One of the reasons I absolutely love Japan is the fact that it is full of ancient stories, legends, beliefs, mythological creatures and places. All of these things are what help make Japan, Japan. It’s old, so much older than the States, with many places to discover and explore their history. So when I read a story about a sun goddess, the creation of Japan, and traditional cultural dances, I knew that Takachiho was a place that I had to go!
Takachiho is located in the northwestern part of Miyazaki Prefecture, in the center of the Kyushu Mountains. It’s here in this village of myths that we found beautiful sightseeing spots along with different points of interest that follows the legend of the founding of this nation.
The Legend of Amaterasu, Sun Goddess
Amaterasu Ō-mikami was the first daughter of the two creationist deities, the god Izanagi and goddess Izanamino. The pair had formed every piece of the land of the Earth, from the mountains rising into the sky to the waters of the oceans stirring around the land. Once the Earth had been formed, Izanagi and Izanamino wished to create life to frolic upon their creation. They gave birth to Amaterasu, whose radiance and beauty did nothing but bring utter joy to her parent’s life. She was placed in the sky for all to see, and now protects the day in the form of the sun. Amaterasu had two siblings who were born soon after, the god of the moon – Tsuki-yomi, a peaceful and composed child who was a fraction as bright as his sister – and the god of the seas – Susano-O, a boy with an awful temperament whom was prone to violence.
One day, whilst weaving on her loom, Amaterasu befell a horrid attack by her brother. Infuriated by how beautiful and beloved she was, Susano-O killed the girl’s mare and tossed it into her weaving room, ruining all the looms and projects she had created. It is said that Susano’s rage was so great that he killed one of the attendant girls in the room and attacked Amaterasu herself, causing the gentle goddess to flee her palace. Amaterasu sought refuge in a cave within the mountains, refusing to shine her light and joy upon the world anymore. Slowly, the Earth began to wither and die, causing demons to crawl from the underworld and wreak their own chaos upon the people, plants, and animals upon its surface.
Knowing the world was in quite a dire state, the gods and goddesses assembled outside the cave and attempted to lure Amaterasu out to shine her light on the Earth once more. After a useless string of begging and pleading, Uzume – the Goddess of laughter – created a clever plan. She placed a large mirror facing Amaterasu’s cave against a nearby rock, hung jewels from the trees, and began to dance around, urging the other gods and goddesses to do the same. Their festivities were so intriguing to the sun goddess that she couldn’t help but to ask what was happening outside, to which Uzume replied “We have found a new and much better sun goddess!” This caused Amaterasu to peek out of the cave to see what the ruckus was about; and when she did, Amaterasu caught sight of her own reflection in the mirror. Hypnotized by her own beauty, she left the cave – which was quickly sealed off with a giant rock to prevent her from hiding away once again – and soon found herself immersed in the amusement of her friends and family.
Unable to continue frowning for her misfortune, Amaterasu let her light shine upon the Earth once more. And just as quickly as they came, the demons and disease set upon the land receded to the Underworld with Susano-O, and the Earth was bathed in sunlight once more.
Takachiho Yokagura Dance: Kagura is traditional sacred music and dancing dedicated to the gods. This dance is composed of 33 parts which have been passed down from generation to generation and is said to have originated when the goddess Ameno-uzume performed a dance in order to entice Goddess Amaterasu out of the Amano-Iwato cave. From mid-November till mid-February, the full Yokagura is performed by many local people throughout the Takachiho to give thanks and pray for the rich and plentiful. However, every evening a shortened version of these dances take place. Here are the four dances depicting the story of the sun goddess performed nightly that we saw:
- DANCE OF TAJIKARAO: Tajikarao is well known as a forcible god. When sun-goddess Amaterasu hid herself in the cave, Tajikarao searched for her and he suspected that she was in the Ameno-Iwato cave. This dance expresses Tijikarao paid attention to any sounds that would prove that she was actually in the cave.
2. DANCE OF AMENO-UZUME: According to “A Record of Ancient Matters,” a lot of gods gathered in front of Ameno-uzume, performing so amusingly in front of the gods, so they laughed and made a lot of noise. That made Amaterasu so curious that she peeked out from the cave.
3. TOTORI DANCE: When goddess Amaterasu peeked out from the cave, Tajikarao took the stone doors of the cave with all his power.
4. GOSHINTAI DANCE: This dance shows when Izanagi and Izanami, the god and goddess who created Japan, made sake together and drunk it. These two gods are known for their long and loving marriage. This dance is also known as “The Creation of Japan” dance.
Amano Yasugawara Cave: a cavern in a lovely riverside setting, known to be the hiding place of Amaterasu. Around it are piles of rocks created by worshippers wishing for good luck. Belief has it that if you knock over a pile of stones, you need to build two to atone for your clumsiness. These neatly placed piles of stones were also placed in and around the cave by pilgrims by way of prayer.
Amanoiwato-jinja (shrine): Tradition says that this shrine is dedicated to the cave.
The biggest tourist draw in the area, however, is not linked to the mythological story of Amaterasu and the creation of Japan. Many people flock to this area to see the beautiful Takachicho Gorge.
This gorge is a narrow V-shaped area cut through the rock by the turquoise Gokase River. The steep cliffs lining the gorge are made of slow forming volcanic basalt columns which are said to resemble the scales of a dragon where the stone twisted and flowed as it formed.
Partway along the gorge is the 17-meter high Minainotaki Waterfall cascading down to the river below. The gorge has a 600-meter long walking trail from which you can enjoy the gorge and its beautiful picturesque scenery or you can enjoy the views from renting a boat and paddling along a part of the river. Unfortunately, the boat rental was closed when we visited the gorge, but the walking trail was just as beautiful!
Kunimigaoka (Sea of Clouds)
The top of Kunimigaoka has an excellent view of Takachiho City and the mountains surrounding it. The famed sight, “Sea of Clouds,” can be seen on clear, windless mornings if good weather continues for 2-3 days. It depends on morning and evening tempuratures as well as the humidity. When we went we weren’t able to catch this unique sight but there were still some incredible views of the city and mountains!
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!