Wonderful guide to the Gods, Heroes and Spirits of Japanese myths
by Joshua Frydman
For those who wish to have an introduction to Japanese myths, then look no further. This illustrated guide is a comprehensive introduction to the fantastic world of Japanese myths. Author Joshua Frydman, an assistant professor of Japanese at the University of Oklahoma and an expert in ancient Japanese literature, not only tells us the stories but also explores how Japanese mythology has changed over time, as new gods, heroes, and spirits have entered the canon.
Frydman starts by explaining how Japan's myths are very much tied in with and enriched by the Japanese religions Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and Chinese folk traditions. The Japanese Myths is a smart and succinct guide to the rich tradition of Japanese mythology, from the earliest recorded legends of Izanagi and Izanami with their divine offspring and the creation of Japan, to medieval tales of vengeful ghosts, through to the modern-day reincarnation of ancient deities as the heroes of mecha anime.
Left: A kamaitachi, a weasel kami, creates a whirlwind with its magical sickle. © Toriyama Sekien, Gazu hyakki yagyō [Pictures of the Night Parade of One-Hundred Demons], 1776. Middle: The Seven Gods of Luck, right to left: Kichijōten; Jūrōjin and Ebisu, seated over food; Bishamonten, holding a pagoda; Daikokuten with his mallet; half-naked Budai; and an old man who may be a form of Benzaiten, or a different god substituted for her. © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Right: Rabbits have been associated with the moon in much of East Asia ever since ancient Chinese myths first linked the two. © Art Institute of Chicago.
Unlike other cultures, Japanese mythology remains a living, evolving part of Japanese society. The ways in which the people of Japan understand their myths, are very different today even from a century ago, let alone over a millennium into the past. This volume not only retells these ancient stories but also considers their place within the patterns of Japanese religions, culture, and history, helping readers understand the deep links between past and present in Japan, and the ways these myths live and grow.
Above: En no Gyōja opens Mt Fuji with his powers. © New York Public Library
After the first chapter looking at the different religions in Japan, Frydman looks at the myths associated with the earliest period or that of the Age of the Gods. Here can be found essentially the creation myths and they come from two of the oldest surviving books written in Japan which are historical chronicals that date to the early 8th century CE. The myths in the two books don't always correlate, and Frydman points out when there are essential differences.
The next chapter relates to the Imperial Myths - they still come from the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki, but now the storeis of the gods are left behind, and instead we have stories about humans - essentially the ancestors of the emperors and how they gained control over Japan. He then traces Japan’s mythology through to post-war State Shinto, the rise of the manga industry in the 1960s, J-horror, and modern-day myths.
Frydman ties in reinventions and retellings of myths that are present across all genres of contemporary Japanese culture, from its auteur cinema to renowned video games such as Okami. This book is for anyone interested in Japan and Japanese exports, as knowing its myths allows readers to understand and appreciate its culture in a new light. Highly recommended.
The Japanese Myths A Guide to Gods, Heroes and Spirits
Published by: Thames & Hudson April 2022