Yamata no Orochi – 八岐大蛇 29. March 2023

Yamata no Orochi, or “eight-headed, eight-tailed snake,” is a legendary creature in Japanese mythology. Its appearance is described as a gigantic snake, whose body is as large as eight valleys and can cover eight hills. Even fir, cypress trees and moss grow on its back. In some stories, the snake is described as completely black. In others it has glowing red eyes and a red, inflamed and bleeding belly. However, the main feature is the eight heads and eight tails.


The legend of Yamata no Orochi begins with the banishment of the storm god Susanoo from heaven. As he descended over Mount Torikama, he encountered a weeping old couple and their daughter. The couple tells Susanoo that they once had eight daughters. But every year Yamata no Orochi demanded one of them as an offering. Now they had only one daughter left, and soon it would be her turn to be sacrificed.

The plan

Susanoo agrees to help the couple and in return, takes the last daughter as his wife. They devise a plan: first, he turns the daughter into a comb and puts her in his hair. Then he asks the husband and wife to build a fence with eight gates. A platform behind each gate was erected with a large bowl of sake brewed eight times placed on each. When they finish, they wait for the eight-headed snake to arrive.

The battle

When Yamata no Orochi appears, he puts his eight heads through the eight gates and cannot resist the sake. He drinks it all and falls into a deep, heavily intoxicated sleep. Susanoo then strikes down the monster with his long sword, cutting it into small pieces and dyeing the nearby river red with its blood.

During the battle with Yamata no Orochi, Susanoo uses his sword to cut down the monster, but it breaks apart after striking the fourth tail. As he examines the broken blade, he discovers the legendary sword Murakumo within the tail. He later presents it to his sister Amaterasu as a peace offering.

This battle between the god Susanoo and the yokai Yamata no Orochi still serves as an occasion for celebration in many Shinto shrines. Among the many interpretations, one says that the name of the child Kushi(i)nadahime is an allusion to rice fields, and the snake is the river Hi itself, so its conquest by Susanoo should be understood as harnessing wild nature for agricultural purposes.

The conclusion

The legend of Yamata no Orochi and Susanoo teaches us that even the most powerful beings can be defeated with cleverness and strategy – and sake.

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