Amaterasu Ōmikami is the queen of the kami, the ruler of the universe. She is the kami of creation, of the sun and of the light that nourishes all living things. She ensures the transition from day into night into day. Although kami are not the same as gods, she is often described as a goddess.
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The sun represents order and purity, and these are central values within Shinto. This is why Amaterasu has such a special position. In everything she does, she strives for harmony and balance, in the natural world and among people.
According to Japanese legends, she was born from the left eye of her father Izanagi. From his right eye was born the moon god Tsukuyomi, who later became her husband. Through Izanagi’s nose, the storm god Susanoo saw the light of day. Amaterasu was the foremost kami, but she ruled over all the other kami and the universe together with her brothers.
This was not always a harmonious situation. After a series of torments from her brother Susanoo, who was jealous of her power and popularity, Amaterasu retreated into a cave called Ama-no-Iwato. Then it became dark throughout the universe. Eventually, she was lured back out of the cave by other kami. This print shows the moment Amaterasu let her light shine in the world again. Gleaming yellow bundles of hemp fibres, left and right beside her, mark the cave as a sacred place.
Amaterasu’s exceptional position validates the rule of the Japanese imperial family, which is said to be descended from her. She has been worshipped since the eighth century CE. Her foremost place of worship is Ise Jingu, Japan’s most prestigious Shinto shrine. Millions of worshippers visit Ise Jingu every year.
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