Honest Myth:Japanese- Death Deities

Day Five of our Death God Mini Marathon. The Japanese do not seem to have one official God associated with death. On top of that they have many influences from different religions. So there are many deities related to death, and many are similar to others found in Chinese folklore and Hinduism. Here is a compilation of deities related to death. Most of these deities are Japanese, but some are of other cultures.

King Yama or King Enma

King Enma and his Attendents

King Enma and his Attendents

King Yama is a God of Death and Justice in Japanese Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, and Hinduism. As Lord of Justice, he watches over purgatory, judging mortals as they enter and sending them to either heaven or hell. He keeps a record of all deeds of all men so that he can sentence them to the appropriate area of hell (or heaven).

In Hindu Mythology, he was said to be the first man (like Adam), and instead of committing incest with his sister, he chose to die instilling the mortality in mankind. He is depicted as a fierce, large man carrying a mace and a noose. In the Chinese Buddhism, he is said to preside over the lives, deaths, and transmigration of the human souls. He also carries a book with a list of all human lives and their expected time of death. When someone is meant to die, he sends monstrous hell guardians to bring them (like a psychopomp) to hell for judgement. He is one of ten kings of hell. In the Japanese mythology, he is usually clothed in red clothing, adorned in human skulls, and holding the mirror of karma (that shows a person’s every deed), and a sword wisdom.

King Yama watches over a purgatory like hell. All beings come here, and stay for a certain amount of time to repent for sins before being granted access to go to heaven. The amount of time is based on their actions on earth, and that also dictates which hell and suffering they go to. This can all be seen in the anime Hoozuki no Reitetsu, which i mentioned in this blog post: http://www.espressocomsaudade.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/hoozuki-no-reitetsu-by-natsumi-eguchi/

Read more about the Great King Yama here: http://www.japanesemythology.wordpress.com/king-yama-lord-of-the-dead-comparing-counterparts-and-cognates-in-central-asia-and-southeast-asia/

Shinigami and Folk Spirits

Shinigami are death spirits that induce a feeling wanting to commit suicide. In some modern works, shinigami are similar to the grim reaper. They are responsible to seeing that a person dies at their time and leads them (as a psychopomp) to hell for judgement. They sit on the boarder between life and death, and they are usually invisible until a person’s time comes.

Other then shinigami, there are spirits in folk religions/countryside legends that perform the same responsibilities and cause acts of suicide. It is said that if someone goes out to attend to someone at night, they must drink a cup of tea before bed or the spirit will visit them. For others, death spirits possess people and lead them into seas, mountains, and railroads to die.

Ox-Head and Horse-Face

Ox-Head and Horse-Face

The Chinese have these two deities called Ox-Head and Horse-Face who are guardians to the gates of hell. Sometimes they are described as psychopomps, and other times they are said to just guard the doors. They can also be found in Hoozuki no Reitetsu.

In the Buddhist religion, the Mara is a demon that also causes humans to want to die. He has three daughters that he used to tempt Buddha: Tanha (Craving), Arati (Boredom), and Raga (Passion). In other stories he has five daughters: attraction, delusion, three poisons, and aversion.

Read more here: http://www.mythicalcreatureslist.com/mythical-creature/Shinigami


Searching the Sea Painting, Picture of Izanami by Kobayashi Eitaku (1880)

Searching the Sea Painting, Picture of Izanami by Kobayashi Eitaku (1880)

Izanami is the first Goddess created along with a male god named Izanagi so as to create land and life. Together they were the Gods of Creation, but later (after her own death), she became a Goddess of Death. They were given a heavenly spear decorated in jewels that they used to create the self-forming island to live on. They got married, but Izanami spoke before Izanagi during the marriage ceremony, so when they had their first two children both came out as deformed demons. They remarried, and this time Izanagi spoke first fixing the problem that caused the deformed children (who were put on a boat and sent far far away). They had many children, all of which became the eight great islands of japan, all the deities, and the mountains, rivers, and seas. At one point, Izanami gave birth to the God of Fire, but he was so hot that she burned and died. Izanagi later killed the fire god using the Ten Grasp Sword.

Izanagi decided he would take a journey to the underworld, named Yomi, and get her back (this is like Orpheus, so you can probably guess out this will end). There are two versions of what happened when he found her. One: she hid her face and told him that she could not go home because she had eaten fruit of the underworld (like Persephone). Two: She said she would escape, but that he could not look at her face. Either way, he sneaked a peek at her face and saw that she was a rotting corpse not his beautiful bride. He was so disgusted, that he ran away and abandoned her. She was so mad at him that she sent Shikome, ugly women of the underworld, and Raijin, a God/Demon  of Storms, after him. Izanagi escaped and sealed the entrance of Yomi with a boulder. Izanami was so enraged that she swore to steal 1,000 living beings from Earth a day (creating death), and he challenged back that he would create 1,500 everyday.

Read more about Izanami’s story here: http://www.ancient-mythology.com/japanese/izangi-izanami.php

-Blog Barista




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