If you will remember from our mythology series, Izanami died giving birth to the god of fire. Grief-stricken by the loss of his wife, Izanagi vowed to go to the Underworld (Yomi) and bring her back. In order to bring her back, he had to travel down the Yomotsu Hirasaka, the path to the Underworld. Perhaps what is truly exciting, is that the Yomotsu Hirasaka has a real location in Japan! Located in the very small town of Iya in Shimane Pref. this is without a doubt another journey off the beaten path.
But first, a short myth; Izanagi’s journey to the Underworld.
Izanagi’s Journey to the Underworld
Most Shinto gods would never dare enter Yomi. This dark, cold, contaminated place, filled with rot and decay is the very opposite of what gods like Izanagi prefer. All of the Japanese gods are repulsed by death, which is why after a member of your family dies, people do not walk under the torii at any shrine for roughly 90 days.
Izanagi, however, refused to be discouraged and set forth down the dark path to Yomi known as the Yomotsu Hirasaka or Ibuyazaka [黄泉比良坂・伊賦夜坂]
He wandered the dark world calling for his wife,
“Izanami! Where are you? Izanami! Come back to me my darling, the world I wanted to build with you isn’t finished yet!”
Down, down, he went practically wandering blind, calling for his dead wife.
“Izanagi?” echoed the faint voice of his wife.
“Izanami! Where are you? I’ve come to take you home. I can’t see you, dear wife. Where are you?”
“Dear husband I fear you have come in vain, for I have already eaten the food of the dead. However, since you lament for me so, I will go and consult with the other gods of Yomi. Wait where you are and I will come to you, and please, you mustn’t look for me until I am ready. Please promise.”
“Very well, Izanami I promise.”
Escape from Yomi
So Izanagi waited, and waited, and waited. He could hear the whispering voices in the Underworld and knew Izanami was discussing her potential return. After a while, he could bare it no longer. He took the comb from his hair and lit it. At last able to see, Izanagi slowly crept to the source of those eerie whispers. When he peeked around a corner he was able to finally glance at his beloved Izanami—but she was not as he remembered! Izanami had already begun to decay and parts of her body had been consumed by a dark fearsome lightning, which radiated from her head and chest. Terrified, Izanagi fled.
“You looked!” Izanagi heard the voice of Izanami boom against the rocks of Yomi.
“You looked and now you abandon me? You insult me, husband! I shall not let you escape so easily!” Izanami screeched and sent the witches of the Underworld after him.
Ever resourceful, Izanagi plucked one of the rings from his hair and tossed it behind him. When it touched the ground, a wall of grape vines sprung up from where it landed, buying him some time from the witches. Izanagi then took his comb and tossed it behind him as well. Instantly, a massive bamboo grove shot up, enabling Izanagi to gain even more distance between himself and his pursuers.
The witches’ incompetence only enraged Izanami. She tore some of that terrible lightning from her body and created eight demons to chase down her husband. Thankfully for Izanagi, he had his sword which he used to deflect the demons’ attacks. Finally, Izanagi stood at the entrance to the world of Yomi and took three peaches from nearby trees, and tossed them into Yomi forcing what remained of his enemies to retreat.
The Birth of Death
Izanami, completely fed up with her minions’ failures, decided that some things are best done one’s self and flew through the Underworld after Izanagi. Izanagi could sense his wife coming after him. He frantically looked around for what he could use to aid him this time. Of course, he knew exactly what to do. Grabbing a huge boulder, Izanagi sought to close the mouth of the Underworld once and for all. Just as he was about to seal the hole for good the disfigured face of Izanami appeared, hands clawing for him.
“Curse you! Curse you, Izanagi! I swear to you, for the insult you have brought upon me, every day I will take the lives of a thousand mortals!” She cried.
Izanagi continued to push the boulder,
“If you take those lives, I will make sure that a thousand five hundred children are born every day.” He respond to Izanami’s threat, and with a final mighty push sealed the entrance to Yomi.
“So shall it be.” Hissed Izanami.
As strange as it might seem, Yomotsu Hirasaka has an actual location, and that is where we are heading off to!
From Matsue Station in Shimane Prefecture, take the Sanin Line for Yonago to a stop called Iya. After you get out, finding the path to Yomotsu Hirasaka isn’t that hard. However, you will not feel like you are going anywhere special at all.
After you walk a good 30 minutes you will arrive at Yomotsu Hirasaka.
The three peach trees planted here are reminiscent of the three peach trees that Izanagi used to help escape the Underworld.
You will be presented with these two paths as you make your way past the peach trees. The small dark path is the infamous Yomotsu Hirasaka that led Izanagi to the kingdom of the dead, and the other path leads to the place where Izanagi sealed Yomi.
And here, proving that sometimes the most important things are in the most unexpected places, is supposed to be where Yomi is sealed.
On the way back, you should take the dark foreboding path through the woods. What’s at the end? Go and see for yourself.