Books / Reviews | RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOKS ABOUT JAPAN

'Kojiki: The Birth of Japan': Picture this, a nation's creation myth

by Iain Maloney

Contributing Writer

Every culture at some point meditates on its own birth. These narratives — creation myths — are a fascinating insight into the values and assumptions that underlie a culture, and Japan’s creation myth — the “Kojiki” — is no different.

Kojiki: The Birth of Japan, by Kazumi Wilds.
32 pages
TUTTLE PUBLISHING, Fiction.

From chaos comes order; from nothing, everything. The deities are born first, including the male Izanagi and female Izanami. They dip a spear into the formless brine of the universe and the drips become an island. On this island they come together in another act of creation and the resultant offspring are the islands of Japan.

Kazumi Wilds retells the myth in a vivid and accessible way alongside her own illustrations. In the afterword she is very careful to call it an “artist’s book” rather than a children’s book — which is what it seems at first glance — while the blurb aims to pin it down as something like a graphic novel.

The “Kojiki” is an earthy story full of phallic spears, sex purely for procreation and strongly traditional gender roles. The unflinching way in which the facts of sex and the horrors of death are laid out is not the usual fodder of picture books, but embodies the traditional role of myths: to educate the next generation in how the culture views life’s basics.

By stripping away the formal trappings of religion that encase the myth in its traditional state, Wilds exposes the assumptions that underlie the story Japan tells about itself. At the start of the Reiwa Era, as Japan is in the process of remaking and redefining itself, the publication of this version is timely.