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The Gods that created Japan and the Ise Shrine

Thousands of years ago…

The Universe was formed by silence, darkness and a huge mass of formless matter. Particles within that huge mass started to move and collide with each other creating the first sounds ever heard. The movement of the mass gave place to clouds and the sky, where suddenly the three gods of Japanese mythology appeared. Under the sky a big sphere was formed by still chaotic particles; the gods decided to call it “Earth”. Several thousand years and several generations of gods passed until Goddess Izanami and God Izanagi were born; they were the creators of Japan.

Izanami and Izanagi received orders to put order on Earth. They accepted the responsibility and obtained a holy spear called Amenonuhoko (天沼矛, heavenly jeweled spear) that would help them with their mission. They traveled together through the sky until they arrived to a floating bridge near the Earth. They leaned out and stirred the water of the sea with the tip of the spear Amenonuhoko, when they took out the spear from the water, the drops of salty water that were left on the tip condensed creating the first island of Japan: Awajishima (淡路島). Using the same spear they continued creating islands giving place to Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and the rest of Japanese islands. They also created forests, mountains and rivers. Izanami and Izanagi built their house in Awajishima and got married. To finish their duties they had many children that would have to follow with the creation of Japan and would be responsible to look after it: the God of Wind, the Goddess of the Moon, the Goddess of the Sea, the God of the Forests, the God of the Mountains and Amaterasu, the Goddess of the Sun, considered the “mother” of Japan.

Izanagi and Izanami creating the first island of Japan using the spear Amenonuhoko

2722 years ago

Jimmu was born, the first Emperor of Japan and the great-grandson of Amaterasu, the Goddess of the Sun. He was the first human with the blood of the Gods. Akihito, the current Emperor of Japan is a direct descendant of Jimmu.

2025 years ago

The tenth Emperor of Japan trusted his daughter Yamatohime the mission of finding a permanent place for the worship of Amaterasu, the Goddess of the Sun. Legend has it that Yamatohime was 20 years traveling around Japan without finding an appropriate location until she heard the voice of Amaterasu while she was strolling along the side of a river that cut through the forests of Ise. Amaterasu declared to Yamatohime her desire to live there forever: next to the flow of the river, feeling the protection of the trees and contemplating the immensity of the sea. Her desire was granted and the Shintoist Shrine of Ise was built in her honor, which is nowadays considered the most important Shintoist temple in Japan.

One of the originals drafts of the Ise Shrine.

The Ise Shrine is reconstructed every 20 years using the same kind of materials (a Japanese cypress species) following the original drafts. According to Shintoism, nature continuously dies and is born non-stop, nature is impermanent, this tradition helps to maintain the freshness and purity of the place. Cyclically reconstructing temples makes them have an old, original and new feel at the same time, forever.

70 years ago

In United States, hundreds of scientists of the Manhattan Project played God trying to control the will of particles and the fundamental forces that constitute the universe. The ultimate creation of this group of “scientist-Gods” were not islands, rivers, lakes, forests and mountains; they were Little Boy and Fat Man, two atomic bombs.

Two bombs whose energy ended the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, reduced two cities to ashes and ended the imperial yearning of Japan. Indirectly they also ended the God-status of the Emperor, supposed direct descendant of Goddess Amaterasu. The Emperor Hirohito renounced his divine status when he signed the humanity declaration in front of American General Douglas MacArthur. The God-scientists of Project Manhattan and the imperial ambitions of Hirohito and his government ended the lineage of Japanese gods, Hirohito was the last God of Japan. All Japanese gods up to Hirohito gather together every October in the temple of Goddess Amaterasu, in the Ise Shrine.

July 16th 2011

Pablo, Yuko, Sara, Carlos and I arrived in our bikes to the torii door that invited us to enter into the sacred territories of Goddess Amaterasu through the Uji bridge which leads to the Ise Shrine. We walked through the forest before the eyes of the God-trees, we cooled ourselves down next the God of the River, we strolled between the artificial wood structures with columns directly emerging from a ground covered with pebbles, rising up against us and merging with the nature of its environment. At the end of our walk we were finally able to make out Amaterasu’s home when the God of Wind allowed us to see it by blowing away the white clouds that protect the Kōtai Jingū, the holiest place in Japan.

Photons that traveled from the Sun until being captured 8 minutes after by the wood of a cypress part of the structure of the Goddess of the Sun home, and then they reached the chemical components of a 120mm film when my finger pressed the shutter of my Hasselblad, capturing the “reality” of that particular moment that will be lost in time like tears in the rain but whose image was transformed in bits and will be kept for the rest of eternity.




After coming back to Tokyo, Sara wrote:

“I just came back from the holiest place in Japan where I met several gods. The river delighted me with the reflection of the sun. The stones told me where to stop. The trees showed me the path to follow. The wind allowed me to see for a second a forbidden space for humans. I talked to them, I listened to them, all surrounded by the deepest silence.”

October 2011
As every year, thousands of gods met in the Ise Shrine to deal with Gods’ matters. Akihito, the current Emperor of Japan, was also there. Like every year he has to attend the meeting, as even though he is not a God anymore, according to Japanese mythology he is a descendant of them . When the day ended many of them went to the onsen of Spirited Away to relax and enjoy a bath in the hot springs.

Year 2013
The Ise Shrine will be reconstructed according to the original drafts following the tradition that Yamatohime started when he heard Amaterasu’s voice while strolling around Ise two thousand years ago.

Albert Einstein, one of the scientist that played God in Project Manhattan said one time:

“I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details.” – Albert Einstein

When we stopped for a rest next to the Ise river, I thought about Spirited Away when Haku, the God of the River, is able to remember his real name:

Haku: Thanks Chihiro. My real name is Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi.
Chihiro: ¿Nigihayami?
Haku: Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi.
Chihiro: What a beautiful name. It sounds like a God’s name.
Haku: I also remember when you fell in me when you were a child.

1 reply on “The Gods that created Japan and the Ise Shrine”

Einstein wasn’t actually part of the Manhattan Project. His only connection with the project was signing a letter notifying the president of the potential for nuclear weapons.

Other developments derided as ‘scientists playing god’:
Birth control

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