A Celestial Bridge for the Gods of Mt Tsukuba
By Avi Landau
The first thing I usually do when I manage to get up in the morning is have a look out of the small window which faces north out of my bedroom. Doing so actually gives me the illusion that there is nothing but NATURE between my house and Mt Tsukuba, as still undeveloped wildlands and woods stretch out for a kilometer or two (obscuring any signs of civilization which lay behind them) with the familiar, semi-crushed M figure of the mountain looming large over the tree-tops. In this way, I can observe and enjoy the subtle changes which unfold EVERY DAY, as certain plants fade away and others take their place.
Yesterday as I pulled back the curtain, I expected to have a further look at Tsukuba’s descent into the dried out browns and straw yellows of December. Instead, what I saw had me calling out “Come quick, and look!” Just then the phone rang. It was a friend saying, “Look towards the mountain! It’s a rainbow!” After saying thanks (for telling me what I had already known), the phone rang again, with the same news! Surely, few natural phenomena can bring such a thrill!
We savoured the spectacle for the few minutes that it lasted, and I then set out for work with the feeling that this would be a special day. I also couldn’t stop thinking about rainbows, or as they are called in Japanese NIJI (虹）, and how until modern science came along to finally (and de-mystifyingly) explain their occurrence, they were the true stuff of myth, with the various cultures and religions of the world each offering their own unique answer to the question: Why are there rainbows?
The Japanese traditionally associate rainbows with bridges (now you know why the famous Rainbow Bridge is so named ). In the KOJIKI, Japan’s oldest (8th century) surviving text which recounts its creation myths in an archaic Sino-Japanese, we are told of how the Gods brought into existence a divine couple (Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto) who were called upon to create the LAND. For this they used a special rod called a HOKO (this is what the long poles featured on the floats of the famous festival in Kyoto are called) with which they stirred the sea while standing on a heavenly bridge called AME NO UKI HASHI, thus creating Terra-Firma. This celestial bridge was interpreted as being a rainbow.
Thus the scene of a rainbow over Mt. Tsukuba has special significance, as its twin peaks are where Izanagi and Izanami are enshrined.
I have not found any evidence for this yet, but think about all the old bridges you’ve seen at shrines around Japan. In fact have a look at any of the bridges shown in old wood-block prints. They are arc shaped, like rainbows.
Rainbows can be seen any time of year, but in Japan are most likely to appear in the summer rainy season.
As you can imagine, there are numerous poems (dating back to the MANYOSHU) which try to capture the WONDER that one senses when seeing these tantalizingly ephemeral colored arches.