Ancient Japan

Jimmu Tenno



Introduction   In Japanese history, Jimmu is the founder of the Japanese Imperial line. In the historical argument of the Nihongi and the Kojiki, Jimmu, or Kamu-Yamato-Ihare-Biko in his proper Japanese name, translated the heavenly rule of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, into an earthly realm. The story of his rule is the story of conquest, in much the same way the story of the Hebrew Book of Judges , is the story of the divinely ordained conquest of Canaan by the Hebrews. Like the Book of Judges, the story of Jimmu emphasizes the divine nature of the mission and the special place of Japan in the world.

   Western historians and modern Japanese historians generally believe the story of Jimmu to be legendary; throughout most of Japanese cultural history, however, the story of Jimmu was a powerful account of true history and the founding of Japan. Whatever the status of Jimmu in history, it is almost certain that a Yamato clan spread eastward across Japan and eventually dominated a large swathe of territory under the control of other clans. This Yamato clan would become the Imperial clan and establish an Imperial rule that lasts to this very day.




Emperor Jimmu   The Emperor Kami Yamato Ihare-biko's personal name was Hiko-hoho-demi. 1

   He was the fourth child of Hiko-nagisa-ta u-gaya-fuki-ahezu no Mikoto. His mother's name was Tama-yori-hime, daughter of the Sea-God. From his birth, this Emperor was of clear intelligence and resolute will. At the age of fifteen he was made heir to the throne. When he grew up, he married Ahira-tsu-hime, of the district of Ata in province of Hiuga, and made her his consort. By her he had Tagishi-mimi no Mikoto and Kisu-mimi no Mikoto.




The Expedition to the East   When he reached the age of forty-five, he addressed his older brothers and his children, saying,

   "Of old, our Heavenly Deities Taka-mi-musubi no Mikoto and Oho-hiru-me Mikoto, pointing to this land of fair rice-ears of the fertile reed-plain, gave it to our Heavenly ancestor, Hiko-ho no ninigi no Mikoto. Thereupon Hiko-ho no ninigi no Mikoto, throwing open the barrier of Heaven and clearing a cloud-path, urged on his superhuman course until he came to rest. At this time the world was given over to widespread desolation. It was an age of darkness and disorder. In this gloom, therefore, he fostered justice, and so governed this western border. 2 Our Imperial ancestors and Imperial parent, like gods, like sages, accumulated happiness and amassed glory.

   Many years elapsed. From the date when our Heavenly ancestor descended until now it is over 1,792,470 years. But the remote regions do not yet enjoy the blessings of Imperial rule. Every town has always been allowed to have its lord, and every village its chief, who, each one for himself, makes division of territory and practices mutual aggression and conflict.

   Now I have heard from the Ancient of the Sea, 3 that in the East there is a fair land encircled on all sides by blue mountains. 4 Moreover, there is there one who flew down riding in a Heavenly Rock-boat. I think that this land will undoubtedly be suitable for the extension of the Heavenly task, 5 so that its glory should fill the universe. It is, doubtless, the center of tbe world. 6 The person who flew down was, I believe, Nigi haya-hi. 7 Why should we not proceed to that region and make it the capital?"

   All the Imperial Princes answered, and said,

   " The truth of this is manifest. This thought is constantly present to our minds also. Let us go there quickly."

   This was the year Kinoye Tora (51st) of the Great Year. 8

   In that year, in winter, on the Kanoto Tori day (the 5th) of the 10th month, the new moon of which was on the day Hinoto Mi, the Emperor in person led the Imperial Princes and a naval force on an expedition against the East. When he arrived at the Haya-suhi gate, 9 there was there a fisherman who came riding in a boat. The Emperor summoned him, and then inquired of him, saying, "Who are you?"

   He answered and said, "Your servant is a Country-God, and his name is Utsu-hiko. 10 I angle for fish in the bays of ocean. Hearing that the son of the Heavenly Deity was coming, I came quickly to receive him."

   Again the Emperor inquired of him, saying, "Can you act as my guide?"

   He answered and said, "I will do so."

   The Emperor ordered the end of a pole of shihi wood 11 to be given to the fisher, and caused him to be taken and pulled into the Imperial vessel, of which he was made pilot. A name was specially granted to him and he was called Shihi-netsu-hiko. 12 He was the first ancestor of the Yamato no Atahe.




The First Attack on Yamato   Summer, 4th month, 9th day.

   The Imperial forces in martial array marched on to Tatsuta. The road was narrow and precipitous, and the men were unable to march abreast, so they returned and again endeavored to go eastward, crossing over Mount Ikoma. In this way they entered the inner country of Yamato.

   Now when Naga-sune-hiko 13 heard this, he said, "The object of the children of the Heavenly Deity in coming here is surely to rob me of my country."

   So he straightway levied all the forces under his dominion, and intercepted them at the Hill of Kusaka. A battle was engaged, and Itsuse no Mikoto was hit by a random arrow on the elbow. The Imperial forces were unable to advance against the enemy.

   The Emperor was angered and revolved in his inmost heart a divine plan, saying, "I am the descendant of the Sun-Goddess, and if I proceed against the Sun to attack the enemy, I shall act contrary to the way of Heaven. Better to retreat and make a show of weakness. Then sacrificing to the Gods of Heaven and Earth, and bringing on our backs the might of the Sun-Goddess, let us follow her rays and trample them down. If we do so, the enemy will surely be routed of themselves, and we shall not stain our swords with blood."

   They all said, "It is good."

   He then gave orders to the army, saying, "Wait a while, and advance no further." So he withdrew his forces, and the enemy also did not dare to attack him. He then retired to the port of Kusaka, where he set up shields, and made a warlike show. Therefore the name of this port was changed to Tatetsu 14 which is now corrupted into Tadetsu.




The Kume Song   After this Ukeshi the Younger prepared a great feast of beef and sake, with which he entertained the Imperial army. The Emperor distributed this flesh and sake to the common soldiers, upon which they sang the following verses:
In the high castle of Uda
I set a snare for woodcock,
And waited,
But no woodcock came to it;
A valiant whale came to it.
   This is called a Kume 15 song. At the present time, when the Department of Music performs this song, they still beat out the rhythm great and small by the hand, as well as a distinction of coarse and fine in the notes of the voice. This is by a rule handed down from antiquity.




Local Deities   After this the Emperor wished to inspect the Land of Yoshino, so taking personal command of the light troops, he made a progress round by way of Ukechi mura in Uda.

   When he came to Yoshino, there was a man who came out of a well. He shone, and had a tail. The Emperor inquired of him, saying, "What kind of man are you?"

   He answered and said, "Your servant is a local Deity, and his name is Wi-hikari." 16 This deity was the first ancestor of the Yoshino no Obito.

   Proceeding a little further, there was another man with a tail, who burst open a rock and came forth from it. The Emperor inquired of him, saying:" What kind of man are you?"

   He answered and said, "Your servant is the child of Iha-oshi wake." 17 This deity was the first ancestor of the Kuzu 18 of Yoshino.

   Then skirting the river, he proceeded westward, when there appeared another man, who had made a fish trap and was catching fish. On the Emperor making inquiry of him, he answered and said, "Your servant is the son of Nihe-motsu." 19 This deity was the first ancestor of the U-kahi of Ata. 20




The War with the Bandits   9th month, 5th day.

   The Emperor ascended to the peak of Mount Takakura in Uda, from which he had a prospect over all the land. On Kuni-mi 21 Hill the spotted eighty bandits. Moreover at the ascending slope of Me-zaka 22 there was posted an army of women, and at the ascending slope of Wo-zaka 23 there was stationed a force of men. At the ascending slope of Sumi zaka 24 was placed burning charcoal. This was the origin of the names Me-zaka, Wo-zaka and Sumi-zaka.

   Again there was the army of Ye-shiki, 25 which covered all the village of Ihare. All the places occupied by the enemy army of robber-slaves were strong positions, and therefore the roads were cut off and obstructed so that there was no room for passage.

   The Emperor, indignant at this, made prayer that night in person, and then fell asleep. The Heavenly Deity appeared to him in a dream, and instructed him, saying, "Take earth from within the shrine of the Heavenly Mount Kagu, and make from it eighty Heavenly platters. Also make sacred jars and sacrifice to the Gods of Heaven and Earth. More over pronounce a solemn prayer. If you do this, the enemy will render submission of their own accord."

   The Emperor received with reverence the directions given in his dream, and proceeded to carry them into execution.

   Now Ukeshi the Younger again addressed the Emperor, saying, "There are in the province of Yamato, in the village of Shiki, eighty Shiki bandits. Moreover, in the village of Taka-wohari there are eighty Akagane bandits. All these tribes intend to give battle to the Emperor, and your servant is anxious in his own mind on his account. It were now good to take clay from the Heavenly Mount Kagu, and from this to make Heavenly platters with which to sacrifice to the Gods of the Heavenly shrines and of the Earthly shrines. If after doing this, you attack the enemy, they may be easily driven off."

   The Emperor, who had already taken the words of his dream for a good omen, when he now heard the words of Ukeshi the Younger was still more pleased in his heart. He caused Shihi-netsu-hiko to put on ragged garments and a grass hat, andto disguise himself as an old man. He also caused Ukeshi the Younger to cover himself with a winnowing tray, so as to assume the appearance of an old woman, and then addressed them, saying, "Go to the Heavenly Mount Kagu, and secretly take earth from its summit. Having done so, return here. By means of you I shall then divine whether my undertaking will be successful or not. Do your utmost and be watchful.

   Now the enemy's army filled the road, and made all passage impossible. Then Shihi-netsu-hiko prayed, and said, "If it will be possible for our Emperor to conquer this land, let the road by which we must travel become open. But if not, let the bandits surely oppose our passage."

   Having spoken this, they set forth and went straight onwards. Now the hostile band, seeing the two men, laughed loudly, and said, "What an uncouth old man and old woman!"

   So with one accord they bandits left the road, and allowed the two men to pass and proceed to the mountain, where they took the clay and returned with it.

   The Emperor was greatly pleased and with this clay he made eighty platters, eighty Heavenly small jars and sacred jars, with which he went up to the upper waters of the River Nifu and sacrificed to the Gods of Heaven and of Earth. Immediately, on the Asa-hara plain by the river of Uda, it became as if it were like foam on the water, the result of the curse cleaving to them. 26

   The Emperor went on to utter a vow, saying, "I will now make ame 27 in the eighty platters without using water. If the ame is formed, then shall I without effort and without recourse to the might of arms reduce the Empire to peace."

   So he made ame, which formed by itself.

   Again he made a vow, saying, "I will now take the sacred jars and sink them in the River Nifu. If the fishes, whether great or small, all become drunken and are carried down the stream, like as it were to floating maki leaves, then shall I surely succeed in establishing this land. But if this be not so, there will be no result when I place the sacred jars in the river."

   He then sank the jars in the river with their mouths downward. After awhile the fish all came to the surface, gaping and gasping as they floated down the stream. Then Shihi-netsu-hiko, seeing this, represented it to the Emperor, who was greatly gladdened, and plucking up a five-hundred-branched masakaki tree of the upper waters of the River Nifu, he worshipped all the Gods. It was with this that the custom began of setting sacred Jars.

   At this time he commanded Michi no Omi no Mikoto, saying, "We are now about to celebrate a public festival to Taka-mi-musubi no Mikoto, and I appoint thee Ruler of the festival, and grant thee the title of Idzu-hime. 28 The earthen jars which are set up shall be called the Idzube or sacred jars, the fire shall be called Idzu no Kagu-tsuchi or sacred-fire-elder, the water shall be called Idzu no Midzu-ha no me or sacred-water-female, the food shall be called Idzu uka no me or sacred-food-female, the firewood shall be called Idzu no Yama-tsuchi or sacred-mountain-elder, and the grass shall be called Idzu no No-tsuchi or sacred-moor-elder."

   Winter, 10th month, 1st day.

   The Emperor tasted the food of the Idzube, and arraying his troops set forth upon his march. He first of all attacked the eighty bandits at Mount Kunimi, routed and killed them. It was in this campaign that the Emperor, fully resolved on victory, made these verses, saying,
Like the Shitadami
Which creep around
The great rock
Of the Sea of Ise
Where blows the divine wind
Like the Shitadami,
My boys! my boys!
We will creep around,
And smite them utterly,
And smite them utterly.
In this poem, by the great rock refers to the Hill of Kunimi.

   After this the band which remained was still numerous and their disposition could not be fathomed. So the Emperor privately commanded Michi no Omi no Mikoto, saying, "Take with you the Oho-kume, and make a great muro (pit) at the village of Osaka. Prepare a copious banquet, invite the enemy to it, and then capture them."

   Michi no Omi no Mikoto, in obedience to the Emperor's secret command, dug a muro at Osaka, and having selected his bravest soldiers hid within the pit and mingled with the enemy. He secretly arranged with them, saying, "When they have got tipsy with sake, I will strike up a song. When you hear the song, you should all simultaneously spring out and stab the enemy."

   Having made this arrangement they took their seats, and the drinking bout proceeded. The enemy, unaware that there was any plot, abandoned themselves to their feelings, and promptly became intoxicated. Then Michi no Omi no Mikoto struck up the following song:
At Osaka
In the great muro-house,
Though men in plenty
Enter and stay,
We the glorious
Sons of warriors,
Wielding our mallet-heads.
Wielding our stone-mallets,
Will smite them utterly.
Now when our troops heard this song, they all drew at the same time their mallet-headed swords, and all simultaneously killed the enemy so that none of the banqueters were left. The Imperial army was greatly delighted; they looked up to Heaven and laughed. Therefore he made a song, saying:
Though folk say
That one Yemishi
Is a match for one hundred men
They do not so much as resist.~
   The practice according to which at the present time the Kume sing this and then laugh out loud had this origin.

   Again he sang, saying:
Ho! now is the time;
Ho! now is the time;
Ha! Ha! Psha!
Even now
My boys!
Even now
My boys!




The Establishment of the Monarchy   3rd month, 7th day.

   The Emperor made an order, saying,

   "During the six years that our expedition against the East has lasted, owing to my reliance on the Majesty of Imperial Heaven, the wicked bands have met death. It is true that the frontier lands are still unpurified, and that a remnant of evil is still rebellious. But in the region of the Central Land there is no more wind and dust. Truly we should make a vast and spacious capital, and plan it great and strong.

   "At present things are in a crude and obscure condition, and the people's minds are unsophisticated. They roost in nests or dwell in caves. Their manners are simply what is customary. Now if a great man were to establish laws, justice could not fail to flourish. And even if some gain should accrue to the people, in what way would this interfere with the Sage's action? 29 Moreover, it will be well to open up and clear the mountains and forests, and to construct a palace. Then I may reverently assume the Precious Dignity, and so give peace to my good subjects. Above, I should then respond to the kindness of the Heavenly Powers in granting me the Kingdom, and below, I should extend the line of the Imperial descendants and foster rightmindedness. Thereafter the capital may be extended so as to embrace all the six cardinal points, and the eight cords may be covered so as to form a roof. 30 Will this not be well?

   When I observe the Kashiha-hara 31 plain, which lies southwest of Mount Unebi, it seems to be the Center of the Land. I must set it in order."

   Accordingly he in this month commanded officers to set about the construction of an Imperial Residence. . . .

   Year Kanoto Tori (5th), Spring, 1st month, 1st day.

   The Emperor assumed the Imperial Dignity in the Palace of Kashiha-hara. This year is considered the first year of his reign. 32


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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 9-13-97