Category Archives: Yamato

Kototama and “Now” — An Izumo Taisha Shinto Perspective


Okunomichi and WoshiteWorld are deeply interested in the study and practice of Kototama. This is another in the Kototama series of expository articles. Here, we share a Shinto view of Kototama. We received the statements below from a representative of Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine. 


Izumo Taisha (Izumo Ōyashiro) is one of the oldest and largest Shinto shrines in Japan. The taisha enshrines Ōkuninushi no Ōkami, kami of earth and spiritual world.

Shinto is the native Japanese religion which is based on traditional nature worship and animism. It does not have a particular founder, doctrine, or scripture. This is similar to old Hawaiian and Native American religions.

Nakaima, The “Now”

The word Nakaima comes from a national history book, Shoku Nihongi, Sequel to Chronicle of Japan, 797 CE [sequel to Nihon Shoki, 720 CE]. Nakaima is made up of two words, naka and ima, where the former means middle and the latter means now, the present time.

As Shinto does not have concepts about heaven and hell in the hereafter, “this world” is considered the most valuable and important time for all lives. It is the “middle” between the past and the future. “Now” is the precious time to reflect the past and expect the future.

Kototama of Norito

Shinto prayers, norito, are based on Kototama, the worship to words and language itself. From ancient times, it is said that, “The words can move the heaven and the earth” especially in the Japanese poems (waka, tanka). Traditionally, people use and choose words very carefully when they compose the poems because of Kototama, especially yamato kotoba (ancient Japanese classical words). This is why norito is composed only from yamato kotoba. When the words are pronounced, Kototama is involved — with its vibration toward the world.

Kototama and Nakaima

In Shinto cosmology, Kototama is the basic tool to affect Nakaima.  

Experience Kototama and Nakaima

To experience Kototama in Nakaima, recite Ōharae no Kotoba, the prayer for Great Purification, one of the most famous norito. 


The Harae no Kotoba below is an invocation often recited at Izumo Taisha asking Ōkuninushi no Ōkami, and all the myriads of Kami to join in the ceremony. There are three basic types of harae purification and blessing:

  • the body (to maintain health and well-being, to heal or avoid illness;
  • the soul or spirit of the living and the dead;
  • our surroundings and natural environment.

The last three lines can be recited as a short prayer for purification and blessing.

Harae no Kotoba

kakemaku mo kashikoki Izanagi no Ōkami

Tsukushi no Himuka no Tachibana no Odo no

Ahagihara ni misogi harai tamaishi toki ni

narimaseru haraido no Ōkami tachi

kamunagaranaru Ōmichi no naka ni umarete

arinagara sono mikage woshi fukaku omowazute

sumekamitachi no mimegumi wo oroka ni omi

tarishitoki ni ayamachi okaseru wa saranari

ima mo tsumi-kegare aramu woba harai tamai

kiyome tamae to mousu kotowo yaoyorozu no

kamitachi tomoni kikoshimese to

kashikomi kashikomi mo mousu

harai tamai kiyome tamae

harai tamai kiyome tamae

harai tamai kiyome tamae


Izumo Taisha, Izumo Ōyashiro, website:’

Izumo Taisha:

Norito and Oharae:  []

Kototama on Okunomichi and WoshiteWorld: Type the word “Kototama” in the Search box.

This post also appears on Okunomichi.






Amakami Family. Part 3. Sake and Sukunami-kami

sasake ha tokoyo349-Revised

In the last passage of Part 2 as well as in the earlier post about Hinamatsuri, Isanagi and Isanami have miki sacred sake on their wedding day. At the time of Ukemoti (see Amakami Part 1), there was a sacred drink, a kind of rice soup, but not sake. Here is the story of sake’s discovery by Sukunami-kami, not long before the hutakami’s wedding. Sukunami must have remembered Ukemoti and the sacred rice soup when he gave the name sasake to the new beverage.

In Woshite literature, liquor or rice wine, sake, is called sasa. In fact, the word sasa was used in the Middle Ages, especially by women. And, as a special representation of the elegant olden days, it has been transmitted to us even now.

The poem above begins with line 349 of Hotuma Tutae and it continues the passage given in Part 2:

                       sasake ha tokoyo

inokuti no        sukunami-kami no

take-kahu ni     susume ka momi o

iru o mite         miki tukuri some

susume keri     momohinaki yori

sasanami to     na o tamahu yori

na mo sasake   sono kami ima ni


The story takes place in Tokoyo-kuni, Yamato. The kami Sukunami ruled over the Inokuti area. Sukunami means small, gentle waves. One day when Sukunami-kami was still young (a momohinaki). he saw a susume sparrow with a grain of rice in a take-kahu bamboo stump. The sparrow was making a new drink, a rice wine.  

The praise or honor name Sasanami-kami was bestowed (tamahu) on Sukunami-kami. Sasanami means waves that lead to brightness and prosperity. Recall that sa means clear and bright, and sasa is used in praise and honor names. Later, even the mountain of Inokuti received the praise name Sasake-yama. Sasake means a mind/spirit that brings brightness and abundant grace. The wine became known by the praise name sasake, or simply sake. It also became the sacred sake miki which Uhitini and Suhitini sipped on their wedding day, a custom which still continues today.

It is a pity that Sasanami-kami’s name has been lost to history.

In the above poem we see the word susume used in two ways, as a noun and as an verb. First, in the phrase susume ka momi o, it refers to the sparrow with the grain of rice. Later, it appears in susume keri, a verb phrase which means “to recommend.” Here, keri occurs as an auxiliary verb to the verb susume. keri often appears in haiku and tanka. If you dine in Japanese restaurants you may have heard of osusume, the recommendation of the chef. Did you ever connect it with the sparrow? This poem does!

There will be a related post,, on a visit to Sasaki Jinja, a shrine associated with sake and Sukunami-kami, although few today know this story.

Updated 2016.11.08


Shirahige Jinja, Omi

Torii in Biwako

An earlier post gave the lineage of the family called Sirahige. This post is about a visit to Shirahige Jinja in Omi. Remember how Yamato began in Awa-no-kuni, around Lake Biwa in Omi-no-kuni.

Shirahige Jinja (白鬚神社) is in Takashima, Shiga-ken, located on the western shore of Lake Biwa. It is separated from the lake by a busy highway. Its first torii stands 58 m offshore at a height of 10 m. From the second torii of the jinja, the sun will rise through the torii on the lake on equinox days, for the shrine faces east, as most old shrines do.

This old shrine was established by Yamato-hime, daughter of Suinin Tenno in the 25th year of his reign. The enshrined kami are Sarutahiko Okami and Shirahige Myojin. Sarutahiko is best known as the kami of the land who guided Ninigi, grandson of Amateru, in the tenson-korin tale. He is called the kami who opens the way.

Torii and haidenShirahige Myojin is an old man with a white beard, and he represents longevity. From our Woshite studies, we consider Sarutahiko and Shirahige (Sirahige) to be one. Recall our earlier post describing the great healing abilities of Sarutahiko and how he was the only one that Amateru met with just before his passing.

The haiden is unpainted wood that gives it a rustic feeling.


There are eleven sha on the premises. On the yama beyond the red torii is the Toyouke Daijingu (last photo). It enshrines Toyouke Okami, grandfather of Amateru and great-grandfather of Oshihomimi.

Sha on yama

Toyouke Daijingu

The sha-mon is the mitsu-domoe.

Shirahige Jinja Omamori


Amakami Family. Part 2. Hotuma Tutae

Amakami in Hotuma Tutae

We will get acquainted with the Amakami through a long passage from the Hotuma Tutae. We will show you the lines from 325 through 349 (with three lines snipped out) in four charts. Each of the four passages has the romaji on the left side. We will help you understand the lines.

Chart 1 Tokoyo-kami: Hitakami and Takamimusuhi

1)tokoyo-kami kinomi 325~

The first name for Japan was Tokoyo or Tokoyo no kuni. The center of the Yamato civilization was in the Awa (Lake Biwako) area. This civilization developed over a long period of time into what is now the nation of Japan. From the time of Isanaki / Isanami, the country name became Yamato-kuni or Hinomoto (essence of the sun). In Tokoyo-kuni, the first leader Kunitokotati planted a sacred masakaki tree. And he planted a sacred masakaki tree as well in the far-off eastern land of Hitakami. Tokoyo was expanding.

This made very important sense. Ta-no-kunisatuti, who developed the east, was highly skilled in arts and sciences. He produced a calendar by astronomic observation as a new technology useful to all the people. Because of that, the central Amakami regarded him with a special status: his title was also Ki-no-tokotati, Kuni tokotati of ki, the east. The majority of his descendants, the Takamimusuhi family, became academics in science and technology. So it was that the great Toyoke-sama was born.

The leaders in the eastern hako-kuni distant land created takama, a Takamanohara (see earlier post) center where the great ancestor Minakanusi was revered. Please remember that Takama / Takamanohara is the center which is the residence of Kunitokotati. In addition to the masakaki tree, the tatihana citrus was also planted there. In this poem, miko means a lineage heir.

Here is an interesting aside: Hitakami is Hi-sumi, where hi is sun and sumi is the place where it lives. In other words, Hitakami is the place where the sun lives. As for Tukusi (see Chart 2), it may be tuki-sumi, the place where the moon (tuki) lives. When you look at the map, you see that Hitakami is in the east where the sun rises, and Tukusi is in the west where the sun sets, which reminds us of the moon at night.

Chart 2  Sono miko ha:  Tukusi, Soasa, Ne and Titaru

2)sono miko ha 331~

Another son, Amekakami, went to govern Tukusi. For communication with Hitakami, Uhitini Amakami accepted the latter’s son, Ameyorotu, as his own. And he entrusted Ameyorotu with the governance of Soasa. Ameyorotu had two sons, Awanaki and Sakunaki. Awanaki left to oversee Ne (area around the mountain Sirayama) and Titaru regions, to spread the law and teachings.

[sono miko, one of the sons of Takamimusuhi;  mouku, accept as a son;   awa saku, Awanagi and Sakunagi]

Chart 3  Umu miko no:  Takahito, Tamakine, and Isako

3)umu miko no imina takahito 337~

Awanaki’s first son, whose imina was Takahito, became a powerful kami (kamiro-ki, kamirogi). The yitu-yo fifth generation Takamimusuhi had the imina Tamakine. Imina is a name given at birth which describes the essence of the person. The name Tamakine was predictive: tama means both jewel and spirit. For Tamakine became the great Toyoke-sama. Toyouke is an alternative spelling, and it means one who receives abundance. Toyouke’s daughter was Isako (Isanami).

Chart 4  Keta-tuho no: Toyouke, Isanami, and Isanagi

4)ketahuho no tusa no 344~

Ketatuho was the special miya residence of Toyouke. The name Ketatuho means spirit flowing abundantly in a vase. There is a Ketatsubo monument in the ruins of the old government capital Tagajo outside Sendai. In the present age, tubo still plays a vital role: its meaning is once again “the core.”

[tu-sa, west-south;   isa, rich and clear, pure and bright;   unatuki, agree;   ami te, to form a partnership (ami, a net or a connection);   masiwaru, exchange love.  toko is to-ko, where to is the teaching of the law, and ko refers to hoko, the force that protects the teaching. ko also means prosperity.]

The poem says that south of Ketatuho, the two (Takahito and Isako) agreed to partner at their own special miya at Tukuha. This would be near today’s Tsukuba city. The two became the huta-kami kami couple Isanagi and Isanami. After the couple exchanged love and had miki, the sacred sake, they spread the Ame no Woshiye law and teachings. And all prospered in Yamato.


Amakami Family. Part 1. Family Tree

We have posted stories about the Amakami couples Isanami and Isanagi, and Suhitini and Uhitini. We have mentioned the fifth Takamimusuhi Toyoke-sama and the eighth Amakami Amateru. How were these people connected and where did they live? Above we see the early generations of the Amakami family tree. It relates to the map of the Yamato kuni which we presented in the previous post. The charts and the map are created and copyrighted by S. Sakata.

Minakanusi and Kunitokotati

The Amakami family tree begins with Minakanusi, the earliest named ancestor from very ancient times. However, Minakanusi is not shown in our chart. First we see Kunitokotati, the ancestor of the Amakami, founder (tati) of the land (kuni). It is written that Kunitokotati had eight sons, of whom four are shown. These eight were known as the Kunisatuti, namely Ye-no-kunisatuti, To-no-kunisatuti, Ta-no-kunisatuti, and Ka-no-kunisatuti, and so on. Names in red are the Amakami, beginning with Kunitokotati down the generations to the 7th Amakami Isanami and Isanagi.

Ye-no-Kunisatuti and To-no-Kunisatuti

Eldest son Ye became Amakami after Kunitokotati, then passed the position to his brother To. In the next generation their Toyokunnu offspring alternately took the position. There were untold generations of Toyokunnu, hence the question-marks and numbers in red solid circles. Encircled numbers indicate the order of Amakami and Takamimusuhi.

Ye’s descendants Ukemoti and Sirahige gave up the position of Amakami. Ukemoti wanted to apply his talents to the development of agriculture in Kyoto and became the ancestor of Kata. Sirahige became noted for his ability in medicine in the Awa area. He is the ancestor of Sarutahiko.

Ukemoti and Sirahige turned over their heriditary Amakami positions to the To descendants, the fourth Amakami Uhitini and Suhitini (whose story we told in the Hinamatsuri posts). Then came their heirs the fifth Amakami Ootonoti and Ootomae, and the sixth pair Omotaru and Kasikone. Alas, the last couple had no children. Later, we will learn the story of how Isanami and Isanagi of the Ta lineage were chosen to become the next Amakami.


Since Ta-no-kunisatuti went to Hitakami in the east (ki), he is also called Ki-no-tokotati, founder of the east. His descendants were the Takamimusuhi of Hitakami. The fifth Takamimusuhi is the sage Tamakine Toyoke whom we have been referencing as Toyoke-sama out of our great respect for him. Four of his children are shown on the chart. His daughter Isako became known as  Isanami when she married Takahito who became Isanagi. That was when the couple became the seventh Amakami. Toyoke’s son Yasokine held the position of Takamimusuhi and he was called Kanmimusuhi. His wife was Kokori-hime and they resided in Sirayama.

Takamimusuhi’s brother Amekakami went to govern Tukusi. Amekakami’s son Ameyorotu went to administer Soasa. Ameyorotu’s son Awanaki governed Kosi and Titaru. The other son Sakunaki stayed in Soasa. Awanaki’s son Takahito became known as Isanagi. Awanaki had a daughter, Kokori-hime, who also known as Sirayama-hime. There was another son named Kurakine.


Lastly, we turn our attention to Ka-no-kunisatuti. His Toyokunnu descendants oversaw the land of Akagata in China. A later descendant was known as Ukesuteme. The chart concludes with the seventh Amakami Isanagi / Isanami. Their son became the eighth Amakami Amateru.

Imina Names

Where two names are given for an individual, the first is the imina, the name given at birth to describe the essence of this person. The second name is the one used in adulthood or a title of respect/position held by that person. There is a third type of name. A prestigious name was bestowed by Amakami to honor outstanding achievement. These three distinctions are important.

Ye Lineage: Sirahige 

The Ye brothers Sirahige and Ukemoti began their own lines of generational names in the time of the Toyokunnu. There is a person in each generation bearing these names. Their names indicate the nature of their work.

For Sirahige, Wosite explains this fine name:

si     to do, to work

ra     to radiate good energy

hi     a new and good situation is born

ke     good spirit and energy are flowing

Later, since the time when Chinese characters were fitted to the sound of words, a wrong meaning has been conveyed. The characters 白髭 are used, and they mean shirahige “white beard.” There is a shrine called Shirahige Jinja on the west side of Biwako. The deity is said to be the the kami of longevitiy, “white beard”, Sarutahiko. However, we have the chart above which shows that Sarutahiko was a Sirahige.


Sarutahiko was a great person in his own right. It’s said that he had the power of prediction and the power of medicine. He left the Sirahige house at the time of Amakami Ninikine. He studied Amenarumiti while serving Amateru-kami faithfully all his life.

Sarutahiko treated the sick, using the medicine of the family lore. He saved the life of the second baby of Ninikine. There was a child by the name of Sakuragi who was deeply grateful to Sarutahiko. When Sakuragi became an adult, he studied medicine and inherited a territory behind the senior home in Sirahige — with an herb garden! Then he helped treat Amakami’s baby (later the 12th Amakami). Sakuragi received the praise name, Sirahige.

Amateru-kami trusted Sarutahiko completely, and he presented him with three treasures (similar to his own three sacred treasures) to represent the special position of Sarutahiko. Amateru, before he died, commanded Sarutahiko to dig a hole for a tomb in the same location as Toyoke-sama’s tomb. Until the end,  only Sarutahiko was allowed inside. At the time of the farewell Amateru said, “When something happens in this country, you must represent the way of Amenarumiti.” This was Amateru’s testament to only Sarutahiko, a precious member of the Kunitokotati lineage.

Updated 2016.04.10


Tokoyo and Yamato kuni

Map of Yamato-kuni

Yamato Kuni

Our post today is about Yamato kuni, an old name for Japan. Even older is the name Tokoyo (Tokoyo-kuni). We may ask what is kuni? Let us think of kuni as “land” in the sense of “the land of Tokoyo,” Tokoyo kuni. Much later, kuni comes to mean “nation.”

Where was Tokoyo? Tokoyo started in the center of the main island of Honshu. Its headquarters was naturally called Naka-kuni (center of the land). Very significantly, its name was Awa or Awa-no-kuni, “the land of cosmos and earth.” This was the area around the largest lake in Japan, Biwako. Biwako is located in today’s Shiga Prefecture which neighbors the prefectures of Kyoto and Nara. Tokoyo spread out to include all of old Japan. And later it came to be called Yamato, even during Wosite days.

The name Yamato is still known today. However, most people have a different notion of Yamato. For example, according to Wikipedia, “Yamato (大和) was originally the area around today’s Sakurai City in Nara Prefecture of Japan. Later the term was used as the name of the province and also as an ancient name of Japan. The term was semantically extended to mean ‘Japan’ or ‘Japanese’ in general.” This is the impression commonly held today by people who do not know this ancient history of Wosite.

The first kami leader was Tokoyo-kami. He is also known as Kunitokotati (Kunitokotachi), the one who established the kuni. He planted a sacred masakaki tree as a symbol of the natural calendar.

Map of Yamato Kuni (Hinomoto)

Yamato kuni was known as Hinomoto, the essence of the sun.

Now let us study the map of Yamato kuni. Please note that ancient maps have north at the bottom, and the five directions are ki-tu-wo-sa-ne (east-west-center-south-north). This is one of several maps we will present; consequently we have labelled areas mentioned in this post and the several which follow. Woshite World is grateful to S. Sakata for creating this unique map.

Starting at the northern end of Honshu main island, Hitakami is northeastern Honshu now called Tohoku (east-north). X marks the spot of Ketatuho (Ketatsubo), the residence of Toyoke-sama. South of Hitakami on the Japan Sea coast is Kosi, also called Ne (north). The X in Kosi indicates Sirayama (Shirayama mountain, now called Hakusan, both names meaning White Mountain). Titaru (Chitaru) and Sahoko are next along the same coast.

Along the Pacific coast south of Hitakami is Tukuha (Tsukuba) in Koye-kuni. Awa / Naka-kuni is the center of Yamato. There are some unlabelled regions of Honshu which may be taken up later. The island of Shikoku was called Soasa. Tukusi (Tsukushi) is the island of Kyushu.

As an overview, we see that the Kunitokotati family spread out from the Awa area. To the north-east land of Hitakami went the Takamimisuhi, descendants of Ta-no-kunisatuti. Another branch went to Tukusi and Soasa, Kosi, and Titaru. Later, the 7th Amakami pair had their miya built in Tukuha. We will be giving further details about the Amakami family.

Awa, Center of Yamato

Yamato no kuni began at Naka-kuni which became known as Awa. After Isanami and Isanagi had been enthroned as Amakami, they moved their miya from Tukuha to Naka-kuni. They composed the Awa-no-uta and they went around the land teaching the song of cosmos and earth. So it is no wonder that they named the land Awa-kuni

The original name of the lake was Awa-umi (umi meaning large body of water). Over time, it was pronounced more like Oumi. Later, the province of this area came to be called Oumi, a name which has lasted for a long time. Even now, when visiting Shiga, we often hear of Oumi. Currently, Oumi is written 近江 (Ōmi).

Another old name from the Wosite era is Mio-no-umi which is the land of founding on the west bank of Awa-umi. Archaeologists know that the area around Biwako has been settled for a long, long time. The name Biwako is from the early modern period, and thus quite recent. The lake (ko) is named for its shape which resembles the biwa, a lute-like musical instrument.

In the Wikimedia map below of the Kansai area of Honshu, Lake Biwa is clearly shown in dark blue. This was the original home of Yamato-kuni. This was the land of Awa.


Hitakami and Takamimusuhi

When we apply Wosite analysis to the word hitakami, we obtain the results in the following chart. Hitakami was a place for observing the sun — to see the sun rising in the east, setting in the west. East and west are analogous to left side and right side, to spring and autumn, when energy is gathered and when energy is declining. Hitakami is a place to see and observe, and know that new ideas will be born.

hitakami 2Now consider Takamimusuhi, takami-musuhi. It is commonly written Takamimusubi. First, we note that takami refers to Hitakami, as discussed above. Next, musuhi is a response to takami: balance and harmonious movement are collectively created, achieved and accomplished, and new situations and new ideas appear. The Takamimusuhi leaders were very active and creative, producing new technologies and ideas such as the calendar, not only for their local land of Hitakami but also for the rest of Yamato.

takamimusuhi 2

Updated 2016.04.10