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The Sun Goddess Amaterasu

 J O M O N   C U L T U R E   &   S H I N T O I S M 

Dr. Susan Gail Carter (USA) made this speech at the Second World Congress on Matriarchal Studies and Gift Economy 2005: 

 

THE MATRISTIC (MATRIARCHAL) ROOTS OF JAPAN
and the Emergence of the Japanese Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami

A strong case can be made that matriarchy (matristic culture) preceded patriarchy in Japan. Using a set of seven matristic cultural indicators, the hypothesis is set forth that Japan's prehistory (and proto-history) was matristic and provided fertile ground for the myth of Amaterasu-o-mi-kami and her emergence in female form.

Her spiritual reign and survival today as the preeminent deity in the Shinto pantheon can, in part, be attributed to the remaining characteristics of this earlier matristic culture. It can also be argued that her continuing spiritual presence might again make possible a female's ascendance to the Chrysanthemum throne.
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About Susan Gail Carter at the Center for Partnership Studies

As a feminist scholar and an avid advocate of volunteerism and community-based learning, Susan is actively involved in the nonprofit sector, and has served on a number of boards that promote education and empowerment of underserved populations, cross-cultural understanding, and the arts. She has formed and directed a 501[c][3] foundation, and consults with California Bay Area and Pacific Northwest educational institutions to help promote community service. In addition, she presents nationally and internationally on diverse educational, partnership, cultural and spiritual topics. Susan’s interdisciplinary work is further informed by looking to ancient cultures for ideas that may help shape our future. Her academic and personal interests come together with the study of women’s spirituality and prehistoric symbolism and art as an expression of ancient spiritual traditions. Over the last decade she has studied the prehistoric origins of the Japanese sun goddess, linking this goddess’ influence on the current political discussion of women’s right of ascendancy to the Chrysanthemum throne. Susan Carter holds an M.A. in Women’s Spirituality and a Ph.D. in Humanities/Philosophy of Religion from The California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), San Francisco, CA.

Quoting Susan Gail Carter:

"Of all the world's main religions, only in Shinto is a goddess, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, the Japanese Sun Goddess, preeminent without a male consort. From a western feminist perspective, this fact is remarkable. This presentation explores why Amaterasu-o-mi-kami came forward in female form and still enjoys her spiritual reign in the Shinto pantheon.

To illuminate Amaterasu-o-mi-kami's possible roots and reasons for survival, an interdisciplinary approach was used to reconstruct Japan's ancient history and to demonstrate the existence of matristic culture (an idea put forward, but not elaborated on, by a number of scholars of Japan).

 

This matristic culture provided fertile ground for the myth of Amaterasu-o-mi-kami to develop. In the early formation of the nation of Japan, the Yamato clan claimed her as their tutelary deity, capitalized on her popularity, and then used her to unify the country, thereby ensuring her survival. Even the later introduction and adoption of Buddhism did not eliminate her as the head of the Shinto pantheon; the syncretism between Shinto and Buddhism also bolstered the Sun Goddesses' survival.

Today, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami still serves as a bridge from the past to the present and from the sacred to the secular. The Japanese Emperor acts as intermediary between Amaterasu-o-mi-kami and the people, tracing his ancestral origins to her as original ancestor of the ruling family and "mother" of the nation. Japanese people honor and worship her regularly through her rituals associated with abundance and fertility, and the well-being of the nation.

Join this exploration of the ancient and contemporary reign of the Japanese Sun Goddess. Share in the noteworthy factors that helped bring her into being and consider the ways in which she continues to shape Japan today.

THE JAPANESE SHINTO RELIGION

Emerging from the Neolithic period c:a 4500 B.C.E and continuously being developed up until the Iron Age about 600 C.E., the Shinto-religion, has a long history. This first period the original shinto was represented by the Miko; the tribal priestesses, inheriting their office and holding the entire spectrum of religious practice in their hand. But from the Middle Ages until Japan´s modern period (7th - 19th century) the Shinto-Religion was formalised to a State Shinto, which accompanied many centuries of forced centralisation and patriarchalisation in Japan.

The word Shinto ("the way of the Gods")  is not a Japanese one but is adopted originally as Jindō or Shindō,from the written Chinese Shendao ( shén dào), combining two kanji: "shin", meaning "spirit" or kami; and "tō", meaning a philosophical path or study (from the Chinese word dào).The oldest recorded usage of the word Shindo is from the second half of the 6th century.

Kami are defined in English as "spirits", "essences" or "gods", referring to the energy generating the phenomena. Since the Japanese language does not distinguish between singular and plural, kami refers to the divinity, or sacred essence, that manifests in multiple forms: rocks, trees, rivers, animals, places, and even people can be said to possess the nature of kami. Kami and people are not separate; they exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity.

Shinto is the largest religion in Japan, practiced by nearly 80% of the population, yet only a small percentage of these identify themselves as "Shintoists" in surveys. This is because "Shinto" has different meanings in Japan: most of the Japanese attend Shinto shrines and beseech kami without belonging to an institutional "Shinto" religion, and since there are no formal rituals to become a member of "folk Shinto", "Shinto membership" is often estimated counting those who join organised Shinto sects. Shinto has 81,000 shrines and 85,000 priests in the country.

This formalised State Shinto of the emperors and officials was separated from popular Shinto, though, which became an unofficial folk religion. In both of them women still were employed as Miko shamans, although not exclusively in the state-run Shinto. In this men were made official priests, but with female names and clothes.

Later int the course of the intensified centralisation process of the nationalistic, misogynist Meiji Restoration and Period ( 1868-1912 ) women were excluded from all officially recognised priestly functions and the office of Miko in popular Shinto lost many of its earlier duties. State Shinto had to be “cleansed” of all magic and religious elements and was dedicated to State ceremonial functions only. It was developed to legitimate imperial mastery and often forced upon ordinary Japanese and colonised people.

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WHO IS AMATERASU?

Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess of Japan, became angered by her vulgar, disrespectful brother the Moon. She despaired at the sadness and ugliness in the world, and so she hid in a cave, refusing to come out. All the gods came to the mouth of her cave, and begged her to come out. But Amaterasu Omikami would not.
And so, the world began to die.

Hoping they could trick Amaterasu to come forth, the gods placed a mirror before her cave, and the little Goddess Uzume began to dance. Her dance was so bawdy, so funny, so absurd.......that everyone gathered just had to laugh, in spite of their dire circumstances. They laughed and laughed and laughed.

When Amaterasu heard so much noise outside, her dark meditations were interrupted. The truth is, her curiosity got the better of her. She peeked out, and saw her radiant, life-giving face reflected in the mirror. She saw how beautiful she was - and saw again how much joy and laughter there was, still, in the world. And that is how Amaterasu Omikami left her cave of despair, forgot her anger, and promised to never leave the world again.

There are caves of darkness into which we all retreat. For a day, a month, or too many years. Sometimes, we have to be tricked away from abysses of the heart, to see againhow beautiful, how valuable, how light filled, and how important, each of us really is. Then we can find the the courage to rejoin the hilarious, heartbreaking dance of Life.

Here you can read more interesting things about Amaterasu: »

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From this painting you could draw the conclusion that even the Ainus took part in the worship of the Goddess Amaterasu, so yet I haven´t found out the reason why they seem to distinguish themselves from those whom the call "the Children of the Sun" and came to the land 3000 year ago.

The more information I get about the Japanese and Ainu culture from my explorations in the cyberspace, the more confused I get about what is Ainu culture and religion as distinct from  Japanese and Shinto, as well as state Shinto as distinct from popular Shinto. So I would have to read a lot more about this and especially so the dissertation of Susan Brail Carter to be able to be connect the issue to the matriarchal matter.

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T H E   Q U E E N   H I M I K O 

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Yamatai-koku (邪馬台国?) or Yamaichi-koku (邪馬壹國?) (c. 1st century – c. 3rd century) is the Sino-Japanese name of an ancient country in Wa (Japan) during the late Yayoi period (c. BC 300 – c. 300 AD).

The Chinese text Records of the Three Kingdoms first recorded as Yamatai guo (traditional Chinese: 邪馬臺國) or Yemayi guo (traditional Chinese: 邪馬壹國) as the domain of Priest-Queen Himiko (died c. 248 AD). Generations of Japanese historians, linguists, and archeologists have debated where Yamatai-koku was located and whether it was related to the later Yamato (大和?).

Earlier Chinese ca. 432 CE Hou Han Shu (Book of Later/Eastern Han) accounts had described the land of Wa (Japan) as such:

“In the middle of the Lo-lang sea there are the Wa people. They are subdivided into more than a hundred ‘countries'[called communities in some translations]. Depending on the season they come and offer tribute”.

Thirty of these countries were known to have had direct contact with China. Historians equate these “countries” with chiefdoms.

The Chinese Wei Zhi  accounts in 297 A.D. asserted that Yamatai kingdom was the strongest of those countries. Yamatai country was victorious after years of warfare. Gishi no Wajinden noted decades of warfare had ensued until “the people agreed upon a woman for their ruler”, i.e. when Queen Himiko came to the throne. Towards the end of 2nd century, around 30 small chiefdoms had allied with each other to form a confederated kingdom or state known as “Yamatai country” (Yamatai koku) with Queen Himiko at the helm.

Queen Himiko was known to the Chinese because her government had sent a diplomatic mission in the year 238 A.D. to the Wei emperor, Cao Rui’s court, and the delegation was received as presenting tribute to the Chinese emperor. As such, Queen Himiko was recognized as the ruler of Wa:

“Herein we address Himiko (Pimiko is used), Queen of Wa, whom we now officially call a friend of Wei …  [Your ambassadors] have arrived here with your tribute, consisting of four male slaves and six female slaves, together with two pieces of cloth with designs, each twenty feet in length. You live very far away across the sea; yet you have sent an embassy with tribute. Your loyalty and filial piety we appreciate exceedingly. We confer upon you, therefore, the title “Queen of Wa  Friendly to Wei”.

Queen Himiko may have held the ceremonial role of a shaman priestess, prophetess or perhaps, a pre-eminent shrine maiden with proxy access to the gods for the people.

Gishi no Wajinden described her as a having “occupied herself with magic and sorcery, bewitching the people”. Shrouded in mystery, Queen Himiko was said to have controlled the kingdoms by sorcery and magic. She was seldom seen in public and was attended by “one thousand attendants, but only one man”.

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Queen of Yamataikoku  Classical portrait painting by Yasuda Yukihiko

Although Queen Himiko left the execution of the affairs of state to her younger brother, Queen Himiko very likely held actual power in addition to her ceremonial and religious role. She was guarded by a large army and the Chinese thought of her as a ruler with extraordinary power.

Yamatai kingdom prospered under Queen Himiko’s rule and was observed in the Gishi no Wajinden records to have had more than seventy thousand households, well-organized laws and taxation system and thriving trade. Her people were noted to have been mainly gentle and peace-loving.

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Yamatai, Himiko’s headquarters, model by Osaka Prefectural Museum of Yayoi Culture

The Wajinden records that 29 different kuni or “countries” existed and that three of these were ruled by “kings”. One of them was Ito where “there have been kings for generations, subject to the queen’s kuni [Yama’ichi] they rule”.

Experts have identified Ito to be Itoshima peninsula and the Hirabaru mound site is thought to contain the grave of Ito‘s king or queen (because it contained 39 bronze mirrors and other rich burial grave goods associated with rulers of the highest order). The Wajinden also hints to us how Himiko ruled:
” high [ranking] Wa are sent to inspect [the trade of the different kuni]. A high leader was especially sent to to the region] north of the queen’s land. He inspects all the kuni there. Regularly he rules in Ito.”

Thus Ito held an important role in international relations.

During her reign, Queen Himiko sent envoys to Gi to limit the influence of a rival power, the “king” of Kunu whose country of Kuna (Kuna no Koku) lay to the south of Wa. In 239 A.D., an emperor of Gi granted the Yamatai kingdom a honorable title “Sin Gi Wa O” along with a gift of 100 bronze mirrors. By 247 A.D. Queen Himiko’s realm and that of the country of Kuna were at odds, but the outcome of that conflict is not known, only that she sought Chinese imperial support and that she died likely in the year following that.

When Queen Himiko died, her people constructed a large burial mound (about 100 meters in diameter) for her. One thousand female and male attendants were sacrificed for burial along with their queen.  She had lived between A.D. 183 and 248 without having ever married.

Upon her death, the male ruler who took her place did not last long and the chiefdoms fell into disunity and fighting. “Assassination and murder followed; more than one thousand were thus slain” according to Gishi no Wajinden.

When Iyo, a 13-year old girl related to Himiko was placed on the throne, peace was restored and the fighting ended.

The location of Yamatai kingdom (as well as that of the burial mound of Queen Himiko) remains a mystery and is the subject of a huge academic controversy as to whether northern Kyushu or Kinai had been the actual headquarters of Queen Himiko.