Amaterasu – The Japanese Sun Godess

Amaterasu emerges from the cave. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Amaterasu emerges from the cave. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

As you might already know, in Japan there are two main religions: Buddhism and Shintoism. The lines between these two religions are sometimes very blurred, and it’s hard to distinguish what part of a tradition comes from where. And at other times it is clear as day. One thing that is clear is the gods, or Kamis, of Shinto, with their leader at the top: Amaterasu (天照), or Amaterasu Ômikami (天照大神).

The name Amaterasu can be translated into “shining in heaven”, and Amaterasu Ôkami can be translated to “Great Kami that shines in heaven”, and is a more than fitting name for the Shinto deity of the Sun and the Universe. It is also believed that the Emperors of Japan have all been direct descendants from Amaterasu.

The oldest stories of Amaterasu can be found in the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki (the two oldest records of Japanese history). She is the sister of Susanoo, the god of storms and the sea, and of Tsukuyomi, the god of the moon and the night. These three siblings were all born of a higher deity named Izanagi-no-Mikoto (one of the Gods that is said to have created the islands that today make up Japan) after he had been through the Underworld. While purifying himself, Amaterasu was born when he washed out his left eye, Tsukuyomi was born from the washing of the right eye, and Susanoo from the washing of the nose.

Amaterasu and other Kamis (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Amaterasu and other Kamis (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

It is believed that Amaterasu and her brother (and husband) Tsukuyomi, the god of the moon and night, where to rule the heavens together. However, one day Tsukuyomi killed the god of food, Uke Mochi, because he was disgusted with how she produced the food. (She either threw it up, or blew it out of her nose.) When Amaterasu found out what her brother had done, she refused to look at him, and labeled him as an evil god, and split night from day.

Amaterasu also bickered and fought with her other brother Susanoo a lot. One event that is told about is when Susanoo became restless and decided to go on a rampage. This rampage led to Susanoo destroying Amaterasu’s rice fields, killing her servants, and throwing a horse into her loom. Amaterasu, full of fury and grief, decided to hide in a Ama-no-Iwato (天岩戸, “the heavenly cave”), and there was no sun anymore. Not until the rest of the Kamis had managed to cheer her up again, and Susanoo apologising to her by giving her the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (one of Japan’s Imperial Regalia), did she decide to come back out, and the sun was back. (According to some stories, the famous Onmyodo practitioner Abe-no-Seimei also helped cheering up Amaterasu.)

The temple for worshiping Amaterasu is in Ise, in Mie Prefecture. It is said that the three Regalias of Japan, the mirror, the jewel, and the sword, are all housed at this shrine.

Amaterasu from the game "ôkami" (Photo courtesy of, all rights reserved by Capcom)

Amaterasu from the game “ôkami” (Photo courtesy of, all rights reserved by Capcom)

Since Amaterasu is one of the three main Kamis in Japanese culture, she has also been the inspiration on popular culture. Her name appears as a fire technique in “Naruto”, and in “One Piece”. There are cards named after her in “Yu-Gi-Oh” and “Cardfight!!! Vanguard”. And the Capcom game “Ôkami” has Amaterasu herself as the protagonist, in her wolf-shape. Even the Canadian/American Sci-Fi-series “Stargate SG-1” has Amaterasu as a minor antagonist.

The sun has played a big role in many religions and cultures, and as you can see Japan is no exception. So next time you are outside and feel the warm sun on your skin, it might just be Amaterasu showing her warmth. ^_^

Kaiju – 怪獣

Godzilla 1954

Godzilla in the 1954 film

With the premiere of the new Godzilla (or rather ゴジラ) movie in recent memory, and the popularity of Pacific Rim the other year, we take a look at the “giant monster” genre, that is starting to become more and more popular in western cinema. But what is a Kaiju actually?


Rodan (ラドン) from his 1956 film

The Japanese word “怪獣 (kaijû)” is translated to “giant beast” in English, but has also been defined as “strange monster”, and refers to a whole genre known as Tokusatsu (特撮). Kaiju films usually show monsters of different forms, usually attacking a major Japanese city or engaging another monster, or sometimes several other monsters, in battle.

Normally, the Kaiju monsters are based on normal animals or insects, but sometimes also on mythological creatures. However, there are also cases where inanimate objects such as traffic lights, tomatoes, and umbrellas have inspired Kaijus. In English the term Kaiju is usually used to refer to Japanese monsters in Japanese folklore, and in the Tokusatsu movies. However, the Japanese use of the word actually also include vampires, ware wolfs, and other “western” monsters/creatures as well.


Gamera, a Kaiju from Daihei Studios, and sometimes seen as a rival to Godzilla (from Toho Studios).

Kaijus have been portrayed in many different ways: as minions or side-kicks to the main antagonist, a pure force of nature, as helpers to the hero, or as heroes themselves. For example, the most famous, and widely known Kaiju is unarguably Godzilla, or Gojira (ゴジラ). Godzilla has been playing almost every role possible, and have those around him react accordingly depending on how he was presented in the film.

Other notable Kijus are Mothra, Rodan, Gamera, King Ghidorah, and Daimajin (a humanoid kaiju, or kaijin “怪人”)

“Omotenashi” & “Honne/Tatemae”

Today we take a closer look at two concepts that is very Japanese. Let’s learn about Japanese “service”, and how the Japanese are split between what they want, and what is expected.


The word ‘Omotenashi’ in Japanese comes from omote (面 “surface”) and nashi (無し “less”), which means “single-hearted”, and also mote (持て “carry”) and nashi (為し “accomplish”), which means “to achieve”. Therefore, Omotenashi has two meanings, which include offering a service without expectation of any returned favour, and the ability to actualise that idea into an action.

Interestingly, the Japanese language makes no distinction between ‘guest’ and ‘customer.’ In English, the concept of ‘service’ suggests a hierarchy between the ‘server’ and the ‘customer.’ The Japanese Omotenashi, however, is based on a non-dominant relationship between equals – between the person offering the service (the host) and the person receiving it (the guest or customer).


“Honne” vs “Tatemae”

Honne and tatemae are Japanese words that describe the contrast between a person’s true feelings and desires (本音 “honne”) and the behavior and opinions one displays in public (建前 “tatemae”, “façade”).

Honne may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one’s position and circumstances, and they are often kept hidden. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one’s position and circumstances, and these may or may not match one’s Honne.

The notion of Honne and Tatemae is seen by some as a cultural necessity resulting from a large number of people living in a comparatively small island nation. Close-knit co-operation and the avoidance of conflict are considered to be of vital importance in everyday life.

Even though there might not be direct single word translations for honne and tatemae in some languages they do have two word descriptions. For example in English “private mind” and “public mind.” Some researchers suggest that the need for explicit words for Tatemae and Honne in Japanese culture is evidence that the concept is relatively new to Japan, where as the unspoken understanding in many other cultures indicates a deeper internalization of the concepts.

The conflict between Honne and Giri (“social obligations”) is one of the main topics of Japanese drama throughout the ages. For example, the main character would have to choose between carrying out his obligations to his family or his feudal lord, or pursuing a stealthy love affair.

Awa Odori (阿波踊り)

Awa Odori in Tsukishima (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Awa Odori in Tsukishima
(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Between the 12-15 August, in Tokushima Prefecture (徳島県) on Shikoku Island (四国), and part of the Obon celebrations, Awa Odori (阿波踊り) is held, and is ranked as the largest dance festival in Japan. “But, why are you writing about this now? I wanted to see that!” you might be yelling at the screen. Just stay calm, because the second biggest Awa Odori event in Japan is held in Koenji (高円寺) in Tokyo in late August every year. So it is just in the right time. 🙂

So what is Awa Odori? And where does it come from? Well, as with other Japanese dancing, groups of choreographed dancers and musicians dance through the streets, usually accompanied by Shamisen, bells, flutes, and Taiko drums. “Awa” (阿波) is the old feudal administration name for Tokushima prefecture, and odori (踊り) means dance.

The earliest origins for Awa Odori is the dances that Buddhist priests performed during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). However, the modern dance grew out of the traditional dance of Obon, the Buddhistic festival of the dead where it is believed that the spirits of deceased ancestors come to visit. The term “Awa Odori” was first used in the 20th century, but even before that, the Obon celebrations in Tokushima was notorious for their size, exuberance, and anarchy since the end of the Sengoku Period (戦国時代).

Dance of Fools (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Dance of Fools
(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

During the daytime a restrained dance called “Nagashi” (流し) is performed, but at night the dancers switch to a frenzied dance called “Zomeki” (騒き).

Men and women dance in different styles. For the men’s dance: right foot and right arm forward, touch the ground with toes, then step with right foot crossing over left leg. This is then repeated with the left leg and arm. Whilst doing this, the hands draw triangles in the air with a flick of the wrists, starting at different points. Men dance in a low crouch with knees pointing outwards and arms held above the shoulders. The women’s dance uses the same basic steps, although the posture is quite different. The restrictive kimono allows only the smallest of steps forward but a crisp kick behind, and the hand gestures are more restrained and graceful, reaching up towards the sky. Women usually dance in tight formation, poised on the ends of their geta sandals.
Video for men’s dance:
Video for women’s dance:
The videos are in Japanese, but the instructions given are pretty much the same as in the text above. Just watch and follow along. ^_^ )

In May 2015, Japanese production company Tokyo Story will produce a substantially big version of Awa Odori in Paris by bringing there hundreds of dancers from Japan. “Awa Odori Paris 2015”, as the event is called, would reproduce the “fever” of Awa Odori. This event will be a first step to promote Awa Odori and the Japanese “matsuri” culture abroad.

I don’t know about you guys, but I really want to get dancing right now! “Yattosa! Yattosa!” (^_^) Keep your eyes peeled for info about Awa Odori in Kouenji in our events page, or search for local events. See you in the crowd, perhaps!

Awa Odori dancers.

Awa Odori dancers.

We are back from a short Summer Holiday

Cosmos Logo New

Hello out there!

Maybe you have been wondering where the updates have been the last week? Well, we have had a short summer break, but now we are back in full swing.

We have passed the mid-point of August, and we will update with some events happening in the Tokyo are during the second half of August. We will also continue to post about culture, language, and other interesting things.

So let’s enjoy the rest of the summer together.

Kind Regards
The Cosmos Tokyo Staff

Gundam – “The Star Trek of Japan”


The RX-78-2 Gundam, life-sized statue in front of Diver City mall in Odaiba, Tokyo

After reading the title you might be going “Hang on a sec!! Isn’t Gundam an anime about giant robots and war? Kinda exactly the opposite to what Star Trek is about?” Well, I see you already know a bit about Gundam then, but hear me out. ^_^

Gundam is, as we mentioned above, an anime about giant robots used instead of tanks in battles. The original anime is from 1979, and tell a story about how humanity has spread out into space, and are now populating space colonies. Some of these colonies join together as the Principality of Zeon, and start a battle for independence from the Earth Federation. This war claims almost half of the population on both sides, and quickly end up in a stalemate. It is in this stalemate that we are introduced to the main characters, and the anime Mobile Suit Gundam starts of.

The RX-78-2 Gundam watching over Tokyo

The RX-78-2 Gundam watching over Tokyo

After the original anime, several other animes, as well as spin-off work, has been produced, and the story is either built on further, or set in parallell universes with different stories, but all connected in that they use “mobile suits” and that the “Gundam” suit is in there somewhere.

“Well, that is nice and all, but how is this related to Star Trek?”, I hear you ask. Well, in the west we have Start Trek to thank for a lot of influences in our culture and in our technological advances: Such as the first space shuttle being named “Enterprise” after the space ship in the series and the films, the design of Palm PDAs and mobile phones, as well as Google Earth being inspired by the Tricorders mapping ability in the series. In the same way, Gundam has had a major cultural impact in Japan: Japanese Self Defence

A poster for the Japanese Firefighting corp, with the help from Gundam.

A poster for the Japanese Firefighting corp, with the help from Gundam.

Force code-named its developing advance personal combat system as Gundam, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution appearance is influenced by the Gundam mobile suit, and some products have special “Char Custom” editions in Japan, which are normally a red version of a product, imitating the custom red mobile suit, used by Char Aznable, a Zeon faction main character in the first few Gundam series. Such examples include a red Nintendo Gamecube and Game Boy Advance SP.

So whether you are a Gundam fan or not, it is still a huge staple in the current Japanese culture. And if you are a Gundam fan, or want to become one, or just want to know more, I can recommend the animus, but also a visit to Odaiba, Tokyo. Here you can see a life-sized statue of the titular mobile suit in front of the Diver City mall. And on the 7th floor of the mall you can either visit the figure shop, the clothes shop, or experience the Gundam Universe even more in Gundam Front Tokyo.

IMG_2586 IMG_2580


So why not get more acquainted with the Gundam universe, and take a trip to Odaiba while you’re at it? ^_^

Kawagoe, “Little Edo”

Before Tokyo became known as Tokyo, it was named Edo. And it is from this name that we get the name of the entire era known as the “Edo Jidai”, or Edo Period (江戸時代, 1603〜1868). After Tokugawa Ieyasu’s victory at the Battle of Sekigahara, and becoming the new Shogun, he moved the capital to Edo, his strategically placed castle town.

6500_01The Edo period was characterised by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, environmental protection policies, and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. Ukiyo-e printing became more and more popular, and so did also normal printing and book making. Water works with underground wooden plumbing was developed and maintained, and aqueducts were built to transport drinking water to different parts of Edo. And western teachings in fields such as medicine, geography, astronomy etc was introduced through the Dutch settlement on Dejima in Nagasaki.

Store_of_the_godown_style,Kawagoe-city,JapanThe Edo period is the last of the “samurai” periods, while the society as a whole was slowly moving forward in it’s own pace. This gives Edo a special “air”, a feeling that is attractive to Japanese and foreigners alike. If you want to dive more into this time period, I warmly recommend a visit to the Edo Tokyo Museum here in Tokyo.

If you already been there, or want to get away from Tokyo, but still want to feel that Edo Period feeling, Then Kawagoe is the place for you!

Located in Saitama Prefecture and also known as “Little Edo” (小江戸 “koedo”), it is a 30-minute train ride from Ikebukuro in Tokyo. Famous for its sweet potatoes, the local “Candy Street” sells such treats as sweet potato chips, sweet potato ice cream, sweet potato coffee, and even sweet potato beer, brewed at the local Koedo Brewery. Kawagoe castle was the headquarters of the Kawagoe Domain and occupied by close aides of the Tokugawa shogunate.

KawagoeTowerCommonsThings to see here includes the Bell Tower. Originally built in the 1600’s, the current structure is from the 1800’s, because of the Great Fire of Kawagoe. The tower has been telling time to the city’s residents for 350 years and has been deemed as a symbol of the city. Currently, the bell can be heard four times a day: 6 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., and 6 p.m.

The Kurazukuri Street is also worth a visit, with the street lined with Edo-style warehouses known as “kurazukuri” (蔵造り). The Kawagoe Kurazukuri Museum is located in a traditional warehouse built in 1893 and allows its visitors to walk around inside and experience the life of Edo merchants.

So if you have the time, and want to get out of Tokyo, and into “Edo”, why not set your sights on Kawagoe?