Ama no Iwato (Cave of Heaven) (天岩戸)

The term, "Ama no iwato" refers to a rock cave that appears in Japanese mythology. It is also referred to as "Amato," "Ama no iwaya," and "Ama no iwayato," and often written in kanji (Chinese characters) '石' (meaning stone), instead of '岩' (meaning rock).

It was the place of Iwato-gakure legend that Amaterasu Omikami, the Sun Goddess, hid herself in the heavenly rock cave, plunging the world into complete darkness.

Description in the mythology
Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters)
Proving his innocence by ukehi (a divination), Susano (capricious younger brother of Amaterasu Omikami) sill stayed in Takamagahara (plain of high heaven). He played havoc with Takamagahara; for example, he broke through the berms of rice paddies, filled in the irrigation ditches, and besmirched with excrement the palace. The deities in Takamagahara complained about his rude conducts to Amaterasu, but she screened him from blame at first, saying, "He did so under some ideas."

But he made a hole in the roof of weaving hall and cast a dead horse stripped off the skin into the hall where Amaterasu was weaving clothes for deity, when a weaving girl was so frightened, and dead by being stabbed in the genitals with her shuttle. At last, his rude conducts infuriated Amaterasu and secluded herself in the Ama no iwato. Darkness descended upon Takamagahara and Ashihara no Nakatsukuni (another world for the country or the location of Japan), and various kinds of maga (evil) occurred.

Thereupon, yaoyorozu no kami (eight million gods) assembled at the river side of the Ame no Yasu-kawa River (the tranquil river of Heaven), and consulted what to do. The various measures for revival of the sun goddess were planned by Omoikane (the god of wisdom and talent). At first, the gods gathered chickens of Tokoyo no naganakidori (a long-singing chicken of eternal world that tells the end of the night, the daybreak), and made them crow each other. Next, they took the hard rocks from the upper Ame no Yasu-kawa River, extracted the iron from a metal-mountain, searched for a blacksmith, Amatsumara, and ordered Ishikoridome to make Yata no Kagami (the eight-span mirror, one of the Imperial regalia). They ordered Tamanooya no Mikoto to make 'Yasaka no Magatama' (comma-shaped jewels), and then make 'Ihotsu no Misumaru no Tama' (a long string made of many comma shaped jewels) (also called Yasakani no Magatama), summoning Amenokoyane and Futodama to make them pull the shoulder-blade of a stag, take cherry-bark, and perform divination. They also dag Sakaki (cleyera japonica) from its root, on whose branches Yasaka no Magatama, Yata no Kagami, and fuhaku (cotton, silk, textile fabrics) were hung, and Futodama held it as a gohei (wooden wands, decorated with two Shide [zigzag paper streamers]). Amenokoyane recited Norito (Shinto prayer), and Ameno Tajikarao stood hidden beside the entrance of the cave of heaven blocked with a huge rock. Amenouzume began a thunderous dance on an overturned tub, and divinely possessed, she exposed her breasts and lowered her skirt string to her genitals. Her dance provoked uproarious laughter from all the other gods to the extent making Takamagahara ring.

Hearing that laughter, Amaterasu wondered what all the racket could be, opened the door of her cave a little, and asked why Amenouzume merrily danced and the yaoyorozu no kami were laughing notwithstanding the deep darkness in which her retirement resulted. Amenouzume replied that they were congratulating on the appearance of the new deity more precious than her, and the great mirror was shown to Amaterasu by Amenokoyane and Futodama. Just when Amaterasu opened the door further in order to see the reflection on the mirror, which she thought to be that greater god, Ameno Tajikarao, who was standing hidden, grasped her hand and pulled her out. Futodama immediately pulled shimenawa (a sacred rice-straw rope) taut in front of the door of the cave, and told her not to step inside any more. With Amaterasu coming forth, light returned to Takamagahara and Ashihara no Nakatsukuni.

Yaoyorozu no kami took counsel together, and Susano was made to submit vast quantities of goods in atonement, his hair was cut and his fingernails and toenails pulled off, and he was banished from Takamagahara.

Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan)
Although the mainstream of the myth concerning Ama no Iwato is almost the same between Kojiki and Nihonshoki, there are a few differences in detail between them.

The text of Nihonshoki describes that when Susano cast a dead horse into the weaving hall, it was Amaterasu who was so frightened that injured herself with a shuttle. The first arufumi (alternative variants frequently supplementing main text of Nihonshoki) says that it was Wakahirume who hurt herself with a shuttle to die. The original transmission is thought to have suggested that Wakahirume should be Ohirume, other self of Amaterasu, and the reckless demeanor of Susano should cause the death of Amatersu.

The second arufumi describes that the reason Amaterasu was enraged at Susano's rudeness, and hid herself in the cave of heaven was that Susano voided excrement in her palace, on which she sat carelessly.

Interpretation

There are some interpretations about the mythical story which tells that Amaterasu hid herself in the rock cave of heaven and the darkness fell on the world; one is that the story represents solar eclipses, and another is that it is symbolic of the sun reviving its weak power after the winter solstice. There can be seen eclipse mythologies and winter solstitial mythologies in various parts of the world (=>death and regeneration god).

The ravages that Susano had done in Takamagahara were all concerned about the agriculture; thus they are said to have represented havoc of heavy storm. These Susano's conducts are generically called 'amatsu-tsumi (heavenly sin) and kunitsu-tsumi (earthly sin) in the Oharae no kotoba (the great purification).

Ise Jingu Shrine (one of the most important Shinto shrines, where Amaterasu Omikami is enshrined) keeps free-ranged chickens in its site because according to the mythology, the gods gathered chickens, which were made to crow each other.

Although the Kojiki describes nothing about what Amatsura, a blacksmith, had done, Norinaga MOTOORI (classical scholar of the Edo period; his aim was to discern the identity of Japanese culture through an intensive study of the ancient classics, especially the Kojiki) assumed that Amatsura might have had a hoko (a long-handled Chinese spear) made. Another theory holds that a sword was made; if the theory be correct, all the three imperial regalia (the curved jewels, the sacred mirror, and the sacred sword) would have been made in this mythical story. Additionally, Amenomahitotsu no Kami, a god of smithery, with one eye appeared in the Kogo shui (a historical work complied in 807 by INBE no Hironari, which contains material not found in the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki, and records of the Inbe family's achievements), instead of Amatsura.

There was added a food-origin myth of Susano and Ogetsuhime in Japanese mythology to the Ama no Iwato's story in the Kojiki.

Incidentally, it is believed that the Inbe (忌部) clan (also written in the Chinese character, 斎部 with the identical pronunciation as 忌部) were those who left Awa (阿波) Province for the east, which appeared in the story of Ogetsuhime. The east-end place they reached was Awa Province (another Awa Province written in 安房), which is said to be the origin of Awa(安房)Province.

The myth of heavenly Iwato-gakure is said to be similar to the Demeter myth of Greek mythology. In the myth of Demeter, the abduction of Persephone brought her so deep a grief that she renounced her divine functions as a goddess of vegetation and fruitfulness to lead the world infertile.

Places called Ama no iwato

Ama no iwato legend is supposed to have taken place in the heaven, but because of desires to realize that mythology in this world, there exist some caves- 'this is the cave of Ama no iwato'-, or some places associating with Ama no iwato.

Ama no iwato

One of these caves is enshrined at Iwato-jinja Shrine of Kotai-jingu Shrine (Motoise Naiku Shrine) in Oe-cho (Kyoto Prefecture), Hukuchiyama City, Kyoto Prefecture

Another is in the holy precincts of Amanoiwato-jinja Shrine in Iwato, Takachiho-cho, Nishiusuki-gun, Miyazaki Prefecture
To see the Ama no iwato in this shrine, visitors are required to apply to the Amanoiwato-jinja Shrine office for permission.
The nearest station to that shrine is named 'Amanoiwato' (Amanoiwato Station)

Kumaya cave' located in Iheya-son, Shimajiri-gun, Okinawa Prefecture is southernmost of the many places related with 'Amaterasu's Heavenly Rock Cave Myth' in Japan.

Another is in the upper mountainside behind Kayabe-jinja Shrine in Hiruzen, Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture.

Another is in Iwato sha (a small shrine) in Shirahige-jinja Shrine located in Takashima City, Shiga Prefecture.

Another is on 'Mt. Takakura' (in Ise City) behind the Outer Shrine of Ise-jingu Shrine in Ise City, Mie Prefecture. Entering this mountain was prohibited in the Showa period.

Another is enshrined at the 'Ama no iwaya' in Futamiokitama-jinja Shrine, Futami-cho, Ise City, Mie Prefecture. Erihara no mizuana' (spring water comes from the place that is said to be Ama no Iwato) in Erihara, Isobe-cho, Shima City, Mie Prefecture. Another is in the holy precincts of Amanoiwato-jinja Shrine, Tsurugi-cho, Tokushima Prefecture.

Iwato (the rock door of the heavenly cave)
Togakushi-jinja Shrine in Togakushi, Nagano City, Nagano Prefecture holds a tradition that the rock door of Ama no iwato might have fallen there.

Amanoiwadate-jinja Shrine in Yagyu, Nara City, Nara Prefecture. There are some rocks, which is said to have been thrown to this place.

Togakushi-jinja Shrine (Gujo City), in Wara-cho, Gujo City, Gifu Prefecture. There is a rock which is said to have been a piece of the rock door of the heavenly cave.