Emperor Jimmu

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Tennō Jimmu detail 01.jpg
Emperor of Japan
Reign 18 February 660 BC – 9 April 585 BC (traditional)
Successor Suizei
Spouse Ahiratsu-hime
Emperor Suizei
Father Ugayafukiaezu
Mother Tamayori-bime
Born 13 February 711 BC (traditional)
Died 9 April 585 BC (aged 126)
Burial Unebi-yama no ushitora no sumi no misasagi (畝傍山東北陵?) (Kashihara, Nara)

Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇 Jinmu-tennō?) was the first Emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession.[1] He is also known as Kan'yamato Iware-biko no Sumeramikoto (神日本磐余彦天皇?) and personally as Wakamikenu no Mikoto (若御毛沼命?) or Sano no Mikoto (狹野尊?).

The Imperial house of Japan traditionally based its claim to the throne on its descent from Jimmu.[2] While his accession is traditionally dated to 660 BC, no historically firm dates can be assigned to this early emperor's life or reign, nor to the reigns of his early successors. Most modern historians dismiss this entire period as being beyond what history can know and regard it as mythical[3] or legendary.[4] The reign of Emperor Kimmei (509?–571 AD), the 29th emperor,[5] is the first for which contemporary historiography is able to assign verifiable dates.[6]

Mythical characters[edit]

Modern scholars question the existence of at least the first nine emperors. Jimmu's descendant Emperor Sujin is the first that many agree may have existed, in first century BC.[7] Most contemporary historians still agree that it is unlikely that any of the recorded emperors existed until about five hundred years after Suijin's reign and about a millennium after Jimmu's recorded reign. The name Jimmu-tennō was posthumously assigned by later generations.[8]

The conventionally accepted names and dates of the early emperors were not to be confirmed as "traditional" until the reign of Emperor Kanmu (737–806), the 50th sovereign of the Yamato dynasty.[9]

Archaeologists and historians regard Jimmu as mythical[3] or legendary.[10] He may have been a composite figure.[citation needed] According to the legendary account in the Kojiki, Emperor Jimmu would have been born on 13 February 711 BC (the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar), and died, again according to legend, on 11 March 585 BC (both dates according to the lunisolar traditional Japanese calendar).

Legendary narrative[edit]

In Japanese mythology, the Age of the Gods is the period before Jimmu's accession.[11]

According to Shinto belief, Jimmu is regarded as a direct descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Amaterasu had a son called Ame no Oshihomimi no Mikoto and through him a grandson named Ninigi-no-Mikoto. She sent her grandson to the Japanese islands where he eventually married Konohana-Sakuya-hime. Among their three sons was Hikohohodemi no Mikoto, also called Yamasachi-hiko, who married Toyotama-hime. She was the daughter of Ryūjin, the Japanese sea god. They had a single son called Hikonagisa Takeugaya Fukiaezu no Mikoto. The boy was abandoned by his parents at birth and consequently raised by Tamayori-hime, his mother's younger sister. They eventually married and had a total of four sons. The last of these sons, Kan'yamato Iwarebiko, became Emperor Jimmu.[12]

It is said that, soon after the beginning of Jimmu's reign, a Master of Ceremonies (祭主 saishu?) was appointed.[citation needed]

Jimmu's migration[edit]

Depiction of bearded Emperor Jimmu with his emblematic long bow and an accompanying wild bird — artwork by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–1892).

Mythic records in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki describe how Jimmu's brothers were born in Takachiho, the southern part of Kyūshū (in modern day Miyazaki prefecture), and decided to move eastward, as they found the location inappropriate for reigning over the entire country. Jimmu's older brother, Itsuse no Mikoto, originally led the migration, and led the clan eastward through the Seto Inland Sea with the assistance of local chieftain Sao Netsuhiko. As they reached Naniwa (modern day Ōsaka), they encountered another local chieftain, Nagasunehiko (lit. "the long-legged man"), and Itsuse was killed in the ensuing battle. Jimmu realized that they had been defeated because they battled eastward against the sun, so he decided to land on the east side of Kii Peninsula and to battle westward. They reached Kumano, and, with the guidance of a three-legged crow, Yatagarasu (lit. "eight-span crow"), they moved to Yamato. There, they once again battled Nagasunehiko and were victorious.

In Yamato, Nigihayahi no Mikoto, who also claim descent from the Takamagahara gods, was protected by Nagasunehiko. However, when Nigihayahi met Jimmu, he accepted Jimmu's legitimacy. At this point, Jimmu is said to have ascended to the throne of Japan.

According to the Kojiki, Jimmu died when he was 126 years old. This emperor's posthumous name literally means "divine might" or "god-warrior". It is undisputed that this identification is Chinese in form and Buddhist in implication, which suggests that the name must have been regularized centuries after the lifetime ascribed to Jimmu. It is generally thought that Jimmu's name and character evolved into their present shape just before[13] the time in which legends about the origins of the Yamato dynasty were chronicled in the Kojiki.[9]

The fluidity of Jimmu before the compilation of the Kojiki and of the Nihon Shoki is demonstrated by somewhat earlier texts that place three dynasties as successors to the mythological Yamato state. According to these texts, Jimmu's dynasty was supplanted by that of Emperor Ōjin, whose dynasty was supplanted by that of Emperor Keitai.[14] The Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki then combined these three mythical dynasties into one long and continuous genealogy.

The mausoleum of Emperor Jimmu in Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture.

No site for Jimmu's grave is clearly identified by tradition or mythology.[15] The emperor's kami is venerated at the Kashihara Shrine, a Shinto shrine located at Kashihara in Nara prefecture, where his palace was said to have been located. This shrine is formally named Unebi-yama no ushitora no sumi no misasagi.[16]

Commemorating Jimmu's reign[edit]

Founding Ceremony of the Hakkō ichiu Monument, with Prince Chichibu's calligraphy of Hakkō ichiu, carved on its front side.

New Year's Day in the Japanese lunisolar calendar was traditionally celebrated as the regnal day of Emperor Jimmu. In 1872, the Meiji government proclaimed 11 February 660 BC, in the Gregorian calendar the foundation day of Japan, which was then commemorated as the holiday Kigensetsu ("Era Day") until 1948. Suspended after World War II, the celebration was reinstated in 1966 as the national holiday Kenkoku Kinen no hi ("National Foundation Day").

For the Kigensetsu celebration of 1940, according to the calculation the 2,600th anniversary of Emperor Jimmu,[17] the government constructed the Hakkō Tower on the legendary site of Emperor Jimmu's palace near Miyazaki. The building was named after the ancient phrase of Hakkō ichiu (literally "eight cords, one roof"), which had been attributed to Emperor Jimmu and, since 1928, has been espoused by the Imperial government as an expression of Japanese expansionism,[18] as it envisioned to the unification of the world (the "eight corners of the world") under the Emperor's "sacred rule", a goal that was considered imperative to all Japanese subjects,[19] as Jimmu, finding five races in Japan, had made them all as "brothers of one family."[20] The 1940 celebrations also included a concert at the Tokyo Kabukiza for which new works were commissioned from composers in France, Hungary, England (Benjamin Britten, Sinfonia da Requiem, ultimately rejected), and Germany (Richard Strauss, Japanische Festmusik).[21]

Emperor Jimmu became the object of national commemoration in February 1940.

This propaganda narrative was officially abandoned at the end of Pacific War when the Japanese government accepted the 1945 Potsdam Declaration. Because of the association with Hakkō ichiu, the Kigensetsu celebration of 1976 (1940) is today considered controversial.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1959). The Imperial House of Japan, pp. 28–29; "Jimmu" at Britannica.com; retrieved 2013-8-28.
  2. ^ Titsingh, Isaac. (1834). Annales des empereurs du japon, pp. 1-3; Brown, Delmer M. (1979). Gukanshō, p. 249; Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, pp. 84–88.
  3. ^ a b Kelly, Charles F. "Kofun Culture," Japanese Archaeology. 27 April 2009.
  4. ^ Kitagawa, Joseph. (1987). On Understanding Japanese Religion, p. 145, p. 145, at Google Books; excerpt, "... emphasis on the undisrupted chronological continuity from myths to legends and from legends to history, it is difficult to determine where one ends and the next begins. At any rate, the first ten legendary emperors are clearly not reliable historical records."
  5. ^ Titsingh, pp. 34–36; Brown, pp. 261–262; Varley, pp. 123–124.
  6. ^ Hoye, Timothy. (1999). Japanese Politics: Fixed and Floating Worlds, p. 78; excerpt, "According to legend, the first Japanese emperor was Jimmu. Along with the next 13 emperors, Jimmu is not considered an actual, historical figure. Historically verifiable Emperors of Japan date from the early sixth century with Kimmei.
  7. ^ Yoshida, Reiji. "Life in the Cloudy Imperial Fishbowl," Japan Times. March 27, 2007; retrieved 2013-8-22.
  8. ^ Brinkley, Frank. (1915). A History of the Japanese People from the Earliest Times to the end of the Meiji Era, p. 21, p. 21, at Google Books; excerpt, "Posthumous names for the earthly Mikados were invented in the reign of Emperor Kammu (782–805), i.e., after the date of the compilation of the Records and the Chronicles.
  9. ^ a b Aston, William. (1896). Nihongi, pp. 109–137.
  10. ^ Kitagawa, Joseph. (1987). On Understanding Japanese Religion, p. 145, p. 145, at Google Books; excerpt, "... emphasis on the undisrupted chronological continuity from myths to legends and from legends to history, it is difficult to determine where one ends and the next begins. At any rate, the first ten legendary emperors are clearly not reliable historical records."
  11. ^ Nussbaum, "Jindai" at p. 421, p. 421, at Google Books.
  12. ^ Nussbaum, "Chijin-godai" at p. 111, p. 111, at Google Books.
  13. ^ Kennedy, Malcolm D. A History of Japan. London. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1963.
  14. ^ Ooms, Herman. Imperial Politics and Symbolics in Ancient Japan: the Tenmu Dynasty, 650–800. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2009
  15. ^ Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō): 神武天皇 (1); retrieved 2013-8-22.
  16. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, p. 419.
  17. ^ a b Brownlee, John S. Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600–1945: The Age of the Gods, p. 136, 180–185.
  18. ^ Bix, Herbert. (2001). Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, p. 201.
  19. ^ Earhart, David C. (2007). Certain Victory, p. 63.
  20. ^ Dower, John W. (1993). War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War, p. 223.
  21. ^ Del Mar, Norman (2009 (1969)). Richard Strauss: A critical commentary on his life and works II. Faber and Faber. pp. 294–7. 


External links[edit]

Regnal titles
New creation Emperor of Japan
660–585 BCE
(Traditional dates)
Succeeded by
Emperor Suizei