Amaterasu, Amaterasu-omikami, and Ohiru-menomuchi-no-kami are names for the sun goddess in Japanese mythology and perhaps the most important Shinto deity. Her name, Amaterasu, means literally "(that which) illuminates Heaven." She was born from the left eye of Izanagi as he purified himself in a river and went on to become the ruler of the Higher Celestial Plane (Takamagahara) and was also considered to be directly linked in lineage to the Imperial Household of Japan and the Emperor, who were considered descendants of the kami themselves.
Amaterasu is described in the Kojiki as the sun goddess who was born from Izanagi, who was also accompanied by her siblings Susanoo, the storm deity, and Tsukuyomi, the moon deity. In the Kojiki, Amaterasu is described as the goddess from which all light emanates and is often referred to as the sun goddess because of her warmth and compassion for the people who worshiped her.
Most of her mythos revolves around an incident where the goddess traps herself in a cave because of her brother's actions. For a while, everything amongst the three revered gods was peaceful and all of the world ran smoothly. One day Susanoo, in a drunken rampage trampled Amaterasu's rice fields, filled all of her irrigation ditches and threw excrement into her palace and her shrines. The Omikami asked her brother to stop but he ignored her and even went so far as to throw the corpse of a skinned horse at her hand-maidens who were weaving at the time. The women were killed by the wood breaking apart and piercing their bodies (most sources say it was their reproductive organs that were pierced).
Amaterasu was greatly angered and in protest she shut herself in the Heavenly Cave and sealed it shut with a giant rock. As a result, the world was consumed with darkness. Without her, everything began to wither and die. Eight million Kami gathered in front of her cave and devised a way to lure her out. Together they set up a mirror across from the entrance. Ame-no-Uzume, the voluptuous goddess of merriment turned over a washtub and began a sensual dance, tapping the beat on the tub. All of the gods made a great noise of yelling and cheering and laughing. Amaterasu peeked out to see what the noise was about. She asked the nearest god what was going on and he replied that there was a new goddess. When Amaterasu asked where she was, he pointed to the mirror. She had never seen her self and when she caught her reflection, she stared at the radiance of her own form. She was so surprised she said, "omo-shiroi," which means both "white face"--which the Omikami had--and "fascinating". When she was out of the way, Tajikara-O shut the rock behind her. Having her out of the cave, the gods convinced her to go back into the Celestial Plain and all life began to grow again and become strong in her light. Once back in the Celestial Plain, she made sure that she was ready for her brother's harsh actions again by having a bow and quiver at her side.
Later she sent her grandson Ninigi-no-Mikoto to pacify Japan--his great-grandson became the first emperor, Emperor Jimmu. He had a sacred sword (Kusanagi), jewel (Yasakani no magatama), and mirror (Yata no kagami) that became the Japanese imperial regalia.
Amaterasu is credited with inventing the cultivation of rice and wheat, the use of silkworms, and weaving with a loom.
Her most important shrine, the Grand Shrine of Ise, is in Ise in western Honshu. The shrine is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years. In that shrine she is represented as a mirror, one of the three Japanese imperial regalia. The Ise Shrine is said to be the home of Amaterasu. This shrine, however, is not open to the public.
She is celebrated every July 17 with street processions all over the country. Festivities on December 21, the winter solstice, celebrate her coming out of the cave.
Until forced to recant (in the terms of surrender at the end of World War II), the Japanese royal family claimed descent from Amaterasu, and the emperor was officially considered divine.