Showing posts with label yamata no orochi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label yamata no 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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Dragon Guardians of Yakumo Shrine

Japan Guide

Rather than Komainu, Lion-Dogs, Yakumo Shrine in downtown Izumo City is guarded by a pair of what appear to be dragons.

Yakumo Shrine is a branch of Susa Shrine, dedicated to Susano and with many branches across Japan. This one was established in the Meiji period and is locaed between the main train station and city hall.

The shrine did have standard komainu guardian statues, but they were replaced quite recently with the current ones. Though appearing to be dragons, the sword held in the tail of one suggests they're meant to be Orochi, the 8-headed serpent of Susano fame...

To fill out this post here are some more shots from the area around the shrine....

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Yaguchi Shrine

Yaguchi Shrine has no particularly distinctive features, and yet is listed in both the Izumo Fudoki and Engi Shiki.

Yaguchi means "eight mouths", and refers to the 8-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi that was slain by Susano. Susano is the main kami enshrined here.

There is another Yaguchi Shrine in the area that is supposedly where one of the sake barrels that was used by Susano to drug the serpent is buried.

For the next few days of the pilgrimage, I will be passing through the country where the Orochi Myth is set.
It was early May and so everyone was out preparing the paddies and planting the rice.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Orochi Manholes


Known as the Land of Myth, Izumo has many myths recorded in the earliest chronicles, and probably the most well known is the story of Susano slaying the Yamata no Orochi, a fearsome dragon with 8 heads and 8 tails.


There are many different explanations of what exactly this great serpent was, but the most common one is that it refers to the 8 tributaries that drain the Okuizumo area and combine to form the Hi River.


The route of the Izumo 33 Kannon Pilgrimage passes through the watershed of the Hi River for about 100k, so its not surprising that the towns in the area incorporate the Orochi in their manhole designs.


The first one I found near Hinobori, The second In Kisuki also features the local bridge. The third from Mitoya includes Susano and the princess Inada who he saves from the Orochi. The fourth, from Yokota is in the heart of the myth country. Near here is where Inada and her family lived. The final photo is the main design found in Izumo City itself.


Saturday, November 6, 2010



The eighth, and what turned out to be the last, matsuri for me in October was at Sano, a village up in the mountains behind Hamada. It was my first time at this matsuri and I accompanied a group of non-Japanese tourists, so the shrine, yet another Hachimangu, was quite crowded.

sano2Align Center
Because of the foreign guests could only stay a few hours the kagura group chose to play the opening shinji (ritual dances) later and started straight in with the theatrical dances. First up was Tenjin, the deified spirit of Sugawara Michizane a high-ranking courtier and poet who was banished to Kyushu by Fujiwara no Tokihira in 901. Sugawara died shortly thereafter and a series of disasters befell the Fujiwaras and the court and it was decided that Sugawara's vengeful spirit was responsible so he was deified and posthumously elevated in rank.


The dance is primarily a standard fast-paced battle between Sugawara and Tokihira.


The next dance up was everybody's favorite, Orochi, the piece that most typifies what Iwami kagura is all about, color, speed, drama, and excitement. This is usually the finale of a matsuri night of kagura performed at around 5am.


As is typical, only 4 serpents danced instead of the full complement of 8. Space in shrines is usually too small.


Halfway through the serpents gig an old gentlemen walked into the writhing mass and in turn lifted up the head of each dragon and gave the dancer a glass of sake....... no-one seemed to mind.


"I aint afraid of no dragon"

I had hoped to visit at least 12 matsuris this year, but unfortunately scheduling conflicts, the weather, and a trip to Kyushu meant only 8......... still, there is always nect year :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

October means Matsuri. Matsuri means Kagura. Part 6


We headed downriver to Matsukawa, the village of Oda, who have their matsuri during the daytime.


The village no longer has its own kagura group, so Kamiko Kagura group from Hamada were playing.


The dance being performed when we arrived was Gojin, concerning the 5 elements played out as 5 kami with territorial disputes. One of the kami is a buffoon, seen here with a long trail of green snot hanging from his nose. The group leader told us that Gojin was traditionally the final dance in a kagura performance, but nowadays the finale is usually Yamata no Orochi, as it was today.

It was a really great performance of the dance, unusually with all 8 serpents. It's one thing to see this dance performed on a stage, quite another to literally have it in your face. This first video shows some of the choreoraphed dance of the 8 snakes. As far as I know there is nothing else like this anywhere else in japan. If anyone has seen anything like this, please let me know.

This next video shows Susano battling the serpents. At one point he seems to be overpowered, but fear not, he triumphs.


2 of the heads of the serpent were laid right at our feet.

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