"Kami" is the Japanese name for all that is incomprehensible to humans, especially in nature. This includes not only such things as stars, seas, mountains, animals, and plants, but even specific stones and trees. They may also be the "spirits" of ancestors.

The kami, "the superior ones", are often attributed divine powers and are worshipped as gods.

Tradition says that there are over eight million kami, which are divided into two groups: the heavenly kami, the Amatsu-Kami, and the earthly kami, the Kunitsu-Kami.

Here is a brief listing of some of the major figures, many of which figure in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters):

Some of this information came from

AJI-SUKI-TAKA-HI-KONE One of many thunder gods. Just born noisy, he grew up even noisier, and so the gods carry him up and down a ladder to quiet him. That is why you can hear thunder getting closer and then fading.

AME-NO-UZUME-NO-MIKOTO (天の鈿の女命) A goddess of fertility. A companion of Ninigi, she performed a lewd dance hoping to draw Amaterasu, the sun, out of her hiding place. This dance symbolizes the planting of seed which waits for the sun come after winter.

AMATERASU OOMIKAMI (天照皇大神) Sun goddess, ruler of the heavens. As is told in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), when her great enemy, the storm god Susa-No-Wo, destroyed her fine palace, Amaterasu went to hide in a cave. The other gods used all their magical tricks to get her to come out, to no avail. In her absence, darkness and demons ruled the earth until Ame-No-Uzume lured Amaterasu out of the cave with a trick. With a comical and obscene dance, she made the gods gathered at the mouth of the cave laugh. When Amaterasu asked what was going on, Ama-No-Uzume replied that they had found another and better sun goddess. Amaterasu peeped out of her cave and saw her own reflection in a mirror which Ama-No-Uzume had hung on a nearby tree. Fascinated, Ameterasu drew a little closer for a better look, and the gods grabbed her and hauled her out.

AMATSU MIKABOSHI "August Star of Heaven." God of evil.

BENZAITEN Goddess of love and music. Benzaiten rides a dragon while playing a stringed instrument. Derived from the Hindu and Buddhist goddess Sarasvati. Also shortened to Benten.

BISHAMON (毘沙門) God of happiness and also of war. Bishamon protects men from disease and demons. Bishamon was often portrayed wearing a wheel of fire like a halo. This figure has Indian origins.

CHIMATA-NO-KAMI God of crossroads, highways, and footpaths. Originally a phallic god, his symbol was placed at crossroads.

HO-MASUBI God of fire. His birth killed the creator goddess Izanami, and his father, the creator god Izanagi, was so enraged with grief that he killed the baby. From his blood came eight gods, and from the body came eight mountain gods.

IZANAGI (伊邪那岐) and IZANAMI (伊邪那美) Creator god and goddess sent down from heaven to build the earth. The other gods and goddesses are their offspring. When Ho-masubi, the god of fire was born, he burned his mother to death. Descending to the underworld, Izanami became old and ugly. Izanagi followed her to bring her back, but she forbade him to look at her. Izanagi looked anyway and Izanami tried to imprision him in the underworld. Pursued by Izanimi's furies, Izanagi escaped and sealed up the entrance to the underworld with a boulder. Enraged, Izanami vowed to kill a thousand of Izanagi's subjects a day, and Izanagi vowed to create fifteen hundred a day. And so Izanami became the goddess of death and Izanagi became the god of life.

KAWA-NO-KAMI God of rivers. Larger rivers have their own gods, but all waterways are under Kawa-No-Kami's authority. When rivers flooded, the gods were sometimes appeased with human or representative sacrifices.

NAI-NO-KAMI God of earthquakes. A late addition to the Japanese pantheon, Nai-No-Kami was inducted in the seventh century A.D.

NINIGI Grandson of Amaterasu, sent to rule the earth, the ancestor of all the Japanese emperors.

O-KUNI-NUSHI God of sorcery and medicine. Originally the ruler of the province of Izumo, he was replaced by Ninigi, but in compensation he was made ruler of the unseen world of spirits and magic.

SENGEN-SAMA Goddess of the sacred mountain Fuji. At her shrine at the top of the mountain, Shinto worshippers greet the rising sun.

SHINE-TSU-HIKO God of the wind. Shine-Tsu-Hiko fills up the empty space between earth and heaven, and with his wife Shina-To-Be, he holds up the earth.

SUSA-NO-WO (須佐之男) God of storms, snakes, and farming. Amaterasu's brother and also her greatest enemy. From the moment he was born, he was a troublemaker. After Amaterasu was finally taken out of her cave, Susa-No-Wo was punished. The other gods shaved his beard and moustache, pulled out his fingernails, and banished him to live as a mortal on the earth.

Kanji provided by the E2 bakufu team.

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