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|Queen of Yamataikoku|
189 CE – 248 CE|
c. 170 CE|
248 CE (aged c. 78)|
|Burial||perhaps Hashihaka Kofun (箸墓古墳) in Nara|
Himiko or Pimiko (卑弥呼, c. 170–248 CE) was a shamaness-queen of Yamataikoku in Wa (ancient Japan). Early Chinese dynastic histories chronicle tributary relations between Queen Himiko and the Cao Wei Kingdom (220–265), and record that the Yayoi period people chose her as ruler following decades of warfare among the kings of Wa. Early Japanese histories do not mention Himiko, but historians associate her with legendary figures such as Empress Consort Jingū, who was regent (c. 200–269) in roughly the same era as Himiko. Scholarly debates over the identity of Himiko and the location of her domain, Yamatai, have raged since the late Edo period, with opinions divided between northern Kyūshū or traditional Yamato province in present-day Kinki. The "Yamatai controversy", writes Keiji Imamura (1996:188), is "the greatest debate over the ancient history of Japan".
The shaman Queen Himiko is recorded in various ancient histories, dating back to 3rd century China, 8th century Japan, and 12th century Korea.
The first historical records of Himiko are found in a Chinese classic text, the c. 297 Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Zhi 三國志). Its "Records of Wei" (Wei Zhi 魏志), which focuses on the Chinese kingdom of Cao Wei (220–265), has also an "Account of the Wa People" (倭人傳 Woren Zhuan; 倭人伝 Wajinden in Japanese). This section is the first description of Himiko (Pimiko) and Yamatai.
The people of Wa [倭人] dwell in the middle of the ocean on the mountainous islands southeast of [the prefecture of] Tai-fang. They formerly comprised more than one hundred communities. During the Han dynasty, [Wa envoys] appeared at the Court; today, thirty of their communities maintain intercourse [with us] through envoys and scribes. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:8)
This early history describes how Himiko came to the throne.
The country formerly had a man as ruler. For some seventy or eighty years after that there were disturbances and warfare. Thereupon the people agreed upon a woman for their ruler. Her name was Himiko [卑彌呼]. She occupied herself with magic and sorcery, bewitching the people. Though mature in age, she remained unmarried. She had a younger brother who assisted her in ruling the country. After she became the ruler, there were few who saw her. She had one thousand women as attendants, but only one man. He served her food and drink and acted as a medium of communication. She resided in a palace surrounded by towers and stockades, with armed guards in a state of constant vigilance. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:13)
The "Records of Wei" also records envoys travelling between the Wa and Wei courts. Himiko's emissaries first visited the court of Wei emperor Cao Rui in 238, and he replied.
Herein we address Himiko, Queen of Wa, whom we now officially call a friend of Wei. [… Your envoys] have arrived here with your tribute, consisting of four male slaves and six female slaves, together with two pieces of cloth with designs, each twenty feet in length. You live very far away across the sea; yet you have sent an embassy with tribute. Your loyalty and filial piety we appreciate exceedingly. We confer upon you, therefore, the title "Queen of Wa Friendly to Wei," together with the decoration of the gold seal with purple ribbon. The latter, properly encased, is to be sent to you through the Governor. We expect you, O Queen, to rule your people in peace and to endeavor to be devoted and obedient. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:14)
Finally, the "Records of Wei" (tr. Tsunoda 1951:15) records that in 247 when a new governor arrived at Daifang Commandery in Korea, Queen Himiko officially complained of hostilities with Himikuku (卑彌弓呼, or Pimikuku), the king of Kunu (狗奴, literally "dog slave"), one of the other Wa states. The governor dispatched "Chang Chêng, acting Secretary of the Border Guard" with a "proclamation advising reconciliation", and subsequently,
When Himiko passed away, a great mound was raised, more than a hundred paces in diameter. Over a hundred male and female attendants followed her to the grave. Then a king was placed on the throne, but the people would not obey him. Assassination and murder followed; more than one thousand were thus slain. A relative of Himiko named Iyo [壹與], a girl of thirteen, was [then] made queen and order was restored. Chêng issued a proclamation to the effect that Iyo was the ruler. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:16)
Two other Chinese dynastic histories mentioned Himiko. While both clearly incorporated the above Wei Zhi reports, they made some changes, such as specifying the "some seventy or eighty years" of Wa wars occurred between 146 and 189, during the reigns of Han Emperors Huan and Ling. The c. 432 Book of Later Han (Hou Han Shu 後漢書) says "the King of Great Wa resides in the country of Yamadai" (tr. Tsunoda 1951:1), rather than the Queen.
During the reigns of Huan-di (147-168) and Ling-di (168-189), the country of Wa was in a state of great confusion, war and conflict raging on all sides. For a number of years, there was no ruler. Then a woman named Himiko appeared. Remaining unmarried, she occupied herself with magic and sorcery and bewitched the populace. Thereupon they placed her on the throne. She kept one thousand female attendants, but few people saw her. There was only one man who was in charge of her wardrobe and meals and acted as the medium of communication. She resided in a palace surrounded by towers and stockades with the protection of armed guards. The laws and customs were strict and stern. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:2-3)
The 636 Book of Sui (Sui Shu 隋書) changes the number of Himiko's male attendants.
During the reigns of the Emperors Huan and Ling, that country was in great disorder, and there was no ruler for a period of years. [Then] a woman named Himiko attracted the populace by means of the practice of magic. The country became unified and made her queen. A younger brother assisted Himiko in the administration of the country. Queen [Himiko] kept one thousands maids in attendance. Her person was seldom seen. She had only two men [attendants]. They served her food and drink and acted as intermediaries. The Queen lived in a palace, which was surrounded by walls and stockades protected by armed guards; their discipline was extremely strict. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:28-29)
Neither of the two oldest Japanese histories – the c. 712 Kojiki nor c. 720 Nihon Shoki – mentions Queen Himiko. The circumstances under which these books were written is a matter of unending debate, and even if Himiko were known to the authors, they may have purposefully decided not to include her. (Hideyuki 2005) However, they include three imperial-family shamans identified with her: Yamato-totohi-momoso-hime-no-mikoto, the aunt of Emperor Sujin (legendary 10th Japanese emperor, r. 97-30 BCE); Yamatohime-no-mikoto, the daughter of Emperor Suinin (legendary 11th, r. 29 BCE-70 CE); and Empress Jingū (r. c. 209-269 CE), the wife of Emperor Chūai (legendary 14th emperor, r. 192-200 CE). These dates, however, are not historically verified.
One remarkable exception to early Japanese histories overlooking Himiko is the Nihon Shoki quoting the Wei Zhi three times. In 239, "the queen [女王] of Wa" sent envoys to Wei; in 240, they returned "charged with an Imperial rescript and a seal and ribbon"; and in 243, "the ruler [王 "king"] of Wa again sent high officers as envoys with tribute" (tr. Aston 1924:245-6). It is revealing that the Nihon Shoki editors chose to omit the Wei Zhi particulars about Himiko.
Yamato Totohi Momoso himemiko (倭迹迹日百襲媛命), the shaman aunt of Emperor Sujin, supposedly committed suicide after learning her husband was a trickster snake-god. The Kojiki does not mention her, but the Nihon Shoki describes her as "the Emperor's aunt by the father's side, a shrewd and intelligent person, who could foresee the future" (tr. Aston 1924:156). After a series of national calamities, the Emperor "assembled the 80 myriads of Deities" and inquired by divination. Yamato-totohi-momoso was inspired by Ōmononushi-nushi ("Great Deity of All Deities and Spirits", tr. Hori 1968:193) to say. "Why is the Emperor grieved at the disordered state of the country? If he duly did us reverent worship it would assuredly become pacified of itself." The Emperor inquired, saying: "What God is it that thus instructs me?" The answer was: "I am the God who dwells within the borders of the land of Yamato, and my name is Oho-mono-nushi no Kami." (tr. Aston 1924:152) While imperial worship of this god (from Mount Miwa) was "without effect", Yamato-totohi-momoso later married him.
After this Yamato-toto-hi-momo-so-bime no Mikoto became the wife of Oho-mono-nushi no Kami. This God, however, was never seen in the day-time, but at night. Yamato-toto-hi-momo-so-bime no Mikoto said to her husband: "As my Lord is never seen in the day-time, I am unable to view his august countenance distinctly; I beseech him therefore to delay a while, that in the morning I may look upon the majesty of his beauty. The Great God answered and said: "What thou sayest is clearly right. To-morrow morning I will enter thy toilet-case and stay there. I pray thee be not alarmed at my form." Yamato-toto-hi-momo-so-bime no Mikoto wondered secretly in her heart at this. Waiting until daybreak, she looked into her toilet-case. There was there a beautiful little snake, of the length and thickness of the cord of a garment. Thereupon she was frightened, and uttered an exclamation. The Great God was ashamed, and changing suddenly into human form, spake to his wife, and said: "Thou didst not contain thyself, but hast caused me shame; I will in my turn put thee to shame." So treading the Great Void, he ascended to Mount Mimoro. Hereupon Yamato-toto-hi-momo-so-bime no Mikoto looked up and had remorse. She flopped down on a seat and with a chopstick stabbed herself in the pudenda so that she died. She was buried at Oho-chi. Therefore the men of that time called her tomb the Hashi no haka [Chopstick Tomb]. (tr. Aston 1924:158-9)
Yamatohime-no-mikoto (倭姫命), the daughter of Emperor Suinin, supposedly founded the Ise Shrine to the sun-goddess Amaterasu. The Kojiki records her as the fourth of Suinin's five children, "Her Augustness Yamato-hime, (was the high-priestess of the temple of the Great Deity of Ise)" (tr. Chamberlain 1919:227). The Nihon Shoki likewise records "Yamato-hime no Mikoto" (tr. Aston 1924:150) and provides more details. The Emperor assigned Yamatohime to find a permanent location for Amaterasu's shrine, and after wandering for years, the sun-goddess instructed her to build it at Ise "where she first descended from Heaven" (tr. Aston 1924:176).
Empress Consort Jingū (or Jingō 神功) supposedly served as regent after the death of her husband Emperor Chūai (c. 200) until the accession of her son Emperor Ōjin (legendary 15th emperor, r. 270-310). The Kojiki (Chamberlain 1919:283-332) and Nihon Shoki (Aston 1924:217-271) have similar accounts. Emperor Chūai wanted to invade Kumaso, and while he was consulting with his ministers, Jingū conveyed a shamanistic message that he should invade Silla instead. Compare these.
Her Augustness Princess Okinaga-tarashi, was at that time, divinely possessed … charged him with this instruction and counsel: "There is a land to the Westward, and in that land is abundance of various treasures dazzling to the eye, from gold and silver downwards. I will now bestow this land upon thee." (tr. Chamberlain 1919:284-5).
At this time a certain God inspired the Empress and instructed her, saying: "Why should the Emperor be troubled because the Kumaso do not yield submission? It is a land wanting in backbone. Is it worth while raising an army to attack it? There is a better land than this, a land of treasure, which may be compared to the aspect of a beautiful woman – the land of Mukatsu [Opposite; Across], dazzling to the eyes. In that land there are gold and silver and bright colours in plenty. It is called the Land of Silla of the coverlet of paper-mulberry. If thou worshippest me aright, the land will assuredly yield submission freely, and the edge of thy sword shall not be all stained with blood." (tr. Aston 1924:221).
(The 2005:284 reprint of Chamberlain adds a footnote after "possessed": "Himeko [sic] in the Chinese historical notices of Japan was skilled in magic, with which she deluded the people.") The Emperor thought the gods were lying, said he had only seen ocean to the West, and then died, either immediately (Kojiki) or after invading Kumaso (Nihon Shoki). Jingū allegedly discovered she was pregnant, personally planned and led a successful conquest of Silla, gave birth to the future emperor, and returned to rule Yamato. The Nihon Shoki (tr. Aston 1924:225) adds that since Jingū wanted to learn which gods had cursed Chūai, she constructed a shamanic "palace of worship", "discharged in person the office of priest", and heard the gods reveal themselves as coming from Ise (Amaterasu) and Mukatsu (an unnamed Korean divinity). Although the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki myth-histories called Jingū first of the Japanese empresses, Meiji period historians removed her from the List of Emperors of Japan, leaving Empress Suiko (r. 593-628) as the first historically verifiable female Japanese ruler.
The oldest Korean history book, the 1145 Samguk Sagi (三國史記 "Chronicles of the Three [Korean] Kingdoms") records that Queen Himiko sent an emissary to King Adalla of Silla in May 173 (Saeki 1988:35, 113, 154).
Researchers have struggled to reconcile Himiko/Pimiko between the Chinese and Japanese historical sources above. While the Wei Zhi described her as an important ruler in 3rd-century Japan, early Japanese historians purposely avoided naming Himiko, even when the Nihon Shoki quoted the Wei Zhi about envoys from Wa.
The three Chinese characters 卑彌呼 (simplified: 卑弥呼) transcribing the Wa regent's name are read himiko or hibiko in Modern Japanese and bēimíhū or bìmíhū in Modern Standard Chinese. However, these contemporary readings differ considerably from how "Himiko" was pronounced in the 3rd century, both by speakers of the unknown Wa-language and by Chinese scribes who transcribed it. While transliteration into Chinese characters of foreign words is complex, choosing these three particular was puzzling, with literal meanings 卑 "low; inferior; humble", 彌 (弥) "fill, cover; full; whole, complete", and 呼 "breathe out; exhale; cry out; call".
In terms of historical Chinese phonology, modern beimihu (卑彌呼) is simpler than its presumed 3rd-century late Old Chinese or early Middle Chinese pronunciation. Compare the following reconstructions of the name in "Archaic" or "Middle Chinese" (Bernhard Karlgren, Li Fanggui, and William H. Baxter), "Early Middle Chinese" (Edwin G. Pulleyblank), and, historically closest, "Late Han Chinese" (Axel Schuessler).
- pjiḙmjiḙχuo (Karlgren)
- pjiemjieχwo (Li)
- pjiumjieXxu (Baxter)
- pjimjiχɔ or pjiə̌mjiə̌χɔ (Pulleyblank)
- piemiehɑ (Schuessler)
To simplify without using special symbols, the first two syllables with p(j)- and m(j)- initial consonants share -i(e) final vowels, and the third has a either a voiceless fricative X- or a voiced fricative h- plus a back mid vowel -u(o). Thus, "Himiko" could be hypothetically reconstructed as *P(j)i(e)m(j)i(e)hu(o).
In terms of historical Japanese phonology, himiko would regularly correspond to Old Japanese *Fimeko. However, Roy Andrew Miller says *Fimeko is a lexicographic error deriving from the Wei Zhi transcriptions.
Most perplexing of the entire list is the name of the queen of the Yeh-ma-t'ai community, Pi-mi-hu, Middle Chinese pjiḙ-mjiḙ-χuo. This has traditionally been explained and understood in Japan as a transcription of a supposed Old Japanese form *Fimeko, said to be an early term meaning "high born woman; princess," and to derive from Old Japanese Fime [or Fi1me1] (also sometimes Fimë [Fi1me2]), a laudatory title for women going with Fiko [Fi1ko1] for men. Later Fime comes to mean "princess," but this meaning is anachronistic for the earlier texts. … The difficulty concerns the supposed Old Japanese word *Fimeko. Even though such a form has found its way into a few modern Japanese dictionaries (for example even Kindaiichi's otherwise generally reliable Jikai), it is in fact simply one of the ghost words of Japanese lexicography; when it does appear in modern lexical sources, it is a "made-up" form listed there solely on the basis of the Wei chih account of early Japan. There never was an Old Japanese *Fimeko; furthermore, the Middle Chinese spirant χ of the transcription suggests that the final element of the unknown original term did not correspond to Old Japanese -ko [-ko1], which is rendered elsewhere – in Fiko [Fi1ko1], for example – with Middle Chinese -k- as one would expect. The final element of this transcription, then, remains obscure, thought there is certainly a good chance that the first portion does correspond to a form related to Old Japanese Fime. Beyond that, it is at present impossible to go. (1967:22)
Tsunoda (1951:5) notes "Pimiko is from an archaic Japanese title, himeko, meaning 'princess'," that is, hime with the female name suffix -ko (子, "child"), viz. the uncommon given name Himeko). Other Amaterasu-related etymological proposals for the Japanese name Himiko involve hi (日, "sun") and miko (覡, or 巫女 "female shaman, shamaness; shrine maiden; priestess"); or their combination hime-miko "princess-priestess".
Identity and historicity
Identifying Himiko/Pimiko of Wa is straightforward within the history of China, but problematic within the history of Japan. The 3rd-century Chinese Wei Zhi ("Records of Wei") provides details about shaman Queen Himiko and her communications with Emperors Cao Rui and Cao Fang. The 8th-century Japanese Kojiki ("Records of Ancient Matters") and Nihon Shoki ("Chronicles of Japan", which quotes the Wei Zhi) disregard Himiko, unless she was the subtext behind their accounts of Empress Jingū, Yamatohime-no-mikoto, or Yamato-totohi-momosohime-no-mikoto.
None of these three legendary Japanese royal shamans adequately corresponds with the Chinese chronology and description of Himiko. Assuming the Wei Zhi account that Himiko died around 248, if one accepts the dubious Japanese traditional dating, then she was closer to the 3rd-century CE Empress Jingū than to the 1st-century BCE Yamatohime-no-mikoto and Yamato-totohi-momoso-hime. On the other hand, if one accepts the postdating adjustments prior to the 4th century, then Himiko was closer to these Yamato-named shamans. Neither Kojiki nor Nihon Shoki mentions Himiko or any of the salient topics that she was unmarried, was chosen as ruler by the people, had a younger brother who helped rule (unless this refers to Jingū's son), or had numerous (figuratively "1000") female attendants.
William Wayne Farris 1998, pp. 15–54 reviews the history of scholarly debates over Himiko and her domain Yamatai. The Edo-period philosophers Arai Hakuseki and Motoori Norinaga began the controversies over whether Yamatai was located in Kyushu or Yamato and whether the Wei Zhi or the Nihon Shoki was historically more trustworthy. The Confucianist Arai accepted the Chinese history as more reliable, and first equated Himiko with Jingū and Yamatai with Yamato. The Kokugaku scholar Motoori accepted the traditional Japanese myth-history as more reliable, and dismissed its Wei Zhi quotations as later accretions. He hypothesized that a king from Kumaso sent emissaries who masqueraded as Jingū's officials to the Wei court, thus leading Wei to mistake them for representatives of Himiko. Farris 1998, p. 16 says, "Motoori's usurpation hypothesis (gisen setsu) carried great weight for the next century."
Rather than Yamataikoku, Himiko may have been linked with Nakoku, quoted as "the Na state of Wa" in Kyushu, for which was sent a golden royal seal, by Emperor Guangwu of the Han dynasty. Na is said to have existed from the 1st century to the early 3rd century, and seems to have been independent or even a rival of the Japanese Emperors in the Yamato province.
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japanese historians adopted European historical scholarship, especially the source-based methodology of Leopold von Ranke. Naka Michiyo believed the Nihon Shoki chronology was inaccurate prior to the 4th century, and thus (Farris 1998, p. 17) "Jingū became a fourth-century queen whose reign could not possibly have coincided with Himiko's." The sinologist Shiratori Kurakichi proposed the Nihon Shoki compilers were tempted to associate Jingū with the religious powers of Himiko. Naitō Torajirō argued that Himiko was the high priestess of the Ise shrine Yamatohime-no-mikoto and that Wa armies obtained control of southern Korea.
One scholar [Higo Kazuo] asserted that Himiko was really Yamato-toto-momo-so-hime-no-mikoto, aunt of the legendary Emperor Sūjin on his father's side, because her supposed tomb at Hashihaka in Nara measured about a hundred paces in diameter, the measurement given for Himiko's grave. This theory gained adherents in the postwar period. Another [Shida Fudomaru] saw in Himiko an expression of women's political authority in early Japan.— Farris 1998, p. 20
Some later Japanese historians reframed Himiko in terms of Marxist historiography. Masaaki Ueda argued that "Himiko's was a despotic state with a generalized slave system" (Farris 1998, p. 21), while Mitsusada Inoue idealized Yamatai as a "balance of small states" with communal property and popular political expression. Following the late 1960s "Yamatai boom", when numerous Japanese historians, linguists, and archeologists published reevaluations of Himiko and Yamatai, the debate was joined by Japanese nationalists, mystery writers, and amateur scholars.
In Japanese historical and archeological periodization, the 2nd- and 3rd-century era of Queen Himiko was between late Yayoi period and early Kofun period. Kofun (古墳 "old tumulus") refers to characteristic keyhole-shaped burial mounds, and the Wei Zhi noting "a great mound was raised, more than a hundred paces in diameter" for Pimiko's tomb, may well be the earliest written record of a kofun. Several archeological excavations of Yayoi and Kofun sites in kinki region, have revealed Chinese-style bronze mirrors, called shinju-kyo (神獣鏡 "mirror decorated with gods and animals"). Many scholars who support the Kinki theory associate these shinju-kyo with the "one hundred bronze mirrors" that the Wei Zhi (Tsunoda 1951, p. 15) records Emperor Cao Rui presented to Queen Himiko, while other scholars oppose it (Edwards 1998, 1999). Hashihaka kofun in Sakurai, Nara was given a recent boost by radio-carbon dating circa 240–60 (Japan Times 2009). The early Chinese records of Himiko/Pimiko and her Yamatai polity remain something of a Rorschach test. To different interpreters, this early Japanese shaman queen can appear as evidence of communalism (Marxists), Jōmon priestess rulers (Feminist history), Japanese conquest of Korea (Akima 1993), Mongolian conquest of Japan (Namio Egami's "horserider theory"), the imperial system originating with tandem rule by a female shaman and male monarch (Mori 1979), the "patriarchal revolution" replacing female deities and priestesses with male counterparts (Ellwood 1990), or a shamanic advisor to the federation of Wa chieftains who "must have looked like a ruling queen to Chinese envoys" (Matsumoto 1983).
The proper name Himiko has been diversely applied, not only in Japanese society but also in other realms such as astronomy. Himiko (卑弥呼) is a train on the Amagi Railway Amagi Line and a water bus of Tokyo Cruise Ship designed by Leiji Matsumoto.
The name Himiko was given to a Lyman-alpha blob (a massive concentration of hydrogen gas believed to be a protogalaxy) that was discovered in 2009. Massing close to 40 billion suns and located 12.9 billion light years from Earth in the constellation Cetus, as of 2014 it is the largest and most distant known example of its kind.
- Himiko was used in the 2018 Tomb Raider film as a Queen of Evil ruler on the Japanese island of Yamatai. Lara Croft portrayed by Alicia Vikander pursues her father Lord Richard Croft's dream and finally locates this queen's tomb where she was supposedly interred alive to prevent a great evil from being introduced to the world. Himiko was a real historical figure but hardly the bloodthirsty villainess as used in thie film. (Source: Tomb Raider 2018 film DVD)
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- Japan Heads of State, Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership
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- (in Japanese) Model of Himiko's Palace, Osaka Prefectural Museum of Yayoi Culture
- Yomiuri Shimbun: Himikio -- 90% name recognition amongst primary school students in Japan, 2008.