2007-02-11

Happy National Foundation Day!

建国記念日 or kenkoku kinen-bi is the day where Japanese celebrate the founding of its nation and the Imperial family line by the mythical first emperor, Jimmu. Emperor 神武天皇 (Jinmu Tenno which means "divine might") is a direct descendant of 天照 (Amaterasu), the sun goddess who was born from the left eye of イザナギ or 伊弉諾 (Izanagi) as he purified himself in a river. He and his spouse イザナミ or 伊弉冉尊 (Izanami) bore many islands, deities, and forefathers of Japan. When Izanami died in childbirth, Izanagi tried (but failed) to retrieve her from 黄泉 (Yomi), the underworld where the dead go to dwell and apparently rot indefinitely. Once one has eaten at the hearth of Yomi it is impossible to return to the land of the living. In the cleansing rite after his return, he begot Amaterasu (the sun goddess) from his left eye, 月読の命 (Tsukuyomi, the moon god) from his right eye, and 須佐之男命 (Susanoo, the tempest or storm god) from his nose.

Yomi is comparable to Hades or hell and the story of Izanagi and Izanami has close parallels to the Greek Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but it also has a major difference. When Izanagi looks prematurely at his wife, he beholds her monstrous and hellish state and she is shamed and enraged. She pursues him in order to kill him. She fails to do so, but promises to kill a thousand of his people every day. Izanagi retorts that a thousand and five hundred will be born every day. Perhaps this is where the Health Minister got his idea that women are "baby machines."

Above are pictured Zimmu and Amaterasu in Meiji (1868-1912)prints. They are pretty funky, don't you think? What does NFD mean to present day Japanese and to me? Not too much, but we get the day off tomorrow! WooHoo!

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