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Kojiki in Pictures - Shinto Manga


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The indigenous religion of Japan is Shinto (神道), the "Way of the Gods". The central text of Shinto is the Kojiki (古事記), which outlines the ancient mythology whereby Japan's ancestral gods and lands were born. If you've ever taken a course in World Religions, you know how crucial myths are to any culture. Core myths explain why we do what we do; why we live like we live. For example, the Judaeo-Christian Creation story explains such things as why humans differ qualitatively from animals, why there is evil and death in the world, and why we get weekends off from work to sit around watching Japanese movies. Similarly, the Japanese creation story, contained in the Kojiki provides the central ancient explanation as to why Japanese do what Japanese do, etc.

It should be no surprise that contemporary publications of the Kojiki include manga versions aimed at educating and entertaining Japanese youth (and cartoon-loving gaijin). The following are scans of a manga version I picked up in Ikebukuro.


The following is taken from Kojiki: Kumon no Manga Koten Bungakukan published by Kumon Shuppan in 1990. Western readers can purchase it online here, but as you can see from this exercise, the text is Japanese and is without translation.

Japanese manga (and books) are generally read from right to left (In other words: right top to right bottom, then left top to left bottom.). The numbering system I added to the manga frames will help you, but remember, this "r-to-l" principal also applies to the speech balloons within any given frame.

The translations below are my own. They are accurate but occasionally embellished for emphasis. (Thus, just for the record, "biOtch" and "punk ass" are not necessarily literal translations of the ancient, sacred Kojiki ...) In terms of context, what you see below is chapter one of a total of nine (manga) chapters. But while this is just the introductory portion of a much (MUCH) larger story, this is by far the most famous and well-known episode, explaining and introducing the central characters within the ancient Shinto cosmology.

One last note: For those of you diligently (and wisely) comparing the original Japanese dialogue with my own translation, please note that I have chosen to ignore purely expressive gestures when unaccompanied by any other (intelligible) comment. In other words, I do not translate (speech ballons containing only) "えい" (grunt!), "わあ" (gasp!), "ひいー" (listen!), "あ!" (Aaah!).


NOTE: click the images for larger, more readable views

1. Izanagi (God of Masculinity): Izanami! From this Heaven-Floating-Bridge spanning Heaven and Earth we can gaze upon the waters of the lower world which flow like oil.

Izanami (Goddess of Femininity): Izanagi, shall we descend (to the lower world)?

2. Izanagi: If so, let me summon this.

3. Izanami: That is the Spear you received from the god Ame-no-Minaka-Nushi-No Kami!

Izanagi: With this I will stir up the deep ocean and solidify it.

4. Izanagi: Ahh! The Spear tip is becoming gradually heavier!

Izanagi: Yes! The water seems to be getting thicker.

5. Izanami: I see it! An peaceful island has been formed.

6. Izanami: Quickly, let's go down and look around!

7. Izanami: This is such a beautiful island! I would love to live here together with you!

Izanagi: If that's the case, then let us get married!

8. Izanagi: I will marry you.

Izanami: OOoohh!

9. Narrator: On the plain of Onogoro Island, Izanagi and Izanami built at great palace and there held there wedding ceremony.

[Note: The following two frames describe the "wedding ceremony" of these two gods.]

10. Izanagi: I will come around this pillar on the left.

Izanami: And I will pass around the pillar on the right, and when we meet we shall greet each other.

11. Izanami (female): You are such a great man.

Izanagi (male): And you are very beautiful.

Izanagi: Now we are wonderfully man and wife!

12. Narrator: But, their union produced only stillborn children.

Izanami: (crying) Why? Why??

13. Voice from Heaven: IZANAMI!!.

Izanagi: Ame-no-Minaka-Nushi-No Kami!!

14. Ame-no-Minaka-Nushi-No Kami: During your wedding ceremony you committed a grave error by speaking first. Return and repeat the ceremmony correctly!! (see notes below)

15. Izanagi and Izanami: Yes, we will obey!

16. Narrator: Following this, the couple had many divine children, one after the other.

17. Narrator: Of these children, the Eight Islands (of Japan) were born.

18. Narrator: Following these, Izanami gave birth to thirty four gods. The god of homes, the god of rivers, the god of sea, the god of argriculture, the god of mountains...

19. Narrator: During the brith of the thirty-fifth child...

Izanami: (screaming) The pain!! The pain!!

Izanagi: Izanami! Whats wrong!?

20. Izanagi: The god of Fire!!

21. Izanagi: Izanami!! Don't Die!!!

22. Izanagi: YOU!!! For your day of birth I give you THIS!!

23. Narrator: As soon as he cut the god of Fire, the (far more turbulent) gods of sword and dragon were born.

24. Narrator: While mourning the death of Izanami, Izanagi buried her beneath the ground.

25. Izanagi: I must see you again!! I cannot abandon you!!

26. Izanagi: In order to meet with you once again, I will descend into the realm of the dead.

27. Narrator: The bottom of the world... Here the souls of the dead live on, in what is known as Yomi-no-Kuni (黄泉国 / Land of Yellow Sulfur).

28. Izanagi: (pounding on the door of Yomi) Izanami!! Izanami!! I want to see you once more. I have come this far to see your form once again.

29. Izanami: (from behind the door) Izanagi! I cannot go back [to the land of the living], for I have already eaten from the food of Hell (Yomi no Kuni / 黄泉国).

Izanagi: What?!

30. Izanami: (from behind the door) Please wait here while I go ask the God of this Land. While you are waiting you must promise not to try to look at my form.

31. Narrator: But no matter how long he waited, Izanami did not return.

Izanagi: So slow!!

32. Izanagi: I'll light this comb tooth and just take a quick look inside.

33. Izanagi: Izanami! Are you in here?

34. Izanagi: Izana...

35. Izanami (demonically changed): You have broken your promise!!Izanami! Are you in here?

36. Izanami (demonically changed): You have come to see!! So now that you have seen this form of mine, you may never leave this land again!

37. Izanagi: HELP ME!!!

38. Izanagi: I'll give you this!

Narrator: Izanagi took the band from his hair made of vine and threw it to the ground, where it changed into a ripened grape vine.

Izanagi (running while demons gobble up the grapes): My chance to flee!

39. Demon: Huh? Wait!!

Izanagi: They won't give up!

40. Narrator: Next, Izanagi threw down teeth from his bamboo comb which suddenly grew into bamboo hearts (a delicacy).

Demon 1: Delicious!

Demon 2: You're eating mine!

Izanagi: Here they come again. AAhh! A peach tree! (Izanagi throws fresh peaches on the ground which explode.)

Izanagi: I can see the exit!!

41. Izanami: Izanagi!!

Izanagi: Izanami!

Izanami: I will never forgive you for seeing me this way!

42. Izanami: Let us live here together in this land, just like we once did.

Izanagi: No Way biOtch!! Don't come near me! You are not the same Izanami I once knew!

44. (Izanagi rolls a massive stone over the entrance to Hell.)

Izanami (from behind the boulder): Izanagi! Remove this stone! Why must you be so cruel to me?

45. Izanami (from behind the boulder): YOU!! Listen to me now! Every single day from this day forth, I will KILL 1,000 living souls in your Land!!

46. Izanagi: If that is the case, Izanami, I will give birth to 1,500 children each day, in front of your very eyes!!

47. Izanagi: AAhh! The dawn! Your light was a tremendous help!

48. Izanagi: I was a fool for traveling to the land of Hell (Yomi no Kuni / 黄泉国)! Here at this water let me wash off the impurity (of my encounter with the land of the dead).

49. Izanagi: What the?!

50. Narrator: From the splashing (of Izanagi's purification in the) water, three gods were born.

51. Izanagi: I have given brith to many children, but you, my last children are by far the most superb!

52. Izanagi (to the female): To you I give the name Amaterasu (天照) and in my place you shall occupy the High Plain of Heaven.

Amaterasu: Yes, father.

53. Izanagi: Your name will be Tsukuyomi (月夜見) and you shall occupy the Land of Evening.

Tsukuyomi: I obey.

54. Izanagi: And you, Susanoo (須在之男), shall occupy the Plain of the Sea.

Susanoo: ......

55. Izanagi: Susanoo!

Susanoo: Yes, I understand!

Izanagi wondering to himself: What's up with his punk ass?

56. Narrator: In this way the Lands of the Heaven, Evening and Seas were entrusted to these three gods.

The End...


SaruDama notes:

First, go back and take a close look at the marriage ceremony depicted here (10 - 16). Did you catch what the inital transgression was regarding their ceremony, resulting in Izanami's inability to give birth? It was because the woman spoke before the man. Thus here, just as in the Judaeo-Christian Creation story, woman is viewed as divinely subordinate to man. And to this day, gender inequality is a very evident (and protected) aspect of contemporary Japanese culture.

Second, notice how death turns the beloved goddess Izanami into a terrifying demon. From this principal myth is drawn the common cultural conclusion that departed souls tend to change radically from their former selves. Loved ones may indeed become terrifying apparitions if not properly placated. This, of course, fuels more than a gazillion good Japanese ghost stories.

And third, if you haven't already guessed, the last goddess, Amaterasu is the most prominent of all the Shinto deities. Her name literally means the "Shining One of Heaven". In common Western parlance she is known as the "Sun Goddess". According to later chapters of this tale (in both the Kojiki and Nihongi), the first human Emperor of Japan, Jimmu, derives his lineage from Amaterasu and is thus himself of divine origin. This tradition was carried through centuries of Japanese cultural history, even into the modern era, so much so that Japan's 1945 post-war Constitution, written by McArthur, contains a clause which explicitly decalres the emperor to be purely human and NOT divine. To this day, the image of Amaterasu, the bright red sun, is the national symbol of Japan.

2 Comments


Dear Scott,
I love your website ! I'm a vietnamese jazz/world musician based in Paris. On my next album my
japanese collegue wrote a piece "Izanagi Izanami". Is it possible that we use #7 & 8 of your Izanagi
manga excerpts, with your translations, to illustrate our music? Thanks a lot !
Nguyên Lê


I've been reading the Kojiki thinking how well it would fit into popular formats. Thanks for this great
example.

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