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Iwatō Yama

iwato yama amaterasu omikami deity statue visage gion festival kyoto japan

Goddess Amaterasu in male form.

The Stone Door Float

Iwatō Yama depicts three major deities from Japanese history and mythology: Amaterasu Ōmikami, Tajikaro No-Mikoto and Izanagi No-Mikoto. Their tales come from the 8th-century Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the two oldest written Japanese texts.

Amaterasu is best known as Japan’s primordial sun goddess, from which (legend tells us) all of Japan’s emperors descend. The float name Iwatō means “stone door,” and recalls a scene where an angry Amaterasu got angry (at her younger brother and god of storms Susanō No-Mikoto, the central deity of Yasaka Shrine and the Gion Festival) and hid in a cave and covered the mouth of the cave with a large boulder, blocking out the sunlight for everything on the planet. An intriguing aspect is that the sacred statue of Amaterasu depicts her as a male (Japan does have a long history of gender bending. See also Kita Kannon Yama).

iwato yama izanagi no mikoto deity statue on roof with man gion festival kyoto japan

Up on the rooftop of Iwatō Yama during the July 17 procession: Izanagi and friend. Daring men move electrical wires so the floats can pass.

Deity Tajikara No-Mikoto is known for his physical prowess, and he pushed the boulder in front of the cave aside so that Amaterasu and her sunlight could be lured out; after she emerged, he pushed the boulder back in place so she wouldn’t hide again.

Izanagi No-Mikoto is one of Japan’s primordial deities, the co-creator (with partner Izanami) of the Japanese islands and Japanese people. The Kojiki tells us that Amaterasu was born from his left eye, similar to the Greek deity Athena emerging from Jupiter’s thigh.

Iwatō Yama is one of a small number of yama that look like a hoko – note that its central mastpole is a pine, like other yama.