Yamata no Orochi

Eight-headed, eight-tailed extremely huge serpentlike monster

Image of Orochi/serpent

Dance and music for the Shinto gods (kagura) "Orochi " performed by Miyasaki Kaguradan
Asakita-ku, Hiroshima C. Hiroshima Pref. photo courtesy of Miyasaki Kaguradan

Japanese mythology.

Yamata no Orochi
(Yamata-no-Orochi is an extremely huge serpent which has eight heads and eight tails)

Long long time ago, there were a couple of god called Izanagi-no-mikoto and goddess Izanami-no-mikoto.
They made lands of Japan and gave birth to gods and goddesses.
Unfortunately when Izamami-no-mikoto bore Kagutsuchi, a god of fire, she burned herself with fire and died.
She transfered to Yomi-no-kuni (a world of the dead)
Izanagi-no-mikoto chased her and found there that she went rotten.
He was shocked and returned his world in a hurry.
In order to wash out his bad experience and to clean himself, he rinsed his body in the sea of Tsukushi.
While he was washing his body, more than 20 gods were born from his things or his body.
Finaly, when he rinsed his left eye, Amaterasu-oomikami,
a goddess of the Sun, was born. She governed Takamagahara (kind of heaven).
When he rinsed right eye, Tsukiyominomikoto was born. He governed Yoru-no-osukuni (night world-the moon)
Then, when he rinsed his nose, Susanoo-no-mikoto was born . He was instructed to govern the sea.
However he didn't like it.
He cried and cried, and wanted to visit his mother in Yomi-no-kuni.
He suked water from the seas, the rivers and frests in order to keep crying..
So, all the lands became dry.
Izanagi was perplexed with his behavior and got angry. then he decided to banish to the world's end.

Susanoo-no-mikoto made up his mind to visit his sister, Amaterasu-oomikami in Takamagahara
before going to Ne-no-kuni.
As he approach Takamagahara, all the nature was trembled.
Amaterasu-oomikami was frightened and thought that Susanoo-no-mikoto was coming to attach her land.
As she thought he was very violent, and he broke down the fields, covered in the ditches and contaminated gods' kitchen, ...etc.
Amaterasu-oomikami had been very patient for them, but, when he stripped the skin of a horse and pitched it
to the weaving house where women were making gods' clothing,
she finaly got angry and depressed.
Then she decided to hide herself in a cave called Ama-no-Iwato.
After she hid in the cave, Takagahara and Nakatsukuni (some area in old Japan) became very dark, then a lot of bad things had happened.
The gods in Takamagahara met together and thought what to do.
God Omohikane got a good idea.
Every god agreed with his plan and started to prepar.

They gathered roosters.
They made a large mirror and a neckless with comma-shaped beads called magatama, etc.
They decorated them on a small tree.
Then gods threw a party in front of the cave.
Roosters were made to call.
Ame-no-uzume performed funny dance and every god laughted and fermented.
Amaterasu-oomikami wondered why gods were coming to life, and she opened the rock door slightly and asked the reason..
Ame-no-uzume told her that they have a new and venerable sun goddess
and put the tree with mirror and neckless.
She misunderstood her own face in the mirror to a new goddess.
She wanted to see it clearly, and open the rock door more.
Then herculean Tejikarao took her arm and pulled out her from the cave.
At last the sun light came back.
Susanoo-no-mikoto was finally expelled from Takamagahara to Nakatsu-kuni.

Susanoo-no-mikoto landed at Torikami in Izumo (Shimane Pref. area) area in Nakatsukuni (land of Japan)
When he was wondering along the Hi-no-kawa River, he found a chopstick floating down the flow.
He thought that there might be someone who live upper of the river.
He went on upstream.
After a while he found a family crying together.
They are a father (Ashinazuchi), a mother (Tenazuchi) and a beautiful daughter (Kushinada-hime).
"Hey, what's wrong with you ?" Susanoo-no-mikoto asked them.
Then Ashinazuchi said, "We used to have 8 daughters, but Yamata-no-Orochi has carried off 7 of them one after another
every year as a sacrifice.
And this year, it's our last daughter's turn. Now Yamata-no-orochi is coming up soon.
We will not be able to do anything, so we are crying"
"What is Yamata-no orochi ?", Susanoo-no-mikoto asked.
" It is an extremely huge serpent monster which has eight heads and eight tails.
Its mossy body, covered with Japanese cedars and cypresses, is extended over 8 mountains and 8 valleys.
Its belly is bloody and festered.
Its eyes burn red like winter cherries.", Ashinazuchi answered.
"Okay, I got it. Please don't worry. I'll defeat it and protect your daughter.
If I could defeat the monster, I would like to marry with your daughter."said Susanoo-no-mikoto.
Ashinazuchi wondered who Susanoo-no-mikoto is.
Susanoo-no-mikoto introduced himself that he is a younger brother of Amaterasu-oomikami.
Then he was allowed to marry with Kushinadahime in case he won.

Susanoo-no-mikoto ordered them to prepare eight big saka-bune (wooden container used for keeping sake) with full of sake,
build a long and large fence with eight gates around their house and put the saka-bune inside of each gate.
Susanoo-no-mikoto tramsformed Kushinada-hime to a comb and put it in his mizura to hide her.

It was not long before awful Yamatano-orochi came.
Soon, it noticed the smell of sake and struck its eight heads into each gate.
It drank up the sake and began to sleep with a incredibly loud snore.
Susanoo-no-mikoto cut its necks and tails one by one with his sword..
The water color of the Hi-no-kawa river turned to red with its blood.

Susanoo-no-mikoto could marry Kushinada-hime.
He might be the first "Dirty Hero", a villain-turned hero, in the Japanese stories.

By the way, when he stabbed one of its talis, he felt something inside.
He slashed it and found a sword.
He thought that it might be a very precious one, and offerd it to Amaterasu-oomikami, his sister..
That sword was named Ame-no-murakumo-no-tsurugi, and has been kept in Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya.
It is one of the "Sanshu no Jingi" (the Three Sacred Treasures /Mirror, Jewels and Sword), symbols of imperial throne.
(It has been said that Amaterasu-oomikami is the origin of Japan's Inperial Family.

The fight against Yamata-no-orochi in kagura
© Yamata-no-orochi
ªKushinada-hime, Tenazuchi, Ashinazuchi photo courtesy of Miyasaki Kaguradan

It has been said that the story of "Yamata-no-orochi" is
the story of "Tatara Seitetsu"(Japanese traditional iron manufacturing)
Yamata-no-orochi represents the Hi-no-kawa river.
The upper reaches of Hi-no-kawa has many tributary streams, and the lower part
has mesh forks, which means that the water brought lots of earth and sand in this river.
The earth and sand make the riverbed higher.
Consequently, the river often caused flooded.
The story that Yamata-no-orochi eat a girl every year means that the rice fiels in the hinterland get damage from floods.

It is said that the root cause of floods were led by "Tatara Seitetsu"(Japanese traditional iron manufacturing".
The necessities of the Tatara iron manufacturing were iron sand and charcoal.
In the area of the upper Hi-no-kawa river was a good iron field.
Iron sand was taken from granite and the wastes was dumped to the river.
They also lumbered forests extensively to produce charcoal.
Granite in the open air, which is disintegrated in wind and rain, is very rotten and become sandy.
As a result, in area of the lower river, sediment of earth and sand make the configuration weak against floods.
It is said that the color of Yamata-no-orochi's blood connotes the oxidized iron and
the sword taken out from its tail connotes the tatara iron manufacuturing.

pic courtesy of Hitachi Material Co.,Ltd.