Over the last two weeks we have written about Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, and Susanoo, the god of storms and the seas. Time has come for the last of the “Big Three” in Shinto: Tsukuyomi – the God of the Moon.
Tsukuyomi (月読) is a compound of “tsuku” 月 (meaning “moon, month” and is today read as “tsuki”), and “yomi” 読 (meaning “to read”). However there are sources that gives another spelling of his name, like the Nihon Shoki. There it is written 月弓 “tsukiyumi”. However, it is thought that the reading “tsukiyumi” is only a variation of the pronunciation, which has led to this alternate spelling.
Another interpretation is that it might be “tsukiyo” 月夜 (“moonlit night”), and “mi” 見 (“seeing, watching”).
Tsukuyomi differs a little from the moon-gods of ancient Greece and Rome in that he is a male. This is seen in the old sources such as the Kojiki and Man’yôshû, where he is sometimes mentioned with the suffix “-otoko” 〜士 (“man, gentleman”).
As mentioned before, Tsukuyomi is the brother and husband of Amaterasu, and brother to Susanoo. They were born when their father Izanagi was purifying himself after having been through the underworld. Tsukuyomi was born out of Izanagi’s right eye. Tsukuyomi was the second god to appear, following his sister Amaterasu, and before Susanoo.
“Wait, the god of the moon, and the goddess of the sun are married? Why are they not together in the skies then?” you might be thinking. Well, one day Amaterasu was invited to a feast, but could not attend. So she sent her husband instead. The feast was presented by the goddess of food: Uke Mochi. When everyone had arrived, and the feast started, Uke Mochi turned to the sea and spat out fishes. Then she turned to the forest she spewed out wild game. And finally, she turned to the rice fields and coughed up rice. Tsukuyomi thought the food looked delicious, but he was so disgusted with how Uke Mochi had produced the food that he killed her. When Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, found out about this, she was so angry that she never wanted to see him again. So she is forever making sure to move to the other side of the sky, separating day from night.
And this ends our series on the “Big Three”. Whenever you look up in the sky and see the sun, or the moon, or feel the breeze on your skin, you know that the ancient Japanese were thinking about these gods and goddess. And they are fickle, and wild gods, with short tempers, and full of “human” flaws. Much like the mythology of Greece, or the Norse gods. However, they give us great stories even to this day. ^_^
P.S. The Japanese aren’t to fond of depicting the God of the Night, so it was hard to find pictures that wasn’t from a game, anime, manga, or Amaterasu or Susanoo.