Saruta-Hiko (or Saruta-Biko), is the deity who appeared from the Central Land of the Reed Plains to provide a guide to Ninigi-no-mikoto when he descended to rule the land. His name can be read as “Field-monkey prince.”
Because the deity appeared at an eightfold crossroads, he is often viewed as the deity of crossroads; he is worshiped in the form of a phallus as Dosojin.
His initial meeting with the heavenly deities was not auspicious, because he had a fierce aspect and was blocking the roads.
He is described as being over seven feet tall, with a nose seven hands long. His mouth and posterior were brightly lit up, and his great mirror-like eyes shone cherry-red from inner flames.
He was dissuaded from stopping the heavenly grandson by Ame-no-uzume, who earlier had enticed Amaterasu from her cave.
After helping Ninigi-no-mikoto control the land, he was accompanied on his way home by Ame-no-uzume, who may have married him.
In any case, they are both considered the ancestors of an important imperial clan.
Sarutahiko subsequently went fishing but got his hand caught in a shell and sank to the bottom of the sea. There he became, or was named for, the different types of seafoam.
As Kojin (or Koshin), the kami of the roads, he is accompanied by three monkeys: Mizaru, Kikizaru, and Iwazaru—a play on words between s(z)aru (monkey) and the formal negative of the verb.
Travelers and other people whose livelihood depends on the roads celebrate Iron-Monkey Day in his honor, which occurs every two months at the intersection of the Five Element (pental), Yin-Yang (binary), and Zodiacal (duodenary) calendrical cycles. Many travelers will offer Kojin little figurines of straw horses to ensure a safe journey.
Tale from NIHONGI – Saruta-hiko guides Ninigi-no-Mikoto and meets Ame no Uzume
Then she [Ama-terasu no Oho-kami] commanded her August Grandchild [Ninigi-no-Mikoto], saying:
“This Reed-plain-1500-autumns-fair-rice-ear Land is the region which my descendants shall be lords of. Do thou, my August Grandchild [Ninigi-no-Mikoto], proceed thither and govern it. Go! and may prosperity attend thy dynasty, and may it, like Heaven and Earth, endure for ever.’
When he [Ninigi-no-Mikoto] was about to descend, one [deity], who had been sent in advance to ‘clear the way, returned and said:
“There is one God [Saruta-hiko no Oho-kami] who dwells at the eight-cross-roads of Heaven, the length of whose nose is seven hands, the length of whose back is more than seven fathoms. Moreover, a light shines from his mouth and from his posteriors. His eye-balls are like an eight-hand mirror and have a ruddy glow like the Aka-kagachi [meaning the color red, like Japanese winter cherries].”
Thereupon he [Ninigi-no-Mikoto] sent one of his attendant Deities to go and make inquiry. Now among all the eighty myriads of Deities there was not one who could confront him and make inquiry. Therefore he specially commanded Ame no Uzume, saying:
“Thou art superior to others in the power of thy looks. Thou hadst better go and question him.”
So Ame no Uzume forthwith bared her breasts and, pushing down the band of her garment below her navel, confronted him with a mocking laugh. Then the God of the cross-ways [Saruta-hiko no Oho-kami] asked her [Ame no Uzume], saying:
“Ame no Uzume! What meanest thou by this behaviour?”
She answered and said:
“I venture to ask who art thou that dost thus remain in the road by which the child of Ama-terasu no Oho-kami is to make his progress?”
The God of the cross-ways answered and said:
“I have heard that the child of Ama-terasu no Oho-kami is now about to descend, and therefore I have come respectfully to meet and attend upon him. My name is Saruta-hiko no Oho-kami.”
Then Ame no Uzume again inquired of him, saying:
“Wilt thou go before me, or shall I go before thee?”
He answered and said: “I will go before and be his harbinger.”
Ame no Uzume asked again, saying:
“Whither wilt thou go and whither will the August Grandchild go?”
He answered and said:
“The child of the Heavenly Deity will proceed to the peak of Kushifuru of Takachiho in Hiuga in the Land of Tsukushi, and I will go to the upper waters of the River Isuzu at Sanada in Ise.”
He [Saruta-hiko no Oho-kami] accordingly said:
“Thou [Ame no Uzume] art the person who didst discover me. Thou must therefore escort me and complete thy task.”
Ame no Uzume returned and reported these circumstances.
Thereupon the August Grandchild, leaving the Heavenly rock-seat, and thrusting apart the eight-piled clouds of Heaven, clove his way with an awful way-cleaving, and descended from Heaven.
Finally, as had been arranged, the August Grandchild arrived at the peak of Kushifuru of Takachiho in Hiuga, in the land of Tsukushi. And Saruta-hiko no Kami forthwith proceeded to the upper waters of the River Isuzu at Sanada in Ise.
Ame no Uzume no Mikoto, in accordance with the request made by Saruta hiko no Kami, attended upon him.
Now the August Grandchild commanded Ame no Uzume no Mikoto, saying:
“Let the name of the Deity whom thou didst discover be made thy title.”
Therefore he conferred on her the designation of Sarume no Kimi. So this was the origin of the male and female Lords of Sarume being both styled Kimi.”
Tale from KOJIKI – Saruta-Hiko is caught by a shellfish
When Saruta-Hiko-No-Kami was in Aazaka, he went fishing; he got his hand caught in the shell of a Pirabu and sank into the sea.
When he had sunk to the bottom, his name was Soko-Doku-Mi-Tama;
When the frothy bubbles appeared on the surface of the sea, his name was Tubu-Tatu-Mi-Tama;
When the foam gushed forth, his name was Awa-Saku-Mi-Tama.
Saruta-Hiko name meaning & alternative names
SARUTA-BIKO-[NO-KAMI] (Saruta-biko-no-kami, -o-kami]
An earthly deity who appeared during the heavenly descent sequence.
SARUTA, meaning ‘monkey field,’ may also be read saruda; sometimes identified as the Okinawan verb sadari, ‘to lead the way,’ ‘to guide’; may also be related to saru, ‘actor,’ ‘mime’?;
BIKO, meaning ‘lad,’ ‘prince,’ usually following place names.
Another name for Saruta-Biko-No-Kami when “he had sunk to the bottom” of the sea.
- SOKO, meaning ‘bottom’;
- DOKU, probably the verb tuku, ‘to touch,’ ‘to reach’;
- MI-TAMA, meaning ‘august spirit.’ or “Bottom-touching Spirit.”
Another name for Saruta-Biko-No-Kami “when the frothy bubbles appeared [tubu tatu] on the surface of the sea.”
- TUBU, meaning ‘frothy bubbles’;
- TATU, meaning ‘to rise,’ ‘to appear’;
- MI-TAMA, meaning ‘august spirit.”
Thus, “Frothy-bubbles-Appear Spirit.”
Further reading about Saruta-Hiko
See also Ame-no-uzume; Dosojin; Koshin; Ninigi-no-mikoto.
References and further reading:
Aston, William G., trans. 1956. Nihongi. London: Allen and Unwin.
Philippi, Donald, trans. and ed. 1968. Kojiki. Tokyo: Tokyo University Press.