The Myth of Izanami and Izanagi Analysis Essay
- Category: Literature,
- Words: 1119 Pages: 5
- Published: 20 September 2021
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The human tendency has always been to seek to explain how every little thing works, to give everything a purpose and explanation. In explaining the unknown, some find comfort, but for others, it is a means of finding significance in life. For thousands of years, humanity has been trying to discover how the world and life on our planet began. In every culture, every religion lays out a theory that explains how everything was created. Despite the great distances between cultures and the vast distances between origins where these stories come from, there are often parallels, as with many myths. The myth of Izanami and Izanagi is certainly unique, but it also shares many features with other myths. Examples include the theme of male dominance, an inability to see the souls of the underworld, and food trapping a person's soul.
First, the myth of Izanami and Izanagi has a lot of similarities to other myths because of the theme of male dominance. Izanami and Izanagi are two deities that have been sent to earth to fill with the purpose of filling it. They fall in love as they work together, and soon along the Heavenly Pillar they become wed and consummate their union or just have sex, depending on the interpretation of the myth (“Japanese Mythology | Izanagi and Izanami and the Birth of Gods | LittleArtTalks” Time Stamp). It was Izanami who spoke first when the two met and although she was proclaiming how much she loved her husband, her enthusiastic exclamations led to their children being cursed until they repeated the union with Izanagi, the male (“Japanese Mythology: The Essential - The Story of Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukuyomi, Izanagi and Izanami Time stamp). When the ritual is repeated, this time with Izanagi speaking first, the union is blessed, and many godly children are born as a result.
Izanami being punished for speaking before her husband by the other gods, cursing their children until they did the ritual correctly, resembles the story of Lilith and Adam. Lilith was banished from Eden due to her refusal to be subservient to Adam (Lilith | Definition & Mythology.) and Izanami was punished with deformed children because she had spoken before her husband. Male dominance is a common theme in a lot of religious texts which is often used to control women in society. This theme often contradicts itself when the religion has strong, independent, female goddesses or deities. For example, Izanagi’s daughter, (insert name here), later becomes one of the most powerful and respected deities, but she is still a woman (“Japanese Mythology: The Essential - The Story of Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukuyomi, Izanagi and Izanami” Time stamp). Hypocrisy and contradiction are common in religious texts but do make it confusing where the line is drawn of what women can be respected as they step out of the lines of submission and what women cannot.
Like other myths, the story of Izanami and Izanagi involves the inability to view the souls of the dead. As described in Japanese mythology, Izanami burns her genitals during the birth of the fire god, Kagu-tsuchi, resulting in her death (“Japanese Mythology: The Essential - The Story of Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukuyomi, Izanagi and Izanami” Time stamp). While her soul travels to the underworld, her husband becomes distraught, killing her son and then traveling to the gates of the underworld, attempting to retrieve her. The following scene portrays his arrival at the entrance of the underworld and being instructed not to look at his wife as she asks for permission to leave to return to her husband's side (“Japanese Mythology: The Essential - The Story of Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukuyomi, Izanagi and Izanami” Time stamp). However, Izanagi becomes impatient and sets out to find his wife in the underworld. His shock at seeing her rotting body leads to her chasing him out with the help of monsters and spirits from the underworld.
The parallel between this Japanese myth and the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is quite astonishing, especially considering Japan's isolation from other cultures for so long (Davis). Izanagi's quest for his wife and then the loss of her to his impatience and mistrust of her parallels Orpheus' descent into Hades to retrieve Eurydice and his failure to trust that she would be following close behind (Orpheus | Myth, Symbol, & Meaning). As long as both men had trusted their wives and listened to the warnings, they would have been able to resurrect the love of their lives from the grave. Despite being so close to accomplishing the impossible, both let their insecurities and pride drive them away and lost everything. These are two completely different stories with their differences, such as the way both women died and who warned them not to look at their dead spouses, but the similarities are nevertheless impressive.
Finally, the myth shares the idea that the food of the underworld traps one’s soul in the underworld. After Izanami dies and her soul is sent to the underworld, she eats some food (“Japanese Mythology | Izanagi and Izanami and the Birth of Gods | LittleArtTalks” Time Stamp). She revealed this to her husband when he comes to get her back, which is why she needs to ask for permission to leave. Also, within the myth, Izanagi throws magic peaches at the demons and spirits that are chasing him out of the underworld to keep them there (“Japanese Mythology: The Essential - The Story of Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukuyomi, Izanagi and Izanami” Time stamp). After his escape, all who ate in the underworld were trapped there.
The idea of food trapping oneself within the underworld is not unique to Izanami and Izanagi. In the Greek myth Hades and Persephone, there is a great debate on whether Persephone can ever return to her mother Demeter since she ate six pomegranate seeds (Cartwright). In the end, Persephone is allowed to leave for half the year because she only ate six seeds instead of a full pomegranate unlike Izanami who ate food within the underworld, and we will never know what the result of her plea to still be able to leave because of Izanagi’s impatience. Again, with Japan being such an isolated country for so long it is interesting that there are these similarities although it does make sense that food would be a common important symbol in mythology of diverse cultures since food is such an important piece of culture. Although the significance of the food in the myths is different the similarities are there.
In conclusion, the myth of Izanami and Izanagi is a unique take on how the earth and life on it was created, however, it also shares many features with other myths. Such as the theme of male dominance that is shared within the story of Adam and Lillith, a common device in retellings to control the women who believe the story. In addition, the inability to see the souls of the underworld, one look causing the end of two legendary marriages. Finally, food traps fill with a person's soul within the underworld, it only takes one bite to be forever trapped within death. Although there are similarities, the relationship and story of Izanami and Izanagi makes it’s own path away from other stories making it a true classic.