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This edited article about Japanese mythology originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 797 published on 23rd April 1977.
An old man, an old woman and a young girl were crying. Suddenly, they saw a finely dressed young man standing beside them.
“Why are you crying?” asked the young man.
Brushing aside his tears, the old man explained. “I had eight daughters,” he said. “Every year, a snake with eight heads has come from the Kashi district and eaten one of my daughters. Seven have already perished, and now the snake is coming to devour the last. What am I to do? I am too frail to slay the snake myself!”
The young man drew himself up proudly, “I am Susanoo, the god of the sea,” he announced, “lately come from heaven. I will save your daughter.”
Susanoo asked the old parents to give him the girl, and they gladly agreed. Tales of ancient Japanese mythology say that Susanoo changed the girl into a comb which he stuck into his hair.
Then he got some rice wine and poured it into eight bowls which he placed on the ground. As soon as the terrifying snake appeared, it smelt the scent of the wine and each head made for one of the bowls. When the monster was sleepily drunk, Susanoo drew his sword and killed it.
Freed from this scourge, the old parents were overjoyed and watched in wonder as Susanoo took the comb from his hair and returned their daughter to human form.
He asked her to become his wife and built her a wonderful palace at Suga. They had a son. O-Kuni-Nushi, the god of medicine connected with sorcery.
But before Susanoo had even met his bride something happened which caused him to be banished from heaven.
The god went to visit his elder sister, the sun goddess, in heaven. But Susanoo shook the mountains, disturbed the rivers and made the earth quake so terribly, that the sun goddess armed herself with a bow and quiver of arrows and kept her finger ready on the string while he was with her.
“Why have you come?” she asked.
“I have no evil intent,” replied her brother. “I have come simply to say goodbye before going to my mother in a distant land.”
The sun goddess must have been doubtful, for she asked Susanoo to give proof of his goodwill. So, he proposed that they should each create children.
At this, the sun goddess took Susanoo’s sword and broke it in three pieces. After chewing the pieces, she blew a light mist from her mouth which gave birth to three goddesses.
Seeing that his sister was wearing five strings of jewels, Susanoo asked for these, cracked them between his teeth, blew a light mist from his mouth and gave birth to five gods.
The sun goddess declared that they were her children because they had been created from the jewels she was wearing.
Susanoo’s success over this achievement turned his head. He rampaged over the land, destroying the rice fields, filling in irrigation ditches and damaging the temples.
Although the sun goddess tried to make excuses for her brother’s misdeeds, he did not stop. One day when she was weaving the gods’ clothes in the sacred house, Susanoo made a hole in the roof. This caused such a disturbance that one of the weaving women pricked herself with a needle and fell dead.
So terrified was the sun goddess, that she hid in a rocky cave in heaven and blocked the entrance with a boulder, plunging the world into darkness.
The wicked gods were delighted by the darkness which covered the earth, but the good gods were worried. Various ruses were tried to get the sun goddess to come out of the cave. None of them worked until a goddess decked herself out with different plants and began to dance on a tub.
Eight hundred myriads of gods roared with laughter when they saw her. Wondering at the cause of the mirth, the sun goddess looked out of the cave and saw her own reflection in a large mirror which had been set up.
Interested by the reflection, she came a little way out of the cave. Suddenly, she was seized by the god of force, who had hidden himself close by, and made to come out completely. A rope was stretched in front of the cave to prevent her from going back into it.
Once more the world was lit by sunshine . . . and Susanoo was banished from heaven for his misdeeds.