The Legend of Yamata-no-Orochi
- Part 1
- Part 2
After being driven out of Takamagahara, Susano-o arrived at the upper part of the Hii River in the land of Izumo, and as he did, he saw some chopsticks come floating downstream. Guessing that this meant someone lived further upstream, he followed the river until he came upon an elderly couple and their daughter, Kushinada-hime. All three were crying sadly, and Susano-o asked them what was wrong. They told him that Kushinada-hime was to be sacrificed to the monster known as Yamata-no-Orochi, a gigantic serpent with eight heads and eight tails. Its body was long enough to cover eight peaks and valleys, and it was covered with moss and trees. Its belly was inflamed and smeared with blood.
The elderly couple had originally had eight daughters, but each year the Yamata-no-Orochi came and devoured one, until only Kushinada-hime was left. The couple lamented that there was nothing they could do to save their only remaining daughter. Susano-o told them that if they would grant him their daughter’s hand in marriage in return, he would slay the serpent. They happily agreed.
First, Susano-o turned Kushinada-hime into a comb and placed her in his hair. Then he instructed the elderly couple to brew very strong sake, and then build a fence around their house with eight gates. He then had them build a platform and place a vat for holding the sake just inside each gate. Then, after pouring the sake in the vats, he told them to hide and wait.
With the preparations completed, they all waited. Then, just as the couple had said, the Yamata-no-Orochi appeared. All serpents love sake, and the Yamata-no-Orochi was no different. Each of its eight heads dove into a vat and drank deeply of the sake contained within. After gulping it all down, it became very drunk, so much that it passed out.
“Yamata-no-Orochi” is one of the most famous Kagura performances in the present day.
This wall painting of Kushinada-hime is over a thousand years old, and is on display at Yaegaki Shrine in Matsue.
Visiting Locations featured in the Legend of Yamata-no-Orochi
First, and most importantly, this legend is said to refer to the Hii River itself, and the attempts to control the recurrent flooding that did great damage to the surrounding areas. Another version of this legend found in the Nihon Shoki refers to Kushinada-hime as Kushi-inada-hime, a name that uses the characters for “rice field”, and Susano-o saving her from the Yamata-no-Orochi can be seen as a metaphor for attempts to protect rice fields from flooding. Most of the areas connected with this legend can be found along the Hii River.
The area where Susano-o met Kushinada-hime is called Torikami, an area near the headwaters of the Hii River in Oku Izumo Town in southern Shimane. Orochi Shrine, a small shrine that is part of Iwatsubo Shrine in Oku Izumo, enshrines a piece of the Yamata-no-Orochi’s tail. Ama-ga-fuchi, a deep pool where the waters of the Hii River slow, which is said to have been the place where Yamata-no-Orochi lived, is in the Kisuki area of Un-nan City. Also found in Un-nan are the Happon-sugi, eight cedar trees on the grounds of Hii Shrine which mark the spot where Susano-o buried the eight heads of the Yamata-no-Orochi, and Tsubogami, a pit on the grounds of Yaguchi Shrine which is said to be where one of the eight vats for the sake is located. An interesting legend connected to Tsubogami says that whenever anyone touched the stone, lightning would flash across the skies and the earth would rumble. People decided to cover the pit with stones and place a fence around it to keep people from angering the gods.
Two local shrines also figure prominently in this legend. Yaegaki Shrine in Matsue is the place where Kushinada-hime hid from the Yamata-no-Orochi, and there is a pond on the grounds called Kagami-no-ike (Mirror Pond) that is said to have used as both drinking water and as a mirror. Suga Shrine, in the Daito area of Un-nan, is the location of the palace at Suga where Susano-o and Kushinada-hime lived after he slew the Yamata-no-Orochi. The name “Suga” itself comes from the phrase “sugasugashii” (“refreshing”), which is how Susano-o said he felt when he arrived there.
The Yamata-no-Orochi legend is probably the most well-known myth set in Shimane, and many more places that have a connection to this legend can be found throughout eastern Shimane.