With the number of Shinto deities that the Japanese people worship, it can be difficult to identify who is who and for what. Apart from the unique names and how Japanese culture associates nature with gods and goddesses, one thing that makes the Shinto religion even more popular is the great reverence locals show to it.
One can see this in the vast number of Shinto shrines dedicated to the worship of various gods and goddesses. But while there are hundreds of Shinto gods and goddesses in existence, there is one deity that is considered as the most important and the highest one in the religion – Amaterasu Omikami, literally meaning, “the great divinity illuminating heaven.”
In Japanese mythology, Amaterasu is one of the first siblings that the Shinto progenitors, Izanami and Izanagi, brought to life. She was the first daughter of the couple and said to have been born out of her father’s (Izanagi) eye when the god was performing a cleansing ritual after fleeing the underworld.
Eventually, Amaterasu was named the “sun goddess” who ruled the heavens, making her very important and irreplaceable. In the myth, it was said that she once locked herself in a cave after fighting with her younger brother, Susanoo. As a result, the earth experienced total darkness, which in turn invited all the evil and dark spirits to roam around the place.
The incident then forced other gods and goddesses to do everything just to persuade Amaterasu to come out and grace the land with her light, which she did, eventually.
The idea of treating rulers of the nation as someone divine is nothing new. Egyptian pharaohs and Roman emperors have been seen by their people as gods, treated with no equal and revered in the highest degree.
Japan’s emperors are treated with the same reverence. But unlike the stories of the old that glorify kings as entities with supernatural powers, Japan’s emperor more like symbolizes hope and prosperity of the nation.
Amaterasu, being the highest deity in the Shinto religion, is worshipped for bringing light, prosperity, and peace to the land. As years passed, it has become a belief and a part of Japanese tradition to grant and treat the highest ruler of the land as a direct descendant of Amaterasu. This doesn’t make the emperors supernaturally gifted, though.
By being the country’s embodiment of the mythological sun goddess, emperors do not only give hope but also symbolize the rich and long-time respect of the Japanese people to their ancient traditions.
With her popularity in Japanese mythology, it’s not surprising to see Amaterasu represented in various forms of art even in present times. In paintings, for instance, Amaterasu is often depicted as a beautiful, kind, and loving maiden.
The name also carries a significant authority with it as depicted in several anime shows where the name commanded fear, reverence, and sheer power. A good example would be Amaterasu in the Naruto Shippuden series, where it is considered a formidable Mangekyou Sharingan Doujutsu of the Uchiha clan.
It can be confusing to remember all the gods and goddesses existing in the Shinto religion, but if it’s Amaterasu Omikami, you can never be wrong. She’s the one who rules them all!