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Victimage in the Kojiki of Japan

 by Barbara Mikolajewska in cooperation with F.E.J. Linton

Copyright © 2005 by,   New Haven, CT 06511-2208 USA.
First Internet Edition. All rights reserved.


Part I

In the place of pure beginning









“… Am-n-uzume-n-mikt bound up her sleeves with a cord of heavenly Pi-kag vine, tied around her head a head-band of the heavenly Ma-saki vine, bound together bundles of sasa leaves to hold in her hands, and overturning a bucket before the heavenly rock-cave door, stamped resoundingly upon it. Then she became divinely possessed, exposed her breast, and pushed her skirt-band down to her genitals.

          Then Takama-n-para shook as the eight-hundred myriad deities laughed at once.”


Kojiki, University of Tokyo Press; translated with an Introduction and Notes by Donald L. Philippi; 17:14-16, p.84.



Chapter 1

Takachiho and its Yokagura: Reliving the Lore of Yesteryear


       One of the more perplexing bits of common knowledge or received wisdom that American second-graders are said to have passed on to each other in the late nineteen forties, concerning their simple, die-stamped sheet-metal toys, was that, while some bore the self-explanatory imprints “Made in USA” or “Made in Japan,” those bearing instead the wily imprint “Made in Usa” were in fact made in Japan.

       Only the most intrepid of those second-graders would ever have ventured to an encyclopedia, there to learn that, in fact, there is in Japan a city called Usa, a city with a not inconsiderable manufacturing base, a good portion of which was devoted, during the years immediately following World War II, to the production and exportation of just such simple, die-stamped sheet-metal toys.

       Any atlas will reveal that Japan itself, a nation of countless islands, is concentrated on four principal islands, and that it is on Kyushu, at once the westernmost and southernmost of those four large islands, that this town of Usa is located, on the shore along its eastern coast, barely 75 kilometers south of the Kokura-Shimonoseki strait separating Kyushu from the adjacent island of Honshu, north-east of Kyushu and home to the far more familiar and vastly larger cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima.

       Another 180 kilometers south of Usa, however, on the eastern seaboard of Kyushu, past the ports of Beppu, Usuki, and Saiki, where the inter-island ferries linking Kyushu with the islands Honshu and Shikoku dock, lies the modern coastal town of Nobeoka, too far to the south and the west, by now, to attract those inter-island ferries, but rail-head for the private Takachiho Tetsudo railway, which, in a north-westerly run of perhaps ninety minutes, traverses some fifty steep, scenic kilometers, along a narrow, largely single-track rail-bed, gaining nearly half a kilometer in elevation as it climbs high into the central mountains of Kyushu’s Miyazaki province, ending at the mountain-ringed high-country terminus of Takachiho, in a trip that has also taken its passengers untold centuries back in time, to the place of pure beginning where unfolded the world-shaking events memorialized even today in Takachiho’s sacred and centuries-old Yokagura dance-drama.

       For near here, certainly, just outside Takachiho, are the twin caves Amano-Iwato, within which the Sun Goddess Ama-terasu-opo-mi-kamï had sequestered herself in angry protest against her “evil” brother’s abhorrent heavenly misdeeds, and Gyobo-Iwaya, where all the eight hundred myriad deities of that time, resolved to restore to the worlds of heaven and earth the solar warmth and light that Ama-terasu’s voluntary concealment deprived them of, gathered together so as to hatch a scheme by which to entice Ama-terasu back out again.

       Here, too, are the twin peaks of Mount Futagami, where Ama-terasu’s grandson Ninigi-n-mikt, future grandfather, in turn, of Jimmu, the legendary first Yamat emperor of Japan, is held to have descended from heaven, at his grandmother Ama-terasu’s behest, to wrest earthly rule from Ama-terasu’s “evil” brother’s descendant, the earthly deity Opo-kuni-nusi, and to establish heavenly rule on earth.

       In fact, even heaven itself figures in the Takachiho landscape, taking the form of a rambling, shrine-dotted, forested park that, covering the hill through which, for its last few hundred meters before entering the city limits, tunnels the main road to Takachiho from the coast, bears the name Takama-ga-hara, clearly a modern rendering of the more ancient name Takama-n-para by which the Kojiki refers to “The Plain of High Heaven” that serves as abode of all the heavenly deities.




















       Moreover, one’s visual field in Takachiho is filled with Yokagura-inspired images depicting these places, recalling these events, and extolling their protagonists. A life size image of Am-n-uzume (1) greets passengers arriving at the Takachiho rail station. Within the station, Tajikarao and Am-n-uzume, portrayed (2) with the mirror that helped recapture Ama-terasu, invite the traveler to make use of the station’s souvenir-passport stamp (3) with its depiction of a Yokagura scene; and a poster (4) advertises the nightly Yokagura performance at the Takachiho Jinja (admission tickets (5): 500 yen).








Just outside the station there stands a poured-concrete replica of the cave Amano-Iwato: a telephone booth, actually, in disguise, its door extending the illusion by depicting Tajikarao (6) grappling with the large and obstinate boulder that, after all, once blocked up the cave’s mouth. Not far beyond stands an old wooden structure, resembling a small, disused shrine (7), within which one finds full-size marionette figures of Tajikarao and Am-n-uzume (8).









Nearby, a tiny park hosts a granite-carved statue of the same longhaired god Tajikarao (9). In another, we may see carved in granite the quick-witted and fearless Am-n-uzume (10), that “formidable woman,” as she performs before the mouth of Amano-Iwato her inspired and uninhibited dance – the “original Kagura,” her first great claim to fame – whose bawdy ribaldry caused such raucous merriment among the assembled throng of deities that Ama-terasu, unable to quell her curiosity, would find herself compelled to have a closer peek, at which point she could indeed be restrained from retreating back into seclusion and brought forth again into the world, her spirit being captured for all time by a well-positioned mirror. Elsewhere still stands a tengu (11), a granite statue of the long-nosed deity Saruta-Biko, god of the cross-roads, and presumably Am-n-uzume’s husband.










A roll-up sheet-metal shop-window shutter, for example, rolled down because the store has already closed for the evening, or has not yet opened for the new day, may depict Am-n-uzume (12), preparing to dance, or the god Tajikarao, desperation distorting his flushed face, tugging frantically (13) on his long hair, or brandishing (14) a magical wand topped with a clump of shredded paper, as he gathers his superhuman strength in preparation for prying out of the mouth of the cave Amano-Iwato the enormous, immovable boulder behind which the Sun Goddess Ama-terasu lies hidden.







Yet another roll-up awning may portray Opo-kuni-nusi (15) ceding earthly rule to Ninigi, or even show Ama-terasu’s own father Izanagi, seated arm-in-arm with his consort and help-mate Izanami, taking a break from their life-long task of creating and populating the islands of Japan, savoring a couple of very anachronistic ice-cream cones (this over the window of a sweet-shop), Tajikarao is even featured in a billboard (17) advertising  beef.









Such scenes also inspire more personal works of art, as found on a mural (18) in the private dining room of a local ryokan, displayed in the window (19) of a private dwelling, or painted on the exterior wall (20) of small Takachiho hotel.






They may appear as well in simple charcoal sketches (21) or watercolors (22).







For the tourist, souvenir postcards bear phothographic depictions of masked actors playing Tajikarao (23) or Am-n-uzume (24) in Yokagura performances.

       All these places are revisited, and the events that unfolded there preserved, recorded and reenacted, in the Takachiho Yokagura, a sacred dance drama that has been mounted in ritual and in festival for more than a dozen centuries. Said to have taken its inspiration from Am-n-uzume’s “original Kagura,” the impassioned dance she performed before the mouth of the cave Amano-Iwato in the hope of luring Ama-terasu back out, today’s Yokagura comprises some thirty-three episodes, and is performed in many venues around Takachiho, both nightly, in abbreviated form, at the Takachiho shrine, and seasonally, in its full glory, during the cold, dark heart of winter, at the homes of local farmers and land owners, in celebratory events lasting all night and on into the next morning.

       Here, then, in Takachiho, in this place of pure beginning, all the intrigue and violence and laughter and profound significance of those mysterious events of long ago remain alive today.

First posted 2005.05.18. Last updated 2005.05.24. All rights reserved.