The Gospel is a global story. Though it was nurtured by the Jewish people, it has grown so that people everywhere, even in countries not remotely related to the Jews, have become part of the story. Although for many Japanese, it is an unfamiliar story, perhaps thought of as a Western story for foreigners in Europe and North America – but not for them. We can appreciate the gospel, however, by comparing it to the ancient Japanese Tenchikaibyaku 天地開闢 epic of Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto. We find this story in the two oldest Japanese books, the Kojiki (古事記) and the Nihon Shoki (日本書紀?). It tells of love found and then love lost – with separation of death and hell (黄泉) – between these gods (kami神) Izanagi and Izanami.
Summary of Izanagi and Izanami
The creation story Tenchikaibyaku 天地開闢 in these two oldest Japanese books tells us how these two gods became lovers. Out of their love they birthed the Japanese islands from the sea. However, Izanami died giving birth to the child Kagu-Tsuchi (incarnation of fire).
Izanagi lamented the death of Izanami and journeyed to Yomi (“the land of the dead”) to find her there. At first, Izanagi could not see Izanami since the darkness hid her appearance. He asked her to return with him to the land of the living. Izanami informed Izanagi that he was too late. She had already eaten the food of Yomi and was now one with the land of the dead. She could no longer return to the living but she would try and ask for permission to leave.
Death’s Separation and Defilement in Kojiki
Izanagi was shocked that Yomi now imprisoned Izanami forever, but he refused to leave her there. While Izanami was sleeping, he brought up light so that he could see her. Under the light, he saw the horrid form of the once beautiful and graceful Izanami. She was now a rotting form of flesh with maggots and foul creatures running over her ravaged body.
Crying out loud, Izanagi could no longer control his fear and started to run. He intended to return to the living and abandon his death-ridden wife. Izanami woke up, shrieking and indignant, and chased after him. She also sent Yakusa-no-ikazuchi-no-kami (Raijin) and shikome (foul women) to hunt for Izanagi and bring him back to Yomi.
Izanagi burst out of the entrance and pushed a boulder in the mouth of Yomotsuhirasaka (黄泉津平坂; a cavern that was at the entrance of Yomi). Izanami screamed from behind this impenetrable barricade and told Izanagi that if he left her she would kill 1,000 residents of the living every day. He furiously responded that he would give life to 1,500 newborn everyday.
When Izanagi came out of Yomi, he performed many water cleansings after having been in the unclean Yomi. Many of his cleansing rituals are now reflected in the Shinto water rituals. Pilgrims undergo these various purification rites (harae) in the different Shinto festivals.
The Gospel explained through the Izanagi/Izanami Story
The Gospel starts out similarly. God (Amenominakanushi 天御中主) had a relationship of love and trust with the first humans. As the love between Izanagi and Izanami brought forth islands from the sea, this love between God and man would bring about order to the created animals and the physical world. God and man had a relationship similar to Izanagi and Izanami. Though the relationship was spiritual rather than physical, from that relationship the world would be cultivated and managed.
Death’s Separation and Defilement in the Bible
The Bible then describes how God and man became separated by death like Izanami and Izanagi became separated. Through disobedience to God, man became spiritually dead and banished from the presence of God. Since man was now spiritually dead to God, man also experienced physical death. At this death the soul entered Hades, a shadowy dark place of death, described in the Bible almost exactly as Kojiki describes Yomi. In their separation from God, man became ugly, and even revolting to God. Just like Izanami’s body was full of ugly maggots and death in Yomi, so now man was spiritually ugly and would go to Yomi. Here are some descriptions in the Bible about this place of the dead. This describes a great spirit (like Izanami) brought to Yomi.
Yomi described in the Bible
The realm of the dead below is all astir
to meet you at your coming;
it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—
all those who were leaders in the world;
it makes them rise from their thrones—
all those who were kings over the nations.Isaiah 14: 9
All your pomp has been brought down to the grave,
along with the noise of your harps;
maggots are spread out beneath you
and worms cover you.Isaiah 14: 9
Does that not sound like the situation that Izanami was in? In this next passage God speaks in the Bible about people in Yomi
And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.Isaiah 66:24
And in this passage Jesus describes Yomi as a place where
“‘the worms that eat them do not die,Mark 9:48
and the fire is not quenched.’
As you can see from these descriptions, Yomi of the Bible is very similar to Yomi that Izanami was in. Those in the Biblical Yomi become similarly revolting like Izanami became when she descended to Yomi.
Good News of the Gospel Story
Jesus is the hero of the Gospel and the central person of the Bible. He is like Izanagi. But he is also different than Izanagi – and this difference gives the Gospel a much better ending. Just like Izanagi went to find Izanami, Jesus searched to find us – his former love. As Jesus himself said about his work (see here about ‘son of man’).
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.Luke 19:10
In fact, just as Izanagi went to Yomi to find Izanami, the Bible says that when Jesus died on the cross He then descended to Yomi to search for us. The Bible says about Jesus that
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.Ephesians 4:8-10
Here we can see the difference between Jesus and Izanagi. Izanagi became revolted when he saw how awful Izanami had become. So he ran away from her. Jesus, in spite of our ugliness, freed the captives (those trapped in Yomi) so that he could shower his love and blessing on them. His love and courage was strong enough to overcame our ugliness.
Love Powerful Enough to Transform the Corrupted
In fact, Jesus’ love and sacrifice is powerful enough to transform rotten and corrupted people into beautiful people. The Bible gives this powerful love as a model for husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.Ephesians 5:25-28
Izanami was trapped in her rotten state. But Jesus’ love has the power to change people. He can bring them out of their rotten state to make them ‘holy’ and ‘without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish’. We no longer need to remain trapped in our rottenness and death any longer.
The story of Izanami and Izanagi ends with Izanami remaining in Yomi and Izanagi barely escaping that place. Then Izanami vows to bring death every day to people because of this. The Bible story has Jesus rescuing the infested prisoners of Yomi and bringing them out with him. So the end features a great spiritual union – a cosmic wedding. The Gospel story of the Bible ends with this (future) wedding:
Same Beginning but Ending with a Wedding
21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”Revelation 21: 1-5
In this future hope there will be ‘no more death’. In fact, Yomi itself will be destroyed and the separated lovers (God and people) will be re-united in a spiritual wedding.
The Gospel story, like the story of Izanami and Izagani, descends into points of deep sorrow. But it is different in that it ends with triumph and happiness – not despair. As the Bible summarizes:
20 Our God is a God who saves;Psalm 68:20
from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.
A True Story
But there is also another difference between the two stories. Whereas the story of Izanami and Izanagi is mythical the Bible presents the gospel story as reality. As the quotation from Jesus above says
“these words are trustworthy and true”Revelation 21: 5b
So you can evaluate this by looking at some basic facts of history. Jesus was a historical person who lived and taught in real places which you can visit today. Historians from that time, but outside the Bible, have written accounts of him. The modern calendar is derived from him. His death by crucifixion is recorded by many authors – but most importantly – his tomb has been empty since shortly after his body was laid there. Different than other historical persons, there is no place you can go today where his body lies.
So is the gospel story of Jesus true? Can it actually change your relationship to your coming death? Each of us much decide this for ourselves. The gospel story in the Bible invites all of us, whatever our language, age, religion or lack of religion, to investigate this. We need to simply recognize that this is an important question, important enough that we get a little ‘thirsty’ to find an answer. As the Bible says:
“Come, all you who are thirsty,Isaiah 55:1-3
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
This is the purpose for this website. Anyone who is even a little bit thirsty can come, listen and explore what the Gospel and the person of Jesus are all about. If you browse these articles you will see that the Gospel story starts at the beginning of time. But even at the beginning the end is in view. There are sacred places (Sign of Mt Moriah) where God has picked locations where the spirit world would intersect our world in history. Please, take this opportunity to consider the gospel.