As promised, here is the text of my Izanagi & Izanami Japanese creation myth, written and performed for The Encyclopedia Show: Creation Myths, April 29, 2011, a special event connected with Great Books Chicago: In the Beginning….
My main source was my beloved Wikipedia, all the clickable and related things there, including links and articles on anime (Japanese animation).
But see also notes at the end!
Don’t Shtup Your Sister
Once upon a time in Japan, at the beginning of the world,
Izanagi and Izanami, boy & girl twins, took a jeweled
spear to the bridge between heaven and earth, stirred up
the ocean with it & where the spear spilled salty drops
an island formed, called Self-Forming Island, and, voila (!),
they’d created land! Izanagi and Izanami fell in love
and built a pillar so they could walk around it, which is how
you got married in the olden days in Japan. “Hello!”
said Izanami when she met Izanagi going around the pillar.
Izanagi thought he should have said hello first, but they still
got married, and had deformed children, and sent them off
to sea in a boat. “What did we do wrong?” they asked the gods,
hoping to try again. “Izanami spoke first,” said the gods.
So round the pillar they went again, and this time Izanagi
spoke first, and they had a bunch of undeformed
children, who were Japanese islands & little gods.
Then Izanami died giving birth to the spirit of fire!
Right at the end, she pushed out a baby water god,
to douse future fires, but she herself was toast.
Izanagi, who loved his Sister Wife, was so pissed
he chopped his fiery son Kagu-tsuchi into eight
little volcanoes. Poor Kagu-tsuchi, his nature
was fire, his birth, the beginning of death.
(Somebody has to be blamed first for a last breath.)
Izanagi went down to Yomi, the underworld,
to bring back his love, Izanami, shrouded now
in shadows and dark mists, never clearly seen.
Izanami even means “she who invites” illusion.
“Come home,” said Izanagi. “Too late,” said Izanami,
“I already ate a pomegranate.” Not daunted, Izanagi
waited till she slept, took the comb from his long,
long Japanese hair, lit it like a torch, the comb
not the hair, and, voila (!): he saw his sweet hottie!
Woe to the loss of illusion, for Izanami was a rotting
carcass covered with maggots, so Izanagi yelped
and ran, waking Izanami, who sent the help
after him, her women, in the form of a dozen shitake
mushrooms (possible factual error), but he distracted
them by throwing down his headdress, transformed
into a bunch of grapes, by throwing down his comb,
which sprang into a forest of bamboo, and finally peed
a river to keep all of Yomi’s creatures on the other side.
But Izanami, his twin, having seen the pee thing,
his annoying but effective cure for jellyfish sting,
pursued him to the opening of the Gates of Hell,
as they were named, years later, in an anime sequel,
so he pushed a boulder in her face but heard her yell
“I’ll kill 1000 people for this! I’ll kill, kill, kill!”
“I’ll make 1500 more!” he yelled back & felt her shake
the rock in her rage, and felt the self-formed earth quake
and saw the harbor wave begin to swell…(!) Oh, Izanami,
Izanagi, oh, horrible origami, oh awful tsunami—anime!
“Shtup” is a word meaning “push” or “nudge” as when you push or nudge a boulder into your sister’s face to keep her in the underworld, but of course it has other meanings, fully explored and exemplified in the Urban Dictionary.
Fortunately, as Wendy Doniger made clear in her discussion of the Rig Veda and other creation myths, the closing talk on Sunday of the Great Books Chicago weekend, incest was simply part of the creation myths of many cultures for practical reasons (where else were people supposed to come from?) but not something advocated by these cultures. New myths got rid of the practice when it came to the behavior of the people. As we might recall, gods do a lot of things the people are not allowed to do.
And, as Don Whitfield reminded me, Joseph Campbell also tells the story of Izanagi and Izanami in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. So that’s where I’d read it before! Campbell’s version is somewhat different from mine. In his, the underworld is known as the land of the Yellow Stream. In mine, and Wikipedia’s, we learn where the yellow stream actually came from! But both Campbell and I made the connection with Orpheus going down to the underworld to rescue Eurydice, and how that does not really work out well in either myth.
When I rehearsed my poem for my son, he giggled at “pomegranate.” I thought he’d gotten my joke on the Persephone/Proserpine eating of the pomegranate in the underworld (another connection of Japanese and ancient Greek/Roman myth), but, no, an industrial design student, he was laughing at a marvelous industrial design joke involving the pomegranate phone. (Takes a while to load, but worth the wait. Hilarious. Trust me. Click every option!)