Yamanokami (God of the Mountain) (山の神)

The term "Yamanokami" refers to:
1. A general expression referring to any god dwelling in a mountain. It is also called "Yamagami" or "Sanjin." This definition will be explained in this article.

2. Because Yamanokami was generally considered to be a female deity, many places were barred to women not to invite any disaster by the jealousy of the goddess. Based on this belief, the term "Yamanokami" is used by married men to refer to their wives in order to turn down invitations to drinking parties.


While actual names of the god vary from region to region, "Yamanokami" or "Yamagami" is commonly used. A number of differences exist between mountain folk and low-land agriculturalists in the character of their yamanokami and respective ways of worshiping such god. In both cases, yamanokami is generally regarded as female, resulting in a humble reference to a man's wife. The archetype of such legend matches that of Izanamino mikoto described in "Kojiki" (The Records of Ancient Matters) and "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan).


Agriculturalists believe that the yamanokami descend from the mountain in the spring and enter the rice field, where it becomes the tanokami (rice field goddess), and then it returns to the mountain in the fall. This phenomenon indicates that the kami involved is conceived of as a single entity sharing both characteristics of yamanokami and tanokami. Japanese people, not limited to Agriculturalists, have beliefs that the deceased goes to Tokoyo (the perpetual country) in the mountain where it becomes an ancestral spirit to watch over the descendants. It leads to a widely accepted theory that the kami's original identity was that of an ancestral spirit. Toshigami (god of the incoming year) that visits during the New Year's season is also identified with Yamanokami. It also relates to the fact that mountains are indispensable sources of water for agriculture, or to the belief of a visitor god (guest god or marebitogami) who comes from the distant places and brings fertility.

The mountain peoples who make their livings by hunting, charcoal burning and forestry generally consider the yamanokami a guardian spirit of the mountain. They do not share the agriculturalists' belief that the yamanokami leave and return to the mountain, and they believe that the kami always stay there. The mountain peoples' yamanokami is said to bear twelve children each year, representing a kami with strong reproductive capabilities. It is because that their yamanokami is identified with the ubusunagami (a tutelary of infants and childbirth). Mountain people's practices regarding the yamanokami tend to involve strict taboos. For example, entering the mountain on the day of the kami's festival (generally the day with the number twelve, such as December 12 or January 12) is prohibited because the kami count the mountain's trees on that day. It is said that anyone cutting down a tree that day will be pinned under it and die.

This female deity is also said to be adverse to the pollutions of childbirth and menstruation, and women were not allowed to participate on the festival day. Some say that the yamanokami is an ugly hag, with the result that rituals are performed to flatter the kami by offering her items thought to be even uglier, such as stonefish. It is unknown why the goddess of the mountain has a connection with stonefish from the sea. Some offerings are called 'Yamaokoze' (mountain stonefish), referring to fishes and seashells. Since the ancient times, Matagi hunter group regards dried 'yamaokoze' as a talisman to carry with them or to worship at home. There is also a practice that forbids the cutting of Y-shaped threes because divine spirits are dwelling in such trees, which become the object of worship. Some say that this practice is based on the fact that a Y-shaped tree reminds people of the lower half of the female body. Others say that a Y-shaped tree is innately ill-balanced and tends to cause an accident when it is cut down, so this practice is actually a measure of precaution.

In Japanese Mythology, Oyamatsumi was referred as the yamanokami. In addition, there are yamanokami relating to the specific mountains, include Oyamakui no Kami of the Mount Hiei and Mount Matsuo, or Shirayamahime no kami of the Mount Hakusan.

Yamanokami in Mines
Many mines in Japan have shrines to worship Kanayamahiko or Kanayamahime, which are also called yamanokami. In some cases, ore found in the mine becomes the object to worship.

Mainly in Tohoku and Hokkaido regions, there is a remaining forestry custom in which no one works in the mountain and woods on December 12 (or on January 12 in some regions). Remains of the religious festival can be found on the day when forestry cooperatives hold a festival of worship, a year-end party, or a new-year party.


Today, 'Yamanokami' can be used as a figurative expression in sports referring to a person who shows an extraordinary ability in mountain stages at ekiden or long-distance races. A recent example is Masato IMAI.