The Place Where Gods Are Born

The Place Where Gods Are Born

Earlier this year we spent seven weeks in America. This was a typical conversation:

“Where y’all from?”


“Oh I’m Scottish.”

“Really? Where were you born?”

“Arizona, but my great, great grandmother on my father’s side was from Elgin.”


There’s something nice about it, though, the North American obsession over tracing routes. It doesn’t often work like that in Europe, the motherland – we barely know more than three generations above our heads. Personally, I’d really like to know more, but the only thing I am certain of is that my surname is vaguely Irish. Yet if I was an American, I’d doubtless have it traced back to a specific village in the 18th century.

Let’s say the Emperor of Japan was similarly fastidious with his family tree, and let’s say you got a chance to talk to him. He may – though admittedly it seems unlikely – say: “Me? Oh I’m descended from a sea crocodile.” At which point you’d wait for the punchline before eventually realising that he wasn’t joking.

Shintos hold that the emperor is descended from the sun god, by way of Otohime, daughter of Ryujin, god of the sea. On giving birth to Jimmu, Japan’s first emperor, Otohime transformed back into a sea creature and plopped into the ocean. So, if you believe that, then the logic follows that Emperor Akihito, the 77-year-old incumbent, is the great x122 grandson of a sea monster (not to mention a few generations further along from the sun itself). It’s not metaphor, either: this is the literal belief at the core of the Shinto religion, despite war-time emperor Hirohito’s clear announcement that he was all man.

Anyway, today we visited the sites where a lot of these crucial Shinto events were said to have taken place two-and-a-half thousand years ago. And despite being feckless heathens, we thought they were utterly spectacular. Yes, even if you took away the Aoshima and Udo shrines (both of which are very pretty in their own right) the coast of Miyazaki is an amazing place – quite unlike anything we’ve seen in Japan before. Maybe it’s no surprise that this is where legends – or gods, if you like – are said to have been born.










1 Comment

  1. Kim
    December 5, 2011

    It does look very other worldly, maybe where writers let their imaginations get the better of them. ;)

    Beautiful pictures though, you really do capture the real spirit of the country.