Deities who inhabited and ruled the earth before the descent of the heavenly grandson. The vast category of kunitsu-kami is usually opposed to the concept of amatsu-kami (heavenly kami). Many of the myths of the Nihonshπki and of the Kπjiki have to do with the struggle between the heavenly and earthly kami. The earthly kami do not in any sense represent evil, merely opposition to the divine way of things, and to the domination of the heavenly kami. There is no single myth that explains the presence of the earthly kami, though one could argue (as do some mythical exegeses) that the earthly kami are simply those kami born of Izanami and Izanagi’s labors and who were not “assigned” to heaven.

In many cases, earthly kami accept the domination of the heavenly kami with good grace and proper humility, offering their daughters as wives and being appointed rulers of their locales. This happens often in the myth of the heavenly grandson, as well as Susano-wo, who is both heaven-born and an earthly kami by his expulsion from heaven. In other cases (Takeminakata-no-kami, Πkunishushi’s son, is one major example) they resisted, only to be defeated more or less spectacularly by the hero of the hour, be it Takemikazuchi or Yamato-takeru. The primary earthly kami is Πkuninushi, as indicated by his name (Master of the Land), his activities (creation of the land), and his importance during the subjugation. Another figure is Oyamatsumi, who gave his daughter to Susanowo to wed. The name may simply be a generic title for any mountain kami, as it appears several times in the Kπjiki in different contexts.

In a broader interpretative sense, the earthly kami serve two functions. On the one hand they (or at least, some of them) may have been local clan deities that were subdued by the Yamato in their march to imperial greatness. In another sense, they also represent the personification of the land itself: a recounting of the process whereby the Yamato overcame not only the peoples living in particular places in Japan but also the locale itself, absorbing it into the empire. The presence of inferior earthly kami also bolstered the Japanese court’s view of itself, as masters of the peasants around them who worked for the aristocratic manors. The aristocrats often saw themselves as the authors and genitors of civilization and culture, which they brought to the inferiors under their control, thus the necessary subordination of those who worked the earth, as well as, symbolically, the earth itself.



  • Aston, William G., trans. 1956. Nihongi. London: Allen and Unwin. Philippi, Donald, trans. and ed. 1968. Kπjiki. Tokyo: Tokyo University Press.


Handbook of Japanese Mythology written by Michael Ashkenazi – Copyright © 2003 by Michael Ashkenazi