- Amaterasu o-mikami
- Heaven-shining great kami. The kami enshrined principally at the inner shrine of the Ise jingu and at numerous other shrines throughout Japan. The name is widely translated 'Sun goddess'. The gender of Amaterasu was not settled until the sixth century when she became known as a female kami. Information about Amaterasu and her brother Susa-no-o is derived mainly from the Kojiki and Nihongi, according to whose accounts Amaterasu retreated into a dark cave in response to Susa-no-o's outrageous behaviour. She was enticed out by the laughter of the assembled heavenly deities during a provocative dance by 'the dread female of heaven' and after that features little in the myths in comparison with Susa-no-o. She is however popularly worshipped as or in relation to the sun, for example in Kurozumi-kyo and by himachi. Amaterasu was produced from the left eye of the god Izanagi during his purification in a stream after returning from the underworld. In turn she is grandmother of the legendary first unifier of Japan (Ninigi) and great-grandmother of the first emperor, Jimmu. Because Amaterasu instructed her grandson to rule over the land, successors of Ninigi legitimised their claim to rule as descendants of Amaterasu, so Amaterasu is the tutelary deity and ancestor of the imperial clan. In 742 when the casting of the great Buddha-image (daibutsu) of Vairochana Buddha (Dainichi nyorai) was being considered at Nara an oracle from Ise was secured by the monk Gyogi which declared that the sun and the Buddha were identical and strongly endorsed devotion to the Buddha. The identification of Amaterasu as Dainichi persisted throughout Japanese history until the separation of kami and Buddhas (shinbutsu bunri) in 1868. Before the Meiji period Amaterasu was popularly worshipped under the name of Tensho daijin. Other noble families in Japan claimed descent from the gods but after the Meiji period the relationship between Amaterasu and the imperial line was brought into special prominence as shrines were systematically organised into a national hierarchy with Ise, Amaterasu and the divine emperor at the apex.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.