Amenouzume (アメノウズメ)

Amenouzume (Amanouzume) is a deity who appears in Japanese Shinto mythology. She is the goddess of entertainment who appears in the story of 'Iwatokakure' and can be said to be the oldest dancer in Japan. In Chinese characters, her name is written as 天宇受賣命 in Kojiki (The Records of Ancient Matters) and 天鈿女命 in Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan).

Story described in the mythology
When Amaterasu Omikami hid herself in the Ama no iwato (cave of heaven), the world became dark. Embarrassed by this, the deities gathered at Ama no Yasukawa to hold a conference. They conducted various rituals in front of the iwato according to the proposal made by Omoikane. But when Amenouzume climbed up onto an overturned bowl and began a powerful sensual dance, straightening her back, exposing her breasts, letting the cord to her skirt dangle in front of her crotch, lowering her waist and stamping with her feet, the deities burst out laughing. When Amenouzume declared, "A deity nobler than you has been born," the resulting laughter enticed Amaterasu Omikami to open the iwato a little in order to take a peek. At that moment, Amaterasu Omikami was pulled out by Amenotajikarao and the world became bright again.

Just as Ninigi was descending from heaven during tensonkorin (the ceremonial descent to earth of the grandson of the sun goddess), along came a deity who was illuminating the entire area from Takamagahara all the way to Ashihara no nakatsukuni. Amaterasu and Takamimusubi urged Amenouzume on, saying "You should ask him who he is, because even though you may be a weak woman, you never grow timid when meeting others," so she asked him his name. The deity's name was Sarutahiko, who was both an Amatsu kami (god of heaven) and a Kunitsukami (god of the earth), and it turned out he had come to meet them in order to serve as their guide. So Amenouzume followed Ninigi and descended from heaven as one of the itsutomonoo (the five clan chiefs), together with the other four, Amenokoyama no Mikoto (a legendary ancestor deity), Futodama, Tamanooya no Mikoto and Ishikoridome. As Amenouzume revealed the name of Sarutahiko, she started to serve under this name and became the soshin (ancestor honored as deity) of Sarumenokimi. It is also said that she became Sarutahiko's wife.

Amenouzume gathered together many fish, both large and small, and asked them whether they would be willing to work for Tenson (Ninigi). All answered "We will serve" except the sea cucumber, who remained silent, so Amenouzume slashed open its mouth with a knife. This is the reason why a sea cucumber's mouth is split.

Origin of Amenouzume
The theory that, because she often made the gods laugh, she was the patron goddess of the entertainment professions (like performers and comedians), tends in the Kansai region to take priority over other interpretations. In fact, the Amenouzume enshrined at Meta-jinja Shrine in Yamato Province has historically been widely worshipped as the Shiso Shin of entertainment. However, the description recorded of her dance can also be interpreted "She danced while possessed" and thus, she was not dancing in order to provoke laughter. Indeed, what is important how she moved during the dance--that despite being a weak woman, she forgot her shyness and threw herself into the Sarugaku dance, half-naked, breasts exposed, using her heels to pound out the steps onto the ground while bending her heels towards her inner thighs and twisting her toes to face out. It seems that her dancing gave expression to the powerful lower half of her body. It is more natural to think that the gods applauded the eroticism of the martial arts display, which somewhat resembled female Sumo wrestling (and indeed, the term "strong woman" can be pronounced "ozume"), and that Amaterasu Omikami's emotions were affected by the ruckus resulting from the boisterous celebration.

The original form of just such dances as the one Amenouzume gave in front of Amanoiwato could also be seen during festivals to the gods, and in particular during the ancient oracle festivals that are thought to have been conducted by shamans (kannagi). The episode of Amenouzume is a legend that tells the story of a Miko (shrine maiden) who served the ancient deities. The deity in this case was the sun god at a time before being granted the divine aspect of Amaterasu, and it is thought that it is because Amenouzume's role was left unchanged that the myth continued to be passed down even after the sun god was given Amaterasu's aspect.

A typical example which illustrates the above is 'Takachiho Night Kagura' conducted in Takachiho-cho, Nishiusuki-gun, Miyazaki Prefecture. In the beginning of this Kagura, after a maskless male dancer dances a sword dance using a Japanese sword, Amenouzume, who appears in the second half, dances a spinning Chinese sword dance called a "shiken," holding a tree branch designed to imitate bamboo leaves in her left hand and an isuzu (literally "50 bells") adorned with nusu (symbols of divinity made of cloth or paper) in her right hand. Amaterasu is given the role of the deity (Takagimusu hi no Kami) who descends to Takagi (considered a "sotojime" or heaven-like realm) at dawn, and appears last of the 33, nor does she come on stage as a dancing deity until the very end of the performance. Okami in this Kagura is Owadatsumi no Kami.

Such a dance (which was danced by a medium known as a kannagi to sacred music called kamikura, kagura, or kamiasobi) was performed to consol the deities and restore their power. A description of 'takumini wazaogi o nashi' appears in the Nihonshoki, and it means a performer entertaining an audience with the skills bestowed upon him/her by the deities. As shown by the fact that the above is the origin of the word 'actor,' it is certain that these festivals of Kaguramai (dance for Kagura) were the starting point of Japanese public entertainment.

It is also known that in the ancient Daijosai Festival (which celebrated the accession of a new emperor) held by the Yamato Daio (the ancestors of the Emperors' family) of the Yamato dynasty, Miko were possessed by the spirits and performed a fast and furious dance in worship of the Daio family's soshin. This is considered as the one which evolved from the festivals for the sun god mentioned above. It can be easily understood by directing attention to the background that the Yamato dynasty worshipped the sun god = Amaterasu and professed that the dynasty descended from her.

The above anecdote concerning Amenouzume, in which she is said to have addressed Sarutahiko during tensonkorin and named herself Sarumenokimi after him, and this can be pointed out as evidence that Amenouzume The anecdote concerning Amenouzume recounted above, in which she is said to have addressed Sarutahiko during tensonkorin and named herself Sarumenokimi after him, can also be marshalled as evidence that Amenouzume was a deified figure of a Miko who served the sun god, because Sarutahiko was originally the sun god worshipped in Ise Province.was the deified figure of miko who served the sun god because Sarutahiko was originally the sun god admired in Ise Province. The Sarume clan was traditionally involved in festivals held by the Imperial Court, and Sarumenokimi was an official position in the Jingikan (department of worship) whose duty was to dance the Kagura at court festivals.

There are several theories as to the origins of her divine name, "Uzume," including that it means "strong woman" or that it refers to a woman who arranges her hair in the "uzu" style, a hairstyle where the hair is bound high in Chinese fashion by tsuta (hair-binding ornaments like pins or headbands).


She is held to be the ancestor both of Sarumenokimi and of the Hieda clan, and at Meta-jinja Shrine, where the private deity of the Hieda clan is enshrined, she is called by a variety of other names, including the Shiso Shin of entertainment, Fuku no Kami, Otafuku, and Okame. She is widely worshipped as the deity of entertainment, gigei in general and is enshrined at Geino-jinja Shrine (Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City), Tsubaki Okamiyashiro Grand Shrine (Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture) and Uzume-jinja Shrine (Matsukawa-mura, Kitaazumi-gun, Nagano Prefecture). Uzume-jinja Shrine is reverentially referred to locally as "Okame-sama" and Kitahosono Station on the Oito Line, which is the closest train station to the shrine, was initially named "Okame-mae Station" back when it began operations as a station of the Shinano Railway Company (it was renamed "Kitahosono Station" when the rail line was nationalized).

In Takachiho-cho, Nishiusuki-gun, Miyazaki Prefecture, there exists Aratate-jinja Shrine, located in Takachiho-cho, Nishiusuki-gun, Miyazaki Prefecture, is believed to be the old site of Aratate-gu where Amenouzume married Sarutahiko, and Uzume and Sarutahiko are enshrined there as the deities of international marriage and safe delivery.Aratate-jinja Shrine, which is believed to be the old site of Aratate-gu where Amenouzume married with Sarutahiko, and Uzume and Sarutahiko are enshrined there as the deity of international marriage and safe delivery.

The Doso-shin (guardian deities of travelers), granite sculptures of which are set at village boundaries and/or road junctions, are said to be Sarutahiko and Amenouzume.