Japanese God

Tsukuyomi

Tsukuyomi (月読) is the Japanese god of the moon and estranged husband of the sun goddess Amaterasu. A proud but violent deity, his killing of Uke Mochi and consequent separation from his wife were the origins of day and night.

By Gregory WrightLast updated on Nov. 13th, 2021
Tsukuyomi, Japanese God (3x2)
  • Why did Tsukuyomi kill Uke Mochi?

    Tsukuyomi attended a feast with Uke Mochi and was so disgusted at how she prepared the food that he killed her for her breaches in etiquette.

  • Is Tsukuyomi an evil kami?

    Tsukuyomi was branded an evil kami after the murder he committed, but most tales position him more as excessively proud than truly evil.

  • Is Tsukuyomi worshipped today?

    While Tsukuyomi doesn’t have the prominence of his sister Amaterasu or brother Susanoo, he does still have some shrines dedicated to him.

Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto is the Japanese god of the moon, a proud deity of order and beauty. The estranged husband of the sun goddess Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi spends eternity chasing her across the sky.

Etymology

Tsukuyomi, sometimes called Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto (the great God Tsukuyomi), is rendered as 月読尊, or simply 月読 in Kanji. This name directly translates to “moon-reading,” a popular practice in the noble courts of pre-modern Japan where parties would stay up all night moon-gazing and reading poetry. An alternate Kanji reading is tsukuyo, moon-light, and mi, watching. Sometimes he is called Tsukuyomi Otoko (月讀壮士) or Tsukuhito Otoko (月人壮士), meaning “moon-reading man.”

Attributes

Tsukuyomi is very much a match for his wife Amaterasu. Beautiful and serene, he believes in order and etiquette and enforces them whenever he can. His enforcement of such ideals extends to the point that he is willing to kill to maintain order, despite killing itself being a breach of etiquette in the heavenly court. Thus, there is irony in Tsukuyomi’s strict adherence to etiquette: to enforce it, he is willing to break it.

Though the moon is often regarded as beautiful and worthy of viewing, Tsukuyomi himself is seen as a negative figure in Shinto and Japanese folklore. This does not prevent him from having shrines, however, such as one at Matsunoo-taisha in Kyoto.

Family

Tsukuyomi and his siblings Amaterasu and Susanoo were born of the purification ritual Izanagi underwent following his trials in Yomi. Tsukuyomi married his sister Amaterasu, though it is unclear if he is the father of her children. According to some interpretations, Tsukuyomi may be the forefather of the Japanese Imperial Family; however, this is not a commonly held belief.

Family Tree

Mythology

Tsukuyomi’s appearances in Japanese mythology are brief, but important.

Origins

Izanagi, having failed to returned his wife from Yomi, the Land of the Dead, placed a boulder at its entrance to prevent her escape. Soaked in the impurities of Yomi, Izanagi sought to purify himself at a nearby hot spring. As he washed his eyes and nose, three kami were born: Amaterasu from his left eye, Tsukuyomi from his right, and Susanoo from his nose. Izanagi labeled these three gods among the most important of the kami, and decreed that they would rule the Heavens.

Together, the siblings climbed the Heavenly Pillar and ruled the Heavens. Tsukuyomi married his sister Amaterasu, and ruled as her consort.

The Death of Uke Mochi

Uke Mochi, the goddess of food, held a great feast. Though she was invited, Amaterasu was unable to attend and thus sent her consort, Tsukuyomi, in her stead. He watched as Uke Mochi began to create the feast, but found her methods to be incredibly repulsive. She spit fish, rice, and deer from her mouth before pulling food out of her other orifices. Tsukuyomi was so horrified by her actions that he killed her then and there.

When word reached Amaterasu, she was horrified and labeled her husband an evil kami, unworthy of returning to the Heavens. This separation of Tsukuyomi and Amaterasu was the origin of day and night. For all eternity, Tsukuyomi will continue to pursue Amaterasu across the night sky without ever reaching her; even during an eclipse, the sun will run from the moon.

Other Mythology

As a rare moon god in a world filled with moon goddesses, Tsukuyomi is relatively unique. While his position in mythology is not entirely unique—the Egyptian Khonshu, Norse Mani, Hindu Chandra, and Chinese Jie Lin stand as his peers—Tsukuyomi’s prominence as the former consort-king of heaven is unmatched.

Pop Culture

Tsukuyomi appears across popular culture in several forms, including:

  • In Naruto, where Tsukuyomi is a powerful technique used by wielders of the Sharingan, as opposed to the Amaterasu technique;

  • In Final Fantasy XIV, where Tsukuyomi curiously serves as a female primal boss battle;

  • In Chou Super Robot Wars, where Tsukuyomi is both a deity and a mecha created by Tsukuyomi’s worshipers;

  • As the title of an anime, Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase. Though the show is named for Tsukuyomi, in actuality it has nothing to do with him.

More in Japanese Gods
Benzaiten, Japanese Goddess of the Flows (3:2)
Japanese Goddess

Benzaiten

Japanese goddess of luck and wisdom, kami of all that flows, from water to time.

By Gregory Wright
Ame-no-Uzume, Japanese Goddess of the Dawn (3:2)
Japanese Goddess

Ame-no-Uzume

Japanese goddess of the dawn, who saved the world from eternal night.

By Gregory Wright
Raijin, Japanese God of Thunder (3:2)
Japanese God

Raijin

Chaotic but popular Japanese god of thunder, lightning, and storms.

By Gregory Wright
Fujin, Japanese God of the Wind (3:2)
Japanese God

Fujin

Japanese god of the wind, frighteningly powerful and neither good nor evil.

By Gregory Wright
Ebisu, Japanese God of Fisherman (3:2)
Japanese God

Ebisu

Smiling Japanese god of luck, wealth, and prosperity, patron of fishermen.

By Gregory Wright
Susanoo, Japanese God of Storms (3:2)
Japanese God

Susanoo

Tempestuous Japanese god of seas and storms and slayer of dragons.

By Gregory Wright
Amaterasu, Japanese Goddess of the Sun (3:2)
Japanese Goddess

Amaterasu

Japanese sun goddess, the queen of heaven, kami, and creation itself.

By Gregory Wright
Izanagi, Japanese God of Creation (3:2)
Japanese God

Izanagi

One of Japanese mythology’s divine creators, father of the islands of Japan.

By Gregory Wright