Orochi

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Susanoo slaying the Yamata no Orochi, ca. 1870s by Toyohara Chikanobu

Yamata no Orochi (八岐の大蛇||"big snake of eight branches") often called Orochi or the Eight-Forked Serpent is a serpent-like creature in Japanese mythology.

Description

The monster is described as having eight heads and eight tails and eyes as red as winter-cherries. It is so long its body extends over eight valleys and eight hills, its belly is always bloody and inflamed, and its back is covered with hikage (clubmoss), hinoki (Japanese cypress), and sugi (Japanese cedar).

Myth

In the ancient Japanese scripture, the Kojiki, after Susa-no-O is expelled from Heaven, he encounters two Kuni-tsu-Kami ("earthly deities") near the head of the Hi River in Izumo Province. They are weeping because they have had to give the Orochi one of their daughters once every year, and now they must sacrifice their eighth and last, whose name is Kushi-inada-hime. At this time, the sinister Orochi dominated a region in Japan, which some say was the Izumo province, and demanded virgin sacrifices.

Susa-no-O asks for Kushi-inada-hime's hand in marriage, and then transforms her into a comb (kushi) which he places in his hair. He then asks her parents to brew some sake that has been refined eight times, and then build a round enclosure with eight gates, each with a platform and a sake vat. They fill the sake vats and wait, and sure enough the Orochi appears. It dips a head into each vat, and is soon intoxicated, allowing Susa-no-O to cut it into pieces. When he cuts the middle tail, his sword is chipped, and there he finds the legendary sword, Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi. In some versions Kusanagi is called Kusanagi-no-Tsunegi, which basically means 'The Grass-Cutting Sword', and this sword was given to Amaterasu, Susano-Oh's sister, who is the Japanese Goddess of the Sun. She then gave it to her descendant on Earth, the Emperor; from that point on it is said that it has been kept as one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Yamato.


Quotes

Its eyes were red as the winter cherry, and pine trees and mosses grew on its back, while firs sprouted on each of its heads. As it crawled, it stretched over eight valleys and eight hills, and its belly was always flecked with blood. In seven years this beast had devoured seven maidens, the daughters of a king, and in the eighth year was about to eat up the youngest daughter, named Princess-Comlr Ricefield. The Princess was saved by a god who bore the name of Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male. This knight built a circular enclosure of wood with eight gates and eight platforms at each gate. On the platforms he set tubs of rice beer.
The Eight-Forked Serpent came and, dipping a head into each of the tubs, gulped down the beer and was soon fast asleep. Then Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male lopped the heads. A river of blood sprang from the necks. In the Serpent's tail a sword was found that to this day commands veneration in the Great Shrine of Atsuta. These events took place on the mountain formerly named Serpent-Mountain and now called Eight-Cloud Mountain. The number eight in Japan is a magic number and stands for many, just as forty ("When forty winters shall besiege thy brow") did in Elizabethan England. Japanese paper currency still commemorates the killing of the Serpent. It is superfluous to point out that the redeemer married the redeemed, as in Hellenic myth Perseus married Andromeda. In his English rendering of the cosmogonies and theogonies of old Japan (The Sacred Scriptures of the Japanese), Post Wheeler also records analogous legends of the Hydra of Greek myth, of Fafnir from the Germanic, and of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, whom a god made drunk with blood-red beer so that mankind would be saved from anihilation. J.L Borges -


Art/Fiction

  • Movie Yamato Takeru/Orochi: The Eight-Headed Dragon - Somewhat bizarrely, this movie detailing the trials and travels of Japanese hero Yamato Takeru was retitled to feature Orochi when it was brought to a Western audience. Orochi features in at the end and fights Yamato Takeru, who has been blessed with the power of Susano-Oh, rather than Susano-Oh directly. One of Hushichou's very favorite films.
  • Movie Godzilla and Mothra series - King Ghidorah - King Ghidorah may be a form of Orochi, and bears many resemblances to it. It has been said that Ghidorah is a force for destruction whereas Mothra is that of creation, each furthering the natural cycle.
  • Manga/TV Anime Shaman King - The Giant Oversoul form of Tokageroh is none other than Orochi.
  • OVA Ranma 1/2: Reawakening Memories - In this OVA Ranma must subdue an orochi.
  • TV anime Blue Seed - Reportedly the legend of Orochi features heavily into this supernatural series.
  • TV anime Digimon - A Digimon bearing many of the attributes of Orochi is listed as Orochimon; also, Susannomon wielded a weapon known as ARMS Orochi.
  • TV anime Kannazuki no Miko - Orochi factors heavily into this series, in which two miko or priestesses are pitted against seven people who become the heads of Orochi. It is maintained often in this series that Orochi is entirely immortal.
  • .hack//MUTATION (Playstation 2) - Orochi appears in this game as an enemy.
  • King of Fighters series (various platforms) - Orochi manifested itself in humanoid form to directly combat the fighters in this series of annual tournaments. Certain characters endure the power of having Orochi blood in them, which can cause them to give into the darker side of their being and become evil.
  • Gegege no Kitarou (Super Famicom) - One of the bosses you face in this game, as Kitarou, is none other than Orochi.
  • Okami (PS2/Wii) - Orochi appears as the main villain in the game, whom you encounter several times, with each of his heads representing a different element. In the course of defeating Orochi, it becomes drunk on sake, as in the original myth. Other similarities to the myth include the representation of the warrior 'Susano'.

See also

References