Japanese mythology contains a vast amount of deities, creatures and demons, all who had a deep impact on the religious and cultural lives of the Japanese people throughout history. Even today, we can still see traces of the importance these deities have in our modern time. It is my intention to explore the Jar deities in Japanese history and to explain their symbolism and significance.
Let us first determine what we mean by ‘jar deities’. ‘Mika’ derives from a Chinese character meaning ‘jar’, but in Japanese it is meant to replace the word ‘Ika’, which translates as awful, stern or wondrous (Fairchild, p.81). Due to the intense nature of these deities, which I will explain in more detail, this term is apt. Subsequently when we use the term, Jar Deities, we do not mean that these deities were depicted or worshipped in the form of a jar; instead we use it as the symbolic name of these deities.
There are two main versions of the myth that tells of their births. In the Kojiki, known in English as the The Records of Ancient Matters, the goddess Izanami and Izanagi had several children who were the islands of Japan, but also others. She bore a fire deity, but was burnt and became ill. In her feverish state, her vomit was transformed into several metal deities, and “her faeces became male and female clay deities; her urine became a water goddess; and then she gave birth to the goddess of vegetation” (Fairchild, p.82).
The first mention of mika is the fire god that burnt Izanami, Mika-no-hayabi-no-kami, whose name translates as ‘Terrible Swift Fire Deity’ (Holtom, p.67) or ‘Fire Burning Fast Male Deity’ (Fairchild, p.82). Another god she gave birth to was Take-mikadzuchi-no-wo-no-kami, whose name means ‘Fierce Thunder Male Deity’ or ‘Brave Striker Deity’.
However, in the Nihon Shoki, translated as The Chronicles of Japan, it states that Fierce Thunder Male Deity was the son of Hi-no-hayabi-no-kam, ‘Swift Fire of Fire Deity’, which could establish the relationship between thunder and lightning.
Other mika gods include, Take-mika-Tsuchi-no-kami (‘Brave Jar Mallet Deity’), Mika-haya-hi-no-kami (‘Jar Fast Sun Deity’), Haya-mika-no-ta-ke-sa-ha-ya-ji-nu-mi-no-kami (this name has not been identified correctly, but has been taken to translate as ‘Fast Jar? Deity’), Ame-no-mika-nushi-no-kami (‘Heaven Jar Ruler Deity’) and Mika-nushi-hi-ko-kami (‘Jar Ruler Sun’).
The Kashima Shrine, located in Kashmira in Ibaraki, is the most well-known shrine to Take-mikadzuchi-no-wo-no-kami. It is here that his character has taken on the aspect of ancestral worship, in which “he has become the patron deity of valor” (Holtom, p.69).
Today, Japanese mythology still holds a deep respect for the Japanese people and the deities mentioned here are a vital part, not only of their myths, but of their culture and the rest of the world’s mythology as a whole.
Fairchild, William P. (1965) “Mika”- Jar Deities in Japanese Mythology, Asian Folklore Studies, Nanzan Institute For Religion and Culture.
Holtom, Daniel C. (1926) A New Interpretation of Japanese Mythology and Its Bearing on Ancestral Theory of Shinto, The Journal of Religion, The University of Chicago Press.