Amaterasu, goddess of the sun and of fertility, is one of the most important figures in Japanese mythology and in the religion known as Shinto. According to legend, she is the first ancestor of the imperial family of Japan.

imperial relating to an emperor or empire

Daughter of the creator god Izanagi, Amaterasu taught humans to plant rice and weave cloth. In one story, her brother, Susano-ô, angered the goddess by interfering with her activities. He destroyed rice fields and violated taboos, spreading filth in her sacred buildings and dropping a skinned horse through the roof of the weavers' hall. Furious at Susano-ô's actions, Amaterasu went into a cave and locked the entrance. Her withdrawal plunged the earth into darkness and prevented the rice from growing.

This print by Taiso Yoshitoshi shows Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, emerging from a heavenly cave and bringing light back to the world. Amaterasu's shrine at Ise is regarded as one of Japan's most important Shinto shrines.

taboo prohibition against doing something that is believed to cause harm

deity god or goddess

To lure the sun goddess out, the other gods gathered outside the cave with various sacred objects, including a mirror and some jewels. A young goddess began dancing, causing the others to burst into laughter. Wondering how they could make merry in her absence, Amaterasu peeked out to see what was amusing them. The gods spoke of another deity more brilliant than Amaterasu. Curious, the goddess looked—and saw her reflection in the mirror. The image of her own brilliance so astonished her that she stepped out of the cave. One of the gods hung a rope across the cave to prevent her from returning to it and depriving the world of her light. Today a mirror in Amaterasu's shrine at Ise is considered one of Japan's three imperial treasures, along with jewels and a sword.

See also Izanagi and Izanami ; Japanese Mythology ; Susano-Ô .

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