To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

From KOJIKI: The Male Deity Izanaki and the Female Deity Izanami (Part One)

Translated from Japanese by Yoko Danno


The Deities on the Heavenly High Plains said to Izanaki the Inviting Male Deity and Izanami the Inviting Female Deity, “This land is still floating like a jellyfish. Give shape to it and solidify it.”

The Heavenly Deities sent out the two, giving them the Heavenly Jeweled Spear. Entrusted with this mission, the young Deities departed and stood on the Heavenly Floating Bridge between heaven and earth. They lowered the Spear and stirred the muddy seawater with a churning sound, ko-o-ro, ko-o-ro, and lifted it up. The thick salt water dripping from the tip of the holy Spear piled up and became an island. This island is called Onogoro-jima. The two went down there and brought into being the Heavenly Pillar and a spacious palace for their wedding.

At this time Izanaki the Inviting Male Deity asked Izanami the Inviting Female Deity, “How is your body made?”

“My body is finely made,” the Female Deity answered, “but has one place which is insufficiently made.”

“My body is finely made, too,” the Male Deity said, “but has one place which is excessively made. Therefore I would like to produce land by inserting the place which is excessive in my body into the place which is insufficient in your body. What do you think of giving birth to the land like this?”

“That sounds good to me,” the Female Deity answered.

“Well, shall we,” said the Male Deity, “you and I, walk around this Heavenly Pillar, and mate with each other where we meet? Do you agree?”

The Female Deity consented. After the two promised thus, the Male Deity said, “Then you walk around from the right, and I will walk around from the left to meet you.”

They agreed and each walked around the Heavenly Pillar, and then the Female Deity spoke first: “What a handsome man you are!”

Then afterwards the Male Deity said, “What a beautiful woman you are!”

After each spoke thus, the Male Deity said to the Female Deity, “It is not right that the woman spoke first.”

The Male and Female Deities, however, mated in the holy bed. The Female Deity gave birth to a leech-like, boneless child. They placed the child in a boat woven with reed and cast it off shore. Next, she gave birth to a weakling island, Awa-shima, which was not recognized as their proper child, either.

The two Deities consulted each other and said, “Our children who have just been born are deficient. We’d better return to heaven and report this to the Heavenly Deities.”

Immediately they returned together to heaven and asked for advice. The Deities in heaven performed a grand divination by heating the blade-bone of a deer. Observing the cracks, they said, “The children were born deficient because the woman spoke first. Descend again, and say it once more.”

Therefore the Male Deity Izanaki and the Female Deity Izanami descended again and circled round the Heavenly Pillar as they had done before.

Then the Male Deity Izanaki spoke first: “What a beautiful woman you are!” The Female Deity Izanami said afterward, “What a handsome man you are!”

After each spoke thus they wedded again.

Izanaki and Izanami Give Birth to Fourteen Islands

After that time Izanaki and Izanami bore many fine islands. The first island born was Awaji. Next was Iyo. This island has one body and four faces, each with a name: E-hime, a fine woman; Ihiyori-hiko, a man possessed by a food spirit; Oho-getsu-hime, a woman in charge of food; and Takeyori-wake, a brave-spirited man. Then the couple bore the triple island of Oki, and next, the island of Tsukushi. This island also has one body and four faces, each with a name describing the brilliance of the sunshine. Then they bore the island of Iki, the island of Tsushima and the island of Sado, and next, the main island thick with grain plants, the Great Yamato Island. These eight islands which were born first are called collectively the Great Land of the Eight Islands.

After giving birth to these islands, Izanaki and Izanami returned to the island of Onogoro. On their way home they bore six more islands including twin islands.

Izanaki and Izanami Give Birth to Thirty-Five Deities

After Izanaki and Izanami had finished giving birth to the various islands, they started bearing deities. The first deity born was the great-task-carrying-out deity. Next born were the male deity of rock and soil and the female deity of stone and sand. Then the deity of great doors, the roof-thatching deity, the deity in charge of the safety of houses and the deity who protects houses from storms were born. Next they bore the sea deity Oho-watatsumi and a couple of river-mouth deities, Akitsu-hiko and Akitsu-hime.

Akitsu-hiko and Akitsu-hime rule respectively rivers and seas. They joined forces and gave birth to the bubble-sinking male deity Awa-nagi and the bubble-rising female deity Awa-nami. Next were born the surface-calming male deity Tsuru-nagi and the surface-rippling female deity Tsuru-nami. They bore next a pair of deities who distribute water at the watershed and a pair of deities holding ladles to draw water.

In the meantime, Izanaki and Izanami continued their labor. They gave birth to the wind deity Shinatsu-hiko, the tree deity Kukunochi, the mountain deity Oho-yamatsumi and the female plain deity Kayano-hime.

The coupled deities Oho-yamatsumi and Kayano-hime, who rule respectively mountains and plains, gave birth to a pair of soil deities, a pair of fog-and-mist deities, a pair of valley deities and a couple of deities who protect strays in the mountains.

Izanaki and Izanami still continued their labor. They gave birth to Tori-fune, the deity of the heavenly ship as fast as a bird and made of camphor wood as hard as rock. Next they bore the female deity Oho-getsu-hime who is in charge of food. Next was born the burning deity Kagu-tsuchi.


[N.B. As the oldest surviving Japanese book, the Kojiki, or “Record of Ancient Things,” completed on “the twenty-eighth day of the first month of the fifth year of Wado” (A.D. 722) is an attempt to keep a grip on matters already at some distance from the compilers & to establish the “origins” of the Japanese court & nation on (roughly) native grounds. It is, at the same time, “a compilation of myths, historical & pseudo-historical narratives and legends, songs, anecdotes, folk etymologies, and genealogies.” (Thus: Donald L. Philippi, the composer of a previous translation.) Like other such works it begins with the generations of the gods & follows their creation of -- & descent into – this-place-here. The fecundity & sexuality of those early gods – like Izanaki and Izanami in the present instance –is an example of surreality (= poesis) as an attempt to comprehend & thereby to possess the world.]

Yoko Danno’s Songs and Stories of the Kojiki (Ahadada Books, 2008) is the first translation to capture the full sweep & ferocity of the Japanese original. Born, raised & educated in Japan, Danno has been writing solely in English for almost forty years. She continues to live & work in Kobe.]

1 comment:

Randy said...

I like your work.