Ame–no–Uzume
By: Umair Mirxa

Ame–no–Uzume paced down the hall and sighed with disappointment at the selection before her. For the first time in a long time, the Goddess of Mirth was unhappy. Revels she had planned, as she was wont to do, in honour of her husband, Sarutahiko Ōkami, and yet it seemed her plans were destined to fail. For how could she present to him an offering in which she herself found no delight?

She turned sharply in front of the last dancer in the line, sparing her the briefest of glances. Another sigh escaped her as she glared at the attendant responsible.

Maybe, she thought, I could choose the best of a bad lot?

Ame–no–Uzume resumed her pacing, and walked back up the line, paying closer attention to each dancer. Some of them, at least, had shown a modicum of promise. She could train them further and hope for the best. For all the things there were yet left for her to do, she believed she would still have time enough.

"Were there really no better choices, Atsumi?" she asked the maiden. "Do you believe Sarutahiko–san would be happy with such mediocre performances? No! No, don't hang your head. There is no time for it. Go see to the musicians while I do what I can here. The gagaku, at least, must be perfect."

The first dancer she selected was almost good, or so Ame–no–Uzume had thought during the performance, until she had lost her balance. The second had been the most enthusiastic, and the third had the most grace even if she moved too slowly. So she went, and was about to select the tenth dancer when she heard the distant sound of running footsteps.

She listened with increasing irritation as the sound grew ever closer and louder. When three of her miko stumbled into the chamber, nearly falling over each other, she was fit to burst with anger.

"Explain yourselves!" she thundered, even as the look of panic on their faces calmed some of her fury. "One would think I had trained you not at all. Is that what you wish to be said of Ame–no–Uzume? What, do you think, would the other Kami say if they could see you so?"

"Forgive us, Uzume–sama," said the three in unison as they prostrated themselves before her. "But we …"

"Silence! I have never been more embarrassed. Atsumi, of you I am the most ashamed. Did I not, just a few moments ago, ask you to go tend to the musicians? What reason for such brazen disobedience, I wonder?"

"Uzume–sama, I beg your forgiveness," pleaded Atsumi. "We all do. If you looked outside your window, you will discover the reason for our behaviour. Forgive us but we knew not what else to do."

Glaring suspiciously at her, Ame–no–Uzume turned and walked to the windows at the far end of her chambers. She threw the curtains wide open and gasped at the sight before here. Her first thought was more time had escaped her than she had believed. Yet, how could it have? She had risen with dawn, as she always did, and not more than a few hours could have passed.

"What time of day is it?" she called without turning, her eyes transfixed on the horizon beyond her balcony.

"The midday sun was at its peak when you sent me to the musicians, Uzume–sama," said Atsumi.

"Yet, not moments later, the skies now hang as dark as the deepest pits of Yomi–no–kuni. Make preparations and do it with haste. We leave at once. I must attend to whatever has brought this upon us."

What have you done, Amaterasu–san? she thought to herself as the three miko hurried away. Where have you gone?

***

Messengers sent in haste by the other Kami met Ame–no–Uzume in ever larger droves on her journey to the cave. Most pleaded for her to hurry. Others asked for advice. From all they said, she pieced together enough to realize what had happened. She sent word back, saying not much more than she was coming as swiftly as she could.

What else could she say? She was as much at a loss as the other deities. To her husband, Sarutahiko Ōkami's messenger, she gave a longer reply – asking him to remain calm and reassuring him they would find a solution. Empty words, she was afraid, but they would have to suffice. For now. Her own panic rising, she gave instructions to not stop for any other messengers. They kept interrupting her and slowing her down, and she desperately needed to think with a clear mind.

The darkness didn't help. It muddled her thoughts, and she struggled to keep her eyes open. All she could think of was sliding under the silken sheets on her bed and sleeping for days on end. Kami of dawn, Ame–no–Uzume usually spent her waking hours under the light of the sun. She would, without exception, retire just before dusk and only rise as the sun itself rose across the horizon.

Once this dread night in the middle of the day has passed, she thought, I would gladly return to my routine.

She leaned back in the seat of her carriage and pondered the dilemma before her. How could the Kami expect her to succeed where all the rest of them could not? They were counting on her. Hoping she could convince Amaterasu to relent, come out of hiding from inside Ama–no–Iwato, and allow the sun to once again shine on the world. She was, however, at her wits' end.

One thing she knew for certain – the only thing she knew without a doubt in the moment – was she would make Susanoo pay for what he had done. A feud between siblings she could understand. Cruel words said in a fit of anger she could forgive. For what Susanoo had wrought, what he had done to Amaterasu in his rage, Ame–no–Uzume would seek penance and retribution.

She had known Susanoo was visiting Amaterasu so he could bid his sister farewell. Izanagi–sama's orders, asking Susanoo to leave Heaven, had caused a stir among all the Kami, and Ame–no–Uzume had feared just something like this would happen. From the messages she had received, she gathered the siblings had participated in a challenge, and unable to accept the outcome, Susanoo had gone on a rampage. He had destroyed Amaterasu's beloved rice fields and killed one of her attendants by hurling a flayed pony at her loom. Overcome with grief and rage, Amaterasu had chosen to run away and hide inside Ama–no–Iwato. The Earth had been plunged into darkness and chaos, for she was the Sun who shone upon it, and now the world was deprived of her light.

Ame–no–Uzume sighed once again and tried to gather her thoughts. Focus them on the problem at hand. It had not been a good day for her. It certainly hadn't gone the way she had hoped it would. She blamed Susanoo for it, but he could be dealt with later. For now, she needed a way to console Amaterasu. What could she do the other Kami couldn't or hadn't already tried? One more sigh, and she drifted off to sleep.

***

Ame–no–Uzume was startled awake as her carriage came to a stop. It took a moment for her to gather her bearings before she noticed the sound – the first rumblings of a thunderstorm brewing around her. She grumbled under her breath as she stepped outside. A plan had finally begun taking shape in her mind even as she slept but the accursed noise would not let her concentrate.

If Susanoo is now hurling storms down at us in his temper tantrum, she thought, I will kill him!

There were eight hundred Kami gathered outside Ama–no–Iwato. A single glance at them, and Ame–no–Uzume realized the true source of the noise. The deities had been trying for several hours and failing in all their methods to persuade Amaterasu to come out of the cave. They had driven themselves into a state of frenzied panic, and now stood gathered in groups, each speaking over the other, and all at once.

Ame–no–Uzume had never before seen them so distraught. Of the few who weren't engaged in fiery debates, some stood listlessly staring up at the sky. Others sat around on boulders, rocks, and tree stumps. She noticed at least half a dozen who had found the softest patches of ground and taken to sleep in their despair. She felt a stab of pity for her kin and resolved herself to follow the wild recourse she had imagined in her sleep.

***

The different groups of Kami ceased arguing and fell silent as Ame–no–Uzume weaved through them. They looked at her, every single one of them – their eyes suddenly bright again as hope was renewed, and a wave of relief spread slowly among the crowd. Some reached out and tried to take her hand, imploring her to make Amaterasu see sense. Others whispered among themselves excitedly. Here, at last, was Dawn herself. They were certain she, at least, could convince the Sun to shine again.

Ame–no–Uzume, for her part, was glad more than anything else for the sudden quiet. Her plan hadn't been fully formed yet, and she needed to hear herself think. She made her way up to the largest group, where some of the most important Kami had gathered. Amaterasu and Susanoo's brother, Tsukuyomi was there, and Ame–no–Tajikarawo and Sarutahiko Ōkami. She would need all three of them.

They crowded around as she approached, seeking advice and comfort. She took her husband's hands and looked around. Every face a divine mosaic of conflicting emotions as relief washed away anxiety but could not nudge fear away, and hope rode in, calming the waves of panic.

"Can you not do something, Uzume–chan?" asked her husband. "Will you not talk to her?"

"You are our last hope," said Tsukuyomi. "For we have tried everything else. Do you talk to my sister and make her see sense?"

"I can see a plan brewing in your bright little head, Uzume–san," said Ame–no–Koyane, smiling down at her. "It is good. You can bring her out. What is the plan?"

"Yes, well, if you let me speak," said Ame–no–Uzume, smiling up at them all and trying to hide her irritation. "No, Tsukuyomi–san. I believe further talk will not help. You have all attempted it and failed. It should not be any different for I have no words more eloquent than the other Kami present. It would really help me, however, if you could make the moon shine brighter. The dark is suffocating and besides, I shall need more light."

The moonlight increased and bathed them all in a silver glow even as she spoke, and Tsukuyomi smiled at her. Murmurs of approval rippled through the gathered Kami, and Ame–no–Uzume couldn't believe no one else had thought of it. She shook her head and turned to her husband.

"Sarutahiko–san, I can do something but I require your help. Inside my carriage is a bronze mirror. If you could have it brought here and placed at the cave's entrance, so it faces inside? I will also require leaves of the sakaki and the willow, and some club moss. Thank you."

"I don't understand how any of those things will help convince Amaterasu–san to leave the cave."

"You will see, presently. For now, please just do as I ask."

"As you wish, Uzume–chan," he said, and turned to his attendants, issuing rapid instructions.

"Koyane–san, of you I require an empty bathing tub, overturned and placed near the cave's entrance. A few bonfires around it to give light to the platform would help, as well."

Ame–no–Uzume turned and walked to the cave's entrance. She drew a jewel of polished jade from her bosom and hung it so it would be the first thing visible to anyone leaving the cave. Her plan was in motion now. She sat down on a rock nearby and hoped desperately it would work.

***

Once everything had been prepared as she desired, Ame–no–Uzume climbed on top of the overturned tub and called her kin to gather around. Slowly then, she began to move, enacting the dance she had been preparing for months as an offering to her husband. Benzaiten and her attendants took up their koto and their biwas and began playing gagaku. Inspired by the music, Ame–no–Uzume let melodious cries escape her and began moving faster and allowed kamigakari to overcome her.

The Kami cheered and whistled as she stamped her feet in rhythm to the music, and shed the sakaki and willow leaves with which she had decorated herself. Her eyes kept straying to the cave's entrance but there was yet no sign of Amaterasu.

She further increased the pace of her dance for she had now begun to enjoy her performance, revelling in her own sensuality. A thought struck her, and she let her haori fall open.

The act drew a boisterous response from the Kami, and thus encouraged, Ame–no–Uzume slid out of the haori and tore off her hakama. Near fully exposed to the other deities, covered only in club moss, she now attained a frenzy with her performance. Her cries of delight and the sensual dance inspired by divine possession had the other gods and goddesses roaring with laughter, and it finally achieved its desired purpose.

***

From inside the cave, Amaterasu had heard most of what had passed among her kin outside. While she had ignored everything else, the festive noise and cheer from Ame–no–Uzume's performance had proven too much for her. Curiosity aroused, she peered out, and the very first thing her eyes lit upon was her own glorious reflection in the bronze mirror Sarutahiko Ōkami's attendants had hung from a tree. She saw too the jewel and herself reflected on the polished jade surface. Enchanted, she stepped out of her hiding place.

Ame–no–Tajikarawo, who had been standing nearby on Ame–no–Uzume's instructions, rushed forward and closed the cave entrance behind her. At once, Amaterasu turned and entreated him to let her back inside, but he refused to budge. Sarutahiko Ōkami then tied a magic shimenawa across the entrance as the other Kami gathered around Amaterasu.

"You must let me back inside," pleaded Amaterasu. "I have no desire to be among you now. Please let me be alone."

"Amaterasu–san, look around you," said Ame–no–Koyane. "Do you really wish to let the world suffer in darkness as you tend to your grief? Would you abandon your kin to such despair?"

"We know what Susanoo has wrought, Amaterasu–san," said Ame–no–Futodama. "We grieve as you do but we also need you. Come, let your light shine again upon us all. We have suffered enough. So has the world."

Now fully dressed, Ame–no–Uzume walked up and took Amaterasu's hands. They kissed each other on the cheek, and the Kami of Dawn glared up at the Kami of the Sun. Centuries later, Amaterasu would still sheepishly recount how it was the look in Ame–no–Uzume's eyes which finally convinced her to relent.

***

Ame–no–Uzume–no–Mikoto came awake with the dawn, as she was wont to do. She slid out from under the silken sheets on her bed, padded over to the window in her bedchamber, and drew the curtains wide apart. Far away on the horizon, beyond the ocean, she could see the sun begin its daily journey from East to West. So it had been for each of the twelve days since she had danced on an overturned bathing tub outside Ama–no–Iwato, and exposed herself to eight hundred Kami. She laughed, her mirth restored, for all was well again with the world.

– THE END –

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