In Japanese mythology, Izanami (イザナミ, meaning "she who invites") is both the goddess of creation and death and the first wife of the god Izanagi.

Izanami Goddess of creation

Izanami et Izanagi par Kobayashi Eitaku (v. 1885)

The primitive gods gave birth to two deities, a male deity, Izanagi, and a female deity, Izanami, to charge them with creating the first earth. To help them, they gave them a spear decorated with precious stones, called Ame no nuhoko (天沼矛, the "Heavenly Spear").

The two deities stood on the bridge between heaven and earth, Ame no ukihashi (天浮橋, the "Floating Bridge of Heaven") and stirred the sea with the spear. When drops of salt water fell from the spear, they formed an island, Onogoro ("Forms itself"). They came down from the heavenly bridge and settled on this island.

Eventually, they desired to form a couple, so they built a pillar called Ame no mihashira (天御柱, the "August Heavenly Pillar") and all around it a palace called Yahirodono (八尋殿, the "Room of Eight Steps").

Izanagi and Izanami would draw circles in opposite directions around the column and when they met, Izanami would express the greetings first. Izanagi thought that this was not the right thing to do but they joined together anyway.

They had two children, Hiruko (the water child) and Awashima no kami (淡島神, kami of the island of bubbles) but they were ill-formed and were not considered gods.

They put them in a boat and abandoned them on the sea and then asked the other gods why they had not been successful. They told them that the male deity had to make the greetings first in the marriage ceremony.

So Izanagi and Izanami went back around the column and this time Izanagi spoke first when they met and their marriage was successful. From their union came the ooyashima (大八洲), or the eight great islands of the Japanese chain:

  • Awaji
  • Iyo (later Shikoku)
  • Ogi
  • Tsukushi (later Kyūshū)
  • Iki
  • Tsushima
  • Sadogashima
  • Yamato (later Honshū)

Hokkaidō, Chishima, and Okinawa are not regions of old Japan.

They gave birth to six other islands and many deities. Izanami died giving birth to Kagutsuchi (or Ho-Masubi, incarnation of fire). She was buried at Mount Hiba, on the border of the former provinces of Izumo and Hōki, today near Yasugi in Shimane Prefecture.

When his wife died, Izanagi was so enraged that he killed the newborn child, causing the creation of dozens of deities.

Izanami Goddess of Death

Izanagi was lamenting the death of Izanami and he undertook a journey to Yomi (the land of death). He searched for Izanami and soon found her. Izanagi could not see her because the shadows hid her well. Nevertheless, he asked her to come back with him. Izanami informed him that it was too late. She had already eaten Yomi's food and now belonged to the land of death. She could not come back to life.

Izanagi was outraged and refused to grant her wish to be left in the arms of the dark Yomi. While Izanami slept, he took the comb that held her hair and lit it like a torch. Under the sudden light he saw the horrible shape of his beautiful and graceful Izanami. Her body was nothing but rotten flesh with maggots and other disgusting creatures.

Screaming, Izanagi could not contain his fear and fled, thinking only of returning to the world of the living and abandoning his dead wife. Izanami woke up screaming, indignant, and started to pursue him. At her command, savage shikome (醜女, filthy women) chased him back.

Izanagi rushed out and quickly pushed a rock to the entrance of the cave which was Yomi's entrance. This rock was Chigaeshi no ōkami, also known as Yomido ni sayarimasu ōkami, he is one of the few kami to hold the title ōkami, great deity.

Izanami cried out loudly from behind this impassable barrier and told him that if he left it, it would destroy a thousand living beings a day. He answered furiously that he would give life to one thousand five hundred.

According to the Nihongi, as he was leaving the place, a mysterious goddess named Kukurihime approached Izanagi and said something to him that made Izanagi praise Kukurihime.

If Kukurihime's words were not compiled (or more likely, erased for mysterious reasons) in the Nihon shoki, and if Kukurihime does not appear anywhere else, she is extremely popular in ancient times for a minor deity. Kukurihime is also called Shirayama-hime, she is the main goddess of the Shirayama Hime-jinja shrine network (the main one is in Hakusan), with about 3,000 sites spread all over Japan.

The story has similarities with the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and the Mayan myth of Itzamna, Ix Chel and the Sumerian myth of Inanna. One can also compare the impossibility of Izanami to leave the realm of the dead after having eaten food to that of Persephone, herself condemned to spend 6 months of the year in Hell after having eaten six pomegranate seeds at the table of Hades.

Izanami Influence

  • In the manga and anime Naruto, Izanami is a forbidden jutsu of the Sharingan of the Uchiwa clan. Itachi uses it against Kabuto Yakushi to force him to become himself again, completely possessed by the power of Orochimaru. Izanami locks the target in a time loop, repeating the same actions over and over. To escape this technique, the target must accept his true personality. Izanami was created to counter another complementary jutsu, Izanagi, which can change the fate of its user. As too many users of Izanagi became obsessed with their power and killed members of their own clan, the other members of the clan created Izanami to force them to recognize their mistakes and not to make them again.
  • In the manga and anime Noragami, Izanami is a character appearing in the second season (Noragami Aragoto) as a goddess of the underworld.
  • Shirokawa, the heroine of the novel Megami Tensei, is the reincarnation of the goddess Izanami. The hero, Nakajima, is the reincarnation of the god Izanagi. The title of the novel means "The Reincarnation of the Goddess".
  • In the Lotus War trilogy of novels by Jay Kristoff, Izanami appears in volume 3, Endsinger.
  • Izanami is the "real" final boss in the video game Persona 4.
  • In the video game SMITE, Izanami is one of the playable deities of the Japanese pantheon.
  • Hades: Izanami is a playable character in the video game BlazBlue: Central Fiction. She is death incarnate, wanting to reduce the universe to nothingness.
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