Emperor Jimmu

Hear about Emperor Jimmu on Episodes 54A, 54B and 54C of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

The First Emperor

Emperor Jimmu
Emperor Jimmu with the Yatagarasu.

Emperor Jimmu

Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇) was the first legendary Emperor of Japan, dated in the Nihongi to have begun his rule on 11th February 660BC in Kashihara, in the Province of Yamato.1

He is famed as the descendant of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, his grandfather being Ninigi 2 and it is likely if he truly existed that he was a tribal leader in the Yayoi Period3. During his lifetime he had three sons, one of them being Emperor Suizei the next Emperor.1

It wasn’t until he reached the age of 45 that he became aware of his call to destiny where he assumed the mantle of stewardship, it is then stated in the Nihongi he uttered to his followers:

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 his lord and every village its chief, each one for himself, makes division and territory and practises mutual aggression and conflict.1

And so Jimmu began to move Eastwards from Kyushu with his followers in an attempt to bring Japan under his control4, heading along the shores of the Inland Sea subduing the Yamato region.1 During this period there were a few incident one of which being when he and his men came to an impassable terrain. Amaterasu came to Jimmu in a dream saying she would send the Yatagarasu (Sun Crow) to lead him through the impasse. Soon the crow appeared and showed his army and him the way. Another time found him in a battle with no decisive victory. It became dark and hail began to fall. Then a golden hawk appeared, standing on the tip of Jimmu’s bow. And from this lightning fell, sending his enemies into confusion, gaining Jimmu’s forces victory.3

Eventually, he became Emperor, bringing with him the Sacred Regalia to a palace erected in Kashihara where her undertook ceremonies to Amaterasu and was then proclaimed Emperor. After this, he granted the title of Empress to his wife and ruled for 76 years dying at the age of 127.1

His decendants carried on after him to defeat the rulers of Izumo, bringing them and their gods under the Emperors rule.2

Modern Day

Between the years 1873 and 1945 an Imperial Envoy was sent every April 3rd to the spot north-east of Mount Unebi which is officially recognised as Jimmu’s tomb, bringing with them offerings from the mountains, rivers and sea.1

Footnotes

1. Martin, P. (1997) ”The Chrysanthemum Throne”. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited.
2. Collcutt, M., Jansen, M., Kumakura, I. (1998) “Cultural Atlas of Japan” New York: Facts on File Inc.
3. Kidder, J. (1964) “Early Japanese Art” London: Thames & Hudson.
4. Clements, J. (2010) “The Samurai: A New History of the Warrior Elite” London: Robinson Press.

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