This series has seven easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Legendary Japan.
A story that covers Japan’s first emperor has to cover the emergence of Japan from myth and legend into the light of history.
This selection is from Japan: its History, Traditions, and Religions by Sir Edward Reed published in 1880. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
The author’s was famous for helping to lead the British Navy from the Age of Sail to the Age of Steel. His avocation was the history of Japan.
Time: 660 BC
There are endless varying legends about this god-period of Japan. All that we need now say in the way of reciting the legends of the gods has relation to the descent of the mikados of Japan from the deities.
It was the misconduct of Susanoo that drove the sun-goddess into the cave and for this misconduct he was banished. Some say that, instead of proceeding to his place of banishment, he descended, with his son Idakiso no Mikoto, upon Shiraga (in Corea), but not liking the place went back by a vessel to the bank of the Hinokawa River, in Idzumo, Japan.
At the time of their descent, Idakiso had many plants or seeds of trees with him, but he planted none in Shiraga, but took them across with him, and scattered them from Kuishiu all over Japan, so that the whole country became green with trees. It is said that Idakiso is respected as the god of merit, and is worshipped in Kinokuni. His two sisters also took care of the plantation. One of the gods who reigned over the country in the prehistoric period was Ohonamuchi, who is said by some to be the son of Susanoo, and by others to be one of his later descendants; “And which is right, it is more than we can say,” remarked one of my scholarly friends.
However, during his reign he was anxious about the people, and, consulting with Sukuna no Mikoto, applied “his whole heart,” we are told, to their good government, and they all became loyal to him. One time he said to his friend just named, “Do you think we are governing the people well?” And his friend answered: “In some respects well, and in some not,” so that they were frank and honest with each other in those days.
When Sukunahikona went away, Ohonamuchi said: “It is I who should govern this country. Is there any who will assist me?” Then there appeared over the sea a divine light, and there came a god floating and floating, and said: “You cannot govern the country without me.” And this proved to be the god Ohomiwa no Kami, who built a palace at Mimuro, in Yamato, and dwelt therein. He affords a direct link with the Mikado family, for his daughter became the empress of the first historic emperor Jimmu. Her name was Humetatara Izudsuhime.
All the descendants of her father are named, like him, Ohomiwa no Kami, and it is said that the present empress of Japan is probably a descendant of this god. As regards the descent of the Emperor Jimmu himself we already know that Ninigi no Mikoto, “the sovran grandchild” of the sun-goddess, was sent down with the sacred symbols of empire given to him in the sun by the sun-goddess herself before he started for the earth. Now Ninigi married (reader, forgive me for quoting the lady’s name and her father’s) Konohaneno-sakuyahime, the daughter of Ohoyamazumino-Kami, and the pair had three sons, of whom the last named Howori no Mikoto succeeded to the throne. He is sometimes called by the following simple — and possibly endearing — name: Amatsuhitakahi Kohoho-demi no Mikoto.
He married Toyatama-hime, the daughter of the sea-god, and they had a son, Ugaya-fuki-ayedsu no Mikoto, born, it is said, under an unfinished roof of cormorants’ wings, who succeeded the father, and who married Tamayori-hime, also a daughter of the sea-god. This illustrious couple had four sons, of whom the last succeeded to the throne in the year B.C. 660. He was named Kamuyamatoi warehiko no Mikoto, but posterity has fortunately simplified his designation to the now familiar Jimmu-Tenno, the first historic Emperor of Japan, and the ancestor of the present emperor.
The histories of Japan, prepared under the sanction of the present Japanese government, date the commencement of the historic period from the first year of the reign of the first emperor, Jimmu-Tenno, who is said to have ruled for seventy-six years, viz., from B.C. 660 to 585. Some persons consider that this reign, and a few reigns that succeeded it, probably or possibly belong to the legendary period, because while, on the one hand, the Emperor Jimmu is described as the founder of the present empire and the ancestor of the present emperor, on the other, he is described as the fourth son of Ukay Fukiaezu no Mikoto, who was fifth in direct descent from the beautiful sun-goddess, Tensho-Daijin. But as no such thing as writing existed in Japan in those days, or for many centuries afterward, it would not be surprising if a real monarch should have a mythical origin assigned to him; and as I have quite lately heard the guns firing at Nagasaki an imperial salute in honor of his coronation, and have seen the flags waving over the capital city, Tokio, in honor of the birthday, the Emperor Jimmu is quite historical enough for my present purpose.
The commencement of his reign shall fix for us, as it does for others, the Japanese year 1, which was 660 years prior to our year 1, so that any date of the Christian era can be converted into one of the Japanese era by the addition of 660 years, and vice-versa. Some of the emperors will be found to have lived very long lives, no doubt; but as I have said elsewhere, none of them lived nearly so long as our Adam, Methuselah, and others, in whose longevity so many of us profess to believe; and besides, it is impossible for me to attempt to correct a chronology which Japanese scholars, and Englishmen versed in the Japanese language, have thus far left without specific correction. Deferring for after consideration the incidents of the successive imperial reigns, except in so far as they bear directly upon the descent of the crown, let us, then, first glance at the succession of emperors and empresses who have ruled in the Morning Land.