AmaterasuThe Japanese Shinto sun goddess, ruler of the Plain of Heaven, whose name means 'shining heaven' or 'she who shines in the heavens'. She is the central figure in the Shinto pantheon and the Japanese Imperial family claims direct descent from her. She was so bright and radiant that her parents sent her up the Celestial Ladder to heaven, where she has ruled ever since.

There are actually a few stories as to why Amaterasu retreated into her cave. One claims that when her brother, the storm-god Susano'o, ravaged the earth she retreated to a cave because he was so noisy. She closed the cave with a large boulder. Her disappearance deprived the world of light and life. Demons ruled the earth.

Another claims that Susano'o destroyed rice-fields, uprooted trees, and tore down sacred buildings. He even ripped the roof of his sister's weaving hall, frightened her ladies to death, and drove Amaterasu herself into hiding in a cave, the entrance to which Susano'o then sealed shut, preventing the world being lit by the sun.

And yet others claim that he threw a spear into her weaving hall, piercing the genitals of one of the maids and killing her. Yet another claims that it was a deer carcass he used to defile the hall.

Opening the cave On the bed of the tranquil river of Heaven, Ama-no-yasu-gawara, a conference of the gods was held, to decide how to free Amaterasu. They tried many things to induce her to come out of her cave, but all failed until the gods enlisted Uzume, a dancer, to perform outside her prison. So amusing and entertaining was the dancer that the gods present laughed until the great plain of heaven shook with their merriment, and Amaterasu, opening the doorway to her cave slightly, asked how it was that the gods could laugh in the face of such darkness. Uzume replied that they were happy because there was a more illustrious deity than the sun goddess in heaven. Curious to see this new god, Amaterasu was shown a mirror and, startled by her own reflection, stared spellbound while the gods pulled her free of the cave, and a rope of straw was placed across the entrance, that she might never enter the cavern again. Thus the sun returned to the world, and all rejoiced.

Later, she created rice fields, called inada, where she cultivated rice. She also invented the art of weaving with the loom and taught the people how to cultivate wheat and silkworms.

Amaterasu's main sanctuary is Ise-Jingu situated on Ise, on the island of Honshu. In the inner sanctum she is represented by a mirror (her body). She is also called Omikami ("illustrious goddess") and Tensho Daijan (in Sino-Japanese pronunciation).