Shintō, the indigenous Japanese religion, recognizes many (read: thousands) of kami (gods, or divine beings). Given that February 14 is Valentine’s Day in the United States, today seemed like a good opportunity to share a little about Okuninushi-no-mikoto, the Japanese kami who acts as the patron god of love and “good matches” (in love and marriage).
Centuries ago, Okuninushi fell in love with Suseri-hime, daughter of the storm god Susanoo (also, the god of the sea and one of the most powerful kami in the Shintō pantheon–basically, not a guy you mess with).
Susanoo opposed the match, and demanded that Okuninushi prove himself by spending the night in a room full of snakes. Secretly, Princess Suseri gave Okuninushi a sacred scarf which protected him through the night.
Aghast that his daughter’s suitor had survived, Susanoo demanded that Okuninushi spend the next night in a room full of centipedes (most likely, the foot-long nightmare spawn known as “mukade“) and scorpions – but once again, with the princess’s help, Okuninushi emerged unscathed.
Finally, Susanoo “agreed” to the match–provided Okuninushi could retrieve a single arrow Susanoo shot into a vast meadow. After Okuninushi set off in search of the arrow, Susanoo set the plain on fire; the flames surrounded Okuninushi, who found himself trapped with no escape.
Suddenly, a field mouse appeared and offered Okuninushi refuge in its hole. The fire raged overhead, but Okuninushi hid in the hole beneath the ground and escaped the inferno. While he waited in the hole for the fire to pass, the mouse returned, bearing Susanoo’s arrow, which it delivered to Okuninushi, allowing him to win the hand of the princess.
Thus, the field mouse symbolizes Okuninushi–the benevolent, kindhearted god of love and marriage. Okuninushi’s other messenger is the rabbit, explaining its presence on the statue above, which is located at Jishu Shrine, within the temple complex at Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera.
People hoping for a successful marriage, or to find a love match, often visit Jishu Jinja and leave offerings, or try to walk blindfolded across the open space between a pair of posts – successfully reaching the second post unaided supposedly guarantees success in love. Fortunately, blindfolded walkers can also get assistance from a sighted guide – but doing so supposedly means their success in love will also require a go-between.
Happy Valentine’s Day – and may Okuninushi-no-mikoto smile on you in love!