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This is a Side Page
Return to Main Benzaiten Page

Benzaiten's Links to Japan's Kami Tutelaries of
Agriculture, Cereals, Food, Foodstuffs, Grains, Rice Crop


Inari & the Fox
Ōkuninushi (Rabbit)
Ōmononushi (Snake)
Ugajin (Snake)



This side page explores the complex linkages between Japan's native pantheon of kami food tutelaries and Benzaiten (Japan's Hindu-Buddhist-Shintō goddess of water, ample rain, abundant harvests, and wealth). Many of these food kami are associated, affiliated, assimilated, conflated, connected, corresponded, identified, reflected, or otherwise related to Benzaiten, who in turn derives from Hindu-Buddhist mythology and is associated with numerous Hindu deva. The deva of Vedic tradition were adopted into Buddhism as protectors and wealth bringers. Deities of Hindu-Buddhist origin can be identified by the appearance of the word "TEN" in their names. TEN 天 is the Sino-Japanese character for "deva." It literally means "heaven" or "celestial" and is translated as "heavenly being" or "celestial being." After reading this page, one obvious conclusion is that it seems possible "to begin with any starting point: no matter where one decides to start, one always arrives at the same results." <quoted from Iyanaga Nobumi, p. 159, Honji Suijaku and the "Logic" of Combinatory Deities: Two Case Studies> I agree with Iyanaga. The Deva-Buddha-Kami paradigm of Japan's combinatory religious traditions is an enormous system of associations, a mind-bobbling kaleidoscope of reflections. Despite all we know, there are still many dark places in our understanding. Below I try to shed light on key linkages with Benzaiten.

A Sampling of Various Linkages


Uganomitama → Inari → Dakiniten → Uga Benzaiten


Uganomitama → Ugajin → Uga Benzaiten


Toyōkehime → Ukanomitama → Ugajin → Uga Benzaiten


Ukemochi → Tsukuyomi → Ōgetsuhime → Amaterasu  → Benzaiten


Ōmononushi → White Snake → Ōkuninushi → Daikokuten → Dakini → Uga Benzaiten


Ōnamuchi → Ōkuninushi → White Snake → Ugajin → Uga Benzaiten


Ōkuninushi → Daikokuten → Shōten → Benzaiten


Inari → Nyoirin Kannon → Benzaiten

  References Appearing Below:
  ・ Kojiki 古事記 (Records of Ancient Matters; 712 CE)
  ・ Nihongi 日本紀 (Chronicles of Japan; 720 CE); aka Nihon Shoki 日本書紀
  ・ Butsuzō-zui 仏像図彙, the Illustrated Compendium of Buddhist Images, first published in 1690 with subsequent updates.
Encyclopedia of Shinto, Kokugakuin University



Click to Enlarge
Inari Daimyojin as appearing in the 1783 Butsuzo-zui
Inari Daimyōjin
Photo 1783 Butsuzō-zui



Inari 稲荷, the Japanese kami of rice and agriculture, and one of Japan's most popular divinities -- more than 30,000 shrines devoted to Inari are littered across the country (more than any other shrine type). Inari is enshrined at Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto and other Inari shrines nationwide. Kūkai 空海 (774-835 CE) introduced him to the all-important Tōji Temple 東寺 complex in Kyoto as a protective kami of the capital and emperor. Inari is commonly identified with Uganomitama (see below), who in turn is linked to the kami Ukemochi (see below), Ugajin (see below), and combinatory deity Uga Benzaiten. The kami Inari can appear in both male or female form, and his/her messenger and avatar is a white fox. In some Japanese circles, Inari is combined with the Hindu-Buddhist goddess Dakiniten, who also appears in artwork riding atop a white fox. This Inari-Dakini pairing is intimately connected to Benzaiten worship. Inari is also considered a transformation body of the Buddhist deity Nyoirin Kannon. Why the fox? The mountain kami 山の神 was believed to descend from its winter residence in the mountain to become the paddy-field kami 田の神 in the spring, residing there during the subsequent agricultural season. Following the fall harvest, the deity would return once again to its winter home in the mountains in its role as "mountain kami." All this probably took place at the same time that foxes appeared each season. As such, the fox became known as Inari's messenger. The fox, moreover, is commonly shown with a wish-granting jewel in its mouth or atop its tail. This jewel is a central pivot linking the fox with other jewel-bearing creatures and deities, including dragons, snakes, Benzaiten, Dakiniten, Kichijōten, Nyoirin Kannon, and others. For more on the Inari-Dakini linkage, click here. For more on the Inari-Benzaiten linkage, click here.


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Click to Enlarge
Inari Daimyojin as appearing in the 1783 Butsuzo-zui
Awa no Kokurei 阿波の穀霊
Spirit of Grains (Kokurei 穀霊)
Kami-Ichi-Nomiya Ōawa Jinja
上一宮大粟神社 Shrine.
Tokushima Prefecture.
Date unknown (modern?)
Photo this J-site.



Ōgetsuhime 大宜都比売 or Ōgetsuhimenokami 大宜都比売神 (Kojiki). Other spellings include 大宜津、大気津、大気都とも. A kami of grains whose name means "great female of foods." Her story appears in the Kojiki, wherein she disgorges food from her mouth, nose, and rectum to provide a feast for Susano-o 須佐之男命 (Kojiki), who had been expelled from heaven and had asked her for food. Susano-o was so enraged by her actions that he killed her. From her dead body sprang forth silkworms and all manner of grain (rice, millet, barley, soybeans). These were presented to the kami of production, Kamimusuhimioya 神産巣日御祖命 (Kojiki), who planted the seeds to bring forth the food crop. This story closely resembles the Nihongi myth of Ukemochi and Tsukuyomi (see below)  Because of this similarity, Ōgetsuhime and Ukemochi are sometimes identified as the same kami. Ōgetsuhime is also an aspect of Toyōkehime (see below). Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Shinto.

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Ōkuninushi 大国主神 (Kojiki and Nihongi). The Great Land Master, Lord of the Central Land of Reed Plains (aka Japan), the kami credited with firming the land, an agricultural deity. His story also involves the underworld (as does Benzaiten's) and a white rabbit. Learn more about him here. His name is spelled in various ways, although the main spelling 大国 can also be read Daikoku 大国, hence his association with Japan's Hindu-Buddhist deity of agriculture and wealth Daikokuten (whose Hindu representation involves snakes). The latter is closely linked to Benzaiten, and both are members of Japan's Seven Lucky Gods. Ōkuninushi is enshrined at Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine (one of the nation's oldest and most important) in Shimane Prefecture and at other shrines throughout Japan. Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Shinto. See images from Google Image Search.

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Ōmononushi 大物主神 (Nihongi). Kami enshrined on Mt. Miwa in Yamato at the time Ōkuninushi (see above) was engaged in the work of firming the land of Japan. According to the Nihongi, Ōmononushi was an alternate name for Ōkuninushi. The Nihongi also says Ōmononushi is another name for Ōnamuchi (see below), whose true form is that of a snake. In the Kojiki, Ōkuninushi fathered a child that later became the consort of Japan's legendary first emperor Jinmu. Ōmiwa Jinja 大神神社, one of Japan's oldest mountain shrines in Nara Prefecture, is said to be the home of a white snake. The mountain's protective deity is Miwa Daimyōjin 三輪大明神 (aka Ōmononushi, aka Ōkuninushi). In later centuries, the kami of Mt. Miwa was identified with Daikokuten. The latter is a Hindu deity who was initially a fierce god of war depicted in India with white snakes curled around his wrists, but later adopted into Japan's Buddhist pantheon as the god of agriculture and good fortune. Not surprisingly, Daikoku is closely linked to Benzaiten and her white snake. If we recall, Benzaiten is associated with the white snake-kami Ugajin and the combinatory deity called Uga Benzaiten. For more on snakes and the color white, see Animal Associations. Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Shinto; also see Evolution of the Concept of Kami; also see entry on Ugajin at the Encyclopedia of Shinto; also see the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (login = guest). See images from Google Image Search.

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Ōnamuchi or Ōnamuchinokami 大穴牟遅神 (Kojiki), 大己貴神 (Nihongi). An agricultural kami. An alternative name for Ōkuninushi (see above). In some texts, described as the "land-forming" or "land-creating" kami of the Izumo region. In the early 14th-century Japanese text Keiran Shūyōshū 渓嵐拾葉集, a section entitled Benzaiten Engi, or "The Miraculous Origins of Benzaiten," says Benzaiten is an important deity at Mt. Hiei and the mother of Ōnamuchi. It also says faith at Mt. Hiei flourishes because Benzaiten lives on the nearby island of Chikubushima. <source: page 174, Sarah Alizah Fremerman, Divine Impersonations: Nyoirin Kannon in Medieval Japan, Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 2008.> To learn more about Ōnamuchi , see the Encyclopedia of Shinto. View images from Google Image Search.

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Toyōkanome 豊宇賀能賣神. Female Tutelary of Cereals & Sake. Enshrined at Nagu Jinja 奈具神社 in Kyōtango City, Kyoto Prefecture. According to shrine legend, a celestial woman decides to descend to earth to bathe. She removes her feather robe (Hagoromo 羽衣) before getting into the water. An old couple snatch the feather robe, without which the celestial female cannot return to her heavenly abode. Says Stuart D.B. Picken in Essentials of Shinto: "She agreed to become their adopted daughter and brewed a delicious sake that made them very wealthy. They then turned her out and she wandered until she came to the village of Nagu 奈具, where she settled and became Toyōkanome-no-mikoto, transforming herself into a kami of cereals." <end quote> Toyōkanome's installment at Nagu reportedly prompted another local kami, Toyōkehime (see below), to move to the Grand Shrines of Ise. <source: Encyclopedia of Shinto>

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Toyōkehime or Toyōke Hime no Kami 豊宇気比売神 (Kojiki). Also spelled 豊宇気毘売神. Also known as Toyōke no Ōkami 豊受大神. Tutelary Kami of Food. Toyōkehime is identified with numerous other deities, including Toyōkanome, Ukemochi, Ōgetsuhime, and Ukanomitama (see above & below). Toyōkehime is described in old texts as making food offerings to Amaterasu. She is enshrined at the Outer Shrine (Gekū or Wataraigū) of the Grand Shrines of Ise. Commonly identified as the counterpart to goddess Amaterasu, and sometimes described as a male deity, a moon deity, and a water deity, Dainichi of the Diamond Realm, or Shikidaibon Tennō 如大梵天王 (Skt. = Mahābrahma Deva). Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Shinto.

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Tsukuyomi 月読命 (Kami of Agriculture, the Moon, the Sea, and Ruler of the Night). Tsukuyomi killed the food goddess Ukemochi (see above) after she vomited rice and fish from her mouth to feed him, and from her dead body emerged all manner of cereals (food) and game, including oxen and horses. Tsukuyomi is commonly considered a male counterpart to the female kami Amaterasu. The Nihongi says Amaterasu was so enraged by Tsukuyomi's killing of Ukemochi that she banished him from their common heavenly abode, declaring him an "evil kami." Since then they have lived apart, resulting in the separation of day and night (Amaterasu = sun, light; Tsukuyomi = moon, dark). Tsukuyomi is considered a tutelary of agriculture because of his involvement in the death of the food deity Ukemochi and and because of the close link between the moon and the harvest in the lunar calendar. Tsukuyomi is the object of worship (saijin 祭神) at the detached shrine (betsugū) Tsukuyomi no Miya of the Grand Shrines of Ise and at several other shrines in Yamashiro (Kyoto) and Ise (Mie Pref). Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Shinto. View images from Google Image Search.

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Masculine Ugajin, Feminine Ugajin
Male Ugajin and Female Ugajin
Photographed at Musee Guimet by PHGCOM. See Photo 1  |  Photo 2
No date given.

Ugajin 宇賀神. Also called Uka no Kami, Hakujaku / Byakuja 白蛇, or Ukaya 宇賀耶, or Ugafukujin 宇賀福神. A Japanese snake kami of water, rice, agriculture, foodstuffs, good fortune, and wealth. Appears commonly in artwork as a white snake with the head of an old man. Most sources believe Ugajin is none other than the kami of foodstuffs Uganomitama / Ukanomitama (see above). Sometime during the latter half of Japan's Heian era (794-1185), the powerful Tendai sect on Mt. Hiei (near Kyoto) assisted in the merger of the Hindu-Buddhist deity Benzaiten with Ugajin to create the combinatory deity known as Uga Benzaiten 宇賀弁財天. The snake kami had other titles as well, including Uga Shinnō 宇賀神王 (Divine King Uga) and Uga Shinshō 宇賀神将 (Divine General Uga) -- titles appearing in the apocryphal Three Sutra of Benten around the 13th century. From Mt. Hiei, the cult of Uga Benzaiten made its way to Chikubushima 竹生島 (Shiga Pref.), Itsukushima 厳島 (Hiroshima), Enoshima 江ノ島 (Kanagawa), Tenkawa 天川 (Nara), and elsewhere in Japan, with her iconography becoming increasingly complex. Uga Benzaiten is further identified with Inari (see above), an extremely popular male/female kami of rice and agriculture. Inari's messenger and avatar is a white fox. Benzaiten's linkage with Ugajin (water, wealth) and Inari (rice, food crop) are the main wellsprings of her longstanding popularity in Japan. In modern Japan, Ugafukujin is a popular deity prayed to for bumper crops and business success. Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Shinto.

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Uga no Mitama 宇迦之御魂神 (Kojiki), 倉稲魂命 (Nihongi). Also written 宇迦御魂. Also pronounced Ukanomitama. A kami of grains and foodstuffs, said to embody the spirit of rice (Kokurei 穀霊). This kami is sometimes identified with Toyōkehime and Ukemochi, but most commonly considered an aspect of the popular rice kami Inari. From the medieval period (12th century onward), the kami was linked to popular kami such as the snake-bodied human-headed Ugajin and combinatory deity Uga (Uka) Benzaiten. Uganomitama is enshrined, along with Inari, at Fushimi Inari Taisha (Kyoto) and other Inari shrines nationwide. One of those shrines, Ebumi Jinja Shrine 江文神社 in Sakyo Ward 左京区, near Kyoto city, initially venerated Ubusuna Kami 産土神, a protective land deity whose name literally means "productive land." Today it worships Uganomitama and Ebumi Daimyōjin 江文大明神. The latter kami is one of the Thirty Kami Tutelaries of the 30 Days of the Month (8th day) and one of 12 tutelaries of Mt. Hiei. Ebumi's honji (Buddhist counterpart) is Benzaiten. Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Shinto. See images from Google Image Search.

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Ukemochi or Ukemochinokami 保食神 (Nihongi). A female tutelary of foodstuffs. Uke 食 and Uka 倉稲 both mean food, and thus this kami is sometimes identified as Ōgetsuhime (see above). She vomited food from her mouth to provide a feast to the moon kami Tsukuyomi 月読命, who had been sent to meet her by the supreme sun goddess Amaterasu. Tsukuyomi was so angered by the vomit -- believing the food to be "polluted" -- that he killed her with his sword. From her dead body sprang forth horse and cattle and all manner of grain (rice, wheat, beans). These were presented to Amaterasu, who planted the seeds to bring forth the food crop. This story closely resembles the Kojiki myth of Ōgetsuhime (see above). Because of this similarity, Ukemochi and Ōgetsuhime are sometimes identified as the same kami. In addition, the Nihongi says Amaterasu was so enraged by Tsukuyomi's killing of Ukemochi that she banished him from their common heavenly abode, declaring him an "evil kami." Since then they have lived apart, resulting in the separation of day and night (Amaterasu = sun, light; Tsukuyomi = moon, dark). Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Shinto. See images from Google Image Search. 

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Wakaukanome 若宇加能売能命. Tutelary of foodstuffs. Also known as Hirose no Ōmikami 広瀬大神. The kami tutelary of the meals taken by the emperor. Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Shinto.

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