Ares; namely, a pile of bundles of sticks … On this sacred pile an ancient akinakes (short sword) of iron is set for each people: their image of Ares. They bring yearly sacrifice of goats and horses to this akinakes, offering to these symbols even more than they do to other gods.”

Adoration of the sword among Scythians is also mentioned by other Classical authors. Speaking about the Alans who were the successors of the Scythians and the Sarmatians in the Pontic steppes, … according to a Barbarian custom, a naked sword is fixed in the ground and they respectfully worship it as god of war and protector of the regions through which they travel.” … 

An akinakes dated to the fifth century B.C.E. found thrust into the artificial fill between two kurgans at Nosaki in modern-day Ukraine has been interpreted as the sanctuary and the idol of Ares described by Herodotus. Finds of weapons (spears, axes, daggers, and swords) thrust into the ground and walls are also attested in a number of Scythian burial sites. …” p. 249, Shenkar, M., “Aniconism in the Religious Art of Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia Bulletin of the Asia Institute, 2008, Central_Asia_Bulletin of the Asia Institute, Vol. 22

"Amano Sakahoko" and the "Saka" trident staked atop of a rock cairn on top of Mt. Takachiho-no Mine, Miyazaki prefecture

“Amano Sakahoko”
– the “Saka” trident staked atop of a rock cairn on top of Mt. Takachiho-no Mine, Miyazaki prefecture — where the Heavenly Descendent Ninigi no Mikoto is believed to have descended from the Heavenly Takamagahara Field. Photo source: Yokoso! Japan

The Japanese practice of sword adoration or sword worship and the worship of some god of war, akin to Ares (though they are equated with deities of various names in Japan) is clearest from the Isonokami Shrine, which has functioned as a warehouse of conquering swords, although they were also vested with ritual and magical powers by Taoist priests for the control of rain and weather, and their adoration was believed to produce bountiful blessings of both land and sea.

A description of the akinakes is found at the Akinakes Blog:

The acinaces is typically 35–45 cm. (14-18 in.) in length and double-edged, and although there is no universal design, the guard may be lobed with the hilt resembling that of a bollock dagger, or the pommel may be split or of the “antenna” type. Interestingly, the scabbard as much as anything else defines the acinaces and usually has a large decorative mount near the opening allowing it to be suspended from a belt on the wearer’s right side.

Since the acinaces seems to have been a thrusting weapon, and since it was typically worn on the right, it was likely intended to be suddenly drawn with the blade facing down for surprise stabbing attacks.

For more info see Wikipedia article: Akinaka and the Weapon blade list

In order to compare the different types of ancient Japanese and Central Asian swords with Greek and Persian akinakes finds, we look at:

  • Akinakes of Athens and Persia, E. Europe and northern Caucasus:  There were many Dnieper and northern Caucasus finds of daggers and akinakes. Akinakes were standard military equipment of Xerxes, Persians, booty of Greeks, and royal gift of Darius. Akinakes could have their scabbards and hilts ornately decorated with gold. eg the Persepolis South Treasury Relief’s “the King’s Weapon-Bearer”. And the akinakes was a standard gift (according to Herodotus)  - a gold akinakes was given to Hellespont by Xerxes along with a gold phiale and bowl. Large numbers were dedicated on the Akropolis according to inventories, most noted around the date 385/4, such as this description: “an iron akinakes with a gold handle, a sheath of gilded ivory and gold pommel”. They were mostly finished with costly materials, despite their functionality.  Source: Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity, Margaret C. Mille
  • Ukrainian Scythian akinakes – The original of the reproduction featured here one dates to the 6th century B.C., and was excavated from a kurhan near the village of Kam’ianka, Cherkas’ka Oblast, Ukraine. It’s 36cm in length, and weighs 500gs
  • Scythian iron short sword akinakes
    • Central Bessarabia: A possible proto-type of the akinakes, may be found in the pre-Scythian dagger of Central Bessarabia (the Sabaens?), see Some Finds of Weaponry of Early Nomads from Orhei District (Republic of Moldova) by . This paper publishes two finds of Early nomadic weaponry in Central Bessarabia — iron pre-Scythian dagger from Braneshti and Scythian akinakes of Kelermes type from Vatich. The analysis of technical features and distribution of types is given. The chronological conclusion is: the dagger is from 8th BC and the Scythian akinakes could be dated by 650—500 BC. More Info at: Co-authored with I. Bruyako. Published in ‘Stratum plus’, 2012, Nr.3. Source: Publication Name: Находки клинкового оружия ранних кочевников из Оргеевского района (Республика Молдова)
  • In Japan, some famous swords are:

- The Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi is currently housed at the Atsuta Shrine in Aichi (click here to see a photo of the sword)

- The Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi (the lost and recovered) currently housed and worshipped as a deity of the Kashima Shrine, regarded as owned by the fire deity Takemikazuchi, he was originally venerated as the kami of war, tōken (swords), and thunder

- Sugari no Ontachi another sword that represents the regalia of Japan. Empress Jitō was handed the sword as part of the regalia. According to legend, the blade was created after Susanoo slew the serpent that ate maidens. Housed at the Ise Shrine, Mie Prefecture and only taken out for ceremonial purposes when a new emperor ascends to the throne.


Sugari-no-Ontachi  Photo: Legendary Sword

Yohoken and Inhoken, two sacred swords (ca. 760A.D.) found under the Great Buddha of Todaiji Temple (now at the Shosoin Repository) see photo below. (Note: Todaiji has 100 sacred swords on its weapons list)

Seven-Branched Sword, which Wa Japan received from Paekche (or Baekje). Already touched upon above.

Seven-branched sword

Seven-branched sword Photo: Legendary Sword

Famous swords from Japanese temples and shrines, an exhibition of the Kyoto National Museum From the museum webpage: “The act of offering swords to the gods and buddhas as prayers has been a custom in Japan since ancient times. This practice derives from ideas that swords possess a spirit, symbolize esoteric Buddhist deities such as Fudo Myoo (Skt., Acala), or represent sacred ancient offerings to the gods who use them as divine tools. This tradition of sword offering continues even today in Japan, where temples and shrines own a considerable number of swords. 

Brocaded and Jeweled Scabbard Edo Period Yasaka Shrin3

Brocaded and Jeweled Scabbard
Edo Period
Yasaka Shrine

This exhibition introduces several historically renowned swords originally belonging to famous temples and shrines. Among these, the oldest known example is an early Heian (794-1185) sword with black-lacquered scabbard (Important Cultural Property, Kurama-dera Temple) that is said to have belonged to the warrior Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758-811). Other famed swords include a Kamakura-period (1185-1333) tachi (slung sword) that has been historically associated with the Genji clan (Important Cultural Property, Daikaku-ji Temple), a katana (sword) that has belonged alternately over the generations to the Ashikaga shoguns and the powerful Otomo clan in Bungo Province (Important Cultural Property, Toyokuni Shrine), and another katanathat the warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-82) purportedly took from the warrior Imagawa Yoshimoto (1519-60) in the Battle of Okehazama (Important Cultural Property, Kenkun Shrine). Other objects include a tachi with a black lacquered scabbard named Sasamaru that is said to have been offered by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98) (Important Cultural Property, Atago Shrine), a golden tachi from Tonomine Shrine in Nara Prefecture (Important Cultural Property), as well as a tachi and jeweled dagger offered by the Tokugawa government to the Three Pillar Deities of Gion-sha, also known as Yasaka Shrine (the former is designated an Important Cultural Property, Yasaka Shrine). Also on exhibit will be swords that originally belonged to shrines, such as Nyakuoji Shrine in Kyoto, Kasuga Shrine in Nara, and Sanage Shrine in Aichi Prefecture, that are now in private collections. Explore the deep connections that swords have had with temples and shrines through this New Year exhibition.”

Sword repaired Long Spear Toyokuni Shrine

Sword repaired Long Spear
Toyokuni Shrine

- Other famous swords such as Honjo Masamune (see photo of the sword here) and the sword of Nitta Yoshisada are not covered here.

- Swords recovered from the early Tumulus Age (Kofun Period) in Japan are:

  • the 2nd c. (and the oldest inscribed sword of Japan) Tōdaijiyama Sword discovered in Nara, forged in China;
  • the 5th c. Eta-Funayama sword, found locally in Kumamoto;
  • the Inariyama Sword dated to 471 (or 531 according to others) made from copper originating in Jiangnan, China, but forged in Japan;
  • 5th c. Inaridai Sword discovered in Chiba prefecture, forged in Kinai
Other Kofun period swords (view of hilts) from Metropolitan Museum Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Other Kofun period swords (view of hilts) from Metropolitan Museum Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Finally, a roundup of some of the world’s oldest bronze swords:

1. Gojoseon’s Liaoning or Bipa bronze sword ca. 194 B.C.
2. Ordos’s Inner Mongolian bronze sword ca. 6th-2nd century BC
3. Zhou dynasty bronze sword (West Zhou & East Zhou) c. 1046–256 B.C. see photos here[Chinese bronzes do not go further back than 1,300 B.C. and are said to have influences from northern regions in Siberia]
4. Akinakes’s Persian Bronze sword (mainly in the first millennium B.C.)
5. Scythian Ana’nino & Karasuk Bronze sword (ca. 8th-3rd c. B.C. and ca. 1500–800 B.C. respectively) The latter bronze knives are similar to those from northeastern China.

The listed swords are indicative of the three major bronze civilizations existed in East Asia. An important map for comparing the Ordos-Xiongnu, Korean bipa and Zhou dynasty bronze swords is this useful map.

Three major sword-smithing and bronze centers of the Bronze Age

Three major bronze centers of  East Asia

Further reading:

History and characteristics of Korean Swords  by Parl Je Gwang

A Study of Chinese Weapons Cast During Pre-Qin and Han Periods in the Central Plains of China by Cao Hangang

Ordos Daggers and Knives. New Material, Classification and Chronology. First part: Daggers by Max Loehr, Artibus Asiae Vol. 12, No. 1/2 (1949), pp. 23-83

Ordos Daggers by S.C. Tang.

Ancient Bronzes of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes by Emma C. Bunker

Arms of Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in the 1st Millenium B.C. 

Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in the Early Iron Age by Jeannine Davis-Kimball et al.

Kusa and Kusanagi: A word about grass and the “Grass-cutter” sword

Offering of Kusa Grass by Sotthiya the Grasscutter to Siddhartha (Buddha Sakyamuni)

Depicted above in the Indian votive stupa carved in relief: Offering of Kusa Grass by Sotthiya the Grasscutter to Siddhartha (Buddha Sakyamuni), Kusana period ca. second century CE, 101 CE – 200 CE (Collection of Central Archaeological Museum, Lahore, Pakistan. Photo: The Huntington Archive

Skt: कुश (kusha) – and kusa grass – OnlineSktDict
Pali: kusa  m.  a blade of grass, sacrificial grass, good — Source: Kusha grass

Kus, kush, kusha grass — Brahmin

Not much is written about the etymology and origin of the word “kusa” (the word means “grass” in Japanese), although tomes have been written about the sacred “sword of life”, the “Kusanagi that is part of the imperial regalia of Japan and a component of the conquering tale of “Grasscutter” sword of Yamato Takeru (see The Search for Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the Lost Imperial Sword of Japan - the tale is too familiar and well-known that we will leave its details out of the  discussion, focusing only on the etymology of the common word ‘kusa‘ in the Indian and Japanese languages. A lot of scholarship and speculation, however, surrounds the word “kusanagi” and its roots, which have been attributed to Altaic or Tungusic origins:

Proto-Altaic or Tungus words for serpent: “A link between ‘serpent’ and the sword-name OJ kusanagi is not difficult to postulate, even though one essential link in the etymology remains missing. New Korean kulöng’i ‘a serpent, a large snake’ (Martin et al. 199 a) …The Proto-Tungus form, reflected also closely in the Korean, would be *kulin- ; to this the Korean has added its reflex of the Tungus animal-name suffix * -ki(Miller 1989: 147 sqq.), for a proto-form as *kulinki. To associate this with OJ kusanagi we must postulate that the *-/- in these Tungus and Middle, resp. New Korean forms goes back to earlier Proto-Altaic *- /2 – in a proto-form *kul2 in-, this would regularly have yielded an Old Korean *kusinki which was then borrowed into Old Japanese to appear …” – Professor A. Miller (and noted by N. Nauman)

We would like to suggest, notwithstanding the above interpretations, that a clear and direct Central Asian provenance for the Japanese word ‘kusa’ (and hence, ‘kusa-nagi’ may be found in the ‘kusa’ and ‘kusha‘ grass forms found in the Rigvedic Sanskrit, Proto-Indo-European (PIE) languages, both ancient and current, from the regions of North-west India, as well as all over the Hindu Kush valley area from whence the kusa grass traditions are rampant and its Vedic/PIE word usages recorded (these was also the approximate regions that were formerly populated by the Indo-Sakka (later known Kushan and Khotanese-Sakka peoples).

The origin of the word ‘Kusa”

“The word “kusa” is a word from the ancient Sanskrit language.  In the fullness of time, the word came to be used in India as a name for a storied, ceremonial sacred grass:  the kusa grass.  Behind the legendary kusa grass lies one of humanity’s great myths.  The legend of a “sacred grass” rises out of the mists of time at the beginning of history in the ancient East.

Just as a human mother nourishes her offspring, humanity at the beginning of history perceived a “great vegetal mother” whose green plants made human life possible through nourishment.

Humanity’s ancient legend of a special “sacred grass” (the kusa grass), pays tribute at its root to this concept of a great vegetal mother whose botanic bounty sustains all life on earth.”

– The kusa seed society (Jaipur Rajasthan) 

Kusa’ and its ‘kusha‘, the close cognate form, are still in use today in many parts of India — the Desmotachya bipinnata (Salt-reed grass) is an Old World perennial grass, with long usage in human history medically and ritually. A meditational mat called the kusha ashan mat still being manufactured in India and musti kusa grass is sold out of Jaipur, Rajasthan, where the use of ‘kusa’ grass is universally known. The Kachchwaha people of Jaipur, Rajasthan, belonging to the Kshatriya-warrior caste of Hindus, trace their origins back to the sun, via Kusa#, who is the twin son of the god Rama (see “History of Jaipur” ).

‘Kusha’ grass has continuing ritual significance for the Vedic, Hindu and Buddhist religions.

In many sacrifices, branches or leaves of sacred plants, such as the kuśa plant (a sacred grass used as fodder) of the Vedic sacrifice and the Brahmanic pūjā (ritual), are used in rituals such as the Zoroastrian sprinkling (bareshnum), or Great Purification, rite, in which the notion of fertility and prosperity is combined with their sacred characters — Boyer’s “Ceremonial Object“).

The plant (also known as DaabhDarbha, Darbhai) was mentioned in the Rig Veda for use in sacred ceremonies and also as a seat for priests and the god. From the Bhaktivedanta VedaBaseSrimad Bhagavatam (Chapter 8: “Markandeya’s Prayers to Nara-Narayana Rishi”):

SB 12.8.7-11: “After being purified by his father’s performance of the prescribed rituals leading to Markandeya‘s brahminical initiation, Markandeya studied the Vedic hymns and strictly observed the regulative principles. He became advanced in austerity and Vedic knowledge and remained a lifelong celibate. Appearing most peaceful with his matted hair and his clothing made of bark, he furthered his spiritual progress by carrying the mendicant’s waterpot, staff, sacred thread, brahmacari belt, black deerskin, lotus-seed prayer beads and bundles of kusa grass.”

Also recorded is the Srivaishnavam (or Brahmin) traditional “practices widely used by Indian Brahmins all over using a Holy Grass named Dharbham or Dharbai. The botanical name is Eragrostis cynosuroides and Hindi they call as Kus or Kusha” (See “Dharbam the Holy Grass” by TRS Iyengar).

And in the Hindu books:

Puranas and Upnishads describe that this grass came into existence after Samudra Manthan, the churning of cosmic ocean. When demigods and demons got ready to churn the cosmic ocean of milk, there was no one to support the base of Madhara mountain. Lord Vishu took the form of Tortoise [Kurma Avatar] and gave the needed support. During the churning, the hairs of the tortoise came out and washed away to the shore. These hairs turned to Kusha grass. – Punitra Yatra: The sacred grass called dharbai or kusha grass

Most significantly, a clear connection can be seen between ‘kusha’ grass with its sword-like quality, and the killing of serpents:

“The sanctity of dharba, also known as kusha (or, kusa) grass, is as old as the Indian gods.  Puranas tell how Vishnu assumed the form of the Cosmic Tortoise (Skt. kurma) whose shell served to support Mandara, the mountain that served as a dasher in the Churning of the Sea of Milk. As the mountain rotated, several hairs were rubbed from the tortoise’s back.  With time, they washed ashore and became Kusha. …

Another myth explains that when the pot of Amrita was set on the sacred grass, the children of  Kadru (Garuda‘s stepmother) were determined to get some of the elixir. Ever-watchful Garuda, to prevent their attaining immortality, quickly snatched it away. The snakes ended up licking the the leaves in hopes that some drops had fallen there, but they were so sharp that the poor serpents’ tongues were sliced in two.

Later, when the amrita [nectar of immortality] was obtained as a result of the churning and distributed among the gods, some drops fell on the grass which further sanctified it imbuing it with healing properties.  Therefore, in the traditional hair-cutting of Vaishnava toddlers, the hair is touched with kusha before it is cut. 

It was used as a ritual seat as far back as the Vedas, and the Bhagavad Gita (ch. 6) stipulates that, covered with a skin and a cloth, it is the appropriate seat for meditation.  Therefore, it was one of the first offerings made to the Buddha.

Kusha, whose name signifies sharp in the sense of acute, is the root for the Sanskrit word for “expert,” kosala.  That is because the edges of the long leaves that grow in pairs along the tall stems are very sharp, so like the sword it is a symbol for discernment or “discriminating wisdom.”

It grows beside brackish (salty) water such as is found at the mouths of rivers and is a kind of tussock grass; that is, it grows in clumps” — Kusha Grass, (Khandro. Net)

The allegorical uses of ‘kusa’ in the Indian legends approximate that of the Japanese Kusanagi Legend, thus suggesting to us, that the choice of the naming of the sword as kusanagi’ was not incidental, but was instead, a careful borrowed reference to its sacred and allegorical serpent-slaying qualities.

The kusa grass and serpent-slaying associations may also have arrived in Japan via Korea’s Indian connections with Ayodhya, from which the legend of the Kusha king (who was the twin of Luv, and one of the two sons of Rama# see the next paragraph) came. The city had ancient connections with the Gaya kingdom of ancient Korea due to an alliance with the Ayodha-Indian princess who was sent to the Gayan kingdom to marry King Suro in 48 AD (see Kim clan and the Princess Heo Hwang-ok). The Kusha king is also said to have subdued in battle the Naga king, Kumuda, which has an affinity to the allegorical idea of the Kusanagi, subduing the serpent (see King Kusha)…for Naga king means Serpent king. Hence, the Indian legend could have been the origin or indicate a close and common source for the wordKusa-nagi’ (‘nagi is known to be a female snake ‘naga‘ deity, or alternatively in the Japanese context, a ‘cutting’ or ‘mowing’ sword)… in which case, ‘nagi‘ here could be a cognate of the Iranian aki-nakes sword.In another myth cycle involving ‘kusa’ grass, Kusha is said to have taken over the Kosala Kingdom (ruling from Ayodhya) from his father, Rama, and is also believed to have founded a city called Kushapur (today called Kasur). Also called “Kush,” he was believed to be the ruler of a kingdom centered at Kasur in ancient times. According to the legend of Kusha, the sage Valmiki created another copy of Luv using his divine powers when he thought that wild animals had taken away Luv while he was away for prayers, so Kush or Kusha was so named because he was created out of divine kusha grass, see “The story of Kusha grass and the birth of Kush – The son of Sri Ram and Sita“.  The Raghuvamsha of Kalidasa also mentions the names of some of the kings of the Ikshuvaku dynasty. (Source: Ikshvaku dynasty‘s - Kusha and Kushapur vs. Luv-and-Luvpur). The Genealogy of the Ikshuvuku dynasty includes the following:

Atithi, the son of Kusha
Nishadha, the son of Atithi
Nala, the son of Nishadha
Nabhas, the son of Nala and so on……..

Luv (Lav; Loh) or Lava was said to have created a kingdom elsewhere purportedly Lahore (in the Ramayana: we find that, Lava and Kusha were the sons of Rama). It is believed he did so to the Northwest (present Punjab). He founded the city of Luvpur (or Loh-Awar [Loh's Fort]; today known as Lahore). The Mewar Lineage descends from Luv.

From Central Asia to East Asia:

The usage of the sacred reed grass ‘kusa’ as meditation mats for ascetics, together with other ritual ‘kusa‘ ritual practices, likely spread eastwards to Tibet and China, probably along with the growth of Buddhism, and from there to Japan via either Tibet or China (see the 17th c. Silk Painting below “Buddha Enthroned on a Mat of Kusa Grass“, Photo: Smithsonian Institution):

The Indo-Sakka or perhaps Kushan monks or hybrid Sakka-Chinese migrating peoples could conceivably have brought their customary practices to Japan. A kind of herbgrass-cake called ‘kusa-mochi‘ is popularly made and eaten in Japan, and the origin of ‘kusamochi‘ is said to have come from China:

the custom of eating KUSAMOCHI first began back in ancient China, where bitter grasses were believed to be effective in expelling from the body impurities and evil spirits. This notion was imported to Japan in the Heian Period (794-1192) though a different type of herb was used as the most common ingredient (母子草 hahakogusa or gogyou).” – Bitter herb an important component of traditional spring sweet kusa-mochi


* The text also informs us that “Darbha or Kusha grass is a special type of grass which is used in Hindu rituals for purificatory process. This grass is wore as the ring in the ring finger of the person who is performing the rituals.” “All kind of evil forces like, ghosts, spirits, demons, etc. keep away from the place where it is used. This is considered to be the holiest of all the thirthas here, and is believed to be the spot where Gowtama Rishi finally secured Ganga on earth by spreading the Kusha or the Durva grass around her. Kusha grass is considered purifying, and rings woven of it are sometimes worn in worship to keep the hands ritually pure.”  This suggests a Central Asian source for the practice of the chinowa harae purification ritual where Shinto devotees go through the purification ritual of walking through grass rings (see “Chinowa“, Encyclopedia of Shinto).

Chinowa harae ritual at Katori Jingu, Katori City, Ibaragi

Chinowa harae ritual at Katori Jingu, Katori City, Ibaragi

Incidentally, a Kusa swamp exists in Kenya Africa, from which the grass for the making of papyrus and mats is sourced (see Utilization and conservation of papyrus plants for sustainable livelihoods in Kusa swamp, Lake Victoria, Kenya). It is however, beyond the scope of this article to investigate whether the roots of ‘kusa‘ usage go back all the way (via ancient migrations) to Africa, or whether the word is related to the Melanesian myth of the Kusa Kap bird. The word ‘Kusa’ also appears as part of the name of the mythical bird ‘Kusa Kap’, a folktale of Melanesian New Guinea, and islands of the Torres Strait.


For a followup on this theme, read “The adoration of the sword: ‘Kusa-nagi’ grass-cutter conquering swords and dragon-slaying swords

Sources & readings:

Kusa “Sacred Grass

Nauman, Nelly 1992. “The Kusanagi Sword” Nenrin-Jahresringe: Festgabe für Hans A. Dettmer. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1992, S. [158]-170

Kusha Grass -

Punitha Yatra: The Sacred Grass called Darbhai or Kusha Grass

Witzel, Michael. 2009. The linguistic history of some Indian domestic plants. Journal of BioSciences 34(6): 829-833

Kusha grass (Rigpa Shedra website)

Kusha ashan mat (Rudra Yoga store)

Desmostachya_bipinnata (Wikipedia)

AuBoyer, Jeannine “Ceremonial Object

The search for kusanagi-no-tsurugi, the lost imperial sword

Dharbam the Holy Grass” by TRS Iyengar

History of Jaipur

Kusanagi (Wikipedia)

Kusha_(Ramayana) (Wikipedia)

Kusha (2)

The Search for Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the Lost Imperial Sword of Japan

Dharba / Kusha Grass

The Encyclopedia of Shinto article, “Chinowa harae

About akinakes URL:

The story of Kusha grass and the birth of Kush – The son of Sri Ram and Sita

Utilization and conservation of papyrus plants for sustainable livelihoods in Kusa swamp, Lake Victoria, Kenya

Comparing the “ear of the needle” in Japan and its counterpart expression, the “eye of the needle” in the Middle and Near East

The “eye of the needle” aphorism is not an unfamiliar one to speakers of the English language, but perhaps the best known saying is that attributed to Jesus as recorded in the synoptic gospels:

I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:23-26 (Parallel versions at Mark 10:24-25;   Luke 18:24-25)

What’s little known is that a parallel imagery or saying exists in Japan occurring in the context of mountain ascetic practices (called Shugendo), involving yamabushi and mountain pilgrims.

In Shugendo practice, and according to sacred mountain traditions, the “ear of the needle” [1] is a natural physical rock formation that may be a narrow rock pass or cave crevice or crack such as the one in the photo of an “ear of the needle” in Oita prefecture below.


Below: The “ear of the needle”, Toho village, Fukuoka.


According to shrine-lore and Shugendo practitioners’ hari no mimi 針の耳 ideology:

When someone whose sins are heavy tries to pass through the hole, it becomes as fine as a “needle’s – Iwaya jinja, Tohomura, Fukuoka (Source: Shugendo Lore – Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture)

As the related Japanese saying goes …

You can see heaven through the hole of the needle”, i.e. eye/ear of the needle 針の穴から天を覗く(はりのあなからてんをのぞく (hari no ana kara ten o nozoku))

One might note that this usage is particularly in sync with the ideology of Shugendo mountain beliefs where sacred spaces and especially gateways are seen as allegorical portals to the Other World. One might also note that the hole of the needle is used, rather than “eye” or “ear” of the needle. In the Japanese tradition, the saying speaks of the smallness of one’s effort or knowledge, in comparison with the grandiosity of one’s contrasting ultimate goal or plan[implying an impossibility]. In the context of the Shugendo however, where the mountain ascetic’s (yamabushi or pilgrim) act of passing through the physical “eye of the needle” gateway, the pilgrim is being admonished or encouraged on the path to self-humility and enlightenment by crawling through the dark narrow passages and cavernous cracks that one might be able to be dazzled at the light at the end of the tunnel — and the ultimate bright prospect of the goal of attaining paradise.

Hari-no-mimi shrine / Ear of the needle shrine, Miyazaki, Kagoshima  Photo: 針の耳神社(はりのみみじんじゃ)

To see other “ears” of the needle, follow these links to see 1  Hibarusan, KyushuSaga prefecture Koushouin, Kasuyagun, FukuokaFutagoji temple, Rokugo-Mitsuyama, Oita(六郷満山「両子寺)

This expression “ear of the needle” though somewhat curious and strange to the ear, still rings a bell, recalling the Biblical “eye of the needle” expression with which the English-speaking world is more familiar. Compare the Japanese “ear of the needle” with the one as explicated from this excerpt below from The Eye of the Needle:

It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. (Matt. xix:24).
See also Mark x:25; Luke xviii:25.

Both the Japanese and Biblical / Koranic terms ostensibly involve a narrow hole or crack, pass or passageway through which the religious subject must pass, and there are many versions in many languages from Aramaic to Hebrew, to Arabic to Tamil and to Greek, listed below[in the Appendix at the bottom of this page] and numbered for easy reference and consideration in the making of our arguments and conclusions here. The Biblical and Koranic expressions are the most similar in their connection of the act of the going through the eye of the needle with purity and sinlessness, and the attainment of or arrival in paradise. While many have offered many alternative explanations, for the Biblical proverb, by surveying the array of expressions from the Middle and Near East to Asia, we aim to infer from the long list of variant expressions, a possible origin for the Japanese “ear of the needle” ideology and its connection with Shugendo ascetic mountain pilgrimages.

From surveying the listed variant phrases involving the ear or eye of the needle, the following observations are hereby made:
1. The Japanese use of the word “ear of the needle“[1] is rare, and finds its only parallel in the Arabian form [6] found in the Koran.
2. Many of the expressions suggest that the eye of the needle is some kind of narrow (and/or low) physical crevice or crack, [3 - 5], mountain pass[17] or door[11]: [21] through which a large animal such as a camel[3 - 5] or an elephant[7];[12];[23], carrying and laden perhaps with mercantile items or treasure, would find difficulty passing. One theory was that the eye of the needle was a gate in Jerusalem[15] while another story involved the small entrance of an inn[16].
3 In Biblical and Koranic versions, the “eye of the needle”, while most understood as a visual teaching vehicle or parable in which moral lesson’s “eye”, is also a metaphysical obstruction that presents itself for the wealthy or sinful due to their being encumbered by faults or sins or obstacles.
4. One hotly debated interpretation is that the camel is not involved at all[2], but rather it is a reference to a corded rope[2], or a camel’s rope and beam[26](equipment to facilitate carrying loads or paniers), and that the analogy is that of the impossibility of a thick rope entering the small needle’s eye, thought to mean (in the Arabic Koran) literally a sewing needle’s eye[25].
5. The obstacle of entering the needle’s eye or ear is thought to be an analogy for the encumbering bulk of wealth and material possessions of a rich man[13 - 14], worldliness[9], ungodly or unthinkable thoughts [10] or other sins such as making falsehoods[8], that are preventing the wealthy from entering heaven or the garden of paradise[8]; [19].
6. We do not know why “ear” of the needle is used instead of the more popular “eye” of the needle … but the physical natural rocky pillar formations on either side of the hole or passageway called the “ear of the needle”, may have been an early adaptation of the other popular saying we have that “the walls have ears”. In any event, with the equating of the natural rocky phenomenon with the “ear of the needle”, there is less ambiguity in the Japanese meaning:  It is clear that the physical natural rocky cracks or narrow passageways are an allegory for a spiritual journey of trial and tribulation to find paradise, and the exertion and undertaking of undergoing the difficult trial of slipping through the obstacle of the narrow mountain crack or pass, is thought to produce both enlightenment and the cleansing effect for the pilgrim’s soul that is burdened with sins.
Since this comparative survey above established that the only other instance of the usage of “ear of the needle” (in stark standalone contrast to the more-pervasive “eyes of the needle” versions) lay in the Arab sayings, this then raises the enigmatic question as to what might have been the early Shugendo historical connection with the Arab region?  Were these Perso-Arab connections established via the Silk route or the Spice or Incense route?
Beginning with what we do know, we start by scrutinizing the mostly 8th century artefacts from the Silk Road stored in the Shosoin Treasure House, among which are fragrant raw materials for flavor and incense, such as cinnamon, clove, pepper, long pepper, agarwood, costus root, musk, pistacia and others (see The Fragrance of the Shosoin  and Preservation of Shosoin drugs and fragrances both by Yoneda Kaisuke, Zusetsu Shosoin yakubutsu contains detailed photos and descriptions of medicines in the Shosoin collection.) See also a map of the cinnamon and clove trade routes at Spice Route History).
The Incense Route served as a channel for trading of goods such as Arabian frankincense and myrrh with incense land trade from South Arabia to the Mediterranean flourishing between roughly the 7th century BCE to the 2nd century CE(see map of the maritime incense route and overland caravan spice and incense trade route).  Herodotus wrote in the 5th century BC, “Arabia is the only country which produces myrrh, frankincense, cassia and cinnamon.  Myrrh originated from the Arabian Peninsula, where the gum resins were first collected. Its trade route reached Jerusalem and Egypt from modern Oman (then known as the Dhofar region) and Yemen, following the Red Sea coast of Arabia. ” Frankincense and myrrh trees were crucial to the economy of Yemen which cultivated and exported the aromatics  to the Mediterranean, India and Abyssinia where they were greatly prized by many cultures, using camels on routes through Arabia, and to India by sea. The Frankincense Trail, a UNESCO heritage site is evidence of the flourishing caravan route that went through Oman.
Overland and sea trade routes out of Arabia

Overland and sea trade routes out of Arabia

The genetic pool of the Japanese and Ainu people (determined to predominantly belong to Y-DNA haplogroup D and YAP allele) may be connected to pre-Islamic Sh’ia populations in Iran, Iraq and Yemen, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Tibet, Yunnan, India and Pakistan (who also carry the Y-DNA haplogroup D-and YAP allele), with an ancient migratory route possibly traceable from the Arab Middle Eastern lands to Japan. [Note: Unlike the Sunni Muslims, the Shiya Muslim peoples or Shiites share with Catholicism and East Asians the belief that pious, holy people after their death can intercede for the living.]
Source list of different versions of “eyes” and “ears” of the needle (some with commentaries):

[2]“Perhaps the huge needles used to sew the bags which the camels bear may have given rise to the saying, for they are threaded with rope like cords.”—Cunningham Geikie, D.D.
[3]“To let a camel go through the hole of a needle.” (Hebrew).
[4]“A camel’s head does not pass through the eye of a needle.” (Osmanli).
[5]“Can a camel pass through the eye of a needle?” (Tamil).
[6]“Narrower than the ear of a needle.” (Arabian from the Koran).
The proverb is common under various forms throughout the East.
[7] “They make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle.” (Hebrew).
[8] “Verily they who shall charge our signs with falsehood and shall proudly reject them, the gates of heaven shall not be opened unto them, neither shall they enter into paradise, until a camel pass through the eye of a needle; and thus will we reward the wicked doers.”—From the Koran. (Probably suggested by Matt. xix:24.)
“The better sort,
As thoughts of things divine are intermixed
With scruples, and do set the world itself
Against the word:
As thus ‘Come, little ones,’ and then again,
‘It is hard to come, as for a camel
To thread the postern of a small needle’s eye.’”
– Shakespeare: King Richard II

[10] Judaism:  The Babylonian Talmud applies the aphorism to unthinkable thoughts. To explain that dreams reveal the thoughts of a man’s heart, the product of reason rather than the absence of it, the rabbis say:

They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle.[1]

[11] A Midrash on the Song of Songs uses the phrase to speak of God’s willingness and ability beyond comparison, to accomplish the salvation of a sinner:

The Holy One said, open for me a door as big as a needle’s eye and I will open for you a door through which may enter tents and [camels?].[2]

[12] Rav Sheishet of Nehardea applies the same aphorism to the convoluted reasoning for which the sages of Pumbedita [a city in ancient Babylonia, today close to Fallujah in Iraq that was one of the two greatest centers for Talmudic or Geonic Academies for the learning of Jewish laws] were evidently famous: “Are you from Pumbedita, where they push an elephant through the eye of a needle?” (Baba Metzia, 38b).

[13] Christianity: “The eye of a needle” is part of a saying of Jesus recorded in the synoptic gospels:

I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:23-26

Parallel versions appear in Mark 10:24-25, and Luke 18:24-25.

The saying was a response to a young rich man who had asked Jesus what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied that he should keep the commandments, to which the man stated he had done. Jesus responded, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions[14] and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The young man became sad and was unwilling to do this. Jesus then spoke this response, leaving his disciples astonished.

The “eye of the needle” has been claimed to be [15]a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it was stooped and had its baggage removed. This story has been put forth since at least the 15th century, and possibly as far back as the 9th century. However, there is no evidence for the existence of such a gate.[3][4]

Variations on this story include that of [16] ancient inns having small entrances to thwart thieves, or a [17]story of an old mountain pass known as the “eye of the needle“, so narrow that merchants would have to dismount from their camels and were thus more vulnerable to waiting brigands. There is no historical evidence for any of these, either. This also ignores the explanation given in Matthew 19:26: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Cyril of Alexandria claimed that [18]“camel” is a Greek misprint; that kamêlos (camel) was a misprint of kamilos, meaning “rope” or “cable”.[2][5] However evidence for such a Greek term is weak, there is little or no Greek manuscript support, and it goes against the standard principle of textual criticism that errors tend to happen towards the easier reading, not against it.

[19]Islam - According to the English interpretation of the Quran:

To those who reject Our signs and treat them with arrogance, no opening will there be of the gates of heaven, nor will they enter the garden, until the camel can pass through the eye of the needle: Such is Our reward for those in sin.[6]
Extract from The Eye of a Needle:

Many visitors to this site come seeking an understanding of what Yeshua (Jesus) meant when He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (MARK 10:25). The following is what I have found as the answer.

There are at least four possible explanations for what Yeshua said. One, that “eye of a needle” was a [20]narrow mountain pass of which it was difficult for a camel to go through. That explanation is plausible but not very likely there being no known pass by that name in that part of the world.

Another explanation is given by EW Bullinger in his Companion Bible. He wrote,

the eye of the needle,[21] a small door fixed in a gate and opened after dark. To pass through, the camel must be unloaded. Hence the difficulty of the rich man. He must be unloaded, and hence the proverb, common in the East. In Palestine the “camel”[22]; in the Babylonian Talmud it is the elephant”[23].

Manners and Customs of the Bible by James Freeman gives a similar explanation. This second explanation seems reasonable except for a couple of things. First, at the time of Yeshua’s quote, He was on the coast and was near no city gates. We might expect that when Yeshua made reference to something in His teaching, He pointed to it as His illustration. When He said one might wither a fig tree or cast a mountain into the sea (MATHEW 21:21), He very likely pointed at the fig tree and at mount Olivet and then at the sea. When He said that Solomon was not arrayed like one of these lilies, He probably pointed at the flower for the comparison. If He was standing alongside a city gate as He made this statement about a camel entering through the eye of a needle, Bullinger’s suggestion might seem more likely, but not as much so if He was walking along the sea coast.

In addition to this, the New Bible Dictionary says concerning the existence of these gates, that “there is no historical evidence to support this”. The context of His teaching does not place Him around camels or city gates, and with “no historical evidence to support” the idea that He was indeed referring to a camel going through a city gate[24], it seems to me quite a stretch to assume Bullinger is right.

A third suggestion of the meaning of a camel going through the eye of a needle is given by Abraham Mitrie Rihbany in his book The Syrian Christ. On pages 131-132 quoted below, he comments on the idea of the eye of the needle being a city gate.

The saying [about a camel going through the eye of a needle] is current in the East, and in all probability it was a common saying there long before the advent of Christ. But I never knew that small door in a city or a castle gate to be called the needle’s eye; nor indeed the large gate to be called the needle. The name of that door, in the common speech of the country, is the “plum,” and I am certain the Scriptural passage makes no reference to it whatever.

The Koran makes use of this expression in one of its purest classical Arabic passages. The term employed here- sum-el-khiat- can mean only the sewing instrument[25], and nothing else.

So, it would appear that although the gates may have existed, they were not called “needle’s eyes”. Mr. Rihbany suggests that Yeshua was simply speaking figuratively, as when He said “Ye blind guides, which strain at [out] a gnat and swallow a camel” (MATTHEW 23:24). Perhaps this is so, and without the final explanation given below, it sounds most plausible.

Most Christians realize that the Gospels weren’t originally written in English. Some think they were written in Latin, most believe they were first written in Greek. Very possibly though, some if not all were written in the language of Yeshua and His followers, Aramaic. This language was all but forgotten until about a hundred years ago, which is why few students are familiar with it. Dr. George Lamsa, who has written extensively about the language and in his book entitled Gospel Light clarifies for us the probable meaning of Yeshua’s words concerning the eye of a needle. I will quote from page 167.

The Aramaic word gamla means camel, a large rope and a beam[26]. The meaning of the word is determined by its context. If the word riding or burden occurs then gamla means a camel, but when the eye of a needle is mentioned gamla more correctly means a rope. There is no connection anywhere in Aramaic speech or literature between camel and needle, but there is a definite connection between rope and needle[[27].”

Nearly all of the English versions of the Gospels came from Greek texts by translators who may have known little about Aramaic. Thus camel would have been translated instead of rope. It takes little effort to imagine Yeshua, while walking along the sea coast, pointing to a rope and saying, “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”. Consider also the interesting comments of Andrew Gabriel Roth, at, page 10, where he explains that the rope analogy simply meant that it had to be unwound to pass through the eye of a needle[28].

One final note of information should be passed along to the reader. In his book Judaism in the First Three Centuries of the Christian Era, George Foot Moore shares the following from ancient Jewish beliefs concerning the eye of a needle.

God encourages and assists every movement of man’s heart towards him. The words of the lover in the Song of Songs (5,2), ‘Open to me, my sister,’ are thus applied: God says, “Open to me an entrance no larger than the eye of a needle[29], and I will open to you an entrance through which tents and great timbers can pass.”

Now let us venture beyond which was actually spoken by the Lord. Let us consider, in the context, what our Lord was meaning by His illustration. His context has to do with entering the kingdom of GOD. In the previous chapter He had warned that “if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire”. Then a few verses before the one we are studying, He said, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein”.

As we continue reading this record in Mark’s gospel we come to our verse in question. A wealthy man had come to Yeshua seeking what he must do to “inherit eternal life”. After hearing Yeshua’s response, Mark wrote that the man “was sad at that saying, and went away grieved”. He was sad and he was grieved because Yeshua’s response was not the answer he had hoped for. He didn’t realize that greater wealth then he had ever dreamed of could be his if he accepted Yeshua’s answer. This man was as the seed sown amongst thorns. He was acquainted with accumulating “great possessions” but he was not acquainted with laying up “treasure in heaven”. He may have known “the commandments” but he didn’t know the word and will of GOD.

It is interesting that before Yeshua gave him his answer, the Scripture says that Yeshua “loved him”. That is always why the word is sown. That is why the word is sent. But too often it is rejected. Yeshua wasn’t desiring to deprive this rich man of his wealth. Yeshua was showing him the way into the kingdom of GOD. Yeshua was offering him treasures vastly superior to any that moth and rust could corrupt. Thus, three times, as if trying to drive the point home to His disciples, Yeshua said, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God…how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God…It is easier for a camel [rope][30] to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”. For Yeshua to declare this warning three times, speaks loudly to those who have ears to hear. The desire for riches was not to be underestimated in its ability to deceive and divert one from the narrow way that would lead unto the kingdom of GOD.

Many people living in the Bible lands at the time when the Gospels were written, erroneously believed that all wealth was a blessing from GOD. If one was poor, then the people believed that he must surely be cursed by GOD, but if one was rich he must surely be blessed by GOD. This is why the disciples then “were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?” (MARK 10:26). They thought that if the rich found it difficult to enter the kingdom of GOD, what chance did the rest of them have? Much of Yeshua’s teaching endeavored to correct the false assumption that wealth is always a blessing from GOD. The truth is more the other way (JEREMIAH 9:23-24). Too often the pursuit of wealth insulated them from the workings of GOD in their lives (ISAIAH 41:17-20). It would choke the word sown in their hearts and rob them of eternal treasures their heavenly Father desired for them to obtain. Hence, it was difficult (not impossible) for a rich man to enter the kingdom of GOD.

MARK 8:35, 36 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Manlio Simonetti – 2002 -”Cyril of Alexandria: By “camel” here he means not the living thing, the beast of burden, but the thick rope34 to which … “This interpretation — “rope” (kamilos) and not “camel” (kamelos) — rests on the homonymic character of the two ..”
Images: In the public domain

On Fujiyama’s ancient sacred status and new World Heritage status

Cultural asset: Mount Fuji is seen from the Miho-no-Matsubara pine grove in the city of Shizuoka. | CULTURAL AFFAIRS AGENCY/KYODO

Cultural asset: Mount Fuji is seen from the Miho-no-Matsubara pine grove in the city of Shizuoka. | CULTURAL AFFAIRS AGENCY/KYODO

“Fuji has been revered as a sacred mountain since ancient times. In the early Heian Period (794-1185), a Sengen Shinto shrine that enshrines Konohana-sakuya-hime, the goddess associated with volcanoes, was built at the base of the mountain’s north side.

In spiritual terms, Fuji is divided into three zones. The bottom, or Kusa-yama, is said to represent the everyday world. The forest line, or Ki-yama, represents the transient area between the world of humans and the world of gods, and the “burned” area, or Yake-yama, at the top is said to represent the realm of the gods, Buddha and death.

Thus, to climb Mount Fuji is to descend from the living world to the realm of the dead and then back, by which pilgrims can wash away their sins…” Read the rest of the article at Heritage status will mean big changes

Yomiuri Shimbun reports on the historical significance of Mt. Fuji as a cultural heritage:

“The Japanese people have long worshiped the beautiful, towering Mt. Fuji as an awe-inspiring mountain. During the Edo period (1603-1867), commoners would climb the mountain en masse as members of a religious association centering around Mt. Fuji.

Since ancient times, the mountain has also been the subject of literature and poetry. This includes waka, traditional 31-syllable Japanese poems, as contained in the works of Manyoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry.

It has also been an indispensable theme in ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings from the Edo period and other artworks that have greatly influenced foreign artists, such as “The 36 Views of Mt. Fuji” by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). ” Read more from the article “Mt. Fuji listing will help spread Japanese culture around the world”(via ANN).

Update: UNESCO recognizes iconic peak’s cultural influence | Mount Fuji named World Heritage site (Kyodo news via Japan Times, Jun 23, 2013)

The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO decided Saturday to inscribe Mount Fuji on the U.N. agency’s prestigious World Heritage list.

The 3,776-meter volcano straddling Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures was approved by the 21-member panel of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization during its 37th session in Cambodia’s capital.

Japan’s highest and most celebrated peak was designated a “cultural” rather than “natural” site and registered under the title “Mt. Fuji: Object of Worship, Wellspring of Art. Read more


The Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha (pictured below) and Shizuoka Shizuoka Sengen Shrines are just but two of some 1,300 Asama shrines, centered mainly in Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures(and nearly all with a view of Mt Fuji), with a strong mountain cult based on the veneration of the kami of volcanos in general, and Mount Fuji in particular.

Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan, late 16th century, Muromachi era

Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan, late 16th century, Muromachi era

On the cult of Mt. Fuji from Asama Shrines:

“The derivation of the word “Asama” is subject to considerable uncertainty and debate, but the original meaning of the word appears to be connected with volcanoes or volcanic eruptions, and the presence of water springs in the foothills of such mountains. Mountain-worship based cults centered on Mount Asama(浅間山 Asama-san?) in Niigata and Mount Asama (朝熊山 Asama-yama?) in Mie appear contemporary with the mountain-cult centered on Mount Fuji, via references in the Man’yōshū.[4] However, worship of Mount Fuji, as the tallest and most famous volcano in Japan came to dominate. Mount Fuji has erupted eighteen times in recorded history. In order to pacify it, the Imperial Court awarded it court rank and venerated it as Sengen Ōkami in the early Heian period

According to shrine tradition from the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro moved an existing shrine from the slopes of Mount Fuji to the lowlands during the reign of Emperor Suinin.[5] Traditions also exist associating Mount Fuji with immortality-seeking wizards, and attribute the legendary mystical powers of En no Gyōja to his training on the mountain.

From the Heian period, the worship of the volcano kami as providers of water combined with Shingon esoteric Buddhism and with Shugendō practices.Yamabushi Matsudai Shōnin is said to have climbed Mount Fuji several hundred times and built a temple, with the retired Emperor Toba as his patron.[6]

By the Muromachi period, pilgrimages to climb Mount Fuji increased in popularity, and mandala were produced both as souvenirs, and to spread the cult. Such mandala typically depicted pilgrims landing at Miho no Matsubara, and the various stages of the ascent of Mount Fuji. The top of the mountain is depicted as having three peaks, about which float various Buddhas and Bosatsu.[7] In the Edo period, the Fuji-kō, a religious confraternity system became extremely popular in the Kantō region, using magico-religious practices with talismans to protect followers from illness and catastrophe, despite efforts by the authorities to discourage it.

After the Meiji Restoration, the cult of Mount Fuji declined precipitously…”

According to another Wikipedia article Fujisan Hongu Sengen Shrine:

“The foundation of the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha predates the historical period. Per shrine tradition, it was established in reign of Emperor Suinin, with the shrine first built on its current location during the reign of Emperor Keikō. This was period of intense volcanic activity on Mount Fuji, and the shrine was built in order to appease the kami of the mountain. The shrine is mentioned in accounts of the legendary hero Yamato Takeru as well. The entire mountain was off-limits for religious reasons, except for Shugendō monks noted for the asceticism.

Historical records, however, only exist as far as the early ninth century. During the reign of Emperor HeizeiSakanoue no Tamuramaro was ordered to rebuild the Honden of the shrine in its current location. The Heian period Engishiki records list the shrine as the ichinomiya of Suruga Province. Pilgrimages to Mount Fuji became common in the ninth century, although women were forbidden from climbing.”

The article also notes that while the primary kami of Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha is the Konohanasakuya-hime (木花咲耶姫?), the daughter of Ōyamatsu-no-mikoto (大山祇命?), the “association of Konohanasakuya-hime with Mount Fuji appears to date only to the early Edo period. Previous to this, the kami of Mount Fuji was named Asama no Okami (浅間大神?), also known as Asama Daimyōjin (浅間大明神?), Asama Gongen (浅間権現?) or Sengen Daibōsatsu (浅間大菩薩?).”


The tradition of another of the Asama shrines, Shizuoka Sengen Shrine(Wikipedia source), also suggests that inhabitants in the area or of the shrine go back to earlier times (Kofun Period).

“The area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and a Kofun period burial mound has been excavated at Mount Shizuhata. Per the Nihon Shoki, the area was colonized by the Hata clan during this period. According to unsubstantiated shrine legend, the foundation of the Kambe Jinja dates to the reign of Emperor Sujin, that of the Ohtoshimioya Shrine to the reign of Emperor Ojin, both from the Kofun period.

Per the Engishiki records, Kambe Jinja was given national recognition and status of the Sōja of Suruga Province in the Heian period. Also, the date of 901 is given for the foundation of the Sengen Jinja, as a subsidiary branch of the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, and initially was referred to as the “Shingu” (new shrine).

The primary kami of Kambe Jinja is the Ohnamuchi-no-Mikoto, who is regarded as the mythical founding deity of Suruga Province.

The primary kami of Sengen Jinja is the Konohanasakuya-hime, the deity of Mount Fuji.

The primary kami of Ohtoshimioya Shrine is the Ohtoshimioya-no-Mikoto, who appears in the Kojiki as a daughter of Susano-o, and a kami protecting markets and commerce”.


Further reading: Saiboku and a sacred cave on Mt. Fuji

Bamboo good luck symbols, charms, taboos and superstitions and fairytales from Japan and the rest of Asia

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (with boy attendant), in a Kano school Japanese painting of the Edo period. The bamboo grove featured in this painting is associated with Chinese Taoist beliefs about immortality. Image: Wikimedia Commons
The bamboo is so ubiquitous a plant and symbol in Asia (where more than a thousand species are found), that it is commonly believed that

“Bamboo is universally known as the symbol of good fortune” – Roots of Bamboo, Bamboo Fundamentals 101, Things You Should Know

Nevertheless, it is not true that the bamboo is universally thought of as an auspicious symbol — for we find that in certain parts of Nepal and India and Bengal, the bamboo plant is actually avoided because of its associations with evil spirits,ghosts or death, and where there are many taboos and bans on the growing, planting and harvesting of the bamboo plant.

In Beliefs, Superstitions and Taboos associated with Bamboos by A.N. Das  and C.P. (2005), a survey of bamboo taboo beliefs turns up the following:

  • In Bangladesh, when a villager is buried, a small piece of bamboo hung above a grave because it is believed to scare away evil spirits (Arens and Beurden, 1978) 
  • In Central Nepal’s Midhills and Kerabari, a common ban is placed on the planting of bamboo because the shadow of bamboo falling on a person was said to invite the Yamraj spirit of Death. (Carter 1991). Planting is therefore carried out at sunset.
  • In Kakani-Kathmandu, people are unwilling to plant bamboo because the trees are associated with childlessness.(Gurung 1989)
  • In Kerala, India as well as in Nepal’s Midhills, Terai and Kerabari bamboo-growing taboo is associated with infertility (nothing grows under bamboo, and it impoverishes the soil due to the masses and its underground network of root systems), not just of the land, but of humans as well. Women are not to carry out bamboo planting, but in some places, women who already have children, may carry out planting of bamboo. Bamboo planting is to be carried out by the oldest male member of the household or by males over 50 only, and not by any young adult males.
  • In Nepal, especially in Terai, hosts and spirits are commonly believed to live in bamboo clumps, and they should not be planted in front of the house.
  • Another common belief in Nepal is that bamboo groves invite vermin and pests (snakes, wild elephants, rodents) and many will not plant bamboo out of this fear.
In India, the bamboo is said to be associated with friendship. In northern Indian state of Assam, the fermented bamboo paste known as khorisa is known locally as a folk remedy for the treatment of impotence, infertility, and menstrual pains. (Source: Bamboo, Wikipedia)
In China
The above taboos are not seen in China, where bamboo is an auspicious symbol, associated with strength, Feng Shui ideas of good luck and prosperity, and longevity instead. The presence and the number of bamboo stalks of lucky bamboo (although draecenias which resemble bamboo now replace real bamboo plant) are considered to symbolize different things:
1 stalk = good fortune
2 stalks = love
3 stalks = happiness, wealth, and longevity (also represent
4 stalks = stable, strong, or power.
5 stalks = wealth or fortune
6 stalks = prosperity
7 stalks = good health
8 stalks = growth or wealth
9 stalks = general good fortune
10 stalks = completeness or perfection
21 stalks = blessings

Bamboo plants are also often deemed to have a protective against evil spirits.  Bamboo leaves are traditionally used to clean the house, as bamboo is believed to drive out evil spirits. Cleaning the house symbolizes sweeping out any misfortune or traces of bad luck (source: Chinese Superstitions: Home And House Maintenance).

China is known as the Kingdom of Bamboo, and in Chinese culture, as bamboo shoots have always been a traditional dish and delicacy particularly in southern China, people have, since ancient times, planted bamboos in their garden. Bamboo is a necessary element of Chinese culture (see Bamboo and Chinese culture).
he bamboo, along with the plum blossom, orchid, and chrysanthemum are collectively referred to as the Four Gentlemen attributes of model male behaviour due to the usefulness and uprightness of the plant. These four plants also represent the four seasons and, in Confucian ideology, four aspects of the junzi (“prince” or “noble one”). The pine (sōng 松), the bamboo (zhú竹), and the plum blossom (méi 梅) are also admired for their perseverance under harsh conditions, and are together known as the “Three Friends of Winter” (岁寒三友 suìhán sānyǒu) in Chinese culture.  These gentlemenly attributes or virtues of the bamboo have been transmitted to Vietnam as well as to Japan, the latter country where the “Three Friends of Winter” is traditionally used as a system of ranking in Japan, for example in sushi sets or accommodations at a traditional ryokan. Pine (matsu 松) is of considered of the first rank, bamboo (také 竹) is of second rank, and plum (ume 梅) is of the third.

These belief are closer to and may have originated from southern regions, indigenous inhabitants of Southeast Asia from sub-tropical area in Asia, like Southern China and Taiwan, where the lucky bamboo plant (actually closer to the “Dracaenas” plant, is called”Fu Gwey Zhu”, Fu means Wealth, Rich, Gwey means Power, honor, Zhu is Bamboo(Source: History of Lucky Bamboo). In the region of Southeast Asia, bamboo is associated with youth, flexibility and love (Piper 1992; “Beliefs, superstitions and taboos associated with bamboo in Nepal” A.N. Das, C.P. Mitchell).

In the Philippines

The bamboo features in a Filipino creation myth called Malakas and Magandas (The Strong and Beautiful) in which the first man and woman emerged when a bamboo stalk was split in half on an island created after the battle of the elemental forces (Sky and Ocean) (see p. 32 “The Politics of Dress in Asia and the Americas” by Minas Roces and Louise Edwards).

Other Asian cultures, also contain similar myths … the Andaman Islanders, too believe humanity emerged from a bamboo stem (see The Andamanese: Myths and Legends by George Weber on the Aka-Jeru and Aka-Bo versions of the creation of Jutpu the first man).

In Malaysian legends a similar story includes a man who dreams of a beautiful woman while sleeping under a bamboo plant; he wakes up and breaks the bamboo stem, discovering the woman inside (Malay Magic: An Introduction to the Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsula, by Walter William Skea and Charles Otto Blagden , pp 16-18, open source library)

In Japan

Bamboo groves are commonly found near Shinto shrines, and sometimes are grown as part of a sacred barrier against evil. They are commonly to be found near many Buddhist temples. The traditional Japanese bamboo fountain, the Tsukubai, is said to embody and illustrate purity and sacredness and the seed of the bamboo tree is said to be tied to the mythical phoenix often depicted in Japanese arts, which is said to eat only bamboo seeds (Source: Spiritual Significance of the Japanese Bamboo Tree).

Japanese folktales frequently feature woodcutters or childless folk finding a child with magical, superhuman or maverick qualities from a bamboo grove. The “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” (Taketori Monogatari) tells of a princess from the Moon emerging from a shining bamboo section.  See excerpt from Wikipedia entry below:

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (竹取物語 Taketori Monogatari?), also known as Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫 Kaguya Hime?, 赫映姫), is a 10th century Japanese folktale. It is considered the oldest extant Japanese narrative[1][2] and an early example of proto-science fiction.[3] Specifically, it is among the first texts of any culture to imagine that the Moon is an inhabited world and describe travel between it and the Earth.

It primarily details the life of a mysterious girl called Kaguya-hime, who was discovered as a baby inside the stalk of a glowing bamboo plant. She is said to be from Tsuki-no-Miyako (月の都 “The Capital of the Moon”) and has unusual hair that shines with a light like the moon.

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is said to have an equivalent version in Tibetan folklore, however there is remain some questions about whether the Japanese 9th century tale emanated from Tibetan sources, or whether the tale was brought to Tibet via Japanese military incursions in the 1920s. This is addressed at pp. 76-77 of Donald Keene’s The Pleasures of Japanese Literature.

“In 1957, Jinyu Fenghuang (金玉凤凰), a Chinese book of Tibetan tales, was published.[8] In early 1970s, Japanese literary researchers became aware that “Banzhu Guniang” (班竹姑娘), one of the tales in the book, had certain similarities with The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.[9][10] Initially, many researchers thought that “Banzhu Guniang” must be related to Tale of Bamboo Cutter, although some were skeptical.

In 1980s, studies showed that the relationship is not as simple as initially thought. Okutsu[11] provides extensive review of the research, and notes that the book Jinyu Fenghuang was intended to be for children, and as such, the editor took some liberties in adapting the tales. No other compilation of Tibetan tales contains the story.[11]

A Tibet-born person wrote that he did not know the story.[12] A researcher went to Sichuan and found that, apart from those who had already read “Jinyu Fenghuang”, local researchers in Chengdu did not know the story.[13] Tibetan informants in Aba did not know the story either.[13]” – The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Wikipedia)

And yet, due to much recent DNA research showing that Tibetans and Japanese share ancient ancestral genes, it is possible that the lucky fertility symbol beliefs and bamboo-cutter-birth tales reflect the presence of the earliest ancient and related migratory lineages out of Southeast Asia, likely represented by lineages bearing haplogroups C and while taboo beliefs emanated from haplogroup D-bearing tribes (See Origin and dispersal of Y chromosome haplogroup C (Zhong et al. 2010) and also The Himalayas as a Directional Barrier to Gene Flow(2007)). 

“Haplogroup C, is spread over a large region of Asia and Australia, as well as the North and South American continents. However, it represents the paths of the early human migrations, … mostly prevalent only in people originating from the coastal regions, and the few Native Americans and Australian Aborigines left alive today”.

Haplogroup DE: … The Asian lineages Haplogroups DE and D are found primarily in Tibet and the Andaman Islands, and Haplogroup D is present in India, in some isolated northeastern tribes.” — DNA Haplogroups

It is hereby suggested there are several different sources from which bamboo-related beliefs and ideas were derived, the ideas of bamboo as auspicious  earliest tales of birth of persons or characters from the bamboo grove were from lineages that are related to the C and D haplogroups (Southeast Asian as well as Andamanese emergence from bamboo; Tibetan bamboo cutter tale); the function of bamboo grove warding off evil.

However, since sacred bamboo groves around Shinto shrines hold a clear function of warding off evil which is similar to Chinese beliefs of bamboo driving off evil spirits, as well as Northeastern Indian-Nepali ideas about bamboo groves as ‘evil traps’, this corresponds to the distribution pattern of DE/D haplogroups thus suggesting the superstitions and beliefs concerning bamboo originated from the Southwestern China which also happens to be where the world’s largest natural bamboo forests are distributed.

In addition to the above, another Y-DNA marker that distinctly links the Indian Himalayan region to the Sino-Tibetan populations is the O3a5, which according to the 2007 Himalayan study, concluded that the three populations from Nepal—including Newar, Tamang, and Kathmandu —as well as Tibet, originated from the Southeast Asian populations. The study pointed out that “All four populations are represented predominantly by haplogroup O3a5-M134–derived chromosomes, whose Y-STR–based age (±SE) was estimated at 8.1±2.9 thousand years ago (KYA), more recent than its Southeast Asian counterpart” and that “the presence of haplogroup O3a5-M134 representatives in Nepal indicates that the Himalayas have been permeable to dispersals from the east.”

The idea of gentlemenly attributes of bamboo as one of the Three Friends of Winter as part of Japanese ritual display tradition clearly stem from Confucian Chinese sources and the historical Chinese empire’s sphere of influence.

In summary, the body of diverse bamboo myths and taboos and superstitious beliefs and the affinity between them reveal and, at the same time, correspond to the pattern of distribution of bamboo forests which are found across East Asia, from 50°N latitude in Sakhalin throughout Japan through to Northern Australia, and westwards to India and the Himalayas.

On the trail of the torii gate’s origins

Shime torii: just two posts and a shimenawa

Shinmei torii

Ise torii – a shinmei torii with a kasagi pentagonal in section, a shimaki and kusabi

   Myojin – kusagi and shimaki are curved upwards

Kasuga torii /myōjin torii with straight top lintels cut at a square angle

Mihashira toriis showing Nestorian influences -  records of Konoshima Shrine in Kyoto, hinting at Nestorian influences in the construction of the torii, state that the three pillars represent the heavens, the earth, and mankind

Above: Evolution of earliest forms of torii (Wikimedia Commons)

One of the more plausible and elaborately argued theories of the origins of the torii architecture and symbology in Japan is associated with the Indo-Iranian or Persian bird perch.

“The Phœnix, like the bird Feng, is a mystical bird said to live 500 or 600 years and then to build for itself in the desert a funeral pyre of dried grasses and sweet spices. To this it sets fire by fluttering its wings whilst hovering over it, is then consumed, but from the ashes it rises again renewed in youth and in its gorgeous plumage; an idea appropriated by old-established fire insurance offices, the symbol of which is familiar to all.

The Phœnix is believed by the Chinese to uphold their Empire and preside over its destiny; it is also worn as a Talisman for Longevity and Conjugal Happiness; whilst in the mystic sense it typifies the- whole world, its head the heavens, its eyes the Sun, its beak the Moon, its wings the wind, its feet the earth, and its tail the trees and plants.

To the Japanese the Phœnix, or ho-wo bird, is a Talisman for Rectitude, Obedience, Fidelity, Justice, and Benevolence, and they consider it a manifestation of the Sun, its appearance on earth being considered a portent of great events. The torii, a kind of gate elaborately carved and decorated at the entrances of Shinto temples, is erected for the Phœnix to perch upon should it visit the earth (see Illustration No. 40, Plate III).

Source: The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems, by William Thomas and Kate Pavitt, [1922], at  p. 38-39 [The phoenix is also a common emblem adorning the top of the roof of the portable mikoshi shrine].

The torii is explained as a sacred perch where the Phoenix alights In the excerpt “The Torii. [Shinto Gateway.] from the 1902 copy of the “Mythological Japan : the symbolisms of mythology in relation to Japanese art, with illustrations drawn in Japan, by native artists” by Alexander F. Otto and Theodore S Holbrook:

“The whispering voices of tradition — how we treasure them — tell us that the Torii, the stately, well poised gateway of Shinto faith, has an office that lifts it far above the commonplace. The Sun at divers times and places, comes down to earth in the form of the great and wondrous Ho- Wo Bird, or Heavenly Phoenix, using for its perch one of the many Torii Gates, which the good people of Japan have built and placed throughout the land for that most exalted purpose.

The traveller may still see the Torii at the entrance to the Shinto temple grounds, where it appears as the signification of the true gateway to a life of grace ; in art, it is used innumerable times in the decoration of Japan’s fairest ornaments.”

This suggests a original and remoter provenance from some Persian influenced ideology upon early relic technology from the area of Anyang’s Yin ruins site, Shandong (or the other early Chinese tribes) where a rare small torii has been excavated from an underground burial tomb chamber. The earliest torii structures emerge in the transitory period just before the Kofun kurgan period from influences stemming from China (Anyang, see below), although the torii structure may have been later adopted more enthusiastically in Japan due to Indo-Iranic influences from incoming Saka migrants. Torii are gates have been observed to resemble the torana at Sanchi (see photo below), in India which betrays the Indo-Iranian Saka sun-worshipping tribes who settled mainly in the Northern and Northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent.

In India (at Sanchi), the torana (Wikimedia Commons)

Also in Gaya, India:

Gate to the Bodhgaya temple 8th century in Gaya, India

Gate to the Bodhgaya temple 8th century in Gaya, India

Gateway to the Umananda Temple, Kamrup, Nepal

Gateway to the Umananda Temple, Kamrup District, Guwahati, Assam

Shrine gate to Srivaishnavi temple, Aavadi

Shrine gate to Srivaishnavi temple, Aavadi

Turning now to look at shrine gates of China:

Gateway to the Yin ruins, Museum of Anyang, China

Gateway to the Yin ruins, Museum of Anyang, China. Yin was the 1st stable capital of China established by the Shang Dynasty.

Gateway in Anyang, China

Gateway in Anyang, China, see also the archways of Xidi village, Huizhou

Archway to the tomb of Niu Gao, Hangzhou, China

Archway to the tomb of Niu Gao(1087-1147), Henan Lushan County, China

Anyang is one of the closest points in China to the Korean peninsula and southern Japan, and it is not unlikely that the ancient Anyang city established by Wang-Geon Silla king (900 AD) was established due to the influence of Anyang’s Bronze Age cultural sphere. Anyang is a Buddhist term signifying a heavenly land where unimaginable joy and freedom overflow.

The Korean hongsalmun, at the shrine of the clan Yi of Jeonju (Wikimedia Commons) The Korean hongsalmun has the same function and role of demarcate the area and the sacred space inside the shrine.

Moving to the archipelago of Japan, the earliest archaeological evidence of torii structures are to be found in Yayoi-period-Japan’s Yoshinogaru mega-village-settlement and at the Hirabaru site in Fukuoka prefecture (300BC-300AD) in the transitory period to the Tumuli Period (Kofun Period). The Japanese torii structures are so far earlier than any found on the Korean peninsula and antecedent to Wang-Geon’s founding of Anyang, so they may have originated directly across the sea from coast of China, although an origin via the Korean peninsula is not unlikely.

Torii gate at Yoshinogari settlement

Torii gate at Yoshinogari settlement Photo: Wikimedia Commons

At Hirabaru, the torii gate is an entranceway to a tomb where a female who was clearly venerated, for she was interred with 1,000 pieces of jewellery, and outside her coffin, was placed many bronze mirrors and swords. The site is close by to Hakata, a location and one of Japan’s most ancient cities linked to migrants who were known for their flourishing trade with both China and Korea, and according to historian Einosuke Obiya, “during the 500-year period before Sakai in Osaka became a port during the Kamakura period, foreign culture came to Japan almost exclusively through Hakata(source: “Hakata Culture” – Fukuoka city gov.”  Hakata is also the location where the shamanic Jingu performed divination by fishing according to the earliest historical chronicles of the nation.  Hirabaru site, was determined to have been the burial place for a high ranking person, probably a king/queen of Ito (see Barbara Seyock’s Hirabaru site and Wajinden Research). The birds that were sacred during this period (including those associated with the torii) were of a variety, mostly involving cranes, ducks and other migratory waterfowl, whereas birds such as the rooster, phoenix, griffin-like creatures emerged later from the Kofun period onwards.

Hirabaru site, Fukuoka Illustration: Barbara Seyock

Hirabaru site, Fukuoka Illustration: Barbara Seyock

For a further evolution of torii structural styles in Japan see the JAANUS article “torii “for elaboration of the topic.


According to Wikipedia’s entry on “Torii”:

Because the use of symbolic gates is widespread in Asia—such structures can be found for example in India, China, Thailand, Korea, and within Nicobarese and Shompen villages—historians believe they may be an imported tradition.

They may for example have originated in India from the torana gates in the monastery of Sanchi in central India.[1] According to this theory, the torana was adopted by Shingon Buddhism founder Kūkai, who used it to demarcate the sacred space used for the homa ceremony.[8] The hypothesis arose in the 19th and 20th centuries due to similarities in structure and name between the two gates. Linguistic and historical objections have now emerged, but no conclusion has yet been reached.[5]

In Bangkok, Thailand, a religious structure called Sao Ching Cha strongly resembles a torii. Functionally, however, it is very different as it is used as a swing.[5] During ceremonies Brahmins swing, trying to grab a bag of coins placed on one of the pillars.

Other theories claim torii may be related to the pailou of China. These structures however can assume a great variety of forms, only some of which actually somewhat resemble a torii.[5]

pailou xujiang

This pailou in Xujiang, Jiangxi is similar to theMiwa shrine’s torii below.

The Korean hongsalmun (紅箭門) is the most likely actual relative of the torii.[5][note 2] Structurally, being red and composed by two vertical posts crossed by two horizontal lintels, it strongly resembles it. Hongsalmun also stand free in front or near a sacred location, and are just a symbolic borderline between sacred and profane. The major difference between the two lies in the fact that in Korea the two horizontal lintels do not lie on top of the pillars, but are surpassed in height by them. In spite of these obvious similarities which suggest a relationship, it is still unclear whether this is a case of parallel evolution, or if either one gave birth to the other.[5]“

The above ambivalent position taken on the origins of the torii notwithstanding, we would like to examine the possibility of the torii architecture being derived from Indo-Iranian (proto-Persian) religious symbolism and attendant influences upon mainland religions.

The Simurgh(Simorgh)’s Perch

The Persians have a mystical tale of the Touba as a (pomegranate) tree in Paradise where the mythical bird, the Simorgh loved to perch, according to Persian literature “Touba and the Meaning of Night” by Shahrnush Parsipur, Havva Houshmand. Although according to Hafiz, the Persian Poet, the Simorgh perched ” on the dewy boughs of stately pine”

The Simorgh was a creature of Middle Eastern mythology which took hybrid form of a human head and  figure of a bird.  The legendary Simorgh was believed to be so old that it had seen the destruction of the world three times over.


M. C. Escher owned this Simorgh figurine, a gift from his father-in-law, who acquired it as a wedding gift in Azerbaijan Photo courtesy: Cordon Art B.V., Baarn, The Netherlands

The tale of the Simorgh

“there was a carved wooden statue of a phoenix at the tip of the cliff.  What’s that I asked my mother? It’s a phoenix, it’s really like our bird. The Simorgh she explained was a mystical bird, the leader king of all birds  thousands of years ago . One day the birds were summoned and asked to undertake a journey to reach their king They accepted, though it was a hazardous journey fraught with obstacles and Some of the birds, the nightingale, the sparrow dropped out along the way. …in the end, the birds made it to the final valley gathered and waited expectantly to meet their leader. Their guide turned to them and announced there was no leader, no Simorgh,  just themselves. That if they looked around them–they would realize that they themselves were the Simorgh. The tale relied on a play of words. In Farsi ‘si’ meant thirty, ‘morgh’ meant bird. The birds looked around and realized there were thirty of them. The goal of their journey which they had imagined as a quest for their king, was actually their quest  for self.”

Source: “Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran” By Azadeh Moaveni.

The tale of the Simorgh is found in the tale of Zal or Zaal, a legendary Persian warrior from the old Persian “The Book of Kings/ The king of books” or Shahnameh, as well as in Peter Sis’ illustrated “The Conference of the Birds“, an adaptation of the classic twelfth-century Sufi epic, see review by Randall Hayes for the Audubon Bird Society excerpted below.

The Conference of the Birds


Look at the troubles happening in our world!


Desperate fights over territory, water, and food!

Poisoned air! Unhappiness!

I fear we are lost. We must do something!

I’ve seen the world. I know many secrets.

Listen to me: I know of a king who has all the answers.

We must go and find him

After a good bit of funny and very human arguing, the birds flap off to find their king, called Simorgh. Their search covers half the world, and at the end they realize that THEY are Simorgh….

Sassanid silver plate with a depiction of a simurgh (Sēnmurw), 7th-8th c. CE (Wikimedia Commons)

Tomb mural painting depicting of the arrival of Saka(?) warriors from across the sea to Kyushu, with their hemp and horse (or griffin-dragon?) cultures

Excerpted from Simurgh:

“The simurgh is depicted in Iranian art as a winged creature in the shape of a bird, gigantic enough to carry off an elephant or a whale. It appears as a kind of peacock with the head of a dog and the claws of a lion; sometimes however also with a human face. The simurgh is inherently benevolent and unambiguously female…

The simurgh has teeth. It has an enmity towards snakes and its natural habitat is a place with plenty of water. Its feathers are said to be the colour of copper, and though it was originally described as being a Dog-Bird, later it was shown with either the head of a man or a dog. …

Iranian legends consider the bird so old that it had seen the destruction of the World three times over. The simurgh learned so much by living so long that it is thought to possess the knowledge of all the Ages. In one legend, the simurgh was said to live 1,700 years before plunging itself into flames (much like the phoenix).

The simurgh was considered to purify the land and waters and hence bestow fertility. The creature represented the union between the earth and the sky, serving as mediator and messenger between the two. The simurgh roosted in Gaokerena, the Hōm (Avestan: Haoma) Tree of Life, which stands in the middle of the world sea Vourukhasa. The plant is potent medicine, is called all-healing, and the seeds of all plants are deposited on it. When the simurgh took flight, the leaves of the tree of life shook making all the seeds of every plant to fall out. These seeds floated around the world on the winds of Vayu-Vata and the rains of Tishtrya, in cosmology taking root to become every type of plant that ever lived, and curing all the illnesses of mankind. 

Dastan takes leave of the Simorgh
The relationship between the simurgh and Hōm is extremely close. Like the simurgh, Hōm is represented as a bird, a messenger and as the essence of purity that can heal any illness or wound. Hōm – appointed as the first priest – is the essence of divinity, a property it shares with the simurgh. The Hōm is in addition the vehicle of farr(ah) (MP: khwarrah, Avestan: khvarenah, kavaēm kharēno) “[divine] glory” or “fortune”. Farrah in turn represents the divine mandate that was the foundation of a king’s authority.

It appears as a bird resting on the head or shoulder of would-be kings and clerics, so indicating Ormuzd’s acceptance of that individual as His divine representative on earth. For the commoner, Bahram wraps fortune/glory “around the house of the worshipper, for wealth in cattle, like the great bird Saena, and as the watery clouds cover the great mountains” (Yasht 14.41, cf. the rains of Tishtrya above). Like the simurgh, farrah is also associated with the waters of Vourukasha (Yasht 19.51,.56-57). In Yašt 12.17 Simorgh’s (Saēna’s) tree stands in the middle of the sea Vourukaša, it has good and potent medicine, is called all-healing, and the seeds of all plants are deposited on it. 

In the Shahnameh

The Simurgh made its most famous appearance in the Ferdowsi’s epic Shahname (Book of Kings), where its involvement with the Prince Zal is described. According to the Shahname, Zal, the son of Saam, was born albino. When Saam saw his albino son, he assumed that the child was the spawn of devils, and abandoned the infant on the mountain Alborz.

The child’s cries were carried to the ears of the tender-hearted Simurgh, who lived on top this peak, and she retrieved the child and raised him as her own. Zal was taught much wisdom from the loving Simurgh, who has all knowledge, but the time came when he grew into a man and yearned to rejoin the world of men. Though the Simurgh was terribly saddened, she gifted him with three golden feathers which he was to burn if he ever needed her assistance.

Upon returning to his kingdom, Zal fell in love and married the beautiful Rudaba. When it came time for their son to be born, the labor was prolonged and terrible; Zal was certain that his wife would die in labour. Rudabah was near death when Zal decided to summon the simurgh. The simurgh appeared and instructed him upon how to perform a cesarean section thus saving Rudabah and the child, who became one of the greatest Persian heroes, Rostam. Simurgh also shows up in the story of the Seven Trials of Esfandiar and the story of Rostam and Esfandiar.

In Azeri folklore

Simurgh also goes by the name of Zumrud (emerald). It was an ancient tale about Malik Mammad, the son of one of the wealthiest kings of Azerbaijan. That king had a big garden. In the center of this garden is a magical apple tree which yields apples every day. One ugly giant called Div decides to steal all the apples every night. The king sends Malik Mammad and his elder brothers fight the giant. In the middle of this tale Malik Mammad saves Simurgh’s babies from a dragon. Simurgh takes pleasure of Malik Mammad and decides to help him. When Malik Mammad wants to pass form The Dark world into the Light world Simurgh asks him to provide 40 half carcasses of meat and 40 wineskin filled with water. When Simurgh puts water on its left wing and meat on its right wing Malik Mammad is able to enter the Light world….

In Kurdish folklore

Simurgh is shortened to Sīmīr in the Kurdish language. The scholar Trever quotes two Kurdish folktales about the bird. These versions go back to the common stock of Iranian Simorḡ stories. In one of the folk tales, a hero rescues Simurgh’s off-springs by killing a snake that is crawling up the tree to feed upon them. As a reward Sīmīr(Simurgh) gives him three of her feathers; which the hero can call for help by burning them. Later the hero uses the feathers, and Simurgh carries him to a distant land. In the other tale, Simurgh carries the hero out of the netherworld; here Simurgh feeds its young with its teats, a trait which agrees with the description of the Simurgh in the Middle Persian book of Zdspram. “

From the above, we can see that the Simurgh symbolizes purity, divinity, and the gateway to the Netherworld and the journey from the Dark World into the Light World.

The Parthian city was the city of the Simorghian bird, the torii is residence of sacred bird and Asuka the capital city of Japan in Asuka era (500-645). Asuka was derived from Persian word “Ark Saca” which means the sacred place of the Saccas (Scythians). Parthian “Arsaces” has the same origins. Hi 飛 means flying, Tori 鳥 means bird. Asuka 飛鳥 means “flying bird”. The bird is Simorgh (Goddess Div).

TOJO Masato concluded in his great treatise “An introduction to Simorghian Culture and Mithraism in East Asia” on Persian influences in Japan:

“Torii is the gate of Shintô shrine. Tori 鳥 means bird, I 居 means residence. Therefore Torii 鳥居 means a residence of a bird (Simorgh). Shintô shrines are residents of Simorgh. This word is also Iranian origin. The shape of torii is symbolical representation of Simorgh as the winged disk widely used in Persia” (Source: Imoto. Ancient Iranian Culture and its influences on Japanese Culture, Panel Discussion, 2007 January 21th Sunday). 

While in the Asuka period, Asuka 飛鳥 means “flying bird” and its symbolism is strongly associated with the phoenix or as argued by scholars, the Simorghian bird, as a bird perch the tori architecture is also often strongly associated with the rooster or cock perch, therefore showing perhaps a stronger Sraosa affinity as gate to the Underworld or possibly paradise, since Sraosa was better known as accompanied by messenger cockerels (with ancient statuary found in Luristan).


Another more remoter but possible early prototype of the shrine gate is the Jewish doorpost and gateway:

Lechis – Strip used to represent a doorpost. Can be made of anything solid from a length of twine to a 2×4 or I-beam. In the Boston Eruv, lechis are usually made of black plastic U-guard, of the type employed by the telephone company for protecting ground wires coming down the side of a utility pole. The lechis are affixed to the pole using U-shaped nails. The lechi is attached to a utility pole side starting at the ground and continuing upwards until just beneath whichever cable is being used as the vertical member of the Tzurat HaPesach (see below).

Korah The lintel portion of the Tzurat HaPesah (see below). This horizontal member can be an existing physical structure such as an existing utility (phone or cable, usually phone) cable that is already in place between a set of two poles. If no cables are located where the two Eruv poles are being used (for example along the Massachusetts Turnpike where the Eruv erected standalone poles), a length of plastic (polypropylene) baling twine is stretched between the tops of the two poles. The twine is insensitive to moisture and cold and only mildly sensitive to sun, i.e. ultraviolet radiation exposure. It holds little moisture and does not tend to build up ice during the winter. It does suffer from abrasion damage if tree branches rub against it. However, since it is electrically non-conductive, the various granting agencies allow the Eruv to use it.

Tzurat HaPesach A doorway opening. The construction of two doorposts and an overhead lintel. This construction is used when the Eruv fence or border is open and some way must be found to maintain perimeter continuity. In one case, two poles can be erected at the edges of the gap and a length of non-conducting twine is stretched carefully between the two pole tops. It is critical that the twine be attached to the pole over the absolute top of the pole and not to the pole side.

The term eruv refers to the act of mixing or combining, and is shorthand for eruv hazerot–the mixing of domains, in this case, the private (rashut hayahid) and the public (rashut harabim). An eruv does not allow for carrying items otherwise prohibited by Jewish law on Shabbat, such as money or cell phones.

Having an eruv does not mean that a city or neighborhood is enclosed entirely by a wall. Rather, the eruv can be comprised of a series of pre-existing structures (walls, fences, electrical poles and wires) and/or structures created expressly for the eruv, often a wire mounted on poles. In practice, then, the eruv is a symbolic demarcation of the private sphere, one that communities come together to create

Despite its symbolic nature, the eruv is intended to mimic in some way the form of walls, which need doorways–defined as two posts with a crossbeam over them, strong enough to withstand an ordinary wind. The eruv likewise needs openings, consisting of crossbeams resting or passing directly over the top of the doorpost (lehi). This is how modern rabbis arrived at the solution of having the eruv be made of a wire: The poles holding up the wire represent the “doorposts,” and the wire itself represents the “crossbeam.”

Many communities construct their eruvim by using lighting (or utility) poles to fulfill the requirement of doorposts and a continuous cable, string, or wire to represent the crossbeam. In order for this arrangement to be acceptable, the “beam” must rest directly above the top of the doorposts

It has also been nicknamed–using the Yiddish word for carrying–”the magic schlepping circle.” Since the social aspect of Shabbat is one of the most significant elements fostering community bonding, the eruv proves to be instrumental in enhancing the Shabbat experience, though disagreements and disputes surrounding its very nature and essence are likely to continue.

It may be that early forms of the eruv doorpost emerged from and were carried by an extremely ancient migratory lineage of Semitic-Arab origin who are represented by haplogroup D-bearing  (Y-DNA) ethnic population groups including the Druzes, the Kalash(pre-Vedic culture of Pamir-Hindu Kush mountains), the Sindhi of Pakistan, etc. (see the map of the haplogroup D trail) who eventually reached Japan during the Kofun Period in substantial numbers as bearers of pre-Vedic rituals and horse and sacrificial culture with them. MtDNA studies also show presence of Western Asian or West Eurasian genetic components in Japan.

Another bird-symbolism cultural zone may be associated with the Y-DNA haplogroup N. Haplogroup N1b forms two distinctive subclusters of STR haplotypes, Asian and European, the latter now mostly distributed in Uralic-speakers and related populations. Haplogroup N1b (N-P43) defined by the presence of the marker P43 and is found frequently among Northern Samoyedic peoples; also found at low to moderate frequency among some other Uralic peoples, Turkic peoples, Mongolic peoples, Tungusic peoples, and Siberian Yupiks.

Haplogroup N1c (N-M46)is approximately 14,000 years old. The mutations that define the subclade N-M46 (old name N3) are M46/Tat and P105. This is the most frequent subclade of N. It arose probably in the region of present day China, and subsequently experienced serial bottlenecks in Siberia and secondary expansions in eastern Europe.[4]

In Siberia, haplogroup N-M46 reaches a maximum frequency of approximately 90% among the Yakuts, a Turkic people who live mainly in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. However, it is practically non-existent among many of the Yakuts’ neighboring ethnic groups, such as Tungusic speakers. It also has been detected in 2.4% (2/85) of a sample from Seoul, South Korea[18] and in 1.4% (1/70) of a sample from Tokushima, Japan[10]. The haplogroup N-M46 has a low diversity among Yakuts suggestive of a population bottleneck or founder effect.[19] This was confirmed by a study of ancient DNA which traced the origins of the male Yakut lineages to a small group of horse-riders from the Cis-Baïkal area.

Subclade of N-M178 Haplogroup N1c1 (previously known as N3a) is defined by the presence of markers M178 and P298. Miroslava Derenko and her colleagues noted that there are two subclusters within this haplogroup, both present in Siberia and Northern Europe, with different histories. The one that they labelled N3a1 first expanded in south Siberia (approximately 10,000 years ago) and spread into Northern Europe (Finns -60%; Latvians – 40%; Estonians – 35% frequencies)  while, the younger subcluster, which they labelled N3a2, originated in south Siberia (probably in the Baikal region). Source: Haplogroup N (Wikipedia)

The upshot of the above is that given the two ancient migratory lineages Y-DNA haplogroups D and N present in Japan, both regions have strong bird-death-netherworld cultures, the former from the Middle Eastern semitic-Arab lands, and the latter from Siberian lands, the theory (see Wikipedia’s “Torii”) advancing the bird-Netherworld association that is strongly associated with the Middle East becomes highly plausible:

Because in Japan birds have long had a connection with the dead, this may mean it was born in connection with some prehistorical funerary rite. Ancient Japanese texts like the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki for example mention how Yamato Takeru after his death became a white bird and in that form chose a place for his own burial.[5] For this reason, his mausoleum was then called shiratori misasagi (白鳥陵?, white bird grave). Many later texts also show some relationship between dead souls and white birds, a link common also in other cultures, shamanic like the Japanese. Bird motifs from the Yayoi and Kofun periods associating birds with the dead have also been found in several archeological sites. This relationship between birds and death would also explain why, in spite of their name, no visible trace of birds remains in today’s torii: birds were symbols of death, which in Shinto brings defilement (kegare)

The last sentence is however, somewhat incorrect since rooster symbolism and sacrifice remains associated with Ise Shrines and the Amaterasu myth, and are seen on Rooster Market Day (Tori-no-ichi festivals) held at O-Tori-jinja shrines, as well as Tengu- or three-legged-crow- motifs that are widespread and iconic in many mountain shrines).

Kiyotosaku 76 Rockcut tomb, Futaba-machi

Baikal-Mongol? or Indo-Saka? Horse-riders, ca 300-700 AD. Kiyotosaku no 76 Rockcut tomb, Futaba-machi, Tomioka, Fukushima

It is thus suggested here that the early toriis were architecture that originated in the pastoral nomadic cultures of the Indo-Iranian Saka sun-worshipping lineages (and their sun-kings and rock-sky-vault and Earth-Womb-Cave-Passage-Netherworld burial culture)  that had arrived in Japan from the mainland continent in China as well as Korea, especially associated with the elite royal lineages.

Sources and references:

Eruv By Sharonne Cohen

James Edward Ketelaar.Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. p.59

Derenko M, Malyarchuk B, Denisova GA et al: Y-chromosome haplogroup N dispersals from south Siberia to Europe. J Hum Genet 2007; 52: 763 – 770

Malyarchuk B, Derenko M: On the origin of Y-chromosome haplogroup N1b. Eur J Hum Genet. 2009 Dec;17(12):1540-1; author reply 1541-3. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2009.100. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

Omi watari: When a god goes across the lake to meet a goddess on a date …


A 400 meter long crack was reported as visible along the frozen surface of Lake Suwa in Suwa, Nagano Prefecture, on Monday.

The local mythical tradition says that this crack is said to be a path used by a male god of the Suwa Taisha Kamisha shrine (on the southern bank) to meet a goddess of Suwa Taisha Shimosha shrine on the opposite shore (northern bank).  (Other versions:  The ice cracks are caused by the gods’ trekking across the lake to visit the various buildings of the 12th century- old Suwa Grand Shrine.)

The phenomenon, known as ”omiwatari,”御神渡り  or “Passage of the gods” was confirmed officially Tuesday morning, occurred for the second straight year, but 13 days earlier than last year due to severe cold.

A priest from the Yatsurugi Shrines check the location of the ice crack and perform purification rite. They hold a Shinto ritual to foretell next year’s crop harvests and weather. 


Back to the future: A priest from Yatsurugi Shrine conducts the 'omiwatari' ritual on Lake Suwa, Nagano Prefecture, on Feb. 6. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

Back to the future: A priest from Yatsurugi Shrine conducts the ‘omiwatari’ ritual on Lake Suwa, Nagano Prefecture, on Feb. 6. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

The predictions will be made at the shrine later after comparing their findings with last year’s records.

The preferred scientific explanation of today is that the “path” is caused by the continuous expansion and contraction of ice that is caused by the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. The lake has a natural hot spring under the surface, so that when the top freezes in the winter, the lower waters are still warm and circulating. This results in pressure ridges forming in the ice, reaching heights of 30 cm or more.


Read more below in the Japan Times news article from a year ago:

Ice phenomenon warms up hearts in the Lake Suwa region

MAR 3, 2012 
To the delight of local residents this winter, an elevated line of cracked ice appeared on the frozen surface of Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture for the first time in four years.

The natural phenomenon is called “omiwatari,” or the god’s footsteps, with the name coming from a myth in the Suwa region.

It is traditionally interpreted as a good omen for the coming year.

However, the frequency with which the ice pattern appears has dropped since the 1990s, a trend blamed on global warming. The sharp upheaval of ice that used to appear almost every winter has become rare in recent years, eliciting feelings of gloom.

Omiwatari occurs when the ice on the lake repeatedly expands and contracts as the temperature swings between day and night.

When the pressure ridge rises 30 cm to 180 cm, Yatsurugi Shrine usually certifies it as omiwatari.

This year, however, the shrine verified the phenomenon on Feb. 4 even though the cracked ice shards had risen only about 10 cm.

“We were of two minds as to whether to certify it as omiwatari, but I felt mounting expectations from local people this year,” said shrine priest Kiyoshi Miyasaka, 61.

Yoshiaki Natori, 64, Yatsurugi Shrine’s chief representative, also remarked that he had a strong wish that this year will be peaceful and disaster-free, unlike 2011.

Unfortunately, however, the ice pattern that drew nationwide attention collapsed after it rained Feb. 6 and 7.

When there is no omiwatari on the lake because of a mild winter, locals refer to its as “akenoumi.” While akenoumi was observed only 15 times during the 63 years of the Showa Era (1926-1989), it has already occurred 17 times in the 24 years since the start of the Heisei Era in 1989.

According to Meteorological Agency records, the average temperature in the Suwa region has risen from 9.1 degrees in 1945 to 11.2 last year.

“Obviously, global warming is the cause of the falling number of omiwatari. But this winter was unusually cold. There were several days the temperature plunged to minus 13. So that might be a reason why we had it for the first time in four years,” said Tokio Okino, a professor emeritus at Shinshu University and an expert on Lake Suwa’s natural environment.

When the lake freezes, the ice protects smelt during the spawning period from attacks by birds and supports the agar business, a point of local pride.

As omiwatari is the symbol of severe cold winters, it is also played up by the local tourism industry.

“A cold winter used to be part of the natural cycle in the Suwa region. But it has been losing its balance. I am worried about how long it will be before we see the next omiwatari,” Miyasaka, the shrine priest, said.


Further readings and references:

Ritual held on frozen Lake Suwa for fortune-telling from ice cracks


Lake Suwa (Wikipedia)

Tales of Mystic Mountain: The Legend of the Levitating Monk of Mt Horaiji

Horaiji Temple on Mt Horaiji (鳳来寺 東照宮)

It is said that 1,300 years ago, on the peaks of Mt Horai lived an ascetic monk and hermit called Rishu. According to temple tradition, Rishu founded the Horaiji Temple in 703. Pilgrims of old approached the temple up a winding stone staircase of 1,425 steps through a primeval wood of towering cryptomeria cedars, and cypresses, the mountain made for a truly magnificently mystical setting for mountain ascetic practitioners. Interest in the mountain as a popular spot for pilgrimages, peaked during the Edo Period.

Mikawa Province, Horaiji Temple Giclee Print

Mikawa Province, Horaiji Temple  by Ando Hiroshige. 

The Temple belongs to the Shingon Buddhist sect, but its founding by the obscure mystic Rishu inexplicably shows dates that are earlier than the late 8th century origin of of Shingon Buddhism usually attributed to the more famous monk Kukai.

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Horaiji Temple (Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor)

Local legends cast a pall of mystery over the mountain temple’s early background. Below is a conflated story from two accounts of the origins of the miracle hotsprings of Yuya valley as well as the founding of Horaiji Temple.

The Legend of the Levitating Monk

Around 1300 years ago, a Buddhist monk named Rishu was said to have happily discovered a natural hot spring bubbling to the surface of the Yuya valley in what is today’s Aichi prefecture.  Rishu according to some accounts, was at the time already residing in the mountains when the 42nd Emperor of Japan whom we know to be Emperor Mommu and who was very ill at the time..

Trained in the Buddhist arts of healing, Rishu was called upon to find a cure for the Emperor and supernaturally carried away by a phoenix to the royal palace. At the palace, the monk worked hard for 17 days and the Emperor successfully made a full recovery.

As a reward for his work, the monk was allowed to establish the Horaiji Temple (which means ‘Phoenix Come Temple’) in the mountains above the Yuya hotsprings.
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This photo of Horaiji Temple is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Now, dwelling on the peak of Mt Horai didn’t make it particularly convenient for Rishu to visit the hotsprings that he so favored.  So he levitated his way down the mountain.

Swooping powerfully down from the peaks of 684m-high Mt. Horaiji like a kyarobinga, and yet gracefully poised like an apsara with his robes gracefully flapping around him and all the while playing his flute, was how Rishu would visit the hot spring waters near the Ure River. This unusual method of travel and the holy monk’s frequent dips made such an impression on the locals, that they thought it opportune to open bathhouses there, in the belief that these would be waters with magical healing powers.

Now there’s a tale that could have given a movie such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a run for their money. This legend embodies the full flavour of the religious worldview of the time – the idea of Bosatsu or Bodhisattvas floating on clouds often playing musical instruments —  was part of the vision of the Pure Land Paradise (see Bosatsu on Clouds | Flying Apsaras) and is a major feature of Japanese art spanning several centuries including Rishu’s period.

Furthermore, Mount Horai is Japan’s equivalent of, a concept that arose in China and Chinese mythology, Mount Penglai (traditional Chinese: 蓬萊山 Pénglái shān as well as Penglai Island (simplified Chinese: 蓬莱仙岛 Pénglái xiāndao), was commonly believed to be a mystical land in the Eastern seas. The legend in Chinese mythology also passed into Japan, where it was known as the legend of Horai (蓬莱 Hōrai). And so, here we have on Mt Horai-ji (鳳来read Horai in Japanese was read Fenglai in Chinese, a close homonym and the ancients would not have failed to see the association, iconic art imagery aside), a face-on encounter with the legend of Mt Horai and one of its “floating immortals” or sages.

Chinese influence: Penglai Island (蓬萊仙島), in the Collections of the Palace Museum Beijing – compare this painting with the photo of Mt Horai-ji and Hiroshige’s Mt Horai-ji at the top of this page.

As a Penglai city exists in Shandong China, it is possible that the legend goes back deeper in time, brought over by migrants from Shandong into China (early prehistoric tomb culture in Japan is associated with Shandong tomb building techniques), although it is more likely that these Yakushi cults and apsara-heavenly beings motifs emerged later in the 6th – 7th century via the Indo-Iranian-Sogdian dharma monks traveling the Dunhuang and Northern Wei Chinese Buddhist circuit as well as Paekche-Korean craftsmen all the way to Japan. (Note: There are other Mt Horais in Japan, eg. Mt Horai in Aibetsu, Hokkaido

Modern pilgrims today still visit the mysterious mountain as a “power spot” some supposing the place to be still infused of magic and the supernatural … locals say the local birds (Japanese scops owls) chant paeans to Buddhism in the late spring and summer: “Bu!” (Buddha), “Po!” (sutra), and “So!” (priest). And tourists and pilgrims still visit as well the hotsprings in Yuya Valley for its medicinal waters that are reputed to cure everything from rashes to cancer.

Buddhist steles that guide and protect travelers on their pilgrims up the mountain

Buddhist steles that guide and protect travelers on their pilgrims up the mountain


Was there really a hermit monk Rishu?

According to tradition, the founding of the Horai-ji Temple is associated with Shingon Buddhism and with the historical figure 42nd Emperor Mommu (683–707)– these facts as well as the fact that Yakushi mystic cults were proliferating (see pp. 564-567 Ancient Buddhism in Japan), and that temples tended to be associated with Yakushi-cults exactly around this time … all appear corroborate the existence of an ascetic hermetic monk such as Rishu around the turn of the 8th century.

The more fanciful embellishments of Rishu’s character, and the crediting him with wizard-like powers, appear to be consistent with the activity of the popular Yakushi Cults in an Age of Mysticism.

The account of the founding at 703 of a Yakushi-Nyorai venerating temple squares well with historical events thus in recorded in (see pp. 564-567 Ancient Buddhism in Japan | Sutras and Ceremonies in use in the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. and their history in later times:

“In A.D. 702 (XII 13), when the Emperor Mommu was ill, a great amnesty was granted throughout the Empire, a hundred men were caused to become monks, and order was given” for the monks to be sent to the provinces. During A.D. 702 (2nd year of Mommu Tenno, II 20) “Provincial Masters” (kokushi, were appointed in all the provinces…, in A.D. 685 (10th month), this sutra was expounded in the Palace, evidently in order to cure the Emperor Temmu, who died the following year (IX 9). Other sutras used for this purpose were the Yakushikyo (686, V 24), the Konkwomyokyo (686, Vlll 8) and the Kwannongyd (686, VII 28, VII 2); vegetarian entertainments of monks, penitential services (kekwa), offerings, dedication of a hundred Kwannon images general amnesty, everything was done in vain to save the Emperor’s life.

As seen above (Ch. I, § 10), in A.D. 686 (V 24) “the Emperor Temmu’s body was ill at ease. Accordingly the Yakushikyo was expounded in the Temple of Kawara, and a retreat (ango) was held within the Palace”.’ As to the Yakushi-kekwa or “Rites of Repentance in worship of the Healing Buddha” not only Yakushi-kekwa were practised in all Nihongi, Ch. xxix, p. 541; Aston II, p. 376.

Shoku Nihongi, Ch. vhi, p. 123.Yakushi-kekwa. 559 Buddhist temples of the Capital and Home provinces and in all “pure places of renowned mountains”, but also seven Yakushi images, 6 shaku 3 sun high, and seven copies of the Yakushikyo (each of one chapter) were made in the capital and in all the provinces. … The son of Emperor Mommu – “Shomu Tenno was also a devout worshipper of Bhaishajyaguru, We learn from the above facts that in the eighth century and in the first half of the ninth the Hosso priests, and thenceforward during many centuries those of the mystic branch of the Tendai sect were the principal worshippers of Yakushi Nyorai.”

Sacred to the worship of Horai-ji Temple is the Yakushi-Nyorai (the Healing Buddha) a.k.a. the Buddha of the Master of Medicine).  Yakushi-Nyorai was among the first of the Buddhist forms or representations to arrive (the other being Miroku) in the 6th century from the mainland continent, quickly becoming popular throughout Japan as a powerful deity who could cure sickness and eliminate earthly suffering– Yakushi remains one of the most cherished Buddhist figures in Japan today.

Yakushi’s full name is Yakushirurikō 薬師瑠璃光, which means Medicine Master of Lapis Lazuli Radiance. The practice of venerating the “Medicine Buddha” in Japan is traceable to Northwest India, via China which had practised a sinified form of Bhaiṣajyaguru, an Indian bodhisattva who had achieved Buddhahood, to become the Buddha of the eastern realm of Vaidūryanirbhāsa, or “Pure Lapis Lazuli”*. The Medicine Buddha is often depicted with a lapis-colored jar of medicine nectar in his left hand and in the related sutra, he is also described by his aura of lapis lazuli-colored light. Sanskrit manuscripts of the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja Sūtra have  been found at Gilgit, Pakistan prior to the 7th century and also at a Bamiyan monastery, Afghanistan, in the 7th century CE – attesting to the popularity of the Medicine Buddha in the ancient northwest Indian kingdom of Gandhāra as well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The same mystical tendencies  seen in India, Tibet and China were also evident in Japan with Yakushi cults.

Beginning in the 7th century in Japan, Yakushi, the Medicine Buddha, became the center of the devotion of the earliest temples, (most belonging to the Tendai and Shingon sects), around Kyoto, Nara and the Kinki region. Devotees recite the mantra of the Medicine Buddha to overcome mental, physical and spiritual sickness  Yakushi was prayed to not only for relief from illness and suffering, but was also invoked often in the traditional memorial services for the dead.  The Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja Sūtra states:

“ Wherever this sutra circulates or wherever there are sentient beings who hold fast to the name of the Medicine Buddha [Yakushi Buddha] and respectfully make offerings to him, whether in villages, towns, kingdoms or in the wilderness, we [the Twelve Generals] will all protect them. We will release them from all suffering and calamities and see to it that all their wishes are fulfilled

The Yakushi Buddha was venerated by many powerful men including Takeda Shingen, a daimyo of the 16th century, as well as Tokugawa Ieyasu, powerful shogun of the 17th century.


Toshogu shrine, Mt Horai-ji

Apart from Horai-ji Temple, a Toshogu Shrine also stands venerated by worshippers on the slopes on the Horai-ji mountain. Built in the 17th century by the third shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu for his father, Ieyasu, to the east of the main temple. The interior walls of Toshogu are decorated with elaborate carvings that resemble those in the World Heritage site Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Tochigi prefecture.

The religious site is said to have been particularly venerated by the Tokugawa family, upon Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mother’s conception of her son after praying there.  But the influence of the temple declined after the mid-19th century with the end of the samurai rule of Japan.

The main building of Horaiji burnt down many times, the extant building was completed in Showa 49. 

Nio-mon ("Deva King Gate"

Nio-mon (“Deva King Gate”

Today, the main historic relics that remain of the sacred site are the sanctuary, Nio-mon (“Deva King Gate”), bell tower, Okuno-in (inner shrine), Ko-do (small hall), and two small annexes.

However,  the discovery of ancient ritual relics such as an old mirror is thought to substantiate the actual antiquity of the site as a historical spot for pilgrims’ and ascetics’ rituals and provide evidence of human inhabitation on the mountain since early times.
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This photo of Horaiji Temple is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Geology and environs of the mountain

Mt Horai-ji, located on the southern edge of dormant volcanos in Okumikawa, Shinshiro, Aichi Prefecture. Formed by volcanic lava 20 to 15 million years ago, the mountain consists of dacite, pitchstone and so on. The mountain is famous as a habitat for scops owls, and at the end of a rigorous climb to the top of the mountain, the panoramic view of the forested hills of the East Mikawa Plain stretching all the way to Mikawa Bay.

Visitors will combine their temple pilgrimage with a visit to the Yuya Onsen, a popular rustic hotspring resort in the 18th century 5 km. Or they will want to hike the beautiful prefectural park and for the spectacular autumn colours of the Aichi Kenmin no Mori  in early November, all within easy walking distance of JR Yuya Onsen station. Many campsites are to be found (eg. the Kenmin no Mori campground nearby the Yuya Onsen station) as well as the Youth Travel Village at the base of Mt. Horaiji (which offers tents and bungalows, as well as auto camping sites).

Visiting Mt Horai-ji and Horaiji Temple

Location and address:

Horai-ji located in Horai-cho, Aichi Prefecture.
Address: 1 Horaiji, Kadoya, Shinshiro-shi, Aichi (Kadoyama Shinshiro, Aichi Prefecture,  441-1944, Shinshiro Sightseeing Association)
Admission Fee: Free in the temple precincts

Directions From Tokyo :
[Rail] 2h 15 min to Toyohashi Station by JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line. 35 min from Toyohashi to Hon-Nagashino-jo Station by JR Iida Line (limited express), and 10 min from the station to Horaiji by bus. From the Horaiji Stop, a 40-min. walk

From Osaka :
[Rail] 1h 20 min from Shin-Osaka to Toyohashi Station by Shinkansen. From Toyohashi Station, southeast of Nagoya on the Tokaido main line, take the JR Iida line to Yuya Onsen station (about 70 minutes by local train, or 46 minutes on the Inaji limited express). For Horaiji, exit at Honnagashino station instead, then board the (infrequent) Toyotetsu bus to either the Horaiji stop (an easy 15-minute walk to the temple) or the village at the base of the Horaiji staircase.

* Note on the significance of Lapis Lazuli:

The most distinctive feature of this Medicine Buddha is his color, the deep blue of lapis lazuli. This precious stone has been greatly prized by Asian and European cultures for more than six thousand years and, until relatively recently, its ornamental value was on a par with, or even exceeded, that of the diamond. An aura of mystery surrounds this gemstone, perhaps because of its principal mines are located in the remote Badakshan region of northeast Afghanistan, an all-but-inaccessible area located behind the Hindu Kush. One commentator has written, “the finest specimens of lapis, intensely blue with speckled waves and swirls of shining gold-colored pyrite, resemble the night aglow with myriads of stars.” Traditionally this beautiful stone was used to symbolize that which is pure or rare.” – Medicine Buddha and Tibetan Medicine

Sources and references:

鳳来寺山 Houraiji-san Mt Horaiji (NIPPON-KICHI)

Horaiji Temple (Japan National Tourist Organization) 

Tenryu-Oku-Mikawa Quasi-National Park 鳳来寺山と湯谷温泉 by Daniel Simmons

What’s Up Aichi : The Healing Waters of Yuya, The Healing  Issue 26, Autumn 2012 is a Publication of The Aichi Prefectural Government San Francisco Office

Bhaiṣajyaguru (Wikipedia)

Horaiji Toshogu National Treasure

Shingon Buddhism (Wikipedia)

Shingon Buddhism by David Moreton

The Encyclopedia of Taoism ed. edited by Fabrizio Pregadio


Shingon-shu (Shingon Buddhism)

The Adhyardhasatika Prajnaparamita is one of the most influential and revered scriptures in East-Asian esoteric Buddhism. Known as the RishukyM, this sktra, in its Chinese version by Amoghavajra, has been for centuries been at the core of the Shingon liturgy in Japan. Its Sanskrit text, however, was known until recently only through a fragmentary Central-Asian manuscript studied by Ernst Leumann in early twentieth century. This volume presents a critical edition of the Adhyardhasatika based on the a newly available photocopy, kept at the China Tibetology Research Center (Beijing), of a newly available Sanskrit manuscript from Tibet. Also edited in this volume is the Tibetan version of the text, Zes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i tshul brgya lna bcu pa, using fourteen exemplars of Kanjur and a Dunhuang manuscript. The introduction to the edition includes a survey of previous studies of on the Adhyardhasatika, a description of the materials used, as well as remarks on the distinctive features of the Sanskrit text. See (source: Austrian Academy of Sciences) of Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region 5 2009, ca. XVIII+100 Seiten, 24×15,5cm, broschiert


Copyright (c) Heritage of Japan

King Yama Lord of the Dead: Comparing counterparts and cognates in Central Asia and Southeast Asia

In Japan, the folkloric Yama, King of the Dead is sometimes seen as an Ogre-like demon and Lord of Death (and whose consort is Datsue-ba), but the figure is better known from Buddhist iconography as the magisterial and judgelike Emma – that shows Chinese adaptations from the Indian Yama.

Emma originally from Nariaji Temple, Kyoto, now at Kyoto National Museum Photo: Wikimedia Commons

King Enma and his attendants (Judgment Reader) Hoshaku-ji Temple Photo: Kyoto National Museum 

Yama is also called Emma (閻魔, “Yemma”), King Emma (閻魔王, Emma-ō), and Great King Emma (閻魔大王, Enma Dai-Ō).

19th century kagamibuta netsuke depicting Emma

Azuchi-Momoyama period wallscroll depicting Enma (Wikimedia Commons)

One sees from the later iconography (above) that Emma is depicted with a civil servant’s hat that is similar to the Chinese adapted notion of the Yan who is a judge, whereas the earlier Yama of the Sainokawara folktales are more akin to demons of the Underworld and therefore resemble most the Indo-Iranian / Saka and Tibetan versions.

“Enma face” (閻魔顔 Enma-gao?) is an idiom used to describe someone with a fearsome face.
“If you lie, Lord Enma will pull out your tongue” (嘘をつけばと閻魔さまに舌を抜かれる?) is a superstition often told to scare children into telling the truth.
A Japanese kotowaza states “When borrowing, the face of a jizō; when repaying (a loan), the face of Enma” (借りる時の地蔵顔、返す時の閻魔顔?). Jizō is typically portrayed with a serene, happy expression whereas Enma is typically portrayed with a thunderous, furious expression. The kotowaza alludes to changes in people’s behaviour for selfish reasons depending on their circumstances.

Saimyō-ji, a Shingi Shingon Buddhist temple in Mashiko, Tochigi, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, is the only temple where one can see a statue of a laughing Enma.

Yama in Iranian mythology “Yamaxšaita”; “Yima Xšaēta”, or “Jamshid” 

A parallel character in Iranian mythology and Zoroastrianism is known as Yima Xšaēta, who appears in the Avesta. The pronunciation “Yima” is peculiar to the Avestan dialect; in most Iranian dialects, including Old Persian, the name would have been “Yama”. In the Avesta, the emphasis is on Yima’s character as one of the first mortals and as a great king of men. Over time, *Yamaxšaita was transformed into Jamšēd or Jamshid, celebrated as the greatest of the early shahs of the world.

By regular sound changes (y → j, and the loss of the final syllable) Avestan Yima became Middle Persian Jam, which was subsequently continued into New Persian.

There are also a few functional parallels between the Ymir frost giant of the Finno-Ugric and Scandinavian peoples, as well as Avestan Yima and Sanskrit Yama, for instance, Yima was the son of Vivaŋhat, who in turn corresponds to the Vedic Vivasvat, “he who shines out”, a divinity of the Sun. They differ however on several crucial points. For instance, Sanskrit Yama is a primordial man (accompanied by Yami, primordial woman), while in both Zoroastrian scripture and tradition this role is fulfilled by Mashya and Mashyana.

According to Persian scripture  the Vendidad (2nd chap.) of the Avesta, Yima is a good shepherd charged by the omniscient Creator Ahura Mazda to rule over and nourish the earth, to see that the living things prosper, and to whom Ahura Mazda presents a golden seal and a dagger inlaid with gold.

Yima rules as king for three hundred years, and soon the earth was full of men, flocks of birds and herds of animals. He deprived the daevas, who were demonic servants of the evil Ahriman, of wealth, herds and reputation during his reign. Good men, however, lived lives of plenty, and were neither sick nor aged. Father and son walked together, each appearing no older than fifteen. Ahura Mazda visits him once more, warning him of this overpopulation. But Yima pressing the golden seal against the earth and boring into it with the poniard, beeches Spenta Armaiti (one of the emanations of Ahura Mazda or one of Amesha Spentas, the seven “Bounteous Immortals” of the Zoroastrian tradition) to provide bountifully for mankind.

But then the earth swells and after Yima has ruled for another six hundred years, and again nine hundred years later, the earth reaches the brink of overpopulation growth, and Yima attends a meeting  of Ahura Mazda and the Yazatas in Airyanem Vaejah, the first of the “perfect lands”. Yima attends with a group of “the best of mortals”, where Ahura Mazda warns him of an upcoming catastrophe: “O fair Yima, son of Vivaŋhat! Upon the material world the evil winters are about to fall, that shall bring the fierce, deadly frost; upon the material world the evil winters are about to fall, that shall make snow-flakes fall thick, even an arədvi deep on the highest tops of mountains.”

Ahura Mazda advises Yima to construct a Vara (Avestan: enclosure) in the form of a multi-level cavern underground, two miles (3 km) long and two miles (3 km) wide. And Yima is then charged to populate the underground world with the fittest of men and women; and with two of every animal, bird and plant; and supply with food and water gathered the previous summer. Yima creates the Vara by crushing the earth with a stamp of his foot, and kneading it into shape as a potter does to clay. He creates streets and buildings, and brings nearly two thousand people to live therein. He creates artificial light, and finally seals the Vara with a golden ring.

[Ed. Note: This obviously is reminiscent of  the Bible which itself does not refer to “The Angel of Death” but refers instead to “Abaddon” (The Destroyer), an Angel who is known as the “The Angel of the Abyss”. In Talmudic lore, he is characterized as archangel Samael.  Metatron, when addressing Moses, says he ‘is Samael, who takes the soul away from man.’]

Yama and proto-Indo-European and Finno-ugric “Ymir”

In a disputable etymology, W. Meid (1992) has linked the names Yama (reconstructed in Proto-Indo-European as *yemos) and the name of the primeval Norse frost giant Ymir, which can be reconstructed in Proto-Germanic as *umijaz or *jumijaz, in the latter case possibly deriving from PIE *ymyos, from the root yem “twin”. In his myth, however, Ymir is not a twin, and only shares with Yama the characteristics of being primeval and mortal. However, Ymir is a hermaphrodite and engenders the race of giants.

Inspired by the Prose Edda narrative, Ymir suckles from the cow Auðumbla while she licks Búri from the ice in a painting by Nicolai Abildgaard (1790) Photo: Wikimedia Commons

There is a folktale from the Russian Vologda region that may likely originated with Finno-Ugric peoples, a tale whose action takes place at the headwaters of the Ob and the Yenisei, two of the greatest Siberian rivers, a tale of Yamal Iri one of nine brothers who were appointed by Terleyev the guardian spirits of all that is on earth, and commanded to help people.  The figure is portrayed as a wizard with a magical rune-covered staff and possessing of good magical powers and who looks like an elderly grey-haired man in traditional folk costume.   He is said to  be “both gentle in speech and, at the same time, very self-confident and self-assured in his strength”.  Yamal is a classic Northern magician, who is said to have appeared in Yamal-Nentsia, settled down in the ancestral lands of the Taishin princes in the village of Gorno-Knyazevsky and a figure based on the legends of the indigenous Northern peoples of the North. He also uses a reindeer skin covered Nenet drum made of birch wood to regularly to conduct his rituals. The drumming is deemed to drive away evil spirits, to give a charge of cheerfulness and positive energy, and bestows chances for good and happiness. He is cast in opposition to the treacherous Nga who appears to be a type of Ded Moroz character, a wicked sorcerer and conflation of all the Old Slavic storm gods “Pozvizd”—the god of wind and good and bad weather, “Zimnik”—god of winter, and the terrifying “Korochun”—an underworld god ruling over frosts. Here is a rare abridged account of the Legend of Yamal Iri, a Siberian Jack Frost tale taken from Yamal Iri: Santa Claus of the Far North:

Left: Yamal Iri (Photo: Etnic Ru) Right: Old Man Frost’ Ded Moroz dressed up character in Veliky Ustyug, Vologda Oblast, Russia Photo: Wikipedia

“Far to the north and east stretches a vast land, fenced off from other lands by the rocky Urals, “whose top may reach the heavens, hidden from other people by a blanket of white fluffy snow. In olden days, outsiders knew it as the “midnight land”, but, those living there, “the People”, despised fear and they travelled at will across it. Since then, much water has flowed over the land, many lives have passed, things have come and gone, but people still call it Yamal, which translated from the Northern language means “the Edge of the World”. The sacred myths of the Nentsi tell of an ancient ocean, when there was no land, and how the birds fetched land from the depths and brought it up in their beaks; when the land arose, the first men appeared, and the gods gave them their laws as they settled over the vast tundra. Ancient legends tell of heroes, the progenitors of us all, and their tragic fall, which resulted in the appearance of illness and death in the land. We don’t remember the people, we don’t remember the earth as it was, we forgot how much water has flowed down the river since then… however, at that time, the nine giant Terleyev brothers gathered in one place … giants The eldest of them said, “At the other end of the earth, when I pursued Nenai Khuus, the Sun laughed at me, it aided disease and terrible monsters. Then, I went to the Master of Heaven, he laughed at me, and he helped disease, darkness, and monsters… I knew that it shouldn’t be! I defeated the Sun, and it now serves the Earth. To the Master of Heaven I said, ‘When I struggled with Nenai Khuus, you laughed at me, when I fought disease, you laughed at me! Why do you not feel sorry for the Earth, if you’re the Master of Heaven? Are you not the Master of Heaven? I’ll give you up to the northern clouds, I’ll throw you up into the northern clouds for seven years, so that you can think and make up your mind!’ For seven long years, the Master of Heaven struggled with the cold; he could not accept the fact that he would serve the Earth. Finally, he submitted. Since then, order reigned in the world; the Sun and Heaven began to serve the Earth, to protect her from terrible monsters and from disease. I, Terlei the Elder, gathered you, my brothers, to say that we now must leave; we’ve ended their lives. We’ll go to different places and become the spirits of the Earth, filling it with mystical knowledge, arranging the order so that people can live right according to the law and customs!”

It became so! At the headwaters of the Ob and the Yenisei, two of the greatest Siberian rivers, the nine brothers Terleyev appointed the guardian spirits of all that is on earth, and commanded them to help people. The eldest of the Terleyev, Yamal, settled on the peninsula and began to live with the reindeer people, and he determined to assist those who lived there to ensure that people and animals lived here in harmony, helping each other. However, when Terlei the Elder couldn’t find a spirit to do a job, he hesitated… then, he took Parneko the witch from the dungeons of the terrible Nga. For a long time, Nga, the Lord of Death and Disease, tried to persuade a nameless spirit with him to deceive and do evil to people, but the spirit obstinately resisted… then, it couldn’t resist Nga, who was angry and froze it! To his astonishment, he found his spirit and mind paralysed! It forgot about him and the spirits, and people didn’t know then that he really needed them. Treacherous Nga, pleased with his cruelty, promised, “I’ll let you go when people remember you, when they realise that they miss you… only when they remember, only when these poor little people understand, only when they realise what they lack in life… We’ll see when they come to their senses…” Many years passed since then, much water has flowed down the beautiful Ob, but people caught up in work and worry did not think about an unnamed guardian spirit who pined away, caught in the ice by the treacherous Nga… 

A Jack Frost-like storm sorcerer character in Samara

“Then, one day, the children of Yamal decided that they should have a winter wizard who would be responsible for the winter holidays, who would ensure that children’s dreams come true, so that they all would have gifts and the magic of fairy tales! How should we do it? No one knew! Children thought and dreamed of bringing to life our Yamal Santa Claus. Their mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, tried to bring to life this wish… then, it just couldn’t be, because both children and adults understood that it takes more than just dreams to create an important magician! Should they link him with the land, with living tales born on this particular patch of earth? He should help children and adults fight evil and greyness… it wasn’t immediately clear how to do this… then, the kids began to look for helpers in the ages-old folktales of the native people of Yamal.

Lemming, White Ermine, and Ptarmigan responded to the little ones. At first, Lemming and Ptarmigan didn’t understand what the kids wanted. Very few children knew what their land was like in ancient times. They told the kids that they were ready to help, but they didn’t know what to do. Then, White Ermine remembered a story his grandmother told him about a guardian spirit who languished in captivity in an ice cave guarded by the witch Parneko. The friends decided to find the way to the underground dungeon to release the guardian spirit from his vicious captivity, so that he could become our good winter wizard and create miracles for the children on the Yamal Peninsula. He would become our keeper of our tales and our Christmas traditions.

The three young heroes turned to the guardian spirits of Yamal-Nentsia, they asked them to release the unnamed guardian spirit. They told them about the dreams of our children, ones that sought the appearance of the magician. Then, the guardian spirits called upon the Masters of the Yamal Land, they performed magic rituals, and they sprayed the ground with living water… the earth sighed deeply, it trembled, and it shed joyful tears, for it had long awaited this time. The good guardian spirit, once forgotten in the cold captivity of the witch Parneko, appeared before them. It became clear to everyone that this guardian spirit, Yamal Iri, was the keeper of the Christmas tales, the brother of the good spirits, and an advocate for all of us. Everyone was delighted to see him… our three little friends, the kids, and the other good guardian spirits! All the bright and good forces on earth greeted him! Now, Yamal Iri lives in Yamal-Nentsia, he does good deeds, he keeps the tales, and he helps our kids have fun over the New Year’s holidays, he makes us all merry and happy. He began his work with great joy and energy. Because he spent a long time waiting for release, when the spirits released him, he couldn’t wait to help people to heal the land! Yamal Iri doesn’t stop saying that if his release was so that he could help our kids, to please them, and to make their lives more beautiful, he’d gladly perform such a duty, he considers it his debt to everyone!

Indian Yama

Yama belongs to an early stratum of Vedic mythology. In Vedic tradition Yama was considered to have been the first mortal who died and espied the way to the celestial abodes, and in virtue of precedence he became the ruler of the departed. Yama (Sanskrit: यम), also known as Yamarāja (यमराज) in Nepal and India.

In Hinduism, Yama was also the son of sun god Surya of Surya, the sun god & Usha. In Sanskrit, Yama’s name can be interpreted to mean “twin”, and in some myths, he is paired with a twin sister Yami or Yamuna. In the myths and Legends of Devi (by Bhattacharji, Sukumari, Sukumari ) they are the first pair of humans in the world. According to one story, Yama and Yami were twins born to the sun god, Surya and Consciousness or Samjna. The Hindu Yama presided over Naraka, the Hindu underworld.

In Hinduism, Yama or Yama raj is the lokapala (“Guardian of the Directions”) of the south and an Aditya (one of the seven celestial deities). Three hymns (10, 14, and 35) in the 10th book of the Rig Veda are addressed to him. He has two dogs with four eyes and wide nostrils guarding the road to his abode (reminscent of the Indo-European hellhound - the Scottish folklore believe a black or dark green dog known as a cù sith took the soul of a dying person to the afterlife and the native American Black Dog who ferries the dead across the River of Tears). They are said to wander about among people as his messengers.

Yamaraj rides a black buffalo and carries a rope lasso to carry the soul back to his abode, called “Yamalok”(the world of Yama – or the Underworld of the dead). There are many forms of reapers, although some say there is only one who disguises himself as a small child. His agents, the Yamaduts, carry souls back to Yamalok. There, all the accounts of a person’s good and bad deeds are stored and maintained by Chitragupta. The balance of these deeds allows Yamaraj to decide where the soul has to reside in its next life, following the theory of reincarnation. Yama is also mentioned in the Mahabharata as a great philosopher and devotee of Supreme Brahman.

Yama holds a loop of rope in one hand and the danda weapon in the other

In Hindu myth, there are many hells, and Yama, Lord of Justice, sends human beings after death for appropriate punishment. In art, he is depicted with green or red skin and red clothes and rides a water buffalo. He holds a loop of rope in his left hand with which he pulls the soul from the corpse.

Yama in Javanese

There is Yamadipati in Javanese culture, especially in wayang kulit shadow puppet shows. The word adipati means ruler or commander. When Hinduism first came to Java, Yama was still the same as Yama in Hindu myth. Later, as Islam replaced Hinduism as the majority religion of Java, Yama was demystified by Walisanga, who ruled at that time. So, in Javanese, Yama became a new character. He is the son of Sanghyang Ismaya and Dewi Sanggani. In the Wayang legend, Yamadipati married Dewi Mumpuni. Unfortunately, Dewi Mumpuni fell in love with Nagatatmala, son of Hyang Anantaboga, who rules the earth. Dewi Mumpuni eventually left Yamadipati, however.


Yamadipiti featured in wayang Photo: Figur Wayang: Yamadipiti

In Greece and the Hellenic World

The Greeks have elements that are very similar to the Persian/Indo-Iranian concepts – and also Japanese concepts of the Underworld, with the River Styx, the idea of payment to cross the river or be left stranded on  its riverbank, and the female spirits of violent death. Unlike the Eastern counterparts however, but more akin to the Russian-Finno Ugric tales, Death is a male figure who is represented as being just and gentle.

“Ancient Greece found Death to be inevitable, and, therefore, he is not represented as purely evil. He is often portrayed as a bearded and winged man, but has also been portrayed as a young boy. Death, or Thanatos, is the counterpart of life, death being represented as male, and life as female. He is the twin brother of Hypnos, the god of sleep. He is typically shown with his brother and is represented as being just and gentle. His job is to escort the dead to the underworld, Hades. He then hands the dead over to Charon, who mans the boat that carries them over the river Styx, which separates the land of the living from the land of the dead. It was believed that if the ferryman did not receive some sort of payment, the soul would not be delivered to the underworld and would be left by the riverside for a hundred years. Thanatos’ sisters, the Keres, were the spirits of violent death. They were associated with deaths from battle, disease, accident, and murder. The sisters were portrayed as evil, often feeding on the blood of the body after the soul had been escorted to Hades. They had fangs and talons, and would be dressed in bloody garments”. — Excerpted from “Death” article from the Ycut Cadavers website

In Tibet

In Tibetan Buddhism, Shinje (Tibetan: གཤིན་རྗེ་, Gshin.rje) is both regarded with horror as the prime mover of the cycle of death and rebirth and revered as a guardian of spiritual practice. In the popular mandala of the Bhavacakra, all of the realms of life are depicted between the jaws or in the arms of a monstrous Shinje. Shinje is sometimes shown with a consort, Yami, and sometimes pursued by Yamantaka (“Yama-Death”).

Yama, mid-17th–early 18th century, Tibet (Wikimedia Commons)

In one account of Yama and the Yamantaka, the Tibetan Yama was an enraged “holy man [who] meditated in a cave for 49 years, 11 months, and 29 days, until he was interrupted by two thieves who broke in with a stolen bull. After beheading the bull in front of the hermit, they ignored his requests to be spared for but a few minutes and beheaded him as well. In his near-enlightened fury, this holy man became Yama, the god of Death, took the bull’s head for his own, and killed the two thieves, drinking their blood from cups made of their skulls. Still enraged, Yama decided to kill everyone in Tibet.  The people of Tibet, fearing for their lives, prayed to the bodhisattva Manjushri, who took up their cause. He transformed himself into Yamantaka, similar to Yama but ten times more powerful and horrific. In their battle, everywhere Yama turned, he found infinite versions of himself. Manjushri as Yamantaka defeated Yama and turned him into a protector of Buddhism. He is generally considered a wrathful deity”

Yamantaka Vajrabhairav (British Museum) (above) is thus portrayed as a wrathful and conquering deity who put down the god of death.

In China

In Chinese mythology, Yan (Chinese: t: 閻, s: 阎, p: Yán) is the god of death and the ruler of Diyu. From Vedic Sanskrit Yama Rājā (यम राज, “King Yama”), he is also known as Ya-nluo-wang (t: 閻羅王, Yán-luó-wáng ). In both ancient and modern times, Yan is portrayed as a large man with a scowling red face, bulging eyes, and a long beard. He wears traditional robes and a judge’s cap or a crown which bears the character 王, “king.” He typically appears on Chinese hell money in the position reserved for political figures on regular currency.

Ten Kings of Hell, Yanluo Wang (J., Enra Ō; Skt., Yamarāja)

Important Cultural Property: Ten Kings of Hell, Yanluo Wang (J., Enra Ō; Skt., Yamarāja)
Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk, Southern Song dynasty, China 13th century (Photo: Nara National Museum)

Yan-luo-wang is not only the ruler but also the Judge of the Underworld and passes judgment on all the dead. He always appears in a male form, and his minions include a judge who holds in his hands a brush and a book listing every soul and the allotted death date for every life. Ox-Head and Horse-Face, the fearsome guardians of hell, bring the newly dead, one by one, before Yan for judgement. Men or women with merit will be rewarded good future lives or even revival in their previous life. Men or women who committed misdeeds will be sentenced to torture or miserable future lives. In some versions, Yan-luo-wang divides Diyu(Underworld) into eight, ten, or eighteen courts each ruled by a Yama King, such as King Chujiang, who rules the court reserved for thieves and murderers.

The spirits of the dead, on being judged by Yan, are supposed to either pass through a term of enjoyment in a region midway between the earth and the heaven of the gods or to undergo their measure of punishment in the nether world. Neither location is permanent and after a time, they return to Earth in new bodies.

“Yan” was sometimes considered to be a position in the celestial hierarchy, rather than an individual. There were said to be cases in which an honest mortal was rewarded the post of Yan and served as the judge and ruler of the underworld.

The folk versions of Yan-luo-wang have an account of Yama that resemble the Persian one in that the overpopulation theme remains:

The Lord of Death and Leader of the 5th Court of FENG-DU, the Chinese Hell. The Chinese model of YAMA, having been at first King of the 1st Court of Hell, but Heaven charged him of excessive leniency. Too many souls were traversing the Golden Bridge to Heaven and it was becoming crowded.

To stop spiritual over population, the JADE-EMPEROR set QIN-GUANG-WANG accountable for Judgment and designated YEN-LO-WANG to the 5th Hell of Wailing, Gouging and Boiling. When there he designed something to make souls especially miserable, so everybody was happy once again. Except for the souls, of course… He rules across the whole of FENG-DU and has a crew of deadly colleagues. His filing system contains the records of each and every soul, including their designated death date. MONKEY once paid him a visit and wreaked chaos, but we imagine security and safety has been tightened up since that time.”

Chinese Taoism incorporated the influences of Indo-Iranian (?) Yama beliefs into its own cosmology, where Yama is known as one of the Ten Lords of the Nether Realm or Shi Dian Ming Wang (十殿冥王/明王) or Shi Dong Zhu (十洞主). The 10 Ming Wang are considered the manifestation of the 10 Directional Lords of Salvation for the Suffering Souls (十方救苦天尊化身), which they are the 10 manifestation of Lord Tai Yi 太乙救苦天尊 (the key person in the Salvation of Suffering in Taoism).

Mesopotamian (Anatolian/Middle-eastern semitic) lord of the Underworld

“Nergal (arrow shooting god of II Kings 17:30) a Babylonian god and king of the Underworld “Lord of the great dwelling.”    When ejected from heaven he invaded the underworld with fourteen demons. … Nergal is also the god of plague with Namtar (evil god, negative aspect of fate, disease bringer), his symbols are a sword and a lion’s head. From the contract tablets found by Rassam at Tel-Ibrahim it appears that the ancient name of Cuthah was Gudua or Kuta. Its ruins were 3,000 feet in circumference and 280 feet high. In it was a sanctuary dedicated to Ibrahim (Abraham). Both the city and its great temple, the later dedicated to Nergal, appear to date back to Sumerian times. Nergal (Heb. nereghal, a Babylonian deity of destruction and disaster, associated with the planet Mars (god of war and agriculture — See also Hercules, Ares -son of Zeus, Zivis, Zio, Tiwas, Tiw).

A cylinder seal from Larsa, an ancient Sumerian city, c. 2360-2180 B.C., shows the god Nergal standing with one foot upon the body of an enemy. In his right hand is a weapon with wings or flames ready to strike its victim and in his left hand a weapon touching the ground which looks like a pruning hook or sickle. — “The Alpha and the Omega” (Chap. 3) by Jim A. Cornwell

In Korea

Yama is known as Yŏmna (염라) and Great King Yŏmna (염라대왕, Yŏmna Daewang) where the figure is similar to the Chinese Buddhist lord of death.




The Legends of Devi by Bhattacharji, Sukumari, Sukumari

Wikipedia’s entry Yama

Spenta Armaiti by Hannah MG Shapero

Yama Raj the God of Death and Hell

Chinese Yen-lo-wang in mythology

‘The Black Dog at the River of Tears’: Some Amerindian Representations of the Passage to the Land of the Dead
and their Eurasian Roots by Yuri Berezkin

“Death” Ycut Cadavers

Excerpts from writings on the origin of dragon symbolism

Naga Serpent King

Above: The legend of the Naga Serpent King as depicted in Indian and SEA symbolism and iconography

Below: Qin Dynasty (475-207 BCE) bronze dragon  - Shaanxi History Museum, Xi’an, China

Qin Dynasty (475-207 BCE) bronze dragon design - Shaanxi History Museum, Xi'an, China

Qin Dynasty (475-207 BCE) bronze dragon design -

Below: China – BCE 6th c-5th c Eastern Zhou Jade Dragon Pendant 1 and dragon bronze bell  Smithsonian Sackler 


Above 4th-5th c. ceramic dragon tomb guardian, The Walters Art Museum

Tan Chung’s work “A SINO-INDIAN PERSPECTIVE FOR INDIA-CHINA UNDERSTANDING” (excerpted below) is an important work presenting an overarching theory of India and China as cultural twins from which the symbolism of the dragon in China is a kind of mirror of the naga-serpent symbolism in India. This work deserves our consideration in the light of genetic studies especially on the common genetic pool of Haplogroup O (Y-DNA) and its subclades in the two countries, and many other M derived lineages out of India into China.  In tracing the origins of early Buddhism, this work is also invaluable. It might also be read with a view to understanding the identity of  how “China” “cinas” came about see “The Polity of Yelang (夜郎) and the Origins of the Name ‘China’” ; see also the board discussion  on all mentions in India of Chinna especially in Indian sacred texts . Finally, these works are being examined for a background understanding of the development of early Buddhism, and the forms it took as it spread to East Asia, particularly to Japan. One of the important early symbols or icons similar to the naga serpent was that of the xuanwu found on tomb murals, the influences, ideas and iconic art hailed from Taoist monasteries of China, such those on the Wudang Mountain.

Turtle and Snake, symbols of Wudang Mountain Taoism

Symbol of Wudang Mountain, the Xuanwu tortoise-serpent-dragon at Purple Cloud Temple Photo: Silent Tao

Left: The Genbu black warrior seen on the Takamatsuka Kofun tomb mural in Asuka Village, Japan | Right: The Koguryo hyunmu that is regarded as a mythical beast (black turtle that has a snakes for a tail) guarded the north of a Koguryo tomb mural, National Museum of Korea

Xuanwu (or Genbu equivalent in Japanese ), whose shape is like the play between a tortoise/turtle and a serpent, is the god in the north in Chinese ancient legends as well as on East Asian constellation charts. Seen from the sky, the shape of Heavenly Pillar Peak of Wudang Mountain, is said to be like a large tortoise/turtle, and the walls and buildings are just like a divine serpent winding around the tortoise/turtle; which form a miraculous picture of tortoise/turtle and serpent.

However, this tortoise-serpent myth likely had its origins in the Indian mythical World Tortoise the Kurma or Kurmaraja. The Shatapatha Brahmana identifies the earth as its lower shell, the atmosphere as its body and the vault of heaven as its upper shell. The concept of World-Tortoise and World-Elephant was conflated in popular or rhetorical references to Hindu mythology. A tortoise Chukwa was said to be supporting the Mount Meru that is central to Hindu and Buddhist cosmology (Source: The Turtle and the Elephant).

The developed form of the iconic and ornate dragon actually emerges rather late in China, earlier Shang and Zhou dragon art appeared in cruder coiled serpent-like forms.


“If we regard India and China as cultural twins from the same cradle, it is important to find the cultural affinity of the two civilizations. One common symbol is the powerful snake whose legendary image is known as Nagaraja in India, and LonglDragon in China. In Chinese Buddhist literature, these two symbols have merged into “Long”. (Chinese translators, like the famous pilgrim Xuanzang, rendered the supernatural Naga in ancient Indian texts into Longldragon on purpose.) Ancient Chinese heard about the magical power of Indians to call rains whenever they wanted. Some Indian Buddhist monks, like Vajrabodhi and Amoghavajra etc., demonstrated such a power by playing with the symbol of NagalDragon. We have records of Indian monks presiding over imperial rain-invoking ceremonies when China was visited by severe drought in the years 366, 726, 772 and 889, the last occurred in independent Yunnan -the state of Nanzhao.2 Both India and China were agrocultures (I have coined the term to replace the tongue-twister “agricultural culture”) for which rain-fall assumed great importance. The imaginary powerful NagamjalDragon symbol definitely had a connection with it. We can describe the two civilizations as Snake-Power Twins before the advent of Buddhism in China.

I have taken this proposition of Naga-Long twinhood to the academic fora both in China and in Taiwan, and have encountered violent opposition. My opponents argued that Long had had its independent existence for five-six thousand years, that China was always the Homeland of Dragon, and the Chinese were famous for being the “Progenies of Dragon” {Long de chuanren). Even the idea of a part of the social functions of the dragon symbol might originate from India was unacceptable because it hurt the Chinese pride in their thousand years of affinity with Long. This, in a way, underlines the daunting task of popularizing the Sino-Indian perspective among Chinese (and also Indian) scholars while studying the history and culture of India and China. The Sino-Indian perspective involved here is to treat Chinese and Indian cultures not as two separate entities developing in isolation, but as the two faces of the same culture developing in different socio-cultural surroundings constantly benefited by interface synergy. The mystification of the supernatural power of snake in India and Long in China was the product of agriculture of both the countries. While we don’t have concrete evidence for the Indian input in the imagination of the pre. Buddhist Chinese Long, we certainly can trace the Indian influence on the Buddhist (and post Buddhist, if you wish) Chinese Long. For one thing, the artifacts that symbolize Long created in pre-Buddhist China are by and large free from the fierce look that typifies the Buddhist Long (like the Chinese say, “zhangya wuzhua”, i.e. baring its teeth and waving its claws) which clearly demonstrate the inner social function of LonglDragon as the guardian of the imperial system. It is in this function that we clearly see the Indian contribution.

To recapitulate what I have spelt out elsewhere, during the pre-Buddhist period, even as late as the Han Dynasty, the Dragon/Long was treated as a “beast” (chu). The famous Han scholar, Wang Chong (27-97?), cited Chinese traditions like Long being reared so that people could eat its liver.3 But, in Indian legends, Siva was a Naga, Buddha was also a Naga, and the Indian traditions of Nagaraja performing the role of a guardian-angel for the God/Buddha and the sacred treasure. It was this message which was driven home in Chinese oral culture as well as literary tradition. Only after absorbing this cultural function from the Indian Nagaraja did the Chinese Long become a close companion of the Chinese imperial families in all dynasties from Sui. Tang till the Manchu. Another clear Chinese borrowing from India is the “Dragon-King” (Longwang) from the Indian Nagaraja. China scholars have found that this cult of Longwang has settled deeply in China’s socio-cultural chemistry as many penetrating studies, like that of Prasenjit Duara, who has included Longwang in his projection of the “cultural nexus of power” in China.4 Longwang/Dragon King is undisputably the symbol of Sino-Indian cultural twinhood that demonstrates the existence of Snake- Power Twins of India and China.

As culture advanced, the Snake-Power Twins transformed themselves into a new and higher stage of relations. This was brought about by the “Great Carrier” Mahayana -here I use the Sanskrit word from a non-religious perspective, viewing it as the carrier of a large treasure of Indian culture to China in the name of Buddha. Before I delve into the Sino-Indian cultural synergy wrought by the Buddhist evangelic movement, let me take up the early Sino-Indian contacts from the firm ground backed by historical evidence. We are in a position to say that Indians were among the earliest foreigners to know about the Chinese silk, and also to engage in its international trade long before the famous “Silk Road” between Luoyang and Rome became a thriving international phenomenon. The first foreign words for Chinese silk were “cinamsuka” (Chinese silk dress) and “cinapatta” (Chinese silk bundle) enshrined in Kautilya’s Arthasastra which goes back to the 4th century BC. There was the famous “Chinese discovery of India” in the 1st century BC by Zhang Qian (also spelled as Chang Ch’ien), personal envoy of the powerful Han Emperor Wu (reigning from 140 to 87 B.C). When he was sent to Central Asia to conclude alliances against the Hun tribes, he saw silk fabrics, the products of the southwestern Chinese province Sichuan, in the market place of “Daxia” (probably Afghanistan or north of it). He was told that the fabrics were re-exported by the Indian merchants to the hinterland of Central Asia.5

When Yunnan was annexed into the Han Empire in the 1st century AD, the Chinese authorities found that among the foreign settlers there was an Indian community named “Shendu” (perhaps a corruption of “Hindu”) that was “Indians” or “India.” But, the Chinese knowledge about “Shendu” went back to as early as the pre-Han days (3rd century BC) according to some ficticious historical accounts. India also loomed large in the broad rubric “xiyu” (western regions), because if we glean the data from all early Chinese narratives about Xiyu, we definitely find the depictions of India. Another ambiguous rubric is “Daqin” which was connected with India in two ways. First, India was trading with “Daqin” (denoting Roman Empire) on the sea. Second, ancient Chinese confused Europe with India and other far-away lands which they had had contacts through the sea. For instance, the Chinese records attributed elephant-teeth and rhinoceros as products of Daqin (while these were clearly Indian specialities not produced in Europe). Thus when the Han records say that Daqin was keenly interested in Chinese silk it actually indicated a triangular route of the Chinese export of silk reaching India, and also Europe via India. In 166 AD, the Chinese recorded the arrival of an embassy probably sent by the Roman Emperor, Mareus Aurelius Antonius, in the Han court. The Roman embassy arrived by sea and landed somewhere near the present Guangdong Province in southern China, and journeyed to the Han capital, Luoyang, by road. The embassy made a present to the Chinese emperor which contained ivory, rhinceros’ hom (a precious ingredient for Chinese medicine) and the shell of haw”sbill turtle, all products of India.6 From these accounts, we see fairly brisk contacts between the two great civilizations across great distance either through Central Asia overland, or over the sea. This would not exclude the direct trans-Himalayan contacts as well. Only when there were contacts could legends travel between the two civilizations.

I now return to the legend of Longwang which forms a part of the “cultural nexus of power” in China. Longwang provides an interesting academic phenomenon of historical development of mythology through which an imaginary symbol has been transformed into material social power. Such a transformation is no strange phenomenon in India as well. When foreign and native tourists see historical sites in India and China they are fed with a lot of information originated from legends packaged as historical data. This commonality between India and China speaks of their shared richness of cultural traditions, and also their common possession of unscientific cultural temperament. But, as scholars of cultural studies, we scientifically recognize religion as a component of culture although religion is not science. A historian makes a scientific observation that Buddhism was spread to China, and, as a result, Chinese created some holy shrines on their soil. So, when we look at the cultural map of China we see the sanctification of mythology in China’s day-to-day life as if it forms a part of China’s historical development. Let me spell out a little.

Among the legends of Yunnan, there is one recorded in the Gazetteer of Yunnan Province compiled during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). A “Cock’s Foot Hill” (Jizushan) at Binchuan County in the province was obviously christened after the Sanskrit Kukkutapadagiri -the name of the hill only 50 kilometres away from the bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha attained his enlightenment. The Yunnan legend claims that Jizushan, too, was the place where Lord Buddha had practised asceticism. A mystic fragrance would greet a visitor, says the legend.7 Here, the duplicating effect of culture was at work. Ramapithecus split into two groups and settled on both sides of the Himalaya, Kukkutapadagiri begot its double, and Lord Buddha pursued his enlightenment twice -once in ancient Bihar (Magadha), and another time in ancient Yunnan! My observation here is a mix between archaeological findings and legends, but it is an objective assessment of the cultural reality in between the Indian and Chinese civilizations. Many, particularly the people of Yunnan, have accepted the mix as a cultural heritage.

Let me give another example. In Chinese historical and semi-historical documents: there are places called “Shang Tianzhu”, “Zhong Tianzhu”, and “Xia Tianzhu” which literally mean, “Upper India”, “Middle India”, and “Lower India”. These three names actually indicate just a few square kilometres in Hangzhou City in Zhejiang Province in eastern China. How has such a mix-up come about? It is because of a legend that was the making of an ancient Indian Buddhist monk-scholar “Huili” (whose real identity is lost). In 326, this monk from western India came to Hangzhou. After seeing a hill in this area (in the vicinity of the scenic West Lake), he authoritatively proclaimed that the hill had been flown to China from Magadha (Bihar)! The Chinese believed him and, henceforth, called the hill “Tianzhushan”(the “Indian Hill”) and “Feilaifeng”(the “Peak that has flown here from India”).8 It was this legend that has contributed to the existence of “Upper” , “Middle” and “Lower” India on the Chinese map. …

Chinese legend-makers have claimed that four Indian Bodhisattvas have settled in China: Avalokitesvara at Mount Putuo in Zhejiang Province, Manjusri at Mount Wutai in Shanxi Province, Samantabhadra at Mount Emei in Sichuan Province, and Ksitigarbha at Mount Jiuhua in Anhui Province. Now, these legends have gone beyond their originally designed substance of oral literature. They have been utilized by people of China today, particularly the tourist departments, as facts confirmed by cultural traditions as well as by history and geography. China’s being a tourist attraction today (so is India) contrasts greatly to, say, America’s attraction. Millions of tourists go around China climbing mountains and reaching very remote corners of the country not only to appreciate natural scenery, but also pay homage to historical memories -visiting a Tang monastery, a Song pagoda, or a Northern Wei cave etc. Ninety per cent of these historical memories are associated with the spread of Buddhism in China. When we see architectural wonders being built hundreds and more than a thousand years ago in the remote corners of China to commemorate the arrival of Buddhism we know that in historical times immense human activities were attracted to these places surmounting many folds of difficulties than the tourists do today -being beckoned by legends and mythology. In other words, legends became an important investment in China’s cultural splendours. This is her gain as the Buddhist-twin of India -the country that has invented Buddhism.

It {urns out that though India invented Buddhism she benefited much less from this invention as compared with China. For Buddhism, it had a horizontal development, and for some time it was as if all the roads were leading to China -eminent monk-scholars, scriptures, artifacts, and legends. To the Chinese, the four great Buddhist Bodhisattvas (as alluded to just now) had left India for good, but not the Buddha. No Chinese account, however daring, has the audacity to claim that Buddha is no longer residing In India. Indian mythology, i.e. the Tantric traditions, however, reached a very daring and pro-China conclusion proclaiming China as the country where the true Buddha lives. The Tantric literature Taratantra in the section entitled “Rudrayamala”, described an Indian ascetic, Vasistha, having failed to obtain siddhi (divine power) in India, travelled to China -the “land of Atharvaveda” where he saw Buddha having an indulgence in meat, wine and women. Vasistha emulated such behaviours of Buddha and “attained final liberation”,10

All this shows that Buddhism has injected a special dynamism in our studies of the history of India, China and India-China relations, and should force us to adopt the Sino-Indian perspective, What we have cited above are indications of the non- demarcation of an international boundary between India and China in the cultural arena. As the Chinese say: “Ni zhong you wo, wo zhongyou ni,” (There is me in you, and you in me,) so is there India in China and vice versa. I should think that such a holistic phenomenon surely exists independent of Buddhism, but it is Buddhism which has made the phenomenon so obvious. The study of legends has served to sharpen our awareness of this holistic vision which is the essence of the Sino-Indian perspective I am discussing.

Let me move from legend to historical records which is a strong Chinese turf. According to a recent study the term “Zhongguo” (now the Chinese name for “China”) appeared 178 times in all written documents before China’s unification in 221 BC. “Guo” in the bisyllable denoted “country”, or “state”, while the other syllable “zhong” denoting “centre”, (This has given rise to the international term “Middle Kingdom”, and also the international stigma of “sinocentrism”.) But, politically China was not one state when these terms appeared. A detailed investigation of these 178 concepts proves that they mean different things in various contexts, and were anything but the suggestion that China lay in the centre of the universe. One scholar felt that “zhongguo” arrived as a symbol of a kind of unity in diversity,11 This shows clearly that the progenies of the Ramapithecus north of the Himalaya started an endeavour in the hinterland of present China to build up a commonwealth sharing a common cultural development, Such a commonwealth would not exclude communities from various directions who might not be the direct descendants of the trans-Himalayan Ramapithecus. It can be said that in ancient India, the same movement towards establishing a commonwealth was in action culminating in the establishment of the Maurya and Gupta empires.

To continue with the historical employment 9f the “Zhongguo” terminology. Chinese Buddhist scholars, from the early centuries of our common era onwards, attached to it a new signification, i.e. India, Daoxuan, In Shijia Fangzhi (Gazetteer of Sakyamuni World) wrote :

“When we discuss terminology we generally say ‘zhongguo’ is the western regions [xiyu], its another name is ‘Central Tianzhu’ [Central Heavenly India]. Sages of this land reiterate that the western country is Zhongguo.”12
Here, Daoxuan was citing the ancient Indiar) signification of “Madhyadesa” for Magadha. That he had no hesitation in transposing the Chinese term “Zhongguo” (Central state) to Magadha, the heartland of Buddhist India (in modern Bihar) may indicate his absolute loyalty to Buddha, but also indirectly reflects the open-mindedness among Chinese intellectuals of his times. He, further, in the same text, cited a debate taken place in the court of Emperor Wen of Song (reigning from 424 to 453 AD), In the presence of the emperor, Buddhist monk-scholar Huiyan out-smarted learned scholar He Chengtian by saying that in summer in India there was no shadow which proved that India was the real “zhongguo”, The emperor was pleased to hear that and offered an appointment to the monk.13 Once again, it was the Chinese ruler’s being convinced, (in this case, that India, not China, was the central state and lay at the centre of the earth) that should be noted than monk Hulyan’s going overboard to compliment India.

We notice that Shijia Fangzhi was a famous Chinese book penned in “High Tang”, i.e. when Tang Dynasty attained highest power and prosperity, while Tang Dynasty 1s generally regarded as the “golden period” of China’s cultural development. During such a period, Chinese Buddhist writers, Daoxuan and many others, used the term “Zhongguo” only to signify India, while calling China “Dong tu” (Eastern Land). In non-Buddhist literature during Tang one seldom comes across (if ever) the teim “Zhongguo” -and denoting China. But, terms like “Tianzhu” (Heavenly India), and “Xitian” (“Western Heaven” also denoting India), are replete in Tang literature, The conclusion drawn from this phenomenon is the absence of narrow feelings of nationalism, which explains how the name of India attained a special status of respect and intimacy when Chinese imperial power reached its zenith in the ancient period, Beyond doubt, this cultural intimacy was more because of the sharing of Buddhist culture as the two civilizations graduated from the stage of Snake-power Twins to a higher stage of Buddhist Twins.”

Kanashibari (金縛り) – sleep demons

Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013

John Henry Fuseli – The Nightmare, Institute of Fine Arts

To see a picture of a portrayal of a Japanese sleep demon called  Kanashibari (金縛り) click here(Matrhew Meyer’s blog).

How Japan’s teens can avoid sleep demons

Have you ever woken up but been unable to move; felt a powerful pressure holding you down, gripping you tight? Haruki Murakami has, and he describes it like this: “I was having a repulsive dream — a dark, slimy dream. … After I awoke, my breath came in painful grasps for a time. My arms and legs felt paralyzed. I lay there immobilized, listening to my own labored breathing, as if I were stretched out full-length on the floor of a huge cavern.”

News photo
The stuff of nightmares: Whether he’s flat out due to alcohol or sleep deprivation, this Tokyo train traveler is more likely than the average person to be having bad dreams. In this excerpt from the short story “Sleep” from his “The Elephant Vanishes” collection, Murakami is describing an episode of sleep paralysis, which is better known in Japan as kanashibari (literally, “bound in metal”).

In other cultures, the experience has been attributed to a ghost (China and Korea), a demon feeding on the living (Fiji) and, in the southern United States, to a witch.

People all over the world experience kanashibari, but with accounts going back at least as far as the kaidan (ghost stories) of the Edo Period (1603-1867), it has a particularly Japanese flavor.

In Japan, too, the phenomenon seems to disproportionately affect young people, while homegrown horror films often play on a psychological fear of ghosts manifesting in the real world. It’s no surprise that these movies depict young people as being disproportionately affected by these apparitions.

Fiction that may be, but in fact a nationwide survey of junior and senior high school students in Japan conducted in 2011 by Yoshitaka Kaneita of Nihon University School of Medicine in Tokyo, and colleagues, found that of the 90,081 questionnaires analyzed, 35.2 percent of respondents reported having nightmares, and 8.3 percent experienced kanashibari — compared with 6.2 percent of the general population in the United States who separate studies have found to report instances of kanashibari.

The results of the Japanese survey — as reported in the journal Sleep Medicine (DOI reference: 10.1016/j.sleep.2010.04.015) — show that Kaneita and his team found a number of factors that seem to increase the chance of having a nightmare or experiencing an episode of kanashibari.

For nightmares, they are: drinking alcohol, having trouble going to sleep, poor mental health — or simply being female, though there is little to be done about this factor.

For kanashibari, males were found to be more susceptible than females, with their odds of affliction shortening more due to taking a long daytime nap, having an early or late bedtime — and again, having difficulty going to sleep and/or poor mental health.

Kaneita’s team concluded that regular sleep habits are important to help prevent nightmares and episodes of sleep paralysis. However, Japanese high school students are often cited as being overloaded with work to the point that they have to get by on as little as four hours’ sleep a night. Indeed, in a separate survey of 3,478 Japanese high school students aged 16 to 18 (equivalent to 10th- through 12th-graders), researchers found that on average they slept for 6.3 hours, going to bed at 00:03 and rising at 06:33.

As the evidence suggests that teenagers in both Japan and South Korea are more sleep-deprived than those in Western countries and China, Kaneita and his coauthors recommend that health education about regular sleep habits should be promoted among Japanese adolescents.

Kanashibari — attributed to supernatural causes for centuries — may even shed light on the surprising mysteries of that most ubiquitous, beguiling and enjoyable of experiences: sleep. By monitoring volunteers in sleep labs, scientists have found that episodes of sleep paralysis occur when rapid-eye-movement (REM) stages of sleep overlap with waking stages.

Nonetheless, for something so intrinsic to the human condition, sleep remains poorly understood. There are many explanations, and probably many are correct. Sleep has numerous functions. It helps regulate emotions (we’re invariably in a better mood after a good sleep); it helps us recharge and conserve energy; it helps the brain to process memory. Sleep also helps the automatic functioning of the body — the heart rate, breathing and hormone production.

What seems to happen in kanashibari is that the person starts to wake up while REM sleep is still continuing. This leads to a situation where you are aware but “trapped” in a frozen body — because during REM sleep the muscles are paralyzed.

We’ve all probably experienced moments of this intriguing and (to me) pleasurable feeling of the consciousness “floating,” unmoored to the body. But it’s only ever been a few seconds for me. If the feeling lasted for minutes or even hours, as it does for some unfortunate people, I can see how if could generate panic.

It turns out that the brain becomes hyper-vigilant during these episodes, and can hallucinate a presence — a supernatural being, it may seem — holding them down. For some people it’s an evil cat, or a witch, or the bedclothes appear to become the twisted limbs of a dead body pressing on top of them.

But let’s not end on such a horrific note. Consider, for instance, dolphins and seals: When they sleep, half the brain is dormant while the other half stays alert. What on Earth does that feel like?

Perhaps dolphins have nightmares — being trapped in a cove by Japanese drive fishermen armed with spears, for example — but whatever their experience, it doesn’t last long: The sleep of marine mammals tends to occur in short bursts. Sweet dreams to all in this new year of 2013!

Rowan Hooper (@rowhoop on Twitter) is the News Editor of New Scientist magazine. The second volume of Natural Selections columns translated into Japanese is published by Shinchosha at ¥1,500. The title is “Hito wa Ima mo Shinka Shiteru (The Evolving Human).”

Further reading



「金縛り」 Kanashibari

金縛りはどうして起こるの? – goo ヘルスケア


“Kanashibari no Jutsu is an advanced Ninjutsu technique used to temporarily bind an individual or animal. With the person frozen in place, the ninja can either take the opportunity to attack or to retreat” — Naruto ninjutsu – Kanashibari no jutsu

Isani-and-Iswara vs Izanagi and Izanami: Similarities and common Saka-Sassanian-Sila roots of the royal myths of Indian and Japanese tribes

We attempt to trace in this article the origins of three of the elements of the Izanagi and Izanami myth: the mating ritual Dance of the Cosmic Couple around the sacred pillar, the Churning Sea of Milk setting for the creation of the Japanese isles, and  the harae purification or ablution ritual as Izanagi leaves the Underworld, as detailed in the ancient historical Kojiki and Nihongi chronicles that record the  mythology of early royal lineages of Japan. As the story tradition of Izanagi and Izanami goes:

The two deities then went to the bridge between heaven and earth, Ame-no-ukihashi (“floating bridge of heaven”), and churned the sea below with the spear. When drops of salty water fell from the spear, Onogoroshima (“self-forming island”) was created. They descended from the bridge of heaven and made their home on the island.

Eventually they wished to be mated, so they built a pillar called Ame-no-mihashira (“pillar of heaven”; the mi- is an honorific prefix) and around it they built a palace called Yahiro-dono (one hiro is approximately 182 cm, so the “eight-hiro-palace” would have been 14.56 m²). Izanagi and Izanami circled the pillar in opposite directions and, when they met on the other side, Izanami spoke first in greeting. Izanagi didn’t think that this was the proper thing to do, but they mated anyhow. They put the children into a boat and set them out to sea, then petitioned the other gods for an answer as to what they did wrong. They were told that the male deity should have spoken first in greeting during the marriage ceremony. So Izanagi and Izanami went around the pillar again, this time Izanagi speaking first when they met, and their marriage was finally successful.

From their union were born the ōyashima, or the “great eight islands” of the Japanese chain. Izanagi-no-Mikoto lamented the death of Izanami-no-Mikoto and undertook a journey to Yomi (“the shadowy land of the dead”). Quickly, he searched for Izanami-no-Mikoto and found her. At first, Izanagi-no-Mikoto could not see her at all for the shadows hid her appearance well. Nevertheless, he asked her to return with him. Izanami-no-Mikoto spat out at him, informing Izanagi-no-Mikoto that he was too late. She had already eaten the food of the underworld and was now one with the land of the dead. She could no longer return to the living.

Izanagi-no-Mikoto was shocked at this news but he refused to give in to her wishes of being left to the dark embrace of Yomi. While Izanami-no-Mikoto was sleeping, he took the comb that bound his long hair and set it alight as a torch. Under the sudden burst of light, he saw the horrid form of the once beautiful and graceful Izanami-no-Mikoto. She was now a rotting form of flesh with maggots and foul creatures running over her ravaged body.

Crying out loud, Izanagi-no-Mikoto could no longer control his fear and started to run, intending to return to the living and abandon his death-ridden wife. Izanami-no-Mikoto woke up shrieking and indignant and chased after him. Wild shikome (foul women) also hunted for the frightened Izanagi-no-Mikoto, instructed by Izanami-no-Mikoto to bring him back.
Izanagi-no-Mikoto burst out of the entrance and quickly pushed a boulder in the mouth of the Yomotsuhirasaka cavern that was the entrance of Yomi). Izanami-no-Mikoto screamed from behind this impenetrable barricade and told Izanagi-no-Mikoto that if he left her she would destroy 1,000 residents of the living every day. He furiously replied he would give life to 1,500.

The next part of the myth describes Izanagi descent into the Underworld as tradition goes.

The tale of Izanagi’s journey to the underworld is one of the most elaborate underworld legends of East Asia. The story is found in the Kojiki, a centuries-old account of Japanese Shinto history. According to the tale, Izanagi and his wife Izanami, created the Japanese islands and gave birth to many gods and goddesses. The couple lived happily under the blessing of heaven, until Izanami died while giving birth to the god of fire. The Kojiki says that when Izanami dies, Izanagi travels to the Land of Darkness to retrieve her. When he arrives in the underworld, he discovers that she has built herself a castle there and is reluctant to see him. He begs her to return with him to earth, promising that a life of happiness and splendor awaits them in the land of the living. But Izanami refuses, saying it is too late. Her husband persists, unaware of the fact that she has eaten the food of the dead and has begun to decay. She hides in the shadows and keeps him at a distance, telling the grieving widower to go back without her. But Izanagi is determined and pulls his bride out into the light. To his horror, he discovers that his once lovely wife is now a green, rotting, maggot-infested corpse giving off an unbearably foul stench. He screams, flings her aside, and flees. Humiliated by this insult, Izanami sends an army of 1,500 shikome (DEMONS) after her husband to punish him for disgracing her in the underworld.

As the shikome descend upon Izanagi, he throws off his headdress. It immediately turns into grapes, and the shikome stop to eat them. Next, he casts off his right comb, which becomes a patch of bamboo shoots. They devour these, and the pursuit continues. But before the shikome catch up with Izanagi, he is saved by the August Male, a kind protector. The August Male sympathizes with him and strikes down many of the shikome with an enormous sword.

Finally, Izanagi reaches the passageway between the Land of Darkness and the Land of Light. Here he finds three peaches and throws them at the last of his pursuers, demanding that they leave him and return to the underworld. He escapes into the land of the living and blocks the passage with a huge boulder.

Izanami shouts out to her husband from behind the stone. She vows to kill a thousand men every day until he returns to the Land of Darkness to appease her. Izanagi laughs, saying he will cause enough births to offset the deaths. Realizing at last that she is defeated, Izanami says good-bye to her love and they make a final break. Izanagi returns to the living while Izanami must forever remain in the Land of Darkness

Stephen Oppenheimer in his book “Eden in the East: The Drowned continent of Southeast Asiasuggested that the legend of Izanagi and Izanami resembled the Hindu gods Isani and Iswara in respect of the fertility garden analogy and of the “pillar” fertility mating ritual, and of the Izanagi-Izanami creator deities, that they “perform ritual acts of creation (like Brahma and Vishnu) with and around a spear, which has phallic properties including the production of semen.” During these acts Heaven and Earth separate and the Heavenly bodies are formed.” Others have suggested that the “Tree of Heaven pillar” might be an obvious reference to the Cosmic Tree or Axis of the World.

This Cosmic Dance is danced out elsewhere: the Austro-Asiatic speaking Bengal Oraon and Munda tribes when the time comes for planting out rice seedlings, the young men and women go to the forest to ritually cut down a ‘Karma Tree’ that they bring back to the village where it is planted in the middle of the dancing ground. They then dance around the tree attached with ribbons like a maypole dance. After the dance, barley seedlings are offered to the tree and then cast out to sea or water, whereupon the spirits of the grove are expected from there on to take care of the year’s barley harvest.  In Flores, they select from the forest, a carefully selected Ngadu-tree trunk which is considered hot and dangerous until it is cut down into a Ngadu pole and covered in carvings and placed in the middle of the village, with ‘phallic’ implications, alongside of a bhaga womb house.  Last but not least, a sacred garden (paradise?) is also created for Isani and Iswara in Oedeypoor, Rajputana, like the idyllic residence Izanagi and Izanami build for themselves.

Oppenheimer also observes that the royal myth in Nihongi “there is a preface of a Chaos and an egg separating into heaven and Earth” which brings forth the first light, and that these events have echoes in the differing Chinese, Polynesian, Finnish, Phoenician as well as Indonesian versions of creation myth, the last of which even has a creator who “sails into the eastern horizon and spears the sun into pieces [with his magic lance], thereby releasing both the moon and the stars. The sky is separated from the earth…The lance is also stuck to the front of the boat like a plow thus effecting the separation of the islands from the mainland.

We can now begin to trace the source of the Izanagi and Izanami myth as related to the royal myth of the Rajput-Gehlote-Sessodian clans, “Iswara and Isani”.

“Mahadera or Iswara, is the tutelary divinity of the Rajpoots in Méwar; and from the early annals of the dynasty appears to have been, with his consort Isani, the sole object of Gehlote adoration”. — James Tod, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan 

However, Izanagi and Izanami in the aspect of their descent into the Underworld also seem to find echoes in the Sumerian myth of Dumuzi or Dumuzid and Innana,  Inanna, after descending to the underworld, is allowed to return, but only with an unwanted entourage of demons, who insist on taking away a notable person in her place. Izanagi on the other hand, escapes by the skin of his teeth from the Underworld’s demons by throwing peaches at them  (see The peach as a kami and Mother goddess, and symbol of fertility and immortality  Then when the demons come to Uruk, they find Dumuzid the Shepherd sitting in palatial opulence, and seize him immediately, taking him into the underworld as Inanna’s substitute…  Inanna gives Dumuzid over to the demons as her substitute; they proceed to violate him, but he escapes to the home of his sister, Ngeshtin-ana (Geshtinanna). The demons pursue Dumuzid there, and eventually find him hiding in the pasture….thus we find a somewhat inverted mirror-image version of Izanagi and Izanami. But we find an even better fit and parallel with the ritually married Japanese Cosmic Couple in the Marriage of Inanna and Dumuzi a hymn of Sumer. They declare their love for each other in an orchard, under an apple tree:

“Dumuzi spoke:

Inanna I would go with you to my garden.
I would go with you to my orchard.

Inanna spoke:

I would go with you to my apple tree.
There I would plant the sweet, honey-covered seed.”

And a prayer for the fertility and prosperity of the land is uttered as “Ninshubur, the faithful servant of the holy shrine of Uruk, Led Dumuzi to the sweet thighs of Inanna and spoke”:

From the land of the huluppu-tree to the land of the cedar,
Let his shepherd’s staff protect all of Sumer and Akkad.

As the farmer, let him make the fields fertile,
As the shepherd, let him make the sheepfolds multiply,
Under his reign let there be vegetation,
Under his reign let there be rich grain.

In the marshland may the fish and birds chatter,
In the canebrake may the young and old reeds grow high,
In the steppe may the mashgur-trees grow high,
In the forests may the deer and wild goats multiply,
In the orchards may there be honey and wine,

In the gardens may the lettuce and cress grow high,
In the palace may there be long life.
May there be floodwater in the Tigris and Euphrates,
May the plants grow high on their banks and fill the meadows,
May the Lady of Vegetation pile the grain in heaps and mounds.”

The Rajputana and Sumerian examples make it easy for us to imagine that ritual union of Izanagi and Izanami couple before as it became recorded as a creation story into the Kojiki and Nihongi chronicles, was likely to have had the same kind of effect as the Inanna and Dumuzi hymn on the royals and their entourage watching the Cosmic Dance as it might have been performed as an early prototype kagura dance in the earliest palaces of proto-historic Japan.

Inanna & DumuziThe marriage of Inanna and Dumuzi

A traditional autumn festival among a Miao tribe  is the Yanu Festival, commemorating a folk hero “Yanu” from ancient times. A “Cosmic Couple”, a man and a woman are dressed in traditional Miao costumes, upholding the corns and paddy under the swing frames, take central place in the ceremony for the celebration of the bumper harvest. The community turns up all dressed-up Miao people, and begin to play swing, climbing “sword ladder” and perform Lusheng dance. At the festival, the unmarried young men and girls will take chance to seek their lovers. There may also be a performance of climbing the “ladder of knives” (see Climbing a Ladder of Knives and Miao cosmic pillar dance).

In the winter however, the Miao have another Flower Mountain Festival that takes place between January 1 to 15 of each lunar calendar year to pray for happiness of the Miaos and blessings of safety and prosperity. During the festival, the Miaos get dressed up, gather in the green near the village. The people erect the day  in the mountain, before the festival begins, a “flower pole” dyed in red and blue in 12 segments to pray to the god of childbirth. Over three days of animated festive dancing and singing, the young men court the young women in the mating ritual. The Flower Pole is the icon of the Flower Mountain. It is also the performance tool in the festival. Made of straight fir several zhang (1 zhang = 3.3 m) high, the people plant it in the middle of the Flower Mountain to form the center of the entertainment. The Lusheng players play the Lusheng and dance under the Flower Pole with the contests displaying acrobatic skill in pole climbing while playing Lusheng, and pole climbing doing Lion Dance.

The pair of myths also appear to be related to solar and astronomical reckonings – see the article on the Izanagi Jingu‘s theory regarding the identification and positioning of Awaji Island at the centre of the Creation of Japan myth, and the island’s guardian shrine for the myth, Izanagi Jingu, in summer and winter solstice alignments with other important sites such as Amaterasu’s cave, Suwa Taisha and Izumo Taisha. Astronomical reckoning is also important in the case of Angkor Wat, like many pyramids:

At the pivot point of this magnificent relief is the figure of the Hindu solar deity Vishnu (right), who occupies the one position in the panel that is directly illuminated by the rising sun on the day of the vernal equinox each March. In addition to the relief, the temple of Angkor Wat features solar alignments in which the Sun appears to rise out of its central tower on the day of the vernal equinox each March from at observation point located at the western end of the long causeway that leads up to the temple gates.

On solar myths,  in “Vala and Iwato: The Myth of the Hidden Sun in India, Japan, and beyond” Michael Witzel draws close parallels between the RigVedic Indian winter solstice and release of dawn myth and the Japanese Amaterasu sun myth:   “The ancient Japanese myth of the sun deity Amaterasu-ō-mikami hiding in and reemerging from the Iwato cave is first recorded in the oldest Japanese texts, the Kojiki and Nihonshoki (712/720 CE). The Indian version, the myth of Indra’s opening the Vala cave and his release of the ‘first dawn’ is found in the oldest Indian text, the gveda (c. 1200-1000B.C.)7 the Vedic myth of the Usas – Dawn”.

“Its classical Indo-European form is found in the Vedic literature of oldest India, from the gvedic hymns onwards. According to these poems that are meant for praise of the gods, the early morning sun, is regarded as a beautiful young woman (Uas “Dawn”)16 who heralds the rising of the sun. One of the most prominent myths connected with Us as is that of a “first” U as who – for reasons to be further detailed below – was hidden in a cave found on an island in the middle of the stream, the Raså,17 at the end of the world. The cave is opened18  by the strong warrior god Indra, who is accompanied by poets and singers, the Agiras.19 

They recite, sing, shout, and make a lot of noise outside the cave that is blocked by a robust lock (phaliga). The ‘strong-armed’ (tuvi-gråbha, ugra-båhu) god Indra smashes the gate with his weapon (vajra). He is helped by the recitations and the noise made by his A
giras friends (B 5). Helped by their various combined efforts, he opens the cave and the “first dawn” emerges, illuminating the whole world.”

Witzel finds most of the elements of the Indian and Indo-Iranian (East Iran and Nuristan, Afghanistan myths) to be intact and to correspond in the Japanese Amaterasu version, but finally concludes that the Japanese myth takes an intermediate position between the Indo-Iranian version and the ones belonging to Southeast Asia — the Austro-Asiatic Khasi, and the Tibeto-Burmese Naga (both in Assam), and the Austric Miao (Hmong) in S. China.


Discerning ancestry and Divine Descent from the Sun … which has parallels for Japan as Land of the rising Sun and its people as the ‘children of the sun’

This next segment of the article aims to sift through the ancestries behind the myths under discussion. We  begin by asking the question: Who were the Rajputs and Gehlotes or Gahlots to whom the Isani-Iswara deities are attributed?

This next article by R.V. Russell from “The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India” Vol. IV of IV is particularly significant, as it suggests to us the  historical provenance of Silla princely lineages of the Kofun era Japan who arrived via Korea.

Rajput, Sesodia, Gahlot, Aharia_.–The Gahlot or Sesodia is generally admitted to be the premier Rajput clan. Their chief is described by the bards as “The Suryavansi Rana, of royal race, Lord of Chitor, the ornament of the thirty-six royal races.” The Sesodias claim descent from the sun, through Loh, the eldest son of the divine Rama of Ajodhia. In token of their ancestry the royal banner of Mewar consisted of a golden sun on a crimson field…The last king of Valabhi was Siladitya, who was killed by an invasion of barbarians, and his posthumous son, Gohaditya, ruled in Idar and the hilly country in the south-west of Mewar. From him the clan took its name of Gohelot or Gahlot. Mr. D.R. Bhandarkar, however, from a detailed examination of the inscriptions relating to the Sesodias, arrives at the conclusion that the founders of the line were Nagar Brahmans from Vadnagar in Gujarat, the first of the line being one Guhadatta, from which the clan takes its name of Gahlot [566] The family were also connected with the ruling princes of Valabhi. Mr. Bhandarkar thinks that the Valabhi princes, and also the Nagar Brahmans, belonged to the Maitraka tribe, who, like the Gujars, were allied to the Huns, and entered India in the fifth or sixth century. Mr. Bhandarkar’s account really agrees quite closely with the traditions of the Sesodia bards themselves, except that he considers Guhadatta to have been a Nagar Brahman of Valabhi, and descended from the Maitrakas, a race allied to the Huns, while the bards say that he was a descendant of the Aryan Kshatriyas of Ajodhia, who migrated to Surat and established the Valabhi kingdom. The earliest prince of the Gahlot dynasty for whom a date has been obtained is Sila, A.D. 646, and he was fifth in descent from Guhadatta, who may therefore be placed in the first part of the sixth century. Bapa, the founder of the Gahlot clan in Mewar, was, according to tradition, sixth in descent from Gohaditya, and he had his capital at Nagda, a few miles to the north of Udaipur city. [567] A tradition quoted by Mr. Bhandarkar states that Bapa was the son of Grahadata. He succeeded in propitiating the god Siva.”

Oodeypoor in Rajputana was also a Sisodian clan, read more on Sessodians (a.k.a. Sassanians) from the same work:

“According to tradition Bapa went to Chitor, then held by the Mori or Pramara Rajputs, to seek his fortune, and was appointed to lead the Chitor forces against the Muhammadans on their first invasion of India.^ After defeating and expelling them he ousted the Mori ruler and established himself at Chitor, which has since been the capital of the Sesodias. The name Sesodia is really derived from Sesoda, the residence of a subsequent chief Rahup, who captured Mundore and was the first to bear the title of Rana of Mewar. Similarly Aharia is another local name from Ahar, a place in Mewar, which was given to the clan. They were also known as Raghuvansi, or of the race of king Raghu, the ancestor of the divine Rama. … From the fourteenth century the chronicles of the Sesodias contain many instances of Rajput courage and devotion. Chitor was sacked three times before the capital was removed to Udaipur, first by Ala-ul-Din Khilji in 1303, next by Bahadur Shah, the Muhammadan king of Gujarat in 1534, and lastly by Akbar in 1567. These events were known as Saka or massacres of the clan…”. 

According to historian Sir Jervoise Athelstane Baines, Gujjars are forefathers of Sisodiyas.

Sisodias claim their descent from Lord Rama who was from the Raghav (Raghuvanshi) clan of Suryavanshi dynasty and the hero of the famous Hindu epic The Ramayana through his son Luv who were their close associates.[4]. They continued with the flag of Luv that has insignia of ‘Sun’ that embossed on a crimson back ground. The clan claims that they had moved from Lahore that was also known as ‘Lohkot’ or ‘Lavasthali’ to Shiv Desh, or Chitor in V.S 191” — Source: “Sisodia

Identifying the ‘children of the sun’ and the fire-worshippers

According to the Encyclopedia of Shinto (by the Kokugakuin University):

The first wedded couple in the age of the gods (the seventh generation of deities). They gave birth to the terrestrial regions (Oyashimaguni), mountains, rivers, seas, plants, animals, and men, and became the gods of the earth and of all things on earth. Izanami died giving birth to the God of Fire and became a goddess in the land of Yomi. Izanagi went to visit her there but broke a taboo and was forced to part with her. Having come in contact with pollution, he feared that misfortune would result, and so went to the sea and purified himself. (See misogi.) He is thus regarded as the founder of the practice of harae. The three most important deities born to Izanagi and Izanami are Amaterasu Ômikami, Susanoo no mikoto, and Tsukiyomi no mikoto.

Persian presence in Japan

Were there ever any Persians in Japan?

An introduction to the Simorghian culture and Mithraism in East Asia Tojo writes of the widespread influence of Persian S. cultural ideas on Central Asia, China and Japanese Shinto beliefs:

“Zoroastrianism is dominant in Iran all the time until the fall of Sasanid dynasty. In the Achaemenid dynasty Ahura Mazda worship was one of the many sects, and was not so prominent as the western scholars imagine. The elite magi were Simorghians and Mithraists. The Seleucid, Parthia and Bactria were the golden age of the Simorghian (ancient Aryan) religion and Mithraism, the dark age for Ahura Mazda worshippers. Zoroastrianism was a mere branch of the ancient Aryan religion in the Central Asia. The Simorghian culture and Mithraism retained their power all the time even in early Islamic Iran. (Aoki. A History of Zoroastrianism, Ch. 1, 2, p212-213, afterword)

Its[Ancient Aryan religion] origin is far older than the Zoroastrianism. It held not only Mithraism (Mehrparasti) but also worship (cult ) of Anahita, Tyr, Daevas and other gods. In the Central Asia it flourished and retains its dominance even in early Islamic time. It held not only Mitharism and worship (cult) of Anahita, Daevas and other gods but also Zoroastrianism (Ahura Mazda worship) as its branch. There was a possibility that it was influenced by Manichaeism and Mahayana Buddhism. (Aoki. A History of Zoroastrianism, p200-201) There were its temples which have images of Mithra, Anahita, Farrah (prn) and other gods in the Central Asia and North China… (Aoki. A History of Zoroastrianism, p202).

Iranian Mithraism (Mehrparasti) It is simply called “Mithraism” in this article. It is a religion in the Simorghian culture. 
It is a religion in the same way as Shaivism and Vaishnavism in the Hindu culture. Neither Shaivism nor Vaishnavism is able to exist without the Hindu culture as its basis. 

So is Iranian Mithraism (Mehrparasti).
A monotheistic Mithraism was in its forming process in 12th-9th BC (Aoki. A History of Zoroastrianism, p26, 34). In my opinion Roman Mithraism is the extension of this process which proceed in the West Iran (Kurdistan), however, it retains strong connection with the Simorghian culture, unlike Zoroastrianism which denied the Simorghian culture….
In the Central Asia (present Afghanistan and Pakistan) Iranian religions met primitive Buddhism and made a syncretic new religious movement. The first is Miroku Buddhism 弥勒仏教, the second is Pure Land Buddhism 浄土教, the third is Esoteric Buddhism 密 … These three syncretic religions brought Simorghian culture and Mithraism to Japan. 

On Mihr’s-day everybody rest their work and wear white clothes to celebrate Mithra.

Recent Chinese and Japanese researchers attested that the Iranian religion which spread in the Central Asia was not Zoroastrianism (Mazda worship) but the ancient Aryan religion (and Simorghian culture) which includes Zoroastrianism as a branch sect. They also think that it is this ancient Aryan religion that came to Japan in Asuka era (592-710 AD).
(Aoki. A History of Zoroastrianism, p201, 205-207) It seems Manichaeism was a branch of it as well.

Mahayana Buddhism was formed under the strong influence of Mithraism, (2) there were also strong influence of Roman Mithraism. It is possible to say that Mahayana Buddhism is a syncretism of primitive Buddhism and Mithraism. 

The name Miroku itself is the definitive attestation that the origins of Miroku is Mithra. According to Prof. Imoto, the origin of the name Miroku is Middle Persian Mihrak, which is the nickname for Mithra. Mihrak was transcripted into Mi-l’әk* (Miroku 弥勒) in Northern Buddhism (Mahayana Buddhism) ( Imoto “Influence of Iranian Culture to7 Japan”, pp1-6). He is the first scholar who proposed the theory that Iranian religion, which was merged with Buddhism, came to Japan in Asuka era 592-710. Today he has many supporters among researchers.
Why did Buddhists use the name Mi-l’әk for the Chinese name of Maitreya of Mahayana? It is highly likely that they knew the origin of Mahayana Maitreya is Mithra and thought it adequate to use Mi-l’әk. There is an attestation. Manichaeran in Central Asia calls Maitreya Mitri-Burkhan (Mitra-Buddha) (Mirecki, Paul & Jason BeDuhn ed. Emerging from Darkness Studies in the Recovery of Manichaean Sources, p94). It is an attestation that Mahayana Maitreya is Mitra-Buddha and Maitreya and Mithra is identical in the Central Asia

A Brahmi connection of Japanese mythology has also been made by Anon  Prajapati, in the article The Shinto Mirror of Yata Inscription which relates to the central Amaterasu royal myth. The article asserts that the words on the Yata mirror have been decoded by a combination of the reading of Brahmi Sanskrit and Hebrew and early Japanese letters (notwithstanding the veracity of the Yata mirror’s existence and authenticity).  The above analysis of Saka-Sassanian/Persian-Sila invaders of India locate their origins in the Hurrian-Mittanian-Persian or Hindu Kush region but if this theory were confirmed to be true, it would bring the semitic peoples into the context of the Kojiki founding myths instead.
This next section traces the origins of Saka-Scythian-Sisodian (Sassanian) segments of the populations of Northwest India and cultural elements that Japan has in common with India. The scholars trace their them back to Persian and Hurrian-Mitannian populations. The writings of Tojo Masato offer an extensive exposition of the influences of the Persian-Simorghian Culture on Shintô Myth.

A description of the Saka-descended peoples of northwest India is given in Khshatrapa Gandasa’s Origin of the Saka Races (Chap 3)

“Herodotus from the 5th century BC writes in an eye-witness account of the Scythians: “they were the most manly and law-abiding of the Thracian tribes. If they could combine under one ruler, they would be the most powerful nation on earth.” According to their origin myth recorded by Herodotus, the Sakas arose when three things fell from the sky: the i) plough, ii) sword and iii) cup. The progenitor of the Sakas picked them up and hence the Saka race began its long history of conquering lands, releasing its bounties and enjoying the fruits of their labor (the cup has a ceremonial-spiritual-festive symbolism). The relevance of these symbols and codes of life and culture to the traditional Punjabi and northwest society are tantalizingly obvious. A branch of the Sakas kown as the Alani reached regions of Europe, Asia Minor and the Middle East….

Some of these Saka tribes entered northwest India through the Khyber pass, others through the more southerly Bolan pass which opens into Dera Ismail Khan in Sindh — an entry point into Gujarat and Rajasthan. From here some invading groups went north (Punjab), others went south (Maharasthra), and others further east (UP, MP). This explains why some Jat, Gujjar and Rajput clans claim descent from Rajasthan (Chauhan, Powar, Rathi, Sial etc.) while others from Afghanistan…


Sir Cunningham (former Director General of Indian Archeological survey) writes:
“the different races of the Scythians which succesively appeared as conquerors in the border provinces of Persian and India are the following in the order of arrival: Sakas or Sacae (the Su or Sai of the Chinese – B.C. ?), Kushans (the great Yue-Chi (Yuti) of the Chinese – B.C. 163), Kiddarite or later Kushans (the little Yue-chi of the Chinese – A.D. 450) and Epthalites or White Huns (the Yetha of the Chinese – 470 A.D.).

Cunningham further notes that “. . . the successive Scythian invasions of the Sakas, the Kushans, and the White Huns, were followed by permanent settlements of large bodies of their countrymen . . “.

Cunningham and Tod regard the Huns to be the last Scythian wave to have entered India.
Herodotus reveals that the Scythians as far back as the 5th century B.C. had political control over Central Asia and the northern subcontinent up to the river Ganges.

…the agrarian and artisan communities (e.g. Jats, Gujars, Ahirs, Rajputs, Lohars, Tarkhans etc.) of the entire west are derived from the war-like Scythians who settled north-western and western South Asia in successive waves between 500 B.C. to 500 AD. Down to this day, the very name of the region `Gujarat’ is derived from the name `Khazar’, whilst `Saurashtra’ denotes `Sun-worshipper’, a common term for the Scythians. The Gujarat-Rajasthan region continues to be the most Scythic region in the world.

The oldest Rajputs clans found in southern and western Rajasthan arose much later from earlier Scythic groups; or are of Hun origin (5-6th century AD); and many are no doubt of mixed Scythic-Hun origin. Virtually all are of Scythic descent.

Regarding the Mauryas, Dehiya [p.147] states “Another indication of the foreign origin [ ie. Saka ] of these people is . . . The Vishnu Purana calls them [ Gupta rulers ] Sudras. The Markandeya Purana brands the Mauryas as Asura. The Yuga Purana called them `utterly irreligious, though posing as religious’. The Mudra Rakshasa calls these people as Mlecchas and Chandragupta himself is called ‘Kulahina’, an upstart of unknown family”.
It has also been suggested that this Scythic influence was occasioned by the immigration of Iranic Scythians fleeing the Greek conquest. Be that as it may, the fact remains that the main civilizing impetus behind the Mauryan empire was Scythic.

The Mauryas were themselves perhaps of Scythic origin. D.B. Spooner who evacuated Pataliputra was struck by his findings and writes in his article “The Zoroastrian Period of Indian History” as follows:
“For Chandragupta’ s times, the evidences are more numerous and more detailed, and indicate a following of Persian customs all along the line – in public works, in ceremonial, in penal institutions, everything“.

The theory of a Scythic descent of the Mauryas is supported by the following pieces of evidence :
Mauryan coins have the symbol of the sun, a branch, a humped bull and mountain (Dehiya, p.155). All these are pre-eminently Scythian MassaGetae icons who were Sun worshippers with the high mount symbolizing earth and the irregular curving lines alongside it symbolizing water. The tree branch is a symbol of productivity of the earth – agriculture and soldiering were the traditional noble occupations of Sakas. The historians of Darius record that when he attempted to attack the Scythian MassaGetae (an old-Iranian culture of Central Asia) along the Black sea in the 5th century BC, “the Saka kings swore by the sun god and refused to surrender earth and water”.

Survivals of Sakas  | Based on coins, inscriptions, archeology and early Indian/Buddhist/Chinese/Greek/Persian manuscripts dating back to 500 BC, historians and ethnographers since the 19th century (e.g. Cunningham, Tod, Rapson, Ibbetson, Elliot, Ephilstone, Dahiya, Dhillon, Banerjea, Sharma, Sinha, Puniya etc.) have shown that the traditional agrarian and artisan communities of the entire northwest (e.g. Jats, Gujars, Tarkhans, Khatris, Ghakkars, Rajputs, Awans, Khambos, Lohars, Yadavs, Ahirs, Meos, etc. including various BC groups) are descended from Scythian (or Saka) tribes of central Asia (an aggressive and expansionist old Iranian speaking culture) who settled western and north-western South Asia in successive waves between 5th century B.C. and 1st century AD. The capital-lion Saka inscriptions at Peshawar and Mathura state “Sarvasa Sakasthanasa puyae” (for the merit of the people of Sakasthana). Inscriptions and coins mentioning ‘Sakastan’ are found all over the Saka core region of Rajasthan-Gujarat and surrounding tracts….

Political control over the western and northwestern subcontinent post 500 BC (Gandharan period) was primarily in the hands of Sakas (Scythians) and their descendents who mainly patronized Buddhism and Solar cults prior to 9th century AD. Based on analysis of coins, inscriptions, archeological finds and early Indian/ Buddhist/ Chinese/ Greek/Persian manuscripts dating back to 500 BC, historians and ethnographers (e.g. Cunningham, Tod, Rapson, Ibbetson, Elliot, Ephilstone, Dahiya, Dhillon, Banerjea, Sharma, Sinha, Shrava, Puniya etc.) have shown that the traditional agrarian and artisan communities (e.g. Jats/ Gujars/ Tarkhans/ Khatris/ Rajputs/ Lohars/ Yadavs etc.) of the entire northwest are the descendants of Scythian tribes from central Asia.

The Sakas of the northwest did not accept the supremacy of the Brahmins, did not practise the chaturvarna caste system advocated by their “law givers” like Manu, had their own Saka priests (Magas), and mainly patronized Buddhism mixed with their own religion (sun-worship) prior to 9th century AD. … In the Saka social order, zamindari, cultivation, artisanship and soldiering were considered the “noblest” and “highest” professions and way of life. These social ideals and cultural heritage are diametric opposites of eastern Brahmanical social dogma in which those who worked the land and worked for their living were designated “polluted” and “sudras” while those following non-Brahmanical religions were “mlechas” (barbarians).

…  the northwest country (“Saptha-Sindhva” in Rig Veda) was politically independent from rest of southasia over 97% of its history from the start of its Vedic period to the Afghan conquest (500 BC – 1200 AD), as was the Sakasthan region surrounding Rajasthan. Between 500 BC-1200 AD, it was under the political rule of Saka tribes and dynasties who form 65% of the present western population based on ethnological information collected in colonial censuses. Saka priests were known as “Magas” (Sun priests who prayed to the sun for bountiful harvests) who, along with Buddhist masters of Sakasthan, found themselves out of work when Buddhism and its institutions declined during 8-10th century.”

The fire-race:

Excerpted from “Rajputs” ( who are known as the “fire-race”:

“Rajput” identifies numerous ksatriya or warrior castes in northern and western India. The term “Rajput” comes from rajaputra, which means “son of kings.” Rajputs are famed for their fighting abilities and once ruled numerous Indian princely states. The British grouped many of these states into the Rajputana Province. Today, it is the Indian state of Rajasthan.

Most believe Rajputs come from tribes in central Asia such as the Parthians, Kushans, Shakas, and Huns. These groups entered India as conquerors and became kings or rulers. They often married high-caste Hindu women or converted to Hinduism. By the ninth century, Rajputs controlled an empire that extended from Sind to the lower Ganges Valley, and from the Himalayan foothills to the Narmada River.

About 120 million people in India call themselves Rajputs. They live throughout northern India, although Rajasthan is considered their cultural homeland…. Rajputs speak the language or dialect of their region. In Rajasthan, Rajputs speak one of the dialects of Rajasthani, which sounds a little like Hindi. Some Rajasthani dialects include Jaipuri, spoken in Jaipur, and Marwari, spoken in Marwar… 

Many folktales describe Rajput exploits… Rajputs were known as the agnikula (“fire-race”) and were the ancestors of clans such as the Chauhan, Solanki, and Ponwar Rajputs. Other Rajput clans trace their ancestry to the Sun or Moon.

Most Rajputs are Hindu. They were known for protecting Hinduism against Buddhism and Islam. Today, in their religious practices, Rajputs differ little from other high-caste Hindus. They use Brahmans (priests and scholars) for ceremonial and ritual purposes. They worship all major Hindu deities. Most Rajputs are devotees of the god Shiva. Many also worship Surya (the Sun God), and Durga as Mother Goddess. In addition, nearly every Rajput clan has its own patron god to whom it turns for protection.

From Wikipedia:

Rajput is from the Sanskrit word Raja-Putra (son of a king).[1] The word is found in ancient texts, including the Vedas, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. It was used by the ancient Sanskrit grammarian Pāṇini in the 4th century BCE. The word Kshatriya (“warrior”) was used for the Vedic community of warriors and rulers. To differentiate royal warriors from other Kshatriyas the word Rajputra was used. Rajputra eventually was shortened to Rajput; gradually it became a caste. Rajputs belong to one of three great patrilineages, which are SuryavanshiChandravanshiand Agnivanshi. Further, many Rajputs also claim patrilineage from Nagavanshi clan.

Suryavansha  lineage: the sun

The Suryavanshi, which means Sun Dynasty, claim descent from Surya, the solar deity. The Sun Dynasty is oldest among Kshatriyas. The first person of this dynasty was Vivasvan, which means the Fire Bird. Ikshvaku was the first important king of this dynasty. Other important kings were Kakutsth Harishchandra, Sagar, DileepaBhagirathaRaghuDashratha, and Rama. The poet Kalidasa wrote the great epic Raghuvaṃśa about the dynasty of Raghu. Rajput Suryavanshi clans that claim descent from Rama are the RathoresJamwalsRaghuvanshiPundirs,SisodiasMauryasHill ChauhansBargujarsDurgvanshiMinhas (Manhas), Vardhans and the Kachwaha.

Chandravanshi lineage: the moon

The Chandravanshi, which means Moon Dynasty, claim descent from Chandra, the lunar deity. This Lunar Dynasty is very ancient, but is younger than the Sun Dynasty. Som was the first king of this dynasty (Source: Rajput, Wikipedia)


Connecting the geography and civilizations of Hamitic or Kushitic Egypt, Hittite Anatolia, vs. Mithraic Iran and Mittanian N. Syria-SW Anatolian and Mitraic India…

This next article “The Aryans” gives a strong historical and chronological account of the origins of the earliest Vedic Brahmans or Brahmin-kshatriyas-Vaisya “Aryan” caste groups and their affinity to the stories of the Rig Veda as evidenced by a treaty recorded in cuneiform at El Amarna, Egypt. It also establishes the time frame of arrival of the first Brahmins, earliest evidence of Vedic (as well as early Mithraic) worship as well as the identity of the Mitannians (Hurrian-speaking state in northern Syria and south-east Anatolia from ca. 1500 BC–1300 BC which at its peak during the 14th century BC, had outposts centered around its capital, Washukanni whose location has been determined by archaeologists to be on the headwaters of the Khabur River), and their fragile alliance with the Anatolian Hittite-Akkadians at Boghazhoy (ancient Hittite city of Hattusa), brokered by the mediator Egypt at El-Amarna against the backdrop of hostile Israelites. Although at the beginning of its history, Mitanni’s major rival was Egypt under the Thutmosids, with the ascent of the Hittite empire, Mitanni and Egypt made an alliance to protect their mutual interests from the threat of Hittite domination. At the height of its power. Eventually however, Mitanni succumbed to Hittite and later Assyrian attacks, and was reduced to the status of a province of the Middle Assyrian Empire. This may have propelled migrations of the Hurrian-Mittani elites en masse into Central and East Asia and the Indian sub-continent.

“The term Aryan is applied to the three so-called forward castes in India - Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas who constitute about 12% of India’s population. However, this minority group has for the most part gained control of the religious, political and economic power in India today.

In tracing the Brahmin ancestry, the best evidence seen thus far is their religious affinity to the Rg Veda. That is why they are often referred to as the Vedic people.2 The earliest evidence of Vedic worship is seen in on a cuneiform tablet excavated at El-Amarna in Egypt, on a document from Bogazkoy in Anatolia (Asia Minor)3. The tablet is in Hittite cuneiform and written in the Akkadian language, and is an adjunct to a treaty between the Hittite king Suppiluliuma and his son-in-law, the Mitannian king Kurtiwaza, and it contains a long list of the gods of the peoples who were parties to it.4 The tablet is dated around the 14th century BC.

The gods are invoked to witness the conclusion of the treaty and guarantee its observance. The gods of the Mitannians are named in these forms: Mi-it-ra, U-ru-ua-na, In-da-ra, and Na-sa-at-ti-ia-an-na. It is evident that these names correspond to Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and Nasatuau of the Vedic pantheon

In this treatise, Mithra (or Mitra) is invoked as the god of contract and mutual obligation. In short Mithra may signify any kind of communication between men and whatever establishes relations between them.6 The treatise is in the time frame of Israel invading the land of Canaan and their occupation causes a migratory movement in Canaan and surrounding areas. Thus these early Vedic elements spread to other nations.

The worship of Mithra is next seen in Iran where he has evolved and become the god of the sun, justice, contract and war. Before Zoroaster (6th century BC) the Iranians had a polytheistic religion and Mithra was the most important of their gods.7 However, Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic faith, displaces the importance of Mithra. Zoroaster’s teaching centered on Ahura Mazda, who is the highest god, creator of heaven and earth and alone is worthy of worship.8

Zoroastrianism seems to have slowly decayed into fire worship. Early reliefs show the king praying to Ahura Mazda before a flaming altar. However, later the king appears on coins without Ahura Mazda, dressed in the costume of a fire priest, praying directly to a fire. This change occurred around the late 5th or 4th century BC.14 The worship of fire, Agni, is also of importance to the Vedic people.

When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire around 330 BC, the old structure of worship appears to have broken down completely and about the worship of Mithra in Persia no more is heard.4 However, the worship of Mithra spreads to other parts of the world. In the Roman Empire, Mithraism is a western mystery cult which sprang into existence in the last century BC and flourished during the first centuries of the Roman empire.

In India, the first evidence of Vedic worship is seen in 183 BC in the Sunga Empire. For some fifty years Mauryan kings continued to rule in Magadha until about 183 BC when Pusyamitra Sunga, a brahman general of Brhadratha, the last Mauryan king, succeeded in gaining power by a palace revolution. Pusyamitra was a supporter of the orthodox faith and revived the ancient Vedic sacrifices, including the horse sacrifice.18

Most scholars agree that the Sungas were the ancestors of the Brahmins, though they were not called Brahmins at this time. However, their affinity to the Vedic practices and the usage of Mitra in their names (Pusyamitra’s son was called Agnimitra) are evidence that they were Vedic people. The Sungas were overthrown by the Kanvas in 72 BC, and the Kanva dynasty came to an end in 28 BC. The Kanvas are also considered in the Brahmin ancestry.19 The Sungas and the Kanvas were weak empires which did not last very long.

Thus the present Brahmin race can be traced from the Sunga empire through Persia to western Asia. They were nomads and their gods were inspired by nature and sacrifice is an important part of their ritual. However,

“Sacrificial ritual was beginning to be replaced by the practice of bhakti (personal devotion), positing a personal relationship between the individual and the deity”20

The numerous Vedic deities lost significance and, the numerous solar deities of the Vedas were merged in Hinduism into a single god, usually known as Surya (“the Sun”)21

Numerous temples of the sun are found in Gupta and medieval times. Amongst these is the “Black Pagoda” of Konarak, Orissa, built in the 13th century AD.

After the fall of the Sungas and Kanvas nothing significant is heard of the Brahmin ancestors for a while and there was religious and social harmony in the land,

Till the close of the sixth century AD different religious sects lived together in admirable harmony.23

However, after the death of Harshavardhana in 647 AD, his empire crumbled and there was great confusion in India. From this confusion arose the Rajputs,

The Rajputs maintained their unchallenged supremacy over northern India from the death of Harsha to the first Turk invasion. That is why, the period between 647 to 1200 AD is known as the Rajput period.24


The Rajputs were the descendants of Sakas, Hunas, and Kushans who came to India and settled here. Later, they entirely mixed themselves in the Indian society and almost lost their individuality.

The presence of Charans and Bhats (bards) was a new feature of the Rajput period. They were appointed at the courts to recite poems in praise of their masters. They also used to sing the heroic deeds of the ancestors of Rajputs. They used to accompany the army to the battlefield. Their duty was only to sing the heroic deeds and rouse the feelings of courage and bravery in the soldiers. They often used to act as messengers.

Further the caste system was the foundation stone of the Rajput society. The posts of Purohitas (family priest or court chaplain) were reserved exclusively to the Brahmin ancestors and the posts were hereditary. These Purohitas were never given capital punishment since they were considered an authority in the field of religion and spiritualism and they seem to have been the chief advisors to the king during the Rajput period. The Rajput society was marked by a lack of unity, mutual quarrels and pride. Sati system, child marriage and female infanticide were evil practices rampant.28

Thus based on these evidences we can see that the Brahmin ancestors and Rajputs set up the caste system during the Rajput period to control the Dravidian population of India which constitute about 88% of India’s population today. The Brahmin ancestors became the religious leaders and the Rajputs, the rulers or Kshatriyas. This was the beginning of the mythical race called the Aryans. The foreigners who were involved in trade were later included as the Vaishyas29.

Source: The Aryans


Excerpt from The Aryans and the Vedic Age

“The Aryans are said to have entered India through the fabled Khyber pass, around 1500 BC. They intermingled with the local populace, and assimilated themselves into the social framework. They adopted the settled agricultural lifestyle of their predecessors, and established small agrarian communities across the state of Punjab.

The Aryans are believed to have brought with them the horse, developed the Sanskrit language and made significant inroads in to the religion of the times. All three factors were to play a fundamental role in the shaping of Indian culture. Cavalry warfare facilitated the rapid spread of Aryan culture across North India, and allowed the emergence of large empires.

Sanskrit is the basis and the unifying factor of the vast majority of Indian languages. The religion, that took root during the Vedic era, with its rich pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, and its storehouse of myths and legends, became the foundation of the Hindu religion, arguably the single most important common denominator of Indian culture.

The Aryans did not have a script, but they developed a rich tradition. They composed the hymns of the four vedas, the great philosophic poems that are at the heart of Hindu thought. …A settled lifestyle brought in its wake more complex forms of government and social patterns. This period saw the evolution of the caste system, and the emergence of kingdoms and republics. The events described in the two great Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are thought to have occurred around this period. (1000 to 800 BC).

The Aryans were divided into tribes which had settled in different regions of northwestern India.



Identifying the ‘children of the sun’, and fire-worshippers

Excerpts from Genealogical Evidence Chapter 4 Scythic Origin of the Rajput Race by Mulchand Chauhan (from his book “Scythic origins of the Rajput race” emphasize the predominance of Saka-Scythian constitution of the Northwest populations of India:

The Jats, Gujjars, Thakurs and all others as Saka Rajputs… a few notes about the Rajput Race. The Jats are in fact, Rajputs, as are Thakurs and Gujjars. There are no racial differences between these stocks, all are descendants of Saka immigrants; the differences are purely social and customary, reflecting partly the degree of pollution by Indo-Aryan customs.

Thus, the noted anthropologist Sir Denzil Ibbetson wrote : “It has been suggested, and I believe held by many, that Jats and Gujjars and perhaps Ahirs also, are all of one ethnic stock.” [ Ibb.185 ] This ethnic stock is the Scythic ethnic stock.

The overwhelming majority of the population of Rajputana and Gujarat is of Scythic origin, and even a sizeable proportion of Punjab is too. Jats and Rajputs alone form approximately 28 % of Punjab population. [ Ibb.97 ]. Tod holds that Jats are one of the great Rajput tribes, and that both are Getae [ Ibb.97 citing Tod.I.52-75 and 96-101 ] The Jat Rajput ratio is 3:1 in Punjab [ Ibb.102 ] Adding the other Scythic races to the Rajput total yields well over 50 % of the population of Rajputana and Gujarat as Saka. Sakas no doubt dominated in the Punjab and parts of the Ganges valley as well, but they have here been more or less overwhelmed in the flood of Mughalloid (Indo-Muslim) immigration.

The Thakur and Rathi are “lower grade of Rajputs rather than separate castes.” [ Ibb.132 ] and the Rawat is also Rajput [ Ibb.161 ] Adding these to the Rajut total greatly increases the number of Rajputs.

The distinction between Jat and Rajput is “social and not ethnic” [ Ibb.100 ] “the same tribe even is Rajput in 1 district and Jat in another.” [ Ibb.102 ]. I…

Even casual observers note that the Rajputs form a majority of the population in the Greater Rajputana region: ” … they [ Jats/Jits ] now constitute a vast majority of the peasantry of western Rajwarra, and perhaps of northern India.” [ Tod.II.138 ] This feature is most obvious in Rajwarra or Rajputana, and is less obvious in the Punjab, where Mughal immigration has effectively overwhelmed any Saka survivals. The Sikhs are mixed Saka-Mughal stock, with ample evidence showing that both Mughallic and Scythic populations converting to the faith. Thus, Sikhism displays a combination of Saura-Saka and Islamic-Mughal influences. There is very little Indo-Aryan influence on Sikhism; it is Saka influence which was deliberately ignored and suppressed.

In Rajputana, even the commercial class are Scythic : “Nine-tenths of the bankers and commercial men of India are natives of Maroodes, and these chiefly of the Jain faith .. All these claim a Rajput descent.” [ Tod.II.127 ] Adding these classes leads to the startling conclusion that, except for the Brahmans (ca. 10 %), Black Untouchables or Sudroids (ca. 15 %), and Mughals (ca. 10 %), the rest of the population, comprising 65 % of Rajputana, is of Saka descent.

Mughal (Indo-Muslim) Genealogy

It is generally assumed that Col. Tod was the first to discover that the Rajputs were of Scythic descent. The concept of a Scythic origin of the Rajputs is thus often dismissed as a `Christian Colonialist Conspiracy to divide Hindus.’ However, the Mughal genealogists were completely aware of the Scythic extraction of several Rajput families. Indeed, there was, politically speaking, an alliance of Sakas and Mughals. The Sakas inhabited Sakasthan comprising Rajputana-Gujarat, whilst the Mughals inhabited Mughalstan comprising the Indus-Ganges Valley. It is only later, as a result of Brahmin conspiracies that the Sakas and Mughals fought each other and destroyed each others’ empires. Thus, Abul Fazl fondly narrated the Scythic descent of the Rajput allies of the Mughals :

`Let us see what Abul Fuzil says of the descent of the Ranas from Noshirwan. ” The Rana’s family consider themselves to be descendants of Noshirwan. They came to Berar (Berat), and became chiefs of Pernalla, which city being plundered eight hundred years proir to the writing of this book, his mother fled to Mewar, and was protected by Mandalica Bhil, whom the infant Bappa slew, and seized his territory” — [ Met.197 ]

Akbar commenced his reign in 1555 AD, and had been 40 years on the throne when the Institutes were composed by Abul Fazil. The Zoroastrians were not restrained from eating beef [ Met.197 ]. Another act which testifies to the tolerance of the Mughals towards the Sakas. There are further abundant mentions of the Sakas in Mughal chronicles -

The work which furnished all the knowledge which exists on the Persian ancestry of the Mewar princes is the `Maaser-al-Omra’, or that (in the author’s possession) founded on it, entitled `Bisat-al-Ganaem’, or `Display of the Foe’, written in AH 1204. The writer of this work styles himself `Latchmi Narrain Shufeek Arungabadi’, or `the rhymer of Arungabad’. He professes to give an account of Sevaji, the founder of the Mahratta empire; for which purpose he goes deep into the lineage of the Ranas of Mewar from whom Sevaji was descended, quoting at length the Maaser-al-Omra, from which is the following literal translation: ” It is well known that the Rajahs of Oodipur are exalted over all the princes of Hind, Other Hindu princes, before they can succeed to the throne of their fathers, must receive the khuskhka, or tiluk of regality and investiture, from them. This type of sovereignty is received with humility and veneration. The khushkaof these princes is made with human blood: their title is Rana, and they deduce their (p.198) origin from Noshirwan-i-Adil (ie. the Just), who conquered the countries of [ lacuna in MS ], and many parts of Hindustan. During his life-time his son Noshizad, whose mother was the daughter of the Kesar of Rum [ Maurice, emperor of Byzantium ], quitted the ancient worship and embraced the `faith of the Christians’ [ Din-i-Tersar ], and with numerous followers entered Hindusthan. Thence he marched a great army towards Iran, against his father Noshirwan; who despatched his general, Rambarzeen with a numerous force to oppose him. An action ensued, in which Noshizad was slain; but his issue remained in Hindusthan, from whom are descended to Ranas of Oodipur. Noshirwan had a wife from the Khankhan of China, by whom he had a son called Hormuz, declared heir to the throne shortly before his death. As according to the faith of the fire-worshippers it is not customary either to bury or burn the dead, but to leave the corpse exposed to the rays of the Sun, so it is said that the body of Noshirwan has to this day suffered no decay but is still fresh.” – [ Met.197-8 ]

Continuing the quotation from the work of Arungabadi,

” Of the eldest daughter of Yezdegird, Maha Bahoo, the Parsees have no accounts; but the books of the Hindus give evidence to her arrival in that country, and that from her issue is the tribe of Sesodia. But, at all events, this race is either of the seed of Noshizad, the son of Noshirwan, or that of the daughter of Yezdegird.”– [ Met.199

" Ali Ibrahim, a learned native of Benaras, was Wilford's authority for asserting the Rana's Persian descent, who stated tohim that he had seen the original history, which was entilted "Origin of the Peishwas from the Ranas of Mewar." (Ibrahim must have meant the Satara princes, whose ministers were the Peishwas.) From this authority three distinct emigrations of the Guebres, or ancient Persian, are recorded, from Persia into Guzerat. The first in the time of Abu Beker, AD 631; the second on the defeat of Yezdegird, AD 651; and the third when the descendants of Abbas began to prevail, AD 749. Also that a son of Noshirwan landed near Surat with eighteen thousand of his subjects, from Laristhan, and were well received by the prince of the country. Abul Fuzil confirms this account by saying `the followers of Zerdesht (Zoroaster), when they fled from Persia, settled in Surat, the contracted term from the peninsula of Saurasthra, as well as the city of this name' "-- [ Met.197.ftn. ]

Cacustha and Suryavamse are synonymous according to the genealogists. The term Cacustha may be traced to “the Persian `Kai-caous’, a well-known epithet of the Persian dynasties.” [ Met.200.ftn ].


Rajput tradition records 36 Royal Races (`rajcula’) as being the highest Rajput families. The bulk of these are Scythic in origin. Thus, the following table shows the direct one-to-one correspondence for some of the more prominent Rajculas -

        Rajput Royal Clan           Scythic Progenitor
        Dahya                        Dahae
        Hoon                         Huns
        Jit                          Getae
        Camar                        Camarii
        Sessodia                     Sassanian

The abundant mention of Yavanas or Ionians clearly shows that the Greeks merged into the Scythic races; a fact already evident from the abundant usage of Greek legends on Saka coins found in Rajasthan. Thus, whilst the Brahmanists hold that the Yavanas disappeared into thin air, these persons in fact merged into the Saka population, adopting the Saka Saura faith

 The food which the Rajput consumes once again bears the imprint of his Scythic ancestry:

“Caesar informs us that the Celts of of Britain would not eat the hare, goose, or domestic fowl. The Rajpoot will hunt the first, but neither eats it, nor the goose, sacred to the god of battle (Hara). The Rajpoot of Mewar eats the jungle fowl, but rarely the domestic”– [ Met.74.n ]

The Rajput consumes boar, deer and fowl :

“The Rajpoot slays buffaloes, hunts and eats the boar and deer, and shoots ducks and wild fowl (cookra); he worships his horse, his sword, and the sun,m and attends more to the martial song of the bard than to the lit of any Brahmin.”– [ Met.68 ]

Dietary Customs

The food which the Rajput consumes once again bears the imprint of his Scythic ancestry :

“Caesar informs us that the Celts of of Britain would not eat the hare, goose, or domestic fowl. The Rajpoot will hunt the first, but neither eats it, nor the goose, sacred to the god of battle (Hara). The Rajpoot of Mewar eats the jungle fowl, but rarely the domestic”– [ Met.74.n ]

The Rajput consumes boar, deer and fowl :

“The Rajpoot slays buffaloes, hunts and eats the boar and deer, and shoots ducks and wild fowl (cookra); he worships his horse, his sword, and the sun,m and attends more to the martial song of the bard than to the lit of any Brahmin.”

– [ Met.68 ]


The religion of the Scythians was Sun-Worship in all its forms; the Rajput is thus, not surprisingly, a Sun-worshipper. They are thus referred to in Sanskritic and Prakritic tradition as `Sauras’ (devotees of Surya). Indeed, the Saurashtra peninsula in Gujarat is named after the Scythic Solar deity :

“the remains of numerous temples to this grand object of Scythic homage [ the Sun ] are still to be found scattered over the peninsula; whence its name, `Saurashtra’, the country of the Sauras, or Sun-worshippers; the Surostrene or Syrastrene of ancient geographers; its inhabitants, the Suros of Strabo.” – [ Met.183 ]

This religion is decidedly non-Brahminist as Sauras neither revere the Vedas nor accept Brahmin racial supremacy. The Sauras are thus not included among the 6 orthodox (`astik’) schools of Brahmanism (Vedism and Vaishnavism). As a result, the Rajput Saura is, along with Sudra Shaivas, Tantriks, Bauddhas and Jainas referred to as `nastik’ (heretic) and as a result the Saura has had to suffer considerable religious persecution.

The Scythic Sacae worshipped the god “Gaeto Syrus”, whence the Roman Sol, the Sanskrit Surya, the state of Syria and the Nordic Thor or Sor ( the commentator of the `Edda’ mentions that the ancient Nordics pronounced `th’ as `ss’), and Suarashtra peninsula of Gujarati Rajastan, the `Land of Sun worshippers’ [ Met.448 ]. Indeed the Sacae may have been the acestors of the Saxons of Europe. Thus the Sanskrit term for Sun, Surya, is derived from the Scythic Syrus.

The Surya-mandala is the supreme Rajput heaven [ Met.448 ]. The first day of the week, Aditwar/Aitwar/Thawara (cf. the Nordic Thor) is dedicated to the Sun [ Met.447 ].

Zoroastrianism: In the Vedas, Surya is frequently referred to as “the eye of Mitra, Varuna, and Agni” (RV 1.115.1, RV 6.51.1, RV 7.63.1, WYV 4.35, WYV 7.42, WYV 13.46, AV 13.2.35). This bears striking similarities to Zoroastrian scriptures, where the Sun is described as “the eye of Ahura Mazda”.

[This Vedic passage creates parallels between Surya and Amaterasu who was born from the left eye of Izanagi vs. Mitra=friend/mediator; Varuna=water or ocean deity; Agni=fire. Here the common important role that is assigned to water fountains or springs and the sun by both Persians and ] 

” That there existed a marked affinity in religious rites between the Rana’s family [of Mewar ] and the Guebres, or ancient Persians, is evident. With both, the chief object of adoration was the sun; each bore the image of the orb on their banners. The chief day in the seven [ Sooraj-war or Adit-war, Sun-day ] was dedicated to the sun; to it is sacred the chief gate of the city, the principal bastion of every fortress. But though the faith of Islam has driven away the fairy inhabitants from the fountains of Mithras, that of Surya has still its devotees on the summit of Cheetore, as at Ballabhi; and could we trace with accuracy their creeds to a distant age, we might discover them to be of one family, worshipping the sun at the fountain of the Oxus and Jaxartes.” — [ Met.194 ]

However, some corruption has taken place with the infiltration of Sakta rituals :

“with the exception of the adoration of the `universal mother’ (Bhavani), incarnate in the person of a youthful Jitni, they were utter aliens to the Hindu theocracy. In fact, the doctrines of the great Islamite saint, Sekh Fareed, appear to have overturned the pagan rites brought from the Jaxartes.”

– [ Tod.II.139 ]

Indeed, the classification of Rajpoots as Brahminist Hindus is entirely absurd. It is akin to classing the Jews as Germanic Nordics. What the German did to the Jew, the Brahmanist (or dolicocephalic Later Aryan) did to the Saka. Despite the fiercest and most savage of persecutions at the hands of `astik’ Later Aryan Brahminists, the Saura religion has managed to survive :

“The religion of the martial Rajpoot, and the rites of Hara, the ground of the battle, are little analaogous to those of the meek Hindu s, the followers of the pastoral divinity, the worshippers of kine, and feeders on fruits, herbs and water. The Rajpoot delights in blood as his offerings to the god of battle are sanguinary, blood and wine. The cup (kharpara) of libation is the human skull. He loves them because they are emblematic of the deity he worships and his taught to believe that Hara loves them, who in war is represented with the skull to drink the foeman’s blood, and in peace is the patron of wine and women. With parbutti on his knee, his eyes rolling form the juice of the p’fool ? and opium, such is this Bacchanalian divinity of war. Is this Hinduism, acquired on the burning plains of India ? Is it not rather a prefect picture of the manners of the Scandinavian heroes ?” – [ Met.68 ]

Indeed, the ancestors of the Rajput royal families proudly claim to be descendants of the Su : The children of Bapa [one of the Gehlote ancestors], were named `Agni-upasi Sudrya-vamsi’ or sun-born fire-worshippers.” [ Met.191 ]

The Jhalore fortress of South Marwar has four gates, that from the town is called `Sooruj-pol’ and to the North-West is the Ba’l-pol (`the gate of Bal, the Sun-God). [ Tod.II.240 ]

The architecture of the Rajputs is decidedly Scythic. All across the Sakasthan core regions of Rajputana and Gujarat one finds even today numerous tumuli, sacrifical pillars and burials reminiscent of Central Asia.

The Tumulus

Strikingly, tumuli for which the Scythians of Central Asia are so famous exist in abundance in Rajputana and surrounding regions. Baron Metcalfe noticed the occurrence of tumuli in Rajputstan :

The tumulus, the cairn, or the pillar, still rise over the Rajput who falls in battle; and throughtout Rajputana these sacrificial monuments are found, where are seen carved in relief the warrior on his steed, armed at all points; his faithful wife (Sati) beside him, denoting a sacrifice, and the sun and moon on either side, emblematic of neverdying fame.”
— [ Met.73 ]

Tumuli containing “ashes and arms” exist, “especialy in the South about Golwalcoond” [ the Chohan dominions about Mt. Aboo ] and hence these structures are Scythic as per the testimony of Col. Tod [ Tod.II.357 ].

In addition to the province of Central Asia and the Russian Steppes, the Getes of the Jaxartes built tumuli, as did the Scandinavians. The Getic Alaric’s tomb is only one of numerous such examples [ Met.73 ].

Sacrificial Pillars

Sacrificial pillars are another remnant of the Scythian. They are abundant in the regions surrounding Rajputana which comprise the historic Sakasthan :

” In Saurasthra, amidst the Catti, Comani, Balla and others of Scythic descent, the Pallia or Joojar (sacrificial pillars) are conspicuous under the walls of every town, in lines, irregular groups and circles. On each is displayed in rude relief the warrior, with the manners of his death, lance in hand, generally on horseback, though sometimes in his car.”

– [Met.73 ]

Stone Circles

Stone circles are another feature generally recognised as representing Saka domination. The Jesuits found amidst the Comani of Tartary stone circles, a circumstance which testifies to the Scythic heritage of the region. Baron Metcalfe noted that “it would require no great ingenuity to prove an analogy, if not a common origin, between Druidic circles and the Indu-Scythic monumental remains.” [ Met.73 ]

Sun-Based Architecture

The Sun, the Supreme God of the Saura Rajputs, forms the most important theme for Rajput architecture. The main entrance of Oodipur (Udaipur) is referred to as the Surya-pol [ Met.448 ]. The chief hall of Udaipur palace is called Surya-mahal [ Met.448 ]. A huge painted sun adorns the hall of audience and is behind the throne [ Met.448 ]. These prove that most of the triumphal monuments of the Indo-Scyths were erected to the Sun, further confirming their Saka ancestry. There even exist fountains sacred to the Sun :

“There was a fountain (Suryacoonda) `sacred to the Sun’ at Ballabhipura, from which arose, at the summons of Siladitya (according to legend) the 7-headed horse Saptaswa, which draws the car of Surya, to bear him to battle.” [ Met.185 ]


The Scyths used to fight on horseback. The worship of the sword prevailed among the Scythic Getae as described by Herodotus. Likewise, the Rajput also pays his devotion to his sword, he `swears by the steel’ and prostrates himself before his defensive buckler, his lance,his sword, or his dagger [ Met.73 ].

” The worship of the sword in the Acropolis of Athens by the Getic Atila, with all the accompaniments of pomp and place, forms an admirable episode in the history of the decline and fall of Rome; and had Gibbon witnessed the worship of the double-edged sword (khanda) by the prince of Mewar and all his chivalry, he might have even embellished his animated account of the adoration of the scymitar, the symbol of Mars” [ Met.73 ]


The Rajput, true to his Sun-worshipping Rajput heritage, follows the Solar calendar. This is in sharp contrast to the customs of the Indo-Aryans, who follow the Lunar calendar.


Who are the Children of the Sun?

Eurasian-Scythic and Indian Rajput Connections by Vrndavan Parker

The major extant Indian branches of the Scythic (`Saka’) tribes and their historical ancestry are shown -
Jat                        =>Getae or Jutii [ EB ]
Gujjar                  => Gujarati Khazar [ EB ]
Thakur                => Tokharian [ EB ]
Abhira                => Avars [ EB ]
Saurashtri         =>Sauro Matii (Sarmatians) [ EB ]
Saka                     =>Scythii  [ EB ]
Madra                 =>Medes [ Cakra.10 ]
Dahya                  => Rajcula Dahae [ Met. ]
Sessodia             =>  Sassanian [ Met. ]
Trigarta              =>   Tyri Getae [ Cakra.16 ]
Sulika                  =>   Seleucid [ Cakra.16 ]
Sisunagas of Magadh Sse [ Cakra.10 ] => Magadhi Magii [ Cakra.10 ]
Other tribes classed as Scythic are the Malavas, Arjunayanas, Yaudheyas, Sivis, Parthians, Kushans & Trigarttas [ Cakra.16 ].

The Keraits of Mongoloid race were referred to as Kirata [ Cakra.10 ]. The Sanskritic Aryan texts refer to the Scythians collectively as `Saka’, the Mongoloids as `Naga’ or `Kerait’ and the Negroids as `Sud’; a word related to the stem `Sud – ‘ in `Sudan’. Thus, recent genetic evidence indicates that the Sudroids of India are in fact the Sudanic Negroids who settled in India in ancient times. There is nowhere any concept of a monolithic “Hindu” race mentioned anywhere even up to the Puranic period.

The Sakas are mentioned as being clearly distinct…. Indeed, such well-known Saka races as the Sogdians and Cathii are all represented amongst the Indo-Scythic races :

” He [ the historian ] would find the Soda, the Catti, the Mallani, affording in history, position of nominal resemblance, grounds for inferring that they are the descendants of the Sogdi, Cat’hi and Malli, who opposed the Macedonian in his passage down the Indus.”
– [ Tod.II.256 ]

Col. Tod notes that ” The Gets or Jits and Huns, hold place amongst the 36 royal races of ancient India.” [ Tod.II.256 ]
The Gujjars are the 8th largest Punjabi caste after the Jats, Rajputs, Pathans, Arains, Brahmans, Camars and Chuhras [ Ibb.182 ]. The highest authorities have declared them to be the ancient Khazars who entered India :

“They [ Gujjars] are identified by General Cunningham with the Kushan or Yuchi or Tochari, a tribe of Eastern Tartars. About a century before Chrsit their chief conquered Kabul and the Peshawar country; while his son Hima Kadphises, so well known to the Panjab Numismatologist, extended his sway over the whole of Upper Panjab and the banks of the Jamna so far down as Mathra and the Vindhyas, and his successor the no less familiar king Kanishra, the first Buddhist Indo-Scyth prince, annexed Kashmir to the kingdom of Tochari. These Tochari or Kushan are the Kaspeiraei of Ptolemy, in the middle of the 2nd century of our era, Kaspeira, Kasyapapara or Multan was one of their chief cities.”
– [ Ibb.182 ]

The Indo-Aryan terms Gujjar and Kushan is clearly derived from the original name Khazar via the standard rules of phonetic change. Thus, Indo-Aryan languages universally lack the -kh- and the -z-, transforming them into -g- and -j- respectively. By end of the 3rd century, a portion of the Gujjars had moved south down the Indus and by the mid-5th century there was a Gujjar kingdom in South-Western Rajasthan. They were driven by the Baluchis into Gujarat [ Ibb.182 ]. Gujarat remains their stronghold to the day, and they settled there in such large numbers that the very name `Gujarat’, the `Land of Khazars’ came to be applied to the tract :
“Gujarat is still their [ Gujjar ] stronghold, and in that district they form 13.5 % of the total population.”
– [ Ibb.183 ]

Adding the other Saka tribes present in Gujarat, such as the Rajputs, the Saurashtrians or Sauro Matii and the Kathiawadis or the Catti one obtains well over half the entire population of the region. It is little wonder that this is the case, for the Gujarat-Rajputana region was the locus for the glorious Saka kingdoms of yore. The list of Rajput rajcula (royal races) indeed clearly mentions the Huns and other immigrant Sakas :
” so late are 7 centuries ago we find Getes, Huns, Catti, Ariaspas, Dahae, defnitely settled and enumerated amongst the Chhaties rajcula [of the Rajput ].”
– [ Met. 185 ]

The Rajput Sesodias are the seed of the Sassanid Noshirwan [ Met. 198-200 ] whence the Mewar kings are descended, a circumstance which justified Shivaji’s descent. General Cunningham also considered the Jats to be Scythic :

” General Cunningham and Major Tod consider the Jats Indo-Scythic [ Tod's Raj. I.52-75 and page 96-101 Madras reprint ] [ Cunningham, ASI reports, II, p.51-61 ] Cunningham identifies the Jats with the Zanthii of Strabo and the Jatii of Pliny and Ptolemy and holds that they probably enterd the Punjab from their home on the Oxus very shortly after the Meds or Mands (also Indo-Scythic) and moved into the Punjab in the 1st century BC “
– [ Ibb.97 ]

The Parthians also settled in India in large numbers : “Arrian, who resided in the 2nd century at Barugaza (Baroach) descrbies a Parthian sovereignity as extending from the Indus to the Nerbudda.” [ Met.184 ]

The Indo-Scyths were designated by the names of animals, just as their Scythic forbears : ” The Indo-Scythic tribes were designated by the names of animals, Barahas or hogs, Noomries or foxes, Takshacs or snakes, Aswas and Asis or the horse.” [ Tod.II.185.n1 ]


Abundant survivals of the Scythic era of Indian history can be gleamed from the numismatic record. The frequency of archaeological discoveries of Saka coins reaches its maximum in the Rajputana-Gujarat region, the traditional locus of the Saka Kshatrapa kingdom.

” Based on analysis of coins, inscriptions, archeological finds and early Indian/Buddhist/Chinese/Greek/Persian manuscripts dating back to 500 BC, historians and ethnographers (e.g. Cunningham, Tod, Rapson, Ibbetson, Elliot, Ephilstone, Dahiya, Dhillon, Banerjea, Sharma, Sinha, Shrava, Puniya etc.) have shown that the traditional agrarian and artisan communities (e.g. Jats/Gujars/Tarkhans/Khatris/Rajputs/Lohars/Yadavs etc.) of the entire northwest are the descendants of Scythian tribes from central Asia (an aggressive and expansionist old Iranian speaking culture) who settled north-western southasia in successive waves between 5th century B.C. to 5th century AD. Sociological and ethnological information collected in colonial censuses shows that the majority (+65%) of the population of the northwest (“Sakasthan” including Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, northern Maharashtra and western UP) is of Saka origin . Terms like “Sakasthana” appear on ancient Saka inscriptions found as far as Mathura in western Uttar Pradesh (formerly, United Provinces).”

– [ Khalsa, Ch.2 ]

In addition, many of the coins of the Sakas include Greek legends. This indicates that the Greeks were absorbed into the Rajput stock, and that the Rajputs of today possess a considerable Greek ancestry.

The Gujjars are the 8th largest Punjabi caste after the Jats, Rajputs, Pathans, Arains, Brahmans, Camars and Chuhras [ Ibb.182 ]. The highest authorities have declared them to be the ancient Khazars who entered India :

“They [ Gujjars] are identified by General Cunningham with the Kushan or Yuchi or Tochari, a tribe of Eastern Tartars The Indo-Aryan terms Gujjar and Kushan is clearly derived from the original name Khazar via the standard rules of phonetic change. Thus, Indo-Aryan languages universally lack the -kh- and the -z-, transforming them into -g- and -j- respectively. By end of the 3rd century, a portion of the Gujjars had moved south down the Indus and by the mid-5th century there was a Gujjar kingdom in South-Western Rajasthan. They were driven by the Baluchis into Gujarat [ Ibb.182 ]. Gujarat remains their stronghold to the day, and they settled there in such large numbers that the very name `Gujarat’, the `Land of Khazars’ came to be applied to the tract  Adding the other Saka tribes present in Gujarat, such as the Rajputs, the Saurashtrians or Sauro Matii and the Kathiawadis or the Catti one obtains well over half the entire population of the region. It is little wonder that this is the case, for the Gujarat-Rajputana region was the locus for the glorious Saka kingdoms of yore. The list of Rajput rajcula (royal races) indeed clearly mentions the Huns and other immigrant Sakas :

” so late are 7 centuries ago we find Getes, Huns, Catti, Ariaspas, Dahae, defnitely settled and enumerated amongst the Chhaties rajcula [of the Rajput ].”

– [ Met. 185 ]

The Rajput Sesodias are the seed of the Sassanid Noshirwan [ Met. 198-200 ] whence the Mewar kings are descended, a circumstance which justified Shivaji’s descent. General Cunningham also considered the Jats to be Scythic :

The Indo-Iranian Kambojas may also have been contributed to the horsemen culture of early Japan  (see KambojasKamboj and Kamboja Asvaka Ksatriya (Indo-Iranian Light Cavalry) / Bactria) as well as clans such as the Ashinas and Wusuns (see Why Soma and Sake are both the drink of the gods).

Purification rituals of the solar Saka-Scythian tribes and festivals dedicated to Sun God Surya in India:

Surya Jayanthi or Makara Sankaranthi is most Widely celebrated Hindu festival dedicated to the Sun God. It is celebrated as Makara Sankranti throughout India and as Pongal by Tamils all over the world. People thank the Sun God for ensuring a good harvest and dedicate the first grain to him.

This day is also known as Surya Jayanthi because it celebrates the power of the Sun God who is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu in his form as Surya is usually worshiped on this day. Usually, Rathasapthami begins in households with a purification bath by holding a few calotropis leaves on one’s head and shoulders while bathing and chanting a verse which is supposed to invoke the benevolence of the Lord in all that one takes up the rest of the year. It also involves doing a puja with the ritual ‘Naivedyam’, flowers and fruits. On this day at Tirumala (Andhra Pradesh), Lord Venkateshwara (Balaji) is mounted on Seven Vahanas (Celestial Vehicles) one after the other starting from Suryaprabha Vahana and ending with Chandraprabha Vahana. Other Vahanas are Hanumad vahana, Garuda Vahana, Peddashesha Vahana, Kalpavruksha vahana and Sarvabhupala vahana. Origin of celestial vehicles – omatsuri

Surya is not mentioned as one of the Adityas in the first book of the epic Mahabarata, but may be regarded as the compound of the twelve solar deities mentioned there, to be understood in connection to the Jyotisha vedic astrology: DhatriMitraAryamanSakraVarunaAmsaVagaVivaswatUshaSavitriTvashtriVishnu.

In Mahabharata, Surya is referred to as father of Karna, as he begot the latter on Kunti when she was virgin. With his grace and in order that Kunti is not spoken of badly in the world, Kunti could retain virginhood even after delivering a child.Makara Sankranti to slide further over the ages. A thousand years ago, Makar Sankranti was on December 31.

Sankranti is a solar event. So while dates of all Hindu festivals keep changing as per the Gregorian calendar, the date of Makar Sankranti remains constant over a long term, 14 January. Makar Sankranti is celebrated in the Hindu Calendar month of Magha.

Makar Sankranti is a major harvest festival celebrated in various parts of India. According to the lunar calendar, when the sun moves from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn or from Dakshinayana to Uttarayana, in the month of Poush in mid-January, it commemorates the beginning of the harvest season and cessation of the northeast monsoon in South India. The movement of the earth from one zodiac sign into another is called Sankranti and as the Sun moves into the Capricorn zodiac known as Makar in Hindi, this occasion is named as Makar Sankranti in the Indian context. It is one of the few Hindu Indian festivals which are celebrated on a fixed date i.e. 14 January every year.

Makar Sankranti, apart from a harvest festival is also regarded as the beginning of an auspicious phase in Indian culture. It is said as the ‘holy phase of transition’. It marks the end of an inauspicious phase which according to the Hindu calendar begins around mid-December. It is believed that any auspicious and sacred ritual can be sanctified in any Hindu family, this day onwards. Scientifically, this day marks the beginning of warmer and longer days compared to the nights. In other words, Sankranti marks the termination of winter season and beginning of a new harvest or spring season.

As it is the festival of Sun God and he is regarded as the symbol divinity and wisdom, the festival also holds an eternal meaning to it.

In 2011, Makar Sankranti will be celebrated on 15 January 2011.

Maharaja Bhagiratha, performed great penance to bring Ganga down to the earth for the redemption of 60,000 sons of Maharaj Sagar, who were burnt to ashes at the Kapil Muni Ashram, near the present day Ganga Sagar. It was on this day that Bhagirath finally did tarpan[clarification needed]with the Ganges water for his unfortunate ancestors and thereby liberated them from the curse. After visiting the Pataala(underworld) for the redemption of the curse of Bhagirath’s ancestors the Ganges finally merged into the sea. A very big Ganga Sagar Mela is organized every year on this day at the confluence of River Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. Thousands of Hindus take a dip in the water and perform tarpan for their ancestors.[2]

Bhageeratha was the king of Kosala, a kingdom in ancient India. He was a descendent of the great king Sagara of the Suryavamsa, or Sun Dynasty. He was one of the forefathers of Lord Rama, of the Ramayana, the epic in which Bhageeratha’s tale is primarily recounted.

He lost his father when he was just a child, and was raised by his mother. Bhageeratha was very intelligent, virtuous and kind hearted. When he came of age, Bhageeratha ascended to the throne of the kingdom of Kosala, today located in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. He was a pious, benevolent ruler who adhered to his duties as a king as prescribed by dharma.

Wikipedia Sources: Bhageeratha and Makara Sankaranthi

Note: The above Bhagiratha story illustrates the purification by water ritual that is required for redemption from a curse. This element is found in the Izanagi and Izanami myth, where Izanagi has to carry out ablution rituals after his ascent and escape from the Underworld, and which have formed the ritual basis for the harae rites of Shinto practices.

DNA evidence for the ‘children of the Sun’ and possible origins:

Zhongming Zhao, et al. Presence of three different paternal lineages among North Indians: A study of 560 Y chromosomes Ann Hum Biol. 2009 Jan–Feb; 36(1): 46–59.

Three distinct lineages were revealed based upon 13 haplogroups.

The first was a Central Asian lineage harbouring haplogroups R1 and R2.

The second lineage was of Middle-Eastern origin represented by haplogroups J2*, Shia-specific E1b1b1, and to some extent G* and L*.

The third was the indigenous Indian Y-lineage represented by haplogroups H1*, F*, C* and O*. Haplogroup E1b1b1 was observed in Shias only.

The results revealed that a substantial part of today’s North Indian paternal gene pool was contributed by Central Asian lineages who are Indo-European speakers, suggesting that extant Indian caste groups are primarily the descendants of Indo-European migrants. The presence of haplogroup E in Shias, first reported in this study, suggests a genetic distinction between the two Indo Muslim sects. The findings of the present study provide insights into prehistoric and early historic patterns of migration into India and the evolution of Indian populations in recent history.

All Indian populations were clustered together, but there was further bifurcation between North Indian Brahmins and South Indian Brahmins (Vizag Brahmins). The five populations selected in this study (i.e. three Brahmin groups and two Muslim sects) were distributed along a single branch. Interestingly, not unexpectedly, the Central Asian populations were clustered; however, they were overall closer to Indian populations, depicting the gene flow from Central Asia.

North Indians carry three Y-lineages, one derived from Central Asia or West Eurasia (R1a1, R1b1b2 and R2 haplogroups), one derived from the Middle East (J2, Shia-specific E1b1b1, and to some extent Gand L haplogroups). …data revealed that there may have been admixture between Sunni Muslims and Brahmins in North India. However, a recent study has shown the presence of the YAP + element in lower caste groups, namely Panchamas and Vaishyas of North India (Uttar Pradesh) (Zerjal et al. 2007). It may be postulated that there was admixture between Shia Muslims with both higher and lower caste groups from Uttar Pradesh in the past. Our previous results based on mtDNA analysis (Terreros et al. 2007) revealed that the two Muslim sects (Shia and Sunni) appeared to lack significant levels of the haplogroups (M2, U2, R5) which are believed to represent the proto-Indians involved in the initial migration out of Africa along the southern Asian coast 60 000–80 000 ybp.

Our examination of the 32 UEPs in 560 North Indian Y chromosomes revealed 13 different haplogroups (C, E1b1b1, F, G, H1, J2, K, L, O, P, R1a1, R1b1b2 and R2), of which nine (C, F, H1, J2, K, O, P, R1a1 and R2) were present in all the studied populations.

The Middle East is often called the Fertile Crescent due to the emergence of agriculture during the Neolithic era and is one of the most important geographical areas contributing to the initial population and re-population of Europe (Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 2003). There were two putative mutations found in the Middle Eastern populations: YAP/PN2/ M35 and 12f2/M172 (Semino et al. 2000; Underhill et al. 2001). The first mutation creates haplogroup E1b1b1 while the other mutation defines haplogroup J2. The Middle Eastern populations might have contributed differentially to the South Asian gene pool during the last 8000–10 000 years (Lahr and Foley 1998). The Y-lineages observed in the present study may suggest two major episodes of migrations: One carried J2 and to some extent L and G with the Neolithic farmers (Underhill et al. 2001) and the other arrived with the Muslims carrying E1b1b1 and a few more haplogroups such as J2 and G. Kivisild et al. (2003) also reported the presence of a J2 clade and postulated that the origin of the J2 clade in India was probably Central Asia. Their hypothesis is based on eight populations taken from different parts of India. They observed the J2 clade in ~13% of the sample. The major Middle Eastern lineage present in our study was J2 with an average frequency of 13.8% and its frequency among Shias was the highest (19.5%). We suggest that the J2 lineage of the studied populations might be derived from the Middle East. This might have been due to two different episodes of migrations, one concomitant with the development and spread of agriculture ~8000–10 000 years ago (Renfrew 1989; Cavalli-Sforza 2005), and the other more recent migration being the arrival of Muslim rulers 1000 years ago. The supporting evidence of the Middle East or West Asian migrations in Indian Muslims was demonstrated by the presence of 11.0% of haplogroup E1b1b1 in Shia Muslims. Our results revealed that Shia Muslims are different from Sunnis and other upper caste populations. They possess a relatively high frequency of the E1b1b1 haplogroup which was not observed in any other population selected for the present study. It appears that gene pool of extant Shia Muslims reflects the contributions of earlier Islamic invaders who might have maintained the founder population features. Zerjal et al. (2007) have also recently reported the low frequency of E3b3a (old nomenclature in YCC2002) in lower caste populations, i.e. Panchamas and Vaishyas populations of Uttar Pradesh, India.

Saini, JS et al. Genomic diversity and affinities in population groups of North West India: An analysis of Alu insertion and a single nucleotide polymorphism. Gene. 2012 Dec 15;511(2):293-9. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2012.08.034. Epub 2012 Sep 17

The North West region of India is extremely important to understand the peopling of India, as it acted as a corridor to the foreign invaders from Eurasia and Central Asia. A series of these invasions along with multiple migrations led to intermixture of variable populations, strongly contributing to genetic variations. The present investigation was designed to explore the genetic diversities and affinities among the five major ethnic groups from North West India; Brahmin, Jat Sikh, Bania, Rajput and Gujjar….. Genetic distance estimates revealed that Gujjars were close to Banias and Jat Sikhs were close to Rajputs. Overall the study favored the recent division of the populations of North West India into largely endogamous groups. It was observed that the populations of North West India represent a more or less homogenous genetic entity, owing to their common ancestral history as well as geographical proximity.

The Central Asian or west Eurasian Y-lineages are depicted in terms of presenting a similar high frequency of sibling clades of R haplogroups (R1a1 and R2) in the studied populations. A total of 256 of the 560 individuals (45.7%) in this study belonged to European Y-lineages, i.e. R1a1 (M173/M17), R1b1b2 (M173) and R2 (M124) clades (Figure 1). Similar results were reported in a previous study of the Indian subcontinent (Kivisild et al. 2003). Haplogroup R reflects the impact of expansion and migration of Indo-European pastoralists from Central Asia, thus linking haplogroup frequency to specific historical events (Sengupta et al. 2006). Haplogroup R is widely spread in central Asian Turkic-speaking populations and in eastern European Finno-Ugric and Slavic speakers and is less frequent in populations from the Middle East and Sino-Tibetan regions of northern China (Karafet et al. 1999; Underhill et al. 2000).

Interestingly, the high frequency of the R1a1 haplogroup seems to be concentrated around the elevated terrain of central and western Asia. Several migratory routes of H. sapiens are illustrated in Figure 3. Although haplogroup R1a in Central Asians depicted a low genetic diversity estimate, many researchers (Kivisild et al. 2003; Zerjal et al. 2003) have suggested a recent founder effect or drift that led to the high frequency of R1a in the Southeastern Central Asia. It has also been suggested that R1a might have an independent origin in the Indian subcontinent (Kivisild et al. 2003). We have observed a low frequency of R1b1b2 (0.5%). An additional signature of the Central Asian lineage is haplogroup R2. Its frequency was 22.0% in our sample. This haplogroup is mainly found in Indian, Iranian, and Central Asian populations and has been postulated to have a Central Asian origin (Quintana-Murci et al. 2001; Wells et al. 2001; Kivisild et al. 2003). However, our results have shown that high incidence of R2 clade was also observed in other North Indian populations, which was similarly reported in other studies (Cordaux et al. 2004; Cavalli-Sforza 2005). Overall, we suggest that Central Asia is the most likely source of North Indian Y lineage considering the historical and genetic background of North India (Karve 1968; Balakrishnan 1978).

Ethnic India: A genomic view with special reference to peopling and structure

Races in India notes:  considerable diversity in R1a1-M17 (and R2), especially in the northwest, possibly exceeding 10-15 Ka in time depth, and this has been confirmed in another study. This may be inconsistent with a single recent (i.e. about 5 Ka) entry of the comparatively recent (about 7 Ka) linguistic group called Indoeuropeans into India, though complicated exogamy rules can confound such simple conclusions. In fact, since the maximal diversity is around the Hindukush mountains, one can even postulate that as the source region, but the strong association with the Indo-european languages (which are unlikely to have arisen in that region), and its higher frequency (and lower diversity!) among caste Indians compared to tribals…R1a1 probably marks multiple separate population movement which still remains to be deciphered. …The R1a1 fraction in different populations (Sengupta et al. and Qamar et al.): West Bengal Brahmins: 72%, Konkanasth Brahmins: 63%, Muslims: 58%, Sindhi Pakistani: 52/49%, Kashmiri Pakistani: 51%, Pathan Pakistani: 49%, Balti Pakistani: 46%, Tanti: 41%, Pathan Pakistan: 40/49%, UP Brahmins: 36%, Rajput: 31%, Baluchi Pakistanis: 28%. J2a is more common in India amongst the Iyengar, Iyer, and Kurumba and in Pakistan among the coastal, Sindhis, Makranis, and Baluchis.“

Sources and references:

Source of the Izanagi’s descent into the Underworld;

Creation of Japan (Izanagi Jingu) Part 1


Scythic Origin of the Rajput Race by Mulchand Chauhan, published by Rajputana Liberation Front, Ujjain, 1999, Copyright Notice: Excerpts have been used in this article in accordance with their terms and with credit

The “Red Book” ~ INANNA, QUEEN OF HEAVEN AND EARTH: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer. This book contains the Marriage of Inanna and Dumuzi.

The Miao Flower Mountain Festival

Why Soma and Sake are both the drink of the gods

Ningyo mer-creatures and the Yao Bikuni folktale

Ukiyo-e, 1808,  Ningyo, Katsushika Hokusai (Source: Wikipaintings)

Ningyo (人魚, “human fish”, often translated as “mermaid”) is a fish-like creature from Japanese folklore, that according to Wikipedia, from ancient sources, had  “a monkey’s mouth with small teeth like a fish’s, shining golden scales, and a quiet voice like a skylark or a flute”.

A ningyo from Toriyama Sekien’s Konjaku Hyakki Shūi. Source: Wikipedia

The Obakemono Project  describes the ningyo thus:

“The mermaid of old Japan is more reminiscent of the infamous “Fiji mermaid” hoax than the beautiful fish-girls popular today, looking something like a cross between a monkey and a carp. But despite its grotesque appearance, the ningyo’s scales are said to shine like gold, and like the traditional Western mermaid it is a romantically tragic creature. According to legend, a ningyo cannot speak, but its voice has a pleasant sound like a flute, and if it ever sheds tears it will be transformed into a human. But it is most famous for its flesh, a pleasant-smelling and delicious meat that is said to make anyone who eats it nigh-immortal.”

According to Japanese Sea Deities (The Arcane Archive), the ningyo is a Japanese mermaid goddess who cries white pearl tears. And that it was said if women could capture her and take a bite out of her, they would have eternal youth and beauty.

Catching a ningyo was believed to bring storms and misfortune, so fishermen who caught these creatures were said to throw them back into the sea. A ningyo washed onto the beach was also an omen of war or calamity. In Okinawa, people said eating ningyo would be unlucky, and particularly avoid eating the dugong.

The folktale of Yao Bikuni

One of the most famous folk stories concerning ningyo is called Yao Bikuni (八百比丘尼, “eight-hundred (years) Buddhist priestess”) or Happyaku Bikuni. The story tells how a fisherman who lived in Wakasa Province once caught an unusual fish. In all his years fishing, he had never seen anything like it, so he invited his friends over to sample its meat.

One of the guests, however, peeked into the kitchen, noticed that the head of this fish had a human face, and warned the others not to eat it. So when the fisherman finished cooking and offered his guests the ningyo’s grilled flesh, they secretly wrapped it in paper and hid it on their persons so that it could be discarded on the way home.

But one man, drunk on sake, forgot to throw the strange fish away. This man had a little daughter, who demanded a present when her father arrived home, and he carelessly gave her the fish. Coming to his senses, the father tried to stop her from eating it, fearing she would be poisoned, but he was too late and she finished it all. But as nothing particularly bad seemed to happen to the girl afterwards, the man did not worry about it for long.

Years passed, and the girl grew up and was married. But after that she did not age any more; she kept the same youthful appearance while her husband grew old and died. After many years of perpetual youth and being widowed again and again, the woman became a nun and wandered through various countries. Finally she returned to her hometown in Wakasa, where she ended her life at an age of 800 years. – Source: Ningyo (Wikipedia)

Here’s another version below of Yao Bikuni by the Iwaki (?) Board of Education (translation by The Fresh Prince of Iwaki):

Yao Bikuni

This is a tale from the town of Tabito called “the Mermaid Long-Life Medicine”. Once upon a time, a man held a feast on the night of Koshinko, and everyone in the village came.
First it is important to understand Koshinko. Inside the human body, there is a bug called “Sanshi”. This bug watches every crime that a person does. Every 60 days, on the night of Koshin, the Sanshi bug goes to the Emperor’s house and reports all crimes that have been done. Depending on the crime, the Emperor shortens the lifespan of the evil-doer. When the night of Koshinko comes around, people would gather together, drink alcohol, and frolic about all night without sleeping. Old farming villages believed that doing all of this would prevent the Sanshi bug from reporting anything to the Emperor.
At the Koshinko feast, the food prepared by the host turned out to be some type of mermaid meat. The guests were quite shocked and thought that is was a very odd. Without eating a single bite, all of the guests wrapped their servings in a piece of paper and brought it home with them.
Everyone threw away their portion of this mysterious meat on the way home or after arriving home. But, at one of the homes, a teenage girl found the meat. Thinking to herself, “What a waste! I wonder what it is,” she sneakily ate it.
After eating this, the girl’ appearance did not change, and she lived a long, long life. Before long, she became known as “Yao Bikuni”. “Yao” comes from her living until she was 800 years old; “Bikuni” implies that she was a nun. Depending on the region, she is also called “Happyaku Bikuni” or “Shira Bikuni” (“the White Nun”). Many accounts of the half-human, half-fish mermaid meat were passed down from generation to generation as the “Medicine of Youth and Longevity”.
One by one, one after another, her family and friends began to pass away, but no matter how many years passed, the girl would continue aging without a change in her appearance.
Before long, any happiness she had in her life turned into emptiness and suffering. Not able to take the suffering anymore, she shaved off all of her hair and become a nun. Soon after, she left on a journey to travel around the world. But she never found happiness in her life.
As more time passed, everyone she had ever known had died. She came to hate her unchanging, youthful appearance. To make things worse, people who saw her began calling her a ghost. She felt so backed into a corner that she couldn’t endure living anymore. At the age of 800, the girl left this world, despite being immortal and ageless. Simply, her will to live ceased to be.
“I want to be young forever.” “I don’t want to be old.” “I want to live just a little bit longer.” Many people have these kind of desires, but with time all people grow old. After some time, death will pay us all a visit.
The story of Yao Bikuni is meant for those who fear death, teaching them that “living a long life does not guarantee happiness.” Having a life with an end is the most appropriate thing for us. We should take to heart that fate is not pre-determined and live our lives appreciating each day we have. By doing this and living a healthy lifestyle, we can possibly maintain our beauty as we grow old. — Yao Bikuni (trns. by The Fresh Prince of Iwaki)

Postulating possible mythical derivative sources or affiliations or folkloric connections with other parts of the world:

While the monkey-carplike fishlike ningyo has closer affinities with Siberian or Pacific versions, the ningyo goddess that cried pearl tears, has obvious affinities with the Chinese mermaid:

A 15th-century compilation of quotations from Chinese literature tells of a mermaid who “wept tears which became pearls”. An early 19th-century book entitled Jottings on the South of China contains two stories about mermaids. In the first, a man captures a mermaid on the shore of Namtao island. She looks human in every respect, except that her body is covered with fine hair of many colours. She is unable to speak, but the man takes her home and marries her. Upon his death, the mermaid returns to the sea where she had been found. In the second story, a man sees a woman lying on the beach while his ship was anchored offshore. Upon closer inspection, the woman appears to have webbed feet and hands. She is carried to the water and expresses her gratitude toward the sailors before swimming away.  – Mermaid (Wikipedia)

Amphitrite (‘The Great Embracer’ — pre-Hellenic sea Goddess and wife of Poseidon, Greek/Hellenic sea God);  Nereids the Greek nymphs fathered by Nereus (‘Old Man of the Sea’ — Hellenic sea God);  Atargatis (Syrian mermaid Goddess) – in the Hellenized fish-bodied form, Atargatis was known as Derketo, who was a nymph changed into a fish after having become pregnant by a shepherd boy

Njord (Norse God of sea travel);  Rân (‘The Ravisher’ — Norse sea Goddess); Havmand (Scandinavian merman);

Sedna (Inuit sea Goddess portrayed walrus or seal-like); Rusalky (Russian mermaids) and Vodyanik (Russian mermen);

Ben-Varry (Manx Mermaids) and Dinny-Mara (Manx Mermen) British Isle of Man;  Lir (Irish sea God);  Merrows / the Murdhuachas (Irish); Blue men of the Minch and the Roane (Scottish);  Caesg (Celtic — part trout or salmon);  Neck (Scandinavian fresh and salt water Mermaids);  Merrymaids (Cornish Mermaids); Meerfraulein and Wasserfrau (German)

Nuwa and Fuxi (amphibious or mer-like god and goddess of ancient western China)

Catao (Cebuano, Hiligaynon) and Samar ugkoy (merfolk of the Philippines)


Water Fae

The Mermaid Myth

The Amphibious Gods (Crystalinks)

Primeval Great Mother Dragon Goddess NuWa Tiamat excerpt from Anne Baring & Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess

Arrow divination and the Yakudoshi concept and custom in Japan

Symbolic japanese demon-breaking arrow Hamaya with Ema plaque

Symbolic japanese demon-breaking arrow Hamaya with Ema plaque

There are many shrines that have archery rites, and it is common for some shrine visitors during their New Year visit to buy their decorative arrow charms, made of wood and with a wooden tip, and which are known as “hamaya” which literally means, “demon-breaking/banishing arrow” and they perform the role of misfortune dispelling arrows or as good luck charms to attract good luck.  These are sold at shrines at New Year’s to ward off misfortune and to attract good luck. The hamaya, will be kept for a year, and the old arrow will be burned in the Dondo Yaki Festival held on Jan. 15th in a “cleansing fire” to show gratitude for the past year and bring happiness for the year to come.

From the Edo to the early Meiji period, hamaya were given as gifts to celebrate the first New Year of a male baby’s life, frequently in a set together with a pair of decorative bows called hamayumi (“demon-breaking bows”). The custom of selling the arrow alone is thought to be a later abbreviation of this custom.

According to the Encyclopedia of Shinto:

“…the custom persists of standing such symbolic bows and arrows at the northeast and southwest corners of a new house (called kimon, the directions thought particularly susceptible to evil influences) on the occasion of the roof-raising ceremonies (jōtōsai). The etymological significance of hama is not clear, but it is said to have been an ancient word for an archery target or an archery contest. The practice of making round targets of braided bamboo or straw, or circles of wood, and throwing them into the air or rolling them on the ground as archery targets was a common children’s pastime, but it was also known as a form of New Year’s divination used to foretell the fortunes of the coming year (toshiura).”

The arrow custom likely hails from the Steppe Hun-Mongolic, Northeastern Eurasian tradition and superstitions that have been handed down through archer generations since antiquity.

Belomancy, also bolomancy, is the ancient art of divination by use of arrows. Belomancy was practised also by the Babylonians, Greeks, Arabs and Scythians.

The feathered arrows were typically marked with occult symbols. By one method, different possible answers to a given question were written and tied to each arrow. For example, three arrows would be marked with the phrases, ‘God orders it me’, ‘God forbids it me’, and the third would be blank. The arrow that flew the furthest indicated the answer. Another method involves the same thing, but without shooting the arrows. They would simply be shuffled in the quiver, worn preferably on the back, and the first arrow to be drawn indicated the answer. If a blank arrow was drawn, they would redraw.

This was an ancient practice, and probably that mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel 21:21, shown below in the original Hebrew, and translated to English in the New American Standard Bible,

כִּי-עָמַד מֶלֶךְ-בָּבֶל אֶל-אֵם הַדֶּרֶךְ, בְּרֹאשׁ שְׁנֵי הַדְּרָכִים–לִקְסָם-קָסֶם: קִלְקַל בַּחִצִּים שָׁאַל בַּתְּרָפִים, רָאָה בַּכָּבֵד.
“For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination; he shakes the arrows, he consults the household idols, he looks at the liver.”
St. Jerome agrees with this understanding of the verse, and observes that the practice was frequent among the Assyrians and Babylonians. Something like it is also mentioned in Hosea 4:12, although a staff or rod is used instead of arrows, which is rather rhabdomancy than belomancy. Grotius, as well as Jerome, confounds the two together, and shows that it prevailed much among the Magi, Chaldean, and Scythians, from which it passed to the Slavonians, and then to the Germans, whom Tacitus observes to make use of it.

A lost traveller might also use belomancy to find his way, by tossing the arrow into the air, and letting its angle show him the way.


The article below refers to the concept of Yakudoshi which is a custom that according to Lára Ósk Hafbergsdóttir’s “Contemporary popular beliefs in Japan” seems to be “originally derived from China, altering in Japan and intermingling with older, non-Chinese practices and beliefs.” Also, ideas about which “differing days associated with luck, with some being lucky and other being bad for new ventures”, most of these are associated with astrological lore and to the old Chinese lunar-solar calendar that was adopted in Japan in the seventh century AD.

Yakudoshi key to happiness
Yoshiko Kosaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Yakudoshi is a Japanese folk custom that warns that a person is more likely to experience misfortune or illness at specific ages. To avoid bad things from happening, it is believed one should live modestly during those years.

Yakudoshi is nothing new–it’s a belief that has been passed down for ages. But recently, more people are starting to reconsider their lifestyle by taking better care of their health and making friends of a similar age in their communities.

Generally, men are believed to go through two periods of yakudoshi at ages 25 and 42, while women experience yakudoshi at 19 and 33. Under the yakudoshi concept, a person is 1 year old at birth since the period between conception and birth is considered the first year of life. Year 2 begins at the start of following year.

There are various stories why yakudoshi is set at those ages. Some say it comes from the 12-year cycle of the Chinese “eto” astrological calendar, while other say it’s a play on words. For example, in Japanese, “19″ is read as “juku,” which can also be written using kanji meaning “multiple suffering,” while “33″ can be read as “san-zan,” meaning “hideous.”

Yakudoshi ages are also calculated differently depending on the shrine or temple.

The Fukuoka-based private research institute Anti-Aging Laboratory, which was established by a health food company, conducted a survey in August on 2,000 people aged between 30 and 69.

According to the survey, 32 percent of respondents “care about yakudoshi,” and 36 percent said they had gone to temple or shrine to receive “yakuyoke” or “yakubarai” blessings to ward off misfortune.

More than 40 percent said they believed they were more likely to become sick during yakudoshi years.

The Anti-Aging Laboratory then studied the relationship between aging and illness to propose a set of “new yakudoshi” to promote health awareness.

With support from the Tokyo-based Japan Medical Data Center, the lab analyzed the medical bills of about 1 million people to measure the frequency of seven health conditions, such as cerebrovascular disease, dementia and cancer, at particular ages.

According to the results, illnesses were more likely to occur in men at the ages of 24, 37, 50 and 63, and at 25, 39, 52, and 63 in women. These ages were then set as the new yakudoshi.

“We hope the new yakudoshi will become a good opportunity for people to review their lifestyles so they can live longer lives,” said Anti-Aging director and arteriosclerosis expert Hiroshige Itakura.


Popular among youth

Young people in particular also seem to be interested in yakudoshi.

Iwashimizu Hachimangu in Yawata, Kyoto Prefecture, a shrine known for specializing in yakuyoke, has seen an increase in the number of young people visiting for that purpose.

“They seem to think of this shrine as a ‘power spot.’ I’m often asked to explain about yakuyoke,” said Norito Sakurai, a spokesperson for the shrine.

Meanwhile, many women in their 30s have taken to visiting Nishiarai Daishi in Adachi Ward, Tokyo. According to the temple, 37 is also an unlucky age for women and as a result, many women who have turned or will turn 37 visit there.

Young people in their 20s and 30s are also often spotted at Sano Yakuyoke Daishi in Sano, Tochigi Prefecture.

“Yakudoshi has another meaning of ‘yaku o morau’ [getting a role]. It’s considered to have a positive vibe as a turning point in a person’s life,” said essayist Hiromi Tanaka, an author of a book on yakudoshi.

“The number of women who visit shrines or temples for fun has increased over the last couple of years, and I think they are showing some interest in experiencing this old custom in the same way foreigners are interested in seeing Japan,” she added.


A reason to get together

Some groups use yakudoshi as a way to get people to interact with others in their community.

Three years ago, Heartwell 21, a nonprofit organization in Kitakyushu, began inviting yakudoshi age employees from local companies to attend yakubarai rituals together as part of exchange events.

“Participants of the same generation wine and dine together [after the ritual] and get to know each other while learning about a traditional Japanese custom,” said an NPO staff member.

At Goyu Shrine in Toyokawa, Aichi Prefecture, men get together to form a “Yakudoshi-kai” group for organizing a summer festival.

The main purpose of the festival is yakubarai, but Yasuyuki Fukui, 40, one of the group’s members, said, “The festival will help strengthen the sense of unity among those of the same generation, while preserving our region’s traditions.”

Kokugakuin University Prof. Takanori Shintani, a folklore expert, said: “Japanese have long felt secure by casually practicing yakubarai. In times when people feel the future seems uncertain, they seek security and review their lives–yakudoshi could be an indicator of that.”

(Dec. 7, 2012)

Further reading:

Astronomy in Japan (the Astronomy in Japan Home Page) by Steve Renshaw

Origin of onigawara ogre-goblin tile production dates from the 6th century Asuka Period


Onigawara goblin gargoyle or roof tile ornament

Kawara means roofing tile and Onigawara (鬼瓦 ) are a type of Japanese ogre- or goblin- gargoyle and roof tile ornamentation found in Japanese architecture. Literally translated as ‘ogre tile’, the roof tile ornaments traditionally depict a Japanese ogre (oni) or a fearsome beast, but also commonly include many other motifs such as floral (alternatively known as hanagawara 花瓦) and animal designs. Swirling or wave patterns found at the bottom right and left of the onigawara are called hire 鰭.

A magnificent example of onigawara at the 1,400 year old Ono-Jodoji temple. Prince Shotoku, is said to be the founder of Onomichi’s Jodoji Temple which is also famous for its connection with the Shogun Takauji Ashikaga, who is said to have worshipped here. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Onigawara are usually made of fired clay  but may occasionally be made of stone or wood.

The oni goblin design motif is thought to have originated from a previous architectural element, the oni-ita,  鬼板 which is a board painted with the face of an oni and was meant to stop roof leaks. The provenance of the earliest onigawara is thought to have been Silla (southeast Korean kingdom)… perhaps of Persian influence.

The earliest kawara tiles are dated to the Asuka Period in the middle of the 6th Century, at the same time Buddhism was introduced from Kudara, now Korea. Kawara tiles were reportedly first used for the Asukadera Temple in Japan. Their manufacture was supervised by tile craftsmen dispatched from the southwestern Korean kingdom of Paekche (Kudara). At the time, temples were the only buildings allowed to use Kawara roofing tiles.

A roofing tile excavated from the ruins of the Asukadera site.

In the Nara period, however, Kawara began to be used for various other types of buildings.  Roof tiles began to be used on palace buildings only after the end of the 7th century, beginning with the Fujiwara-no-miya palace. Government-operated workshops (kobo) appeared and were administered as a part of the ritsuryo governmental system which was becoming established toward the end of the 7th century. The kawara workshops and industry made the mass production of such large quantities of tiles possible. Historically however, Kawara manufacture first emerged in China around 2,800 years ago.

Nara Period onigawara from Todaiji (Kondo structure) Temple. Photo: Fidel Ramos

The largest onigawara (World Guiness Records) made of clay, measures 9 m (29 ft 6 in) tall and 8.8 m (28 ft 10 in) wide, is found on the rooftop of the main building of Nenbutsushu Muryojuji Temple , Mikawa Bay.

In Okinawa, shisa lion roof gargoyles originating from China, are traditional fixtures since ancient times. They have a protective function of warding off evil.

Open-mouthed Shisa gargoyle on a traditional tile roof in Okinawa Prefecture. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Kawara tiles became popular in the Edo period, with new styles introduced. Their widespread use was encouraged because they are fire proof.  There are now more than 1,000 varieties of design shapes of Kawara tiles.

Kawara are of two main types in Japan: Nyouyaku Gawara or Glazed tiles and Ibushi Kawara or tiles which have oxidized and formed a silver- colored carbon film.

Today, Sanshuu Kawara in Aichi, Awaji Kawara in Hyogo and Sekishu Kawara in Shimane are the three biggest production districts of high quality Kawara and represent the finest in Japanese roofing tile making.


Various styles and types of Kawara tiles, according to ASUKA Roof tiles (Kawara):

“Roofs of temples and palace buildings were covered with “round roof tiles” (marugawara, curved downward) and “curved roof tiles” (hiragawara wider with a slight upward curve), arranged in alternate rows. Row ends were ornamented with “round roof-edge tiles” (noki marugawara) and “curved roof-edge tiles” (noki hiragawara), both of which bore designs on their outward-facing surfaces.

Round roof-edge tiles primarily made use of lotus flower designs (rengemon). The majority of such tiles from the end of the 6th century and the first half of the 7th century have simple “individual petal” (tanben) designs of Paekche (southwest Korean) inspiration. However, there are also some tiles of Koguryo (north Korean) inspiration, having vertical ridges (see illustration “d”, page 86), as well as tiles running down the middle of each petal which have Silla (southeast Korean) affinities, showing animal or demon faces.

After around the middle of the 7th century, a new type of tile made its appearance. As in the case of the round roof-end tiles from the Yamadadera, there came into popularity a “layered individual petal” (juben) pattern characterized by smaller petals decoratively superimposed on the larger ones. On some tiles from this period, additional geometric designs concentrically arranged around the circumference of the lotus pattern had begun to appear. Then, during the latter part of the 7th century, from the time of the building of the Kawaradera onward, the most commonly used basic pattern, influenced by Tang Chinese tiles, came to be the “composite-petal” (fukuben) pattern, with the larger petals arranged in pairs, and two smaller petals superimposed on each pair. Round roofedge tiles developed elaborate design modifications such as sawtooth patterns around the outer rims.

Curved roof-edge tiles (noki hiragawara) first appeared during the first half of the 7th century. The curved roof-edge tiles of the Sakatadera have arabesque patterns (karakusamon) incised by hand. Around the middle of the 7th century, “layered arc patterns” (Jukomon) were in vogue. but by the. latter part of the century, arabesque patterns again comprised the mainstream of noki hiragawara decorative art. Temples vied with one another in devising original designs for their round and curved roof-edge tiles, seen as forming a set.”

See related: videoclip of nokimarugawara style tiles. These are semi-cylindrical pendant tiles found at the end of eaves designed to prevent rainwater from seeping between and under the roofing tiles and roof sheathing. The nokimarugawara are found in borders, alternating with concave rectangular pendant tiles.

Another common motif is the swirling tomoe pattern found on tomoegawara 巴瓦 tiles. This image is also found on Chinese roof tiles and is believed to symbolize water as the Chinese character for tomoe 巴 means “whirlpool” or “eddy”. These swirls are thus said to be symbols related to water, and as such are believed to offer protection against the dangers of fire. The basic tomoe style is believed to have originated in China which in turn may have been influenced by other Silk Road cultures (notably the triskeles found on Greek and Eastern Iranian warrior shieldspre-Roman Galicia and pre-Celtic Bronze Age Ireland; bronze discs of the La Tene culture in Romania; coinage of Gaul. The tomoe has been utilized in Japan as warrior shield decorations since at least the Yayoi period (300 BC-300 AD). Other scholars are of the view the tomoe originated as the design on leather clothing or wrist-guards worn by ancient archers (tomo 鞆 thus tomo-e 鞆絵). The use of tomoe motif is well known from the Heian Period, particularly as the warrior-associated kamon heraldic coat of arms (ka means ‘family’ and mon means ‘crest’). The tomoe design also has spiritual connotations and is often found on religious implements and in conjunction with temple and shrine architecture (source: JAANUS).


Recommended Field Trip

Visit the Kawara Museum of the City of Takahama, in Aichi prefecture — the only art museum in the world that specializes in the theme of roof tiles, and just outside the museum, the one-and-a-half-mile goblin trail or “Oni-no-michi” which is dotted with various examples of scowling onigawara. “Kawara” is translated as “roof tile.”

Examine the unmatched kawara tile display in Kawara Museum. Located in Takahama City, which, together with neighbouring Hekinan, has been a major centre of roof-tile (kawara) production for centuries and remains the main producer of Sanshu-kawara with Japan’s top domestic output of kawara.

At the Kawara Museum you can obtain an up-close look at the best of the region’s roof tiles, and feel the beauty and appeal of kawara through the outstanding collection and exhibits of p