- The August Countenance of Amaterasu
- The Eight-Forked Serpent
- Slaying the Disobedient
- The Creation of Inugami
- The Sacred Scrolls
- Fearsome Emishi
- Downfall of the Soga
The August Countenance of Amaterasu
Amaterasu-omikami (天照大神) or Ōhirume-no-muchi-no-kami (大日孁貴神) – is the goddess of the Sun and the ancestor of the Royal family of Japan. She, along with Tsukuyomi the Moon and Susano-o the Storm, is also one of the so-called ‘three illustrious children’, upon whom Izanagi-no-Mikoto, the Creator of the Land, bestowed the right to rule in the Heavenly Plain.
Prince Yamato-Takeru was a royal general in the legendary period of the Japanese history (there are also some doubts about whether he was a real or a mythical character), most famous for his successful expeditions to various provinces of the archipelago.
According to the legends, he have battled the leaders of many tribes, including those of Kumaso and the people of Izumo, and one of them have given him (just before having his chest ripped open) his nickname – Yamato-Takeru, meaning “a brave man of the Yamato tribe”.
He also confronted many “evil deities”, one of whom has cursed the general with a deadly disease. It is said that his soul turned into a white bird and flew away in an unknown (or at least not universally agreed upon) direction.
The Eight-Forked Serpent
The serpent in question is Yamata-no-Orochi, a giant creature who has been plaguing the peaceful inhabitants of a certain region. Roughly at the same time Susano-o, the God of Storm, was banished from the Heavenly Plain for his blasphemous and outright awful behaviour (remember kids – never defecate and puke in your sister’s dining hall).
He discovered Yamata-no-Orochi, got him drunk by installing several vats of liquor and killed him. As a sweet sweet loot he got a legendary sword – Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi – from the tail of the beast. The sword is now one of the three Sacred Regalia of the Royal Family of Japan (although some assume the original has been lost during the final battle of Genpei war – a story for another time).
Onogoroshima a.k.a An Island Which Condensed (all by) Itself was the first piece of land created by Izanagi and Izanami. It came to be when Izanagi placed his spear into the primal ocean and stirred it until it became thick. He then raised the spear and a drop of this muddy water dripped from its end, fell back into the ocean and turned into solid land. It is a good question to which of the islands of the archipelago the legend refers to – there are some hypotheses, but none of them have been proven well enough yet.
Slaying the Disobedient
The story is quite usual for any ancient (semi-)tribal society – Take-Hani-Yasu, the king of another province rebelled (a good question is whether the ‘rebellion’ was real or just an attempt to get rid of a possible contestant in the Game of Politics on the archipelago), and a punitive force has been sent to ‘pacify’ him. In a slaughtered that ensued the ‘rebel’ king was killed by an arrow and his army cut down mercilessly. Such was the fate of the disobedient.
“Again, because the warriors were cut to pieces, the place was called by the name of Hafuri-sono. Having thus finished [the work of] pacification, they went up [to the capital] to make their report [to the Heavenly Sovereign].” – Kojiki as translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain – a great helper in the ways of Japanese folk metal (although he probably didn’t know such a music would even exist).
The Creation of Inugami
Inugami (犬神 literally ‘Dog-God’) is a spirit of a dog killed through a special ritual (described in the song; except for the spell, which is the product of our artistic imagination) for the purposes of a warlock. The purposes usually involved harming others (to the point of killing even) and manipulating them.
The Sacred Scrolls
The scrolls in question are “Kojiki” (古事記 – literally: Writings of the Old Matters), one of the staples of shinto – Japanese folk religion. Lots of other songs from this album are based on legends from Kojiki. It also shouldn’t be thought of as a “Shinto Bible” or something, as shinto doesn’t have a single book of divine revelations, as it is in Christianity or Islam.
Nevertheless, Kojiki still is a very important script, as it is one of the writings that bring legitimacy to the Royal Family of Japan, claiming that they are the direct descendants of Amaterasu – Goddess of the Sun – as well as containing numerous pieces of Japanese lore, myths, legends and history.
Yomi is the name for the Underworld or the Afterworld in Japanese mythology. As in most cultures, this is the world where spirits of the deceased reside, but it is much closer to, say, Greek Hades than to the Christian Hell and Heaven. First, Yomi does not distinguish between good and bad people, it is all the same there (although there are different possible paths for souls after death that are partly determined by good or evil deeds, they are not strictly related to Yomi).
Also, Yomi is not separated from this world, and anyone with enough dedication could (although shouldn’t) visit the place. Still, Yomi is a gloom and dark realm, filled with death and shadows, where the living has no place.
The Emishi were one of the nations of the Japanese archipelago that lived in the north-east, closer to Hokkaido, in Tohoku region. To put it simply – they are probably one of the ancestors of modern-day Ainu people. To put it in a more difficult way – there are certain debates about the actual degree by which they are related to the inhabitants of Hokkaido.
They were known as ferocious riders and mounted archers of unmatched skill. In a curious turn of events, the first samurai-type warriors were forged in the wars against the Emishi by adopting their tactics and traditions, such as mounted warfare and the cult of the sword.
Downfall of the Soga
Soga was the name of a powerful aristocratic clan in Ancient Japan. They enjoyed immense power in the court and with time became both extremely influential and… arrogant. The Soga asserted their influence as they wished, without consulting others much, and even built their tombs as lavishly as the Imperial family itself (which was a major insult back at that time).
Naturally, they also had plenty of enemies, and eventually a coup was staged. One of the Soga aristocrats, Soga no Iruka, was wounded right before the eyes of the Empress and later assassinated, and his father, Soga no Emishi, burned their mansion, thus effectively ending the period of their rule.