Shimaumi: Aquapelagic imagery and poetics of ‘island-laying’ in Kojiki


  • Juni’chiro Suwa



Kojiki, one of the oldest surviving records of Japanese history and mythology compiled in 712 CE, tells of the origin of the Japanese archipelago and nation. The initial chapter is known as shimaumi, or ‘island-laying’, where the birth of gods also gives rise to the formation of Japanese islands. This paper considers two aspects of shimaumi, firstly the spatiality of the myth and how aquapelagic imagery occurs both within shima (a locus of livelihood) and within the choice of kanji. Secondly, this paper considers how the aquapelagic imagery of shimaumi can be characterised as territorializing the sacred through ‘island-naming as a god’. Additionally, while Kojiki is mostly written in classical Chinese, some Japanese words and phrases are used for island names, onomatopoeia, mystical words and transliterated poetry within Chinese syntax. Performance, particularly of these Japanese elements, means that Kojiki can be viewed as an act of totohogi; a rejuvenation of the world in Japanese cosmology that is as individual as each re-telling.

Author Biography

Juni’chiro Suwa

Jun'ichiro Suwa specialises in cultural anthropology with particular interest in performance and music. He has conducted research in Papua New Guinea, Romania, Tuva and Japanese localities. He has authored a monograph about PNG power band music and epistemology of sound (both in Japanese). His recent interest includes island studies with Japanese indigenous perspectives.