When the despairing sun goddess Amaterasu barricaded herself in a cave, the world plunged into darkness. Try as they might, none of the other kami could persuade her to emerge. They sat outside her cave, as despondent and despairing as Amaterasu within. Finally, Uzume, the Goddess of Mirth, approached. She whispered to the smith kami and set them the task of creating a mirror and situating it right before Amaterasu’s cave. Then Uzume bound her head and sleeves with vines, overturned a barrel, and climbed upon it. Grasping leafy branches in her hands, she began to stomp rhythmically on the drum and dance. It’s unclear how the other kami first reacted, but eventually her joy was infectious. They began to clap and drum, too.

Uzume’s dance evolved into a strip tease, one full of fun, defiance, and humor. She exposed her breasts. She flashed her vagina. All the other kami roared with laughter. Amaterasu, locked within her cave, was puzzled. She heard laughter, not grieving. Why was no one mourning her absence? She called out to ask what was going on. Uzume called back, telling her that the kami had a brand-new sun goddess, one more beautiful than ever. She beckoned Amaterasu to come see. Amaterasu, unable to resist, poked her head out and, gazing directly at the mirror positioned before the cave entrance, saw her own radiant beauty. Before she could retreat, she was pulled from the cave and the entrance blocked. Dance and hearty laughter restore order to the world.

Uzume came to the rescue with Amaterasu and again with Sarutahiko. (See: Sarutahiko.) Uzume, savior of the world, is not a young beauty nor is she the standard sex goddess. Instead she is envisioned as a middle-aged woman who doesn’t appear especially youthful or young for her age. Her breasts and belly are a little saggy. She’s got some wrinkles, and her hair may be a little gray. She could probably lose a little weight, but it doesn’t matter: she is the spirit of joy and good humor that defies despair. Uzume is a primal spirit of shamanism, intoxication, sex, fertility, and reproduction. She is not mirthful because she is innocent or inexperienced. Uzume has seen it all and still perceives the joy of life, even in moments of absolute, deepest despair.

Uzume is the prototype for Japanese shamanic dance. She is still dancing under the friendly guise of Okame.


Amaterasu; Amatsumara; Bastet; Baubo; Kami; Okame


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.