When Megumi Tachikawa was about to start a new series, its genre was the first thing to be determined: fantasy. She wondered whether she could base the story on a legend, myth or tradition, preferably something with many characters, and after researching quite a bit, she decided to settle on Japanese mythology specifically — in favour of Greek or Chinese mythology in particular because she felt those were already often seen in fiction.
Keep in mind that Dream Saga is not about Japanese mythology, and the manga as a whole also does not give off a mythology “vibe”. It’s a shoujo fantasy adventure first and foremost, and includes elements inspired by mythology. As such, you needn’t be knowledgeable about it to enjoy Dream Saga to its full extent. Speaking from experience though, the way the series integrates those elements makes mythology interesting and tangible even to young readers. This section is thus an overview of the mythological elements that come up in the series, which are then compared to their place within Dream Saga’s narrative.
Note that I’m not knowledgeable about Japanese mythology; the information displayed below is a result of internet research. Aside from Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia of Shinto and Encyclopedia Mythica were valuable sources. For those interested in reading the extended tales within the descriptions, I have provided links within the text.
Do not read beyond Setting if you want to avoid heavy spoilers.
“The plain of high heaven”. Different spellings of this exist. According to the Japanese creation myth, light gathered at the top of the universe, and below it, the particles formed heaven: Takamagahara. In Shinto (a Japanese religion), Takamagahara is the dwelling place the Kami (the spirits worshipped in Shinto). It is connected to the mortal world (see below) by the Ama-no-uki-hashi (“the floating bridge of heaven”).
In the series, Nakime explains to Yuuki that the people of Nakatsukuni believe Takamagahara to be the heavens, which is its position in mythology. The actual Takamagahara Yuuki visits, however, is a parallel world linked to her own through dreams; it is neither heaven nor the realm of gods.
“The middle country of reed beds”. After the particles in the creation myth had formed heaven, the rest of them, which had not risen above, formed the dense dark mass that is Earth. Nakatsukuni is thus the world between Takagamahara (the heavens) and Yomi (the netherworld). The term also stands for the country of Japan.
In the series, Nakatsukuni is treated as the “default” world, and is pretty much the same as it is according to mythology.
Izanagi-no-mikoto & Izanami-no-mikoto
“The male who invites” and “the female who invites”. One of the five pairs of gods belonging to the Kamiyonanayo, the seven divine generations that came forth after heaven and Earth had been formed. They are siblings that are married to each other. Izanagi symbolizes the sky and light, while Izanami personifies the Earth and darkness. Together, they created the Japanese archipelago as well as many deities. I recommend giving the myth of Izanami’s death and Izanagi’s subsequent journey to the underworld a read, especially if you’re familiar with Orpheus and Eurydice as well as Hades and Persephone in Greek mythology. In its aftermath, Izanami became the goddess of death, whereas Izanagi became the god of life.
After returning from the underworld, Izanagi went through a purification ceremony, which not only cleansed him, but gave birth to many deities. During the last step of the rite, Amaterasu (the goddess of the sun), Tsukuyomi (the god of the moon) and Susanoo (the god of seas and storms) were born. Izanagi gave each of them a realm to rule over: to Amaterasu Takamagahara, the heavens, to Tsukuyomi the night, and to Susanoo the seas.
Izanagi and Izanami do not appear in the story, though Yuuki briefly learns about them at school. However, all three siblings that sprang forth from Izanagi’s cleansing rite are important to the story.
“Shining in heaven”. The sun goddess is the central figure in Shinto religion; members of the Japanese imperial family are considered to be her direct descendants. Due to her radiance, her father Izanagi chose her to rule over Takagamahara, the heavens.
Amaterasu in Dream Saga is very much like the sun goddess she is based on; she, too, personifies the sun, and is immensely important to the world. However, as is later explained, “Amaterasu” isn’t so much a person or name as it is a title, a position. Princess Kaya in particular was raised to become Amaterasu’s successor. The current sun goddess is the ruler Tsukuyomi’s actual sister (though this revelation is of no consequence). According to Tsukuyomi, male heirs of the dynasty rule the land, whereas female heirs become shrine maidens to protect the people.
“Heavenly rock cave”. Most of the original myth has already been retold under Revelations (the beginning part of The Project) due to the myth being central to Dream Saga’s story. Susanoo, one of Amaterasu’s younger brothers, went on a rampage in Takamagahara, which drove the saddened Amaterasu to hide in the cave. Dream Saga skips part of the myth though: To lure the goddess out, the gods did indeed hold a party, and when Amaterasu peeked out of the cave entrance, a streak of light escaped — this is what the Japanese refer to as “dawn”. The gods had also hung a mirror in front of the cave, and Amaterasu’s fascination with her own reflection is what lured her out all the way.
Yuuki learns about the myth at school, but the “cave” in Dream Saga is a figurative one. The sun’s disappearance in the myth as well as in Yuuki’s reality have the same effect: The world darkens, nature is off-balance and strange creatures roam the land. The reason behind it, however, is not because Amaterasu went into hiding. Nakime says that Yuuki must journey to help the weakened Amaterasu, and as Yuuki learns on her journey, Amaterasu is fighting off nature’s wrath at the floating Tenju Palace. She may not have retreated as the Amaterasu in the myth, but she is heavily restricted.
“Serving one’s thoughts”. The god of wisdom and intelligence. Said to be able to hold myriads of thoughts simultaneously, he is always called upon to provide counsel on the decisions of the deities.
As with Amaterasu, Omoikane in Dream Saga is a title. The current Omoikane is Nakime, who sets the Magatama free and who guides Yuuki’s group on their quest. Omoikane is written as the position closest to Amaterasu, serving directly under the sun goddess and supporting her even in her weakened state, without ever leaving their post. As it turns out, the Heavenly Rock Cave Project is a plan devised and executed by the Omoikane. When you consider the information Nakime withheld after sending Yuuki on her quest, it’s quite fitting that she is based on the god who can pursue many different thoughts at a time.
Also spelled Tsukiyomi. His name is thought to refer to the lunar calendar: “reading” the phases of the “moon”. The god of the moon and ruler of the night, one of Amaterasu’s younger brothers. Originally, he resided with Amaterasu in Takamagahara, but after he upset her by killing a goddess, Amaterasu parted with him, thus separating day and night.
Tsukuyomi is more prominent in the series than he seems to be in mythology. Tsukuyomi, too, is a title — the title of Takamagahara’s ruler. Dream Saga’s Tsukuyomi is the current Amaterasu’s elder rather than younger brother, and it is him who rules the land, not Amaterasu. (Note that Takamagahara within the series is also not considered to be the heavens.) He is not affiliated with the moon, though his ambitions do concern the resurrection of the creature which would bring about Ragnarök.
Different spellings of this exist. The god of seas and storms, Amaterasu’s youngest brother. When his father Izanagi distributed the dominions, Susanoo wasn’t happy with his share, and there was a great rivalry between him and Amaterasu. Eventually, he challenged her and lost. In his rage, he destroyed great parts of Takamagahara. These events led Amaterasu to go into hiding, and Susanoo was banished from the heavens.
He descended to the province of Izumo, where he met a couple that had lost seven of their daughters year after year to the Yamato-no-Orochi, a serpent with eight heads and eight tails. Susanoo offered to save Kushinada-hime, their last daughter, in exchange for her hand in marriage. Afterwards, he tricked the serpent and slew it. In one of its tails, he found a sword, which he offered to Amaterasu as a reconciliation gift, and the sword became one of Japan’s three Imperial Regalia.
When Yuuki’s group researches Japanese mythology in hope that they’d find something helpful to their quest, Miss Nagato overhears them mentioning “the enemy”. She tells them of Susanoo’s actions after his banishment, and how he rescued the princess (though Kuashinada-hime is not mentioned by name). When the group returns to Takamagahara in their dreams and continue their quest bring back the abducted Princess Kaya (Miss Nagato’s other self!), they do in fact come across the serpent Orochi — a creature made out of crystal and guardian of the Crystal Forest.
While the group is trapped by crystal shards, Takaomi rushes forward, and Souta remarks that they are now witnessing the myth itself: Takaomi outwits the Orochi, receives a shard after it admits its defeat, which powers up his sword, and rescues the princess. Susanoo himself may not appear in Dream Saga, but Takaomi’s fight with the Orochi, the sword and the rescued Kaya are based on the myth. Although Takaomi himself has no personal link to Amaterasu, the rivalry in the myth is reflected in how he turns into the monster that devours the sun. After awakening, Nakime does in fact refer to him as Susanoo.
“Distinguishing heavenly gods”. Amatsukami is the collective name of the first five gods to come into existence in the creation myth, even before Izanagi and Izanami, who are part of the seven divine generations that came afterwards. At least three of the Amatsukami do not have a definite gender, and they all went into hiding after emerging.
The term Amatsukami does not appear in the German translation of Dream Saga, but it does in the English version: Nakime mentions the four gods in possession of a Magatama when she first speaks to Yuuki and asks for her help. Very late into the story, Souta figures out that the current Magatama holders are the successors of the five gods who lured Amaterasu out of the heavenly rock cave. As he mentions five of them, Nakime as Omoikane is included in the count. The names of the original gods that are brought up, however, are not the names of the five Amatsukami (see the list under Figures). As you can see, while the term Amatsukami is used, their role and names in Dream Saga are not meant to correspond with those in the myth.
Also spelled Futodama. The ancestor god of the Inbe clan, whose members serve as court ritualists. When Amaterasu went into hiding, he prayed, performed divine rites, and erected a tree decorated with five hundred jewels and a mirror in front of the cave. One version says that when Amaterasu stepped out of the cave, he sealed the cave with a rope so that she wouldn’t go back.
Souta eventually figures out that the four Magatama holders who have gathered around Yuuki are the successors of the gods in the myth of the Heavenly Rock Cave. Souta succeeds the priest who prayed in front of the closed cave. Takamagahara’s Souta shares his duties as a priest with his mythological counterpart.
“Heaven-hand-power”. He was the god who forcefully pulled Amaterasu out of her cave when she opened it to peek outside. In other versions, he either held open the cave or closed it behind Amaterasu instead.
Taizou is revealed to be the successor of the god who forced the cave open all the way so that Amaterasu could step out. Taizou likes to get involved in fights in both worlds, and his Magatama imbues him with immense strength.
An androgynous or transgender god who creates the mirror which lures Amaterasu out of her cave. Due to this, they are worshipped by makers of mirrors and stonecutters. They may also be the ancestor of the Kagami-zukuri, the mirror-maker clan.
Keima is revealed to be the successor of the god who created the tools necessary to open the cave. Keima likes to experiment with many different materials in both worlds, and is an inventor in Takamagahara.
“Whirling”. Also known as “The Great Persuader” and “Heaven’s Forthright Female”. The goddess of dawn, happiness and joy. When Amaterasu refused to come out of her cave, Amaterasu performed a lewd dance while tearing off her clothing. This made the other gods laugh heartily, and their audible enjoyment made Amaterasu so curious that she opened the cave. Her dances are believed to be the origin of Japanese ritual dances, such as the Kagura.
Nachi is revealed to be the successor of the most prominent figure in the plan to lure Amaterasu out. Nachi’s personality in both worlds matches the bright, outgoing, loud and provocative personality of the goddess, including the interest in dancing. Nachi’s Magatama also breathes magic into dance and song, as the performances have healing and soothing properties. Perhaps it is the focus on Ame-no-Uzume’s body that inspired Nachi’s different sexes and genders.
This part is dedicated to the Imperial Regalia of Japan, which are also referred to as the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan: the sword, the mirror, and the jewel. Together, they represent the three primary virtues. These sacred objects have been a key element in enthronement ceremonies since ancient times, and due to their legendary status, their locations are not confirmed (though they are supposedly kept isolatedly at various shrines) and photographs or drawings of them do not exist. Some speculate that they do not even exist. Unlike other — especially western — insignia, the Japanese regalia are steeped in myth.
Legend has it that Amaterasu entrusted them to her grandson Ninigi-no-mikoto, the ancestor of the Japanese imperial line, when she sent him to Earth in order to pacify Japan. The three items were entrusted to him as symbols of his divine authority. Later, they were passed on to his descendant, the legendary first emperor of Japan; together, they serve as symbols of the ruler’s legitimacy as a descendant of Amaterasu. This legitimizing function extends the replicas that have long since been made by the emperors.
“Grass-cutting sword”. Represents valour. According to myth, this is the sword Susanno pulled out of the serpent Orochi and offered to his sister Amaterasu as an apology. Later on, it saved the life of the hero Yamatotakeru-no-mikoto: When a warlord set fire to the grass around Takeru in order to kill him, he swung the sword around to cut the grass, not wanting the fire to catch on. In doing so, he noticed that the sword enabled its wielder to command the winds. He used the wind to drive the flames towards his enemies, thus killing them. Susanoo originally named the sword Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi (“sword of the gathering clouds of heaven”).
Takaomi receives a sword from an alchemist late into the journey. When the group encounters the Crystal Orochi, Takaomi’s actions mirror those of the mythical Susanoo: He outwits the serpent and receives one of its shards as proof of its submission. The shard merges with his sword to give it new form, which allows him to cut through water and ice to free the princess. Later on, it transforms into the sixth Magatama and sets Takaomi’s true destiny as Susanoo in motion.
“Eight-hand mirror”. Represents wisdom. This is the mirror that supposedly lured Amaterasu out of her cave when she became fascinated with her own reflection. Its name refers to its octagonal shape. History says that the mirror was repeatedly damaged by fire, but a replica was made from its ashes.
Two mirrors are crucial to Yuuki’s quest: the Shinjukyo (“deity and beast mirror”) and the Shinkakyo (“deity and flower mirror”). In the story, the two mirrors call out to each other, and it is only together that they reveal the staircase to the Tenju Palace, where Amaterasu resides. Megumi Tachikawa explains that the latter is her own creation, but that the Shinjukyo exists in reality. (See Miscellaneous.) The Shinjukyo is entrusted to Yuuki by Nakime, and allows her to communicate with Nakime. The Shinkakyo is one of Princess Kaya’s possessions and allows her to observe others from a distance.
“Eight-foot curved jewel”. Represents benevolence. The item is most likely a necklace of Magatama: comma-shaped beads that already existed in prehistoric Japan. They were formerly used as decorative jewels, and gained spiritual meaning and uses later on. Along with the mirror, many Magatama were hung on a tree to lure Amaterasu out of her cave. Among the three regalia, this one may be the most valuable due to it being the only one that still exists in its original form, the other two being replica forged after the originals had been lost.
Nakime is seen unleashing the Magatama in front of a big tree on the first few pages of the manga — surely a reference to the Magatama being hung on to a tree in the myth. The Magatama are what enable the chosen ones to hold memories of both worlds, and grant them special powers.
This part covers terms that are not based on Japanese mythology.
“Fate of the gods.” Dream Saga’s translations transcribed this in very odd ways, Raghnareg or Lagunareku, but I am certain that it’s supposed to be the term from Norse mythology — because what else is the Armageddon of the tradition? Ragnarök is a series of events in the future, including natural disasters and the great battle at the end of the world, after which the world perishes and is born anew, cleansed and fertile. Among those events is the darkening of the sun as it is consumed by Fenrir, thus bringing darkness over the world.
The sky in Nakatsukuni has been dark for a while due to the sun not showing itself, while nature in Takamagahara has gone off-balance. It is eventually revealed that Yuuki wasn’t called to Takamagahara to save Amaterasu, as the sun will be devoured by a monster — not a wolf, but a dragon — so that the world can end and be reborn.
“Ra (is) Horus of the two horizons.” Different spellings of this exist. You may already be familiar with Ra (also spelled Re), a major god in ancient Egyptian religion. In later times, Ra-Horakhty was the linking of the two gods Horus, god of the sky, and Ra, god of the sun. Ra-Horakhty is thus referred to as the god of the rising sun, representing the sun’s path as it journeys from horizon to horizon.
Amaterasu and Ra are both central gods of their respective religion due to the sun’s importance to the world and the people; it stands for renewal, creation and life itself. Yuuki is referred to as Horacty — “horizon girl” — in Takamagahara, at least by those familiar with the tradition. In retrospect, knowing the origin and meaning behind Ra-Horakhty makes a lot of sense: Yuuki travels to the sun goddess Amaterasu and is revealed to be her successor in the new world. She, too, is a sun, and merges with her real in body in Takamagahara to become the new sun goddess.
Its Japanese name is Karyobinga. An immortal Buddhist creature, depicted with the head of a human and the torso of a bird along with a long flowing tail. It is noted for its melodious voice, with which it preaches the Buddhist scripture as it dwells in paradise. It sings in its shell before hatching. Other versions depict it as a celestial being that plays music, dances and flies through the air.
A bird from Chinese mythology that stands for prosperity and grace. It is nowadays depicted as a composite of many different birds, especially the pheasant and the peacock, and its plumage shines in the five sacred colours, which represent the virtues. Although it, too, is associated with fire, it is not to be confused with the western Phoenix or the Chinese Red Bird (Suzaku in Japanese). It may be divided into two birds that complement each other: Feng, the male, and Huang, the female. Nowadays, it is more often depicted as a female to be paired up with the Chinese Dragon; together, they symbolize the imperial couple. Like the Chinese Qilin, it thus signifies the harmony of male and female elements.
In Japan, it is known as the Ho-oh, which either only appears to mark the beginning of a new era, for example at the birth of a virtuous emperor, or very rarely in times of peace and prosperity.
Binga is a sacred bird in Takamagahara, and is recognized as such in her true form. Curiously, Megumi Tachikawa mentions that Binga’s supposed to be a mythical creature from India, which then spread to China, and from there to Japan, where they refer to it as Ho-oh. There are many mythical and sacred birds, however. I believe that the Indian figure the mangaka speaks of is the Garuda in Hinduism and Buddhism, but I’m not sure whether it matches up with what is shown of Binga. I also couldn’t find links between Garuda and the two birds listed above, though of course, it’s very possible that the different beliefs inspired each other. Surely you know the Egyptian-Greek Phoenix too, which is associated with the sun and rebirth. It would appear that Dream Saga’s Karyobinga, just like its mythological counterparts, is a conglomeration of various mythological birds.
“Deity and beast mirror”. Not a mythological or sacred object, but a type of bronze mirror that actually existed, depicting gods and animals of Chinese mythology. It was frequently produced in the CHina of the past, and spread to Japan and Korea. The Shinjukyo is associated with the Japanese Shaman Queen Himiko, as she supposedly received one hundred bronze mirrors as presents from Emperor Cao Rui. They were found in archeological excavations later.
Himiko is a figure of legend, and one of the theories concerning her identity is that "Himiko" is not so much a name as it is a title; following her reputation as a mighty sorceress, her name may be a combination of the characters for sun and shamaness. Thus, some speculate that she may have been a priestess serving Amaterasu or Amaterasu herself, and draw parallels between the two. Megumi Tachikawa briefly mentions those speculations, and cites them as the reason she chose to include the Shinjukyo.
In turn, the Shinjukyo in Dream Saga is one of the two mirrors that serve to include the Yata-no-Kagami as an element. See Objects.
The main characters’ last names are the names of provinces of ancient Japan.