Showing posts with label orochi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label orochi. Show all posts

Friday, July 28, 2023

Yamata no Orochi


Yamata no Orochi is a mythical serpent with 8 heads that appears in the Izumo cycle of ancient Japanese myths set in the time before the descent of imperial lineage.

In the myth, Susano defeats the serpent and marries a local princess who was to be sacrificed to the serpent, and so and begins the rise of Izumo culture that predates and later contributed to Yamato culture.

All these photos are of a modern sculpture depicting Orochi outside the Okuizumo Tatara Sword Museum, in Yokota, Shimane. Orochi appears everywhere throughout Izumo, on draincovers and giving its name to many products, including the tourist train I took to get here.

Yokota is on the River Hi which runs through Okuizumo and it is generally held that the 8-headed serpent refers to the 8 tributaries of the river that is at times violent and dangerous. Some commentators suggest that Orochi represents a tribe that fought the Izumo, but so much evidence suggests it was the river. Near here is the shrine for Kushinada, the princess saved from the serpent, and downstream are shrines to her parents. Nearby also is one of the sites said to be where Susano "descended", and spots downstream said to be Orochi's nests are found in narrow gorges where the river would have been particularly dangerous.

The idea of sacrificing humans to a river is fairly widespread around the world as well as here in Japan. I found a riverbank monument to a local lord who was praised by locals when he switched from burying live humans in the river bank to burying clay figures, and stories of human sacrifice to protect new bridges and castle walls are fairly common.

The museum here is on the ancient method of making iron and swords, and Okuizumo was a major centre. In the Orochi myth Susano discovers a sword in the tail of the dead serpent and this went on to be one of the Three Imperial Regalia.

Tatara, a kind of forge used to make iron from iron sand, the method used in Japan, was said to be introduced from mainland Asia, and once again the myths suggest that it was Susano who brought the technology over from Korea. A shrine south of here near Izumo Taisha attest to this.

later I will post on the fascinating history of iron and swordmaking on display in the museum, but in the meantime you may enjoy a wild and dramatic display of Orochi in videos of our local kagura.

The previous post in this series exploring Okuizumo was the Yokota Folk Museum.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Inada Shrine & Princess Kushinada


Inada Shrine in what is now Yokota, Okuizumo, enshrines Kushinadahime, in English referred to as Princess Kushinada, or simply Kushinada. Also enshrined here is Susano, who became her husband.

According to the story, the shrine is built upon the spot where Kushinada was born. Nearby is a small pond said to be where she was washed as a new-born, and a grove of bamboo said to have grown from the discarded bamboo blade that cut her umbilical cord.

According to the stories, of which there are multiple variations, she was the 8th daughter of an old couple, Asinazuchi, and Tenazuchi. Her seven sisters had all been sacrificed to a Yamata no Orochi, the 8-forked, 8-headed serpent, in all probability sacrificed to the 8 violent tributaries of the Hi River.

Susano turns up and offers to defeat the Orochi in return for Kushinada as his wife. The story is one of the best known of the Izumo cycle of myths from the classics, and the sword that became one of the three imperial regalia was found in the slain serpents tail. The story is also the best known of the Iwami kagura performances.  A series of videos of the Orochi kagura, and more detail of the story,  can be seen in my earlier posts, Orochi Spectacular, and Synchronized Serpents.

After marrying Kushinada, Susano settled first with her at what is now Suga Shrine and there composed what is considered to be the first Waka poem. Suga shrines are the main shrines for Susano and there are thousands of them around the country. Another shrine connected with Kushinada is Yaegaki Shrine near Matsue. In one version of the story this is where Susano hid her during his battle with Orochi.

In one version of the myth, Okuninushi is the son of Susano and Kushinada. In other versions, he is a later descendant. The most famous shrine in Izumo. Izumo Taisha, is now dedicated to Okuninushi, but for at least its first thousand years it enshrined Susano.

The previous post in this series on Okuizumo was Shinsoji Temple.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Igatake Shrine

Igatake Shrine

Igatake Shrine.

Igatake Shrine is a fairly large shrine in the middle of Yokota, on the banks of the Hi River in the mountains of Okuizumo.

Torii gate.

It is listed in the Izumo Fudoki so has been in existence since at least the 7th century.

Igatake Shrine.

The main kami is Isotakeru, the son of Susano who came from Korea with his father Susano who is also enshrined here.

Igatake Shrine.

It is right in the middle of the area where Izumo's most famous myth is set, the story of Susano's defeat of the 8-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi.

Nearby is Onigami Shrine, one site said to be where Susano descended to Izumo. Also nearby, and where I head to next, is Inada Shrine, devoted to Kushinada, the maiden rescued from the Orochi who became Susano's wife.

The shrine was destroyed during the Warring States Period and rebuilt later. The current buildings are in Izumo Zukuri style and include the iconic fat shimenawa of the region.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Synchronized Serpents

After the Orochi arrives they then do a series of synchronized movement.

Audiences here kn0w very well when some kagura has been well executed.

Although it was a bit chaotic with 16 serpents, from different groups that were not used to performing together.

Rather than wait for the finale when Susano chops off all their heads, we chose to leave early and avoid the traffic

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Orochi Spectacular


Last night we went to Hamada to see the annual Orochi Spectacle. They close off the center crossroads in town and put on regular kagura and end with a unique version of Orochi.

Most versions of Orochi don't show the start of the dance which depicts the second to last daughter being sacrificed to Orochi, the 8-headed serpent.

Then the hero Susano arrives. Usually he is alone but a second hero accompanied him in this version. My guess would be his son Isotakeru who according to one of the versions of the myth came with him from the Korean peninsula.

The parents of Kushinada, the last daughter, are instructed by Susano to prepare vats of sake which are then drugged so as to disable the serpents. In return for saving Kushinada from her fate she is given to Susano as a bride.

Then the Orochi arrives. Originally the dance only had a single dancer dressed as the serpent. Here in Iwami it was developed to include 8 serpents in the dance, though many shrine performances will only have four due to space and kagura group size limitations. What is unique about this performance is fully sixteen serpents take part.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Month of Little Sleep part 4


Around 2:30am the kagura group took a break, something I have never seen before. I suspect that as the village has shrunk, so has the kagura group, and fewer members means each must do more and therefore not get any breaks during the long night. The audience took the opportunity to pull out some food and spread out... All night long Mr Yama operating the barbecue grill outside had been passing free food into us.... fried noodles, barbecued squid, barbecued crab legs..... along with copious amounts of cold beer and sake, so we were full but could not refuse the offers from different groups in the audience who insisted we join them and share their food....this, for me, is the essence of matsuri....


After the break the action started up  with the Oeyama dance with lots of demons including the favorite of the audience, a junior demon...


The spiders web trapped the hero but he was of course able to free himself and kill the demon...


next up was Iwato, usually one of the first dances at a matsuri....


And then Ebisu, ably assisted by junior Ebisu, distributing lucky candy to everyone in the audience...


The penultimate dance was Shoki.......


Outside the sky was lightening and more people had been arriving...... in the countryside people get up at 5... and so it was time for the finale, Susano's battle with the multiheaded Orochi.... It was a small kagura group, so there were only four heads to the serpent, but even so they took all the dance space and spilled out into the audience. An exciting end to a great night..... time to go home to bed and rest up..... in 3 days it would be an Omoto Matsuri up in Nakano....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ashinazuchi kagura mask


These are 2 of my versions of the Ashinazuchi mask. Ashinazuchi, most commonly translated as "foot stroking elder", was the husband of Tenazuchi, hand stroking elder, and the father of Kushinadahime.


The only dance he appears in is Yamata No Orochi, most often the grand finale to an Iwami kagura performance.


In the dance, Susano finds Ashinazuchi, Tenazuchi, and Kushinade, the last of their eight daughters, lamenting as they prepare to sacrifice her to the great 8-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi. In return for defeating the serpent, Susano gets Kushinada as his wife.


The Yamata no Orochi story is a myth, but probably based on a legend, and legends are based on historical events. I spent 3 days walking along the Hi River area up in Izumo visiting many of the sites and shrines connected to the legend. This village in the valley below was the home of Ashinazuchi and his family.

Kagura mask Index

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Susano mask


This is an Iwami kagura mask of Susano. Sometimes spelt Susanoh, sometimes Susano-O, sometimes Susano o mikoto. Susano appears in several kagura dances, but the most common, and most often performed as a finale, is the dance telling the story of his defeat of the 8-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi.

susano 3

According to Yamato mythology Susano is the brother of Amaterasu, and he was kicked out of the High Plain of Heaven for numerous bad deeds attributed to his violent temper. The dynasty founded by Susano existed long before the Yamato rose to power, and from the stories of him locally, a completely different Susano is portrayed. He was a Culture Hero who brought metal working and other technologies from the Korean peninsular, and promoted intercourse between western japan and Korea. In actual fact the stories have him first arriving in Iwami before he moved to Izumo and slayed the dragon. Ever since Susano's descendant, Okuninushi, gave Japan to the Yamato, they have been denigrating him, but he rightly deserves the title of Father of Japan.


The mask is for sale, so please contact me or leave a message if interested.

Kagura Mask Index

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bon Odori

The population of the village has doubled in the past few days. This is O Bon, somewhat similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead, the time that the spirits of the ancestors return to their earthly homes. There is a mass exodus from the cities as children, and grandchildren, return to their home villages. Gravestones have been washed and cleaned, and in our village a matsuri is held.

Bonodori 1

There are food stalls, games, and of course. kagura. First off the kids performed a couple of dances, then it was time for the village group to dance.

bonodori 2

The Ebisu dance is always popular at matsuri's, as he throws bucketfulls of candy out to the kids in the audience.

bonodori 3

And of course the Yamata no Orichi dance where Susano battles the eight-headed serpent.

bonodori 4

But the main event of the night is the Bon Odori. Every region has their own version of the dance, but it usually involves the villagers dancing in a circle around a central platform that holds the drummer and singers.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Yamata no Orochi

The story of Susano defeating the 8-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi is the most well known kagura dance in Iwami. In a regular performance, which goes on all night through till dawn, The Orochi dance is the finale.
This performance was a collaboration between Yen Calling ( an ensemble of rock musicians led by Yukata Fukuoka) and a Hamada kagura group, there were only 2 serpents. Later I will post the complete Yamata no Orochi story illustrated with scenes from kagura, and a full blog on Yen calling.