Konohana-sakuya-hime is one of the most famous and important Japanese goddesses, and played a crucial part in Japanese mythology.
Konohanasakuya-hime is the Japanese Goddess of Volcanoes, easy childbirth and wife of Ninigi, Amaterasu’s son. Ninigi married Konohana instead of her ugly sister, and as punishment he and all his descendants lost their immortality. According to myth, the Japanese imperial dinasty is descended from one Konohana’s grandsons, Emperor Jimmu.
Daughter of Oyamatsumi-no-kami, a mountain deity; also Ninigi-no-mikoto’s wife, and mother to the quarreling deities Hoderi and Ho-ori. Sometimes also called Kami Ata-tsu-hime.
Ōyama-tsumi gave his two daughters, Iwa-naga-hime (Long-rock princess—also a play on “long life”) and Konohanasakuya-hime (Flower-blossom princess) as wives to Ninigi-nomikoto after he descended to earth at Himuka.
Ninigi returned the older sister, claiming she was ugly. Her ashamed father said:
“I gave my two daughters to the divine grandson to ensure his life would last as long as the rocks, and as flourishing as the blossoms of the trees. He has rejected Iwa-naga-hime, and therefore his prosperity and life shall be as evanescent as the blossoming of the trees.”
From that day on, says the Kojiki’s author, emperors’ lives have been short-lived.
Konohanasakuya-hime became pregnant after only one night with her new husband. The suspicious heavenly grandson accused her of infidelity with one of the earth deities, for, after all, how she could have become pregnant after only one night of marriage?
Incensed, she set fire to the parturition (birth) house, from which she and the baby Hoderi-no-mikoto emerged unscathed. In consequence, she is also identified with Koyasu-gami, the kami of easy childbirth (Ko-yasu can also be read as “Child-easy”), who in Buddhism was identified with Kishimojin, because she gave birth safely in the middle of flames and adversity.
Blood, like death, was a major pollutant to the Japanese. In archaic times, a woman would give birth in a special menstruation hut (not an uncommon feature of many simple societies), which would be torn down or burnt after the birth, so as not to pollute the home. A similar house would be built in case of expected death, and for the funeral obsequies, as the story of Amenowakahiko’s funeral shows.
Konohanasakuya-hime proved her innocence by burning down the parturition house while she was still inside. In doing so, she also became patroness of easy childbirth.
The legend of Konohanasakuya-hime and her husband and sons is a significant one because it marks the nexus of a number of themes. Most significantly, it marks the passage of heavenly descent from deities to mortals (albeit heroic ones). In marrying an earthly deity, the heavenly grandson was assuming some of the qualities of mortals, and, indeed, becoming mortal himself.
For the writers of the early compendia and their audiences, this was a necessary step in explaining the mortality of the emperors and the imperial line, who were divine by descent but, nonetheless, subject to mortal frailty, as much of the later parts of both Kojiki and Nihonshoky attest.
Emperors (and thus the commonality as well) die because of a fatal choice made by Ninigi-no-mikoto, the link between the heavenly deities and the imperial line. Death had been introduced earlier, by Izanami, but Ninigi’s choice explains why all men, even those who are divinities like the heavenly grandson’s descendants, would die in time.
The exploits of Konohanasakuya-hime’s sons continue this theme, as the boundaries between men, however heroic, and the kami are defined and structured.
Konohanasakuya-hime is worshiped as the deity of Mt. Fuji, often under her Buddhist-derived name, Sengen.
Stories of Konohanasakuya-hime
Basil Hall Chamberlain, The Kojiki, section XXXVII, page 141:
The Curse of Ōyama-tsumi [Deity-Great-Mountain-Possessor]
Hereupon Ninigi-no-Mikoto [His Augustness Heaven’s-Sun-Height-Prince-Rice-ear-Ruddy-Plenty] met a beautiful person at the august cape of Kasasa, and asked her whose daughter she was.
She replied, saying:
“I am a daughter of the Ōyama-tsumi [Deity-Great-Mountain-Possessor], and my name is the Divine-Princess-of-Ata, another name by which I am called being Konohanasakuya-hime [Princess-Blossoming-Brilliantly-Like-the-Flowers-of-the-Trees].”
Again he asked:
“Hast thou any brethren?”
She replied, saying:
“There is my elder sister, Iwa-Naga-hime [Princess-Long-as-the-Rocks].”
Then he charged her, [saying]:
“Ego sum cupidus coiendi tecum. Tibi quomodo videtur?” [I am eager to have intercourse with you, what are your thoughts?]
She replied, saying:
“I am not able to say. My father the Ōyama-tsumi will say.”
So he sent a request [for her] to her father Ōyama-tsumi who, greatly delighted, respectfully sent her off, joining to her her elder sister Iwa-Naga-hime, and causing merchandise to be carried on tables holding an hundred.
So then, owing to the elder sister being very hideous, [Ninigi-no-Mikoto] was alarmed at the sight of her, and sent Iwa-Naga-hime back, only keeping the younger sister Konohanasakuya-hime, whom he wedded for one night.
Then the Ōyama-tsumi was covered with shame at Iwa-Naga-hime being sent back, and sent a message [to Ninigi-no-Mikoto], saying:
“My reason for respectfully presenting both my daughters together was that, by sending Iwa-Naga-hime, the august offspring of the Heavenly Deity, though the snow fall and the wind blow, might live eternally immovable like unto the enduring rocks, and again that by sending Konohanasakuya-hime, [they] might live flourishingly like unto the flowering of the blossoms of the trees: to insure this, I offered them.”
But owing to thy thus sending back Iwa-Naga-hime, and keeping only Konohanasakuya-hime, the august offspring of the Heavenly Deity [Ninigi-no-Mikoto] shall be but as frail as the flowers of the trees. So it is for this reason that down to the present day the august lives of Ninigi-no-Mikoto are not long.
Basil Hall Chamberlain, The Kojiki, section XXXVIII, page 143:
The August child-bearing of Konohanasakuya-hime
So later on Konohanasakuya-hime waited on [Ninigi-no-Mikoto], and said:
“I am pregnant, and now the time for my delivery approaches. “It is not fit for me to be delivered of the august offspring of Heaven privately; so I tell thee.”
Then [Ninigi-no-Mikoto] said:
“Konohanasakuya-hime! What! Pregnant after one night! It cannot be my child. It must surely be the child of an Earthly Deity.”
Then she replied, saying:
“If the child with which I am pregnant be the child of an Earthly Deity, my delivery will not be fortunate. If it be the august child of the Heavenly Deity, it will be fortunate;”
[A]nd thereupon she built a hall eight fathoms [long] without doors, went inside the hall and plastered up [the entrance] with earth; and when the time came for her delivery, she set fire to the hall and was delivered.
So the name of the child that was born when the fire was burning most fiercely was Ho-deri-na-mikoto [His Augustness Fire-Shine], the name of the child born next was Ho-suseri-no-mikoto [His Augustness Fire-Climax]; the august name of the child born next was Ho-wori-no-mikoto [His Augustness Fire-Subside], another name for whom is Ama-tsu-hi-daka-hiko-ho-ho-de-mi-no-mikoto. [His Augustness Heaven’s-Sun-Height-Prince-Great-Rice-ears-Lord-Ears] (three Deities in all).
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