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September 14, 2023

Myth Tales Vol. 1: Origin that Ends with Dragons (Ep. 132)

Reading Time: 10 Minutes
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Hello, this is Thersa Matsuura and you’re listening to Uncanny Japan. 

Beginning of Origin Story

Our story begins with a vast expanse of murky, utterly silent, viscous goo. At some point tiny particles begin to move and vibrate. And there is sound. In time, the lightest of these granules and light itself separates and rises, further dividing as it does until the universe is formed. It looks kind of like layered cake. With light being on the very top, then clouds, then below that Takamagahara or the High Plain of Heaven. And at the very bottom bubbles a giant mass of dense, sticky, slime. Chaos.

Meanwhile, up on the High Plain of Heaven, three gods spontaneously appear out of nowhere. They are partnerless and have names like: Master of the Center of Heaven and High Producing Wondrous Deity and Divine Producing Wondrous Deity. They don’t do much, then they vanish. (Which means they died.) 

Not long after that, from the depths of the mucky bottom layer grows a reed. A reed that shoots straight up and up and up and bursts into the High Plain of Heaven, where it then proceeds to beget two more gods. Meet: Pleasant Reed Shoot Deity and Heavenly Eternally Standing Deity. Alas, there was no eternal standing for them. For soon they, too, die. 

This goes on for seven generations, more gods and goddesses come and go, then stop vanishing and start sticking around until finally there appears Izanagi (meaning: He Who Invites) and Izanami (meaning: She Who Invites). They are brother and sister and they were also a couple. (Things like that happened back then. The dating pool was small–don’t judge.) 

Now things are going to really get exciting. Keep listening. 

Myth Tales Idea

Hey hey, how are you? This is my new bright idea. Richard and I miss doing audio dramas. This isn’t an audio drama per se, but think of it as an immersive story. Better yet, a myth. Keep in mind, Japanese mythology comes from both the Kojiki (712) and the Nihonshoki (720) both of which are jam packed with old tales, more often than not contradicting each other. So today I chose the version most appealing to me.

You see, while I was researching for The Book of Japanese Folklore which by the way you can preorder (link in the show notes, or a quick search or you can even order from your local bookstore). And I’d be ever so happy and grateful if you did preorder it. My dreamy dream is the publisher’s minds are blown by presales and they’re like, do you have any other stories to tell? And I’d be like, here, hold my coffee while I open some Scrivener and Word files. 

So, anyway, I’m always about the Buddhism, but while researching for the book, I kind of got hip to Japanese mythology. Then I had this bright idea to do occasional retellings of certain Japanese myths with some sound design; I’m writing this and can hear it in my head, so my ideas paired with Richard’s ideas, along with his technical prowess and impeccable comedic timing, to make, hopefully, an entertaining and educational little episode. If you like it. I can do more. Also if you have a god or goddess or myth you would like to hear, let me know. 

Now, I’ve already said in the title this story ends with dragons. But also, after I finish, I have some big, exciting, dragon-y news. I think you’re going to really like it. So with that little nugget of suspense firmly implanted in your brain, where were we?

Izanagi and Izanami Make Japan

Ah. Izanagi and Izanami, the brother and sister deities. They were hanging out on the High Plain of Heaven when the other gods approached them and gave them a task. 

Do something with that unsightly primordial stew that is still – after seven generations – gurgling and blurping away down below. But here, you can use this jeweled spear. We call it: Ameno-Nuhoko. 

And with a great sense of duty, Izanagi and Izanami made their way to the Floating Bridge of Heaven. They looked down and thrust that spear into the roiling darkness below and stirred. And as they stirred the briney soup started to curdle. They pulled it out and gave the Ameno-Nuhoko a little shake, and watched as the drops of coagulated chaos piled up and formed an island. An island called Onogoro-shima. Which means, Self Curdling Island. Nice.

The Island of Nu

Side note: It’s believed that that very island still exists today. Some scholars reckon it to be the Island of Nu (Nushima), located near Awajishima. On the island of Nu there is a shrine called Onogoro-jinja that commemorates Izanagi and Izanami. The island itself, from above, actually looks like a giant magatama–a curved comma-like shape that has been a part of Japanese culture for thousands of years. It’s associated with spirituality and protection. But there’s more. In 1994, a rock was discovered on Nushima that has been dubbed “Wrinkle of the Earth” and it is…get this, I kid you not, 100 million years old. So there may be something to this myth after all.

Back to Izanagi and Izanami. 

Onogoro Island and Two Babies

Onogoro-shima has been formed and now it is time to get busy. The two gods float down to this Self-Coagulating Island and construct a great pillar. Then they built an elaborate palace around it. Next comes a bit of salacious conversation–that we won’t get into here–and they decide it is a good idea to *cringe* get married. 

It is a simple ceremony. Basically, Izanagi walks one way around the pillar and Izanami walks the opposite. When they meet on the other side, Izanami says,”Oh, what a fine young man!” and Izanagi says, “Oh, what a fine young lady!”

Then they have their first two babies. Regrettably, these children are not formed exactly right. These aren’t gods, they say. They’re boneless and spongy and have no arms or legs. One is actually an island called Awa and gets tossed into a boat and floated out to sea right off. The second they lovingly bestow the name: Hiruko, Leech Child. Little Leech Boy hangs in there. He really tries, but with limited mobility and no bones, he doesn’t make it to his third birthday before mom and dad deposit him in a small boat made of reeds and float him, too, out to sea. 

Fear not, dear listener, Leech Boy is a tale of resilience and has a happy ending. Around his third birthday Hiruko has managed to grow arms and legs and his entire skeleton evidently, and ended up becoming Ebisu, one of the Seven Lucky Gods, Episode 28 if you want to hear more of his tale.

Back on Onogoro, the bereft sibling couple can’t for the life of them think of any reason why their children were so messed up. So they return to The High Plain of Heaven and consult with the Elder gods. Prepare for another cringe. These older deities  tell them in no uncertain terms, “Of course, your union wasn’t a success, the woman spoke first. Do it again. And this time when you meet on the other side of the pillar, Izangi, you greet your bride first. 

More Babies, So Many More!

Which they did and this time it paid off, in spades. 

Izanami began giving birth to all sorts of gods and goddesses and islands, yes, islands. For this is the magical time when the Japanese archipelago came into existence. 

Alas, this tale does not end well for sweet and no doubt exhausted Izanami though. Because the fateful time comes to deliver a god named Kagutsuchi – the god of fire. With Izanagi in attendance, the moment arrives when the fiery deity is born. And, yes, tragically, it ends exactly how you’re thinking it’s going to end. Poor Izanami dies from the burns inflicted by her own offspring. 

Izanagi Mad

Izanagi witnesses this and loses his mind. How could this ungrateful child do such a thing?! Enraged he roars and withdraws his sword. He raises it high overhead and in one swift movement he slices the head off the matricidal monster, Kagutsuchi. 

But it gets worse. He just keeps hacking. Cutting the infant god of fire into eight pieces. But don’t grieve, little ones, these body parts fly off all over Japan and become eight volcanoes. Other bits of blood and gore that flew from the blade splattered across the rocks, also start taking on lives of their own. 

Various Cool Gods

They, too, turn into gods. Badass gods. Like Deity Rock Splitter, Deity Root Splitter, and the curiously named, Rock Possessing Male Deity.

But there’s more, there’s Awfully Swifty Deity and there’s Brave Awful Possessing Male Deity. Let’s not forget Brave Snapping Deity and its more glamorous sibling, Luxuriant Snapping Deity. Another account has a god named Brave Mighty Thunderbolt Man. 

But all those deities aside, arguably the coolest gods born that day sprung from the blood that ran down the blade and pooled at the hilt of the sword, then oozed through Izanagi’s trembling fingers. 

Here we meet five new gods:

1-Ōyama-tsumi, god of mountains, sea, and war. 

2-Amatsu-Mikaboshi-or Dread Star of Heaven, a rebellious god–who went on to appear in some Marvel comic books as a super villain or Chaos King. 

3-Futsunushi-another warrior god whose name Futsu might come from an old Japanese word: putu. Which ancient people thought was the sound of a sword swinging and hitting something. Putu.

Next is, 4-Takemi-kazuchi, god of thunder or god of swords. Also the first sumo wrestler. 

Then we have 5- Watasumi a water dragon or great deity of the sea. This one is rumored to be the Dragon God, Ryūjin. 

And finally, 6-Kuraokami, called Dark Rain Dragon. This dragon god rules over ice, rain, snow and winter. 

My Dragony News–Knight Vs Samurai by David Dastmalchian

Dragons. We’ll end the story right here. But remember I told you I had some dragon news? I’m sure everyone knows film and TV actor; and writer, David Dastmalchian. He was Thomas Schiff in the Dark Knight, and Polka Dot Man in The Suicide Squad. An incredibly talented actor who everyone is trying to snap up. He’s very prolific. But did you know he’s a comic book author, too? 

If you haven’t picked up Count Crowley published by Dark Horse Comics, I highly recommend it.

But now he’s also working on a new comic book series that was just announced at Comic Con. And it’s got me super excited. It’s called Knights Vs Samurai and is an epic tale of these two iconic cultures coming together and? And? I can say on good authority–I mean just look at the cover of the first issue!–there will be dragons. The exciting news for me is that David asked me to help out on some of the consulting because it’s the 1500s and those knights are coming to Japan, baby! So I’m involved and I can tell you it’s a gripping story with colorful and layered characters you are going to absolutely love (even the ones you’re going to hate) and a story that is *chefs kiss*

It’s called Knight vs Samurai and I’ll let you know when the first issue comes out because I really think you’re going to enjoy it. If you poke around Youtube you can find the announcement and interviews with David and Todd McFarlane about it. So check that out if you’d like. So that’s my other big news.

And with that I will let you go. Please consider becoming a patron, too, if you’d like. Patreon now has what is called Collections. Where I can put all similar content in one place. At the moment there are 16 videos, 24 recipes, 24 binaural soundscapes, 97 Bedtime Stories/folktales, and 163 blog posts.

Okay, I’ll talk to you all in two weeks, stay safe, 

Bye bye.

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About The Uncanny Japan Podcast

Speculative fiction writer, long-term resident of Japan and Bram Stoker Award finalist Thersa Matsuura explores all that is weird from old Japan—strange superstitions, folktales, cultural oddities, and interesting language quirks. These are little treasures she digs up while doing research for her writing.

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