I’ve completed the manga portion of The Kojiki As Told By Brittany, but we still have the explanation behind Kuniyuzuri (Relinquishing of the Land) to address! After all, this is one of the most influential legends in the San’in region, but it plays a role in Shinto lore and ancient, semi-mythological Japanese history at large.
This is because a large portion of ancient, semi-mythological Japanese history is focused on the imperial family, in particular, that their lineage is traced back to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. This can theoretically be said for the current Japanese Imperial Family members who are related by blood as opposed to by marriage.
How did one family gain this power, though?
That requires a walk very far back in Japanese history, when different clans, called uji, took over other clans and enforced a hierarchy of gods, with the victors’ gods being worshipped by the overtaken clan members. One of the uji that gained a significant amount of power of the Yamato clan, which claimed to be descended from the Sun Goddess, and would later have a base in central Japan (modern-day Nara) that was rich with rice cultivation, and they would also use their religious influence to rule over the commoners.
Further west, however, Izumo Province had their own religious traditions (see the other legends listed in my Kojiki comics for some of the gods they had special ties to—Okuninushi being a major one, of course). Izumo and Yamato were at odds, but ultimately Yamato won control over the Izumo region, and went on to establish the Yamato state by the 8th century. Although “Yamato” is now synonymous with anything traditionally Japanese, Izumo continued to retain its religious significance–or at least, one could argue that in modern day Japan. See Klaus Antoni’s article, “Izumo as the ‘Other Japan’: Construction vs. Reality” for a very critical and interesting scholarly look at how Izumo and why the Izumo area, particularly in regard to Shintoism, is known the way it is today. It’s very interesting to note that Izumo traditionally seemed to represent Korean and other foreign influence, and many of the Izumo gods were thought of as having foreign origin, but at some point along the region’s history (especially within the past couple centuries) Izumo began to be thought of as something more traditionally Japanese than the rest of Westernized Japan. Intriguing as that topic is, I will continue to describe things here as simply as I can so as to show how the Kuniyuzuri legend is generally approached and spoken of outside of the scholarly sphere.
The Yamato clan, that is, the imperial line, ordered the writing of the Kojiki, Nihonshoki, and 48 Fudoki, upon which most of Japanese Shinto mythology is based. The Kojiki was completed in 712, and was a mash of clan myths from around Japan mainly compiled by a nobleman named O-no-Yasumaro. It was written in Chinese characters that more or less fit Japanese pronunciation.
The 48 Fudoki, records of individual provinces under the imperial court’s rule, underwent compilation starting in 713, the year after the completion of the Kojiki. In addition to geographical, economic, and ecological data, the Fudoki also expanded on Shinto mythology. Of them, only the records of Izumo Province remain mostly intact today.
A few years later, in 720, the Nihonshoki was finished. This had more of a national history textbook approach and political basis with a different sort of mash of writing in Chinese style. It also included Shinto mythology, and O-no-Yasumaro likely contributed a lot to this project. However, there are some differences, and many of the same gods are recorded under different names than were used for them in the Kojiki.
Part of the reason these were compiled were to stand up to outside cultural and political pressure from the Asian continent (especially Tang, now known as China) and show that they were their own legitimate political entity all along. Another reason was to internally justify the rule of the Yamato clan as opposed to any other powerful family, and much of this reasoning was based on their lineage from Amaterasu, which thereby gave them heaven-granted dominion over the islands of Japan. Despite the large role Okuninushi (an earthly–and thereby foreign?–kami) played in establishing a functional state and culture, his key scene in this narrative is that he willingly handed power over to Amaterasu’s descendants.
This of course makes the beach Inasa-no-Hama, the stage for this momentous event in mythological politics, historically important, (but you might already remember this as the beach from where the gods proceed to Izumo Taisha for their annual meeting).
I’d like to point out that the imperial family is not the only family in Japan that claims direct lineage from heavenly kami. The family that has continually passed down responsibility as head priest of Izumo Taisha, the Sengu Family, claims to be descended from Ame-no-ho-hi, the first messenger sent down from the heavens (and is also said to be her son, thereby uncle to first emperor Ninigi, and thereby also of Amaterasu’s bloodline even if not the heir) to request that Okuninushi relinquish his land, but who instead befriended Okuninushi. Befriended him enough to remain his main servant, apparently.
That makes last year’s royal wedding (or rather, de-royalfying) wedding very interesting. The former Princess Noriko of Takamado, a first cousin once removed of Emperor Akihito, married Kunimaro Senge on October 5, 2014, at Izumo Taisha with a private reception at Ichibata Hotel here in Matsue in the (now so-called) land of En-musubi, divine fate-binding. Her husband is the eldest son of Takamasa Senge, current head priest of Izumo Taisha. Although she is now technically a commoner and imperial lineage is passed down through the male line anyway, mythologically, it still means that the descendents of Amanoterasu and Ame-no-ho-hi (who disobeyed Amanoterasu’s order and did not receive the same privileges as his nephew Ninigi) are now married. No one really mentioned this little tidbit in any of the media coverage I noticed.
Granted, family lineages are not always so smooth throughout centuries worth of enough drama to fill NHK’s decades of annual lengthy Taiga Drama (period dramas). Just as much as the imperial family has had drama surrounding its transfers of power between relatives, the Sengu family is also only one branch of the Ame-no-ho-hi family line, and they have been officially in charge of Izumo Taisha since 1947 after it was privatized again following its brief stint as a government-administered, Imperially-affiliated shrine during state-lead Shinto. Although the Sengu family has more followers throughout the nation in their Izumo Taisha-Kyo faith (sort of like an order or spirituality within the broader faith of Shintoism), it is said that the Kitajima family–whom they seperated from–has more local followers for their supposedly more orthodox Izumo-Kyo. But alas, this all takes place many centuries after the mythology of their origins was recorded in the Kojiki/Nihonshoki/Fudoki.