When the Sun Hid in Her Cave

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When the sun hid in her cave

One of Japan's oldest legends tells us how the gods invented fun and music. It all began when the Sun Goddess went into an epic sulk and hid in her cave. The gods had to find a way to cheer her up and coax her out. The story of how they did so is both beautiful and amusing.

Incidentally, the Japanese flag includes the symbol of the sun in the form of a red disk.

Read by Elizabeth. Duration 7.10 Text by Bertie.
Illustrations for Storynory by Chiara Civati

At the dawn of time, Susano-o, the spirit of the sea and storms, was making ready to leave heaven and to gush down to Earth. His sister, the far-shining Sun Goddess, said, “Oh, impetuous brother of mine. Before you go, let us exchange tokens of our love and affection for one another.”

Susano-o, the spirit of the sea and storms

Susano-o bowed to his sister, drew his sword from his side, and presented it to her. She accepted the gift, and then chewed off pieces of the metal blade in her mouth, before spitting them out. Instantly, the fragments of the sword sprang up as three beautiful daughters.

Then the sparkling Sun Goddess took jewels from her hair and gave them to her brother. He crunched them up with his teeth and spat them out; they became five strong sons.

“They are my sons,” said the goddess, “because they were born from my jewels.”

“No, they are my sons,” said the storm god, “because you gave me those jewels.”

Sun quarrels with brother

Thus the brother and sister began to quarrel. The stormy tempered Susano-o grew so angry that he swept through his sister’s rice fields and destroyed them. He flung manure all over her garden, and frightened her maidens so that they hurt themselves on their spinning wheels.

The bright goddess was greatly offended by the evil pranks of her brother. She fell into a most dreadful sulk, and hid herself in a cave in a remote part of the earth. There was no more light, and heaven and earth were plunged into darkness.

Amid this gloom, thousands of gods and spirits gathered in a heavenly river bed to discuss what to do. One of the oldest and wisest gods proposed that they make a mirror, in order to tempt the goddess to come out of hiding and gaze at her beauty. Another suggested that they should sew a beautiful dress as a gift to soothe her temper. Still other gods said that they must offer her jewels and even a palace. At last they decided to make all these gifts, and they set to work.

When they were ready, the divine ones gathered outside the cave of the Sun Goddess. They lit bonfires so that they could see in the darkness, and they called the goddess by her name, Amaterasu, but no matter how many times they called, she remained lurking within the shadows of her hiding place.

The gods needed to do better than if they were to gain her attention, so they began to make music. They clashed symbols and banged wooden clappers together. The plump goddess of mirth, with dimpled cheeks and eyes full of fun, lead a dance. She performed on top of a giant drum that thundered with her every step. She held a stick in her hand with bells tied to it so that they rang out as she danced. Farmyard cockerels joined in with crowing. You can imagine what a lovely concert they made!

The dancing goddess of mirth wore a dress that was held together with vines. As she waved her arms and pranced about, the dress became looser and looser until it fell off altogether and she had not a stitch of clothing on her. The gods found this so hilarious that they all laughed until the heavens clapped with thunder.

Only then did curiosity get the better of the far-shining one, and she peeped out of her cave. She saw her bright face reflected in the mirror that had been placed just in front of the opening, and she was astonished by her own beauty. She did not have long to gaze, however, because a strong-handed god seized hold of her arm and dragged her out of the cave. Then all the heavens and earth were lit, the grass became green again, the flowers blazoned with a multitude of colours, and human beings looked upon one another’s faces.

There was another benefit from this gloomy episode in the history of creation. This was the first time that music, dance, and fun were known on the face of the earth - and these divine gifts have brightened human lives ever since.