First emperor of Japan, great-grandson of Ninigi-no-mikoto, and great-greatgrandson of Amaterasu-π-mikami. He was the last son of Amatsuhiko-nomikoto, the son of Ho-ori-no-mikoto from his marriage to the daughter of Owatatsumi, the kami of the sea.

From their father’s palace in Takachiho, Jimmu Tenno (he was named at the time Kamu-Yamatoihare-hiko-no-mikoto) and his eldest brother traveled east to establish their peaceful governance over the land.

The two brothers traveled leisurely eastward, building palaces and staying in some places for several years at a time. At Hayasuhi, Kamu-Yamatoiharehiko- no-mikoto met an earthly kami (that is, not one of those who had descended from Takamagahara, the heavenly realm, with Ninigi-no-mikoto) fishing from a tortoise’s back. This deity, Sawonetsuhiko, agreed to act as guide on the sea lanes.

At Shirakata the brothers were ambushed by a certain Nagasunehiko of Toumi. Kamu-Yamatoihare-hiko-no-mikoto’s brother was wounded by an arrow and died later of the wound.

At Kumano, Kamu-Yamatoihare-hiko-no-mikoto and his troops fell asleep, ensorcelled by the deities of Kumano in the shape of a bear. A person of Kumano called Takakuraji presented a sword to the sleeping hero, and he and his troops promptly woke up and vanquished the unruly deities of Kumano. The sword had been sent on the orders of Amaterasu-π-mikami by Takemikazuchi-no-kami, and was named Futsu-no-Mitama.

From Kumano, the hero was guided by a giant crow sent by the heavenly deities, meeting and accepting as his retainers many earthly deities. A man of Uda, Yeukashi, attempted to ambush the hero but was frustrated. Yeukashi then prepared a trap in the hall he built, but his design was frustrated by his younger brother, Otoukashi, who disclosed the plot to Kamu-Yamatoihare-hiko-nomikoto. Yeukashi was driven into his own trap and was killed. Subsequently, in the process of pacification, the eighty strong men of the pit dwelling of Osaka were killed at a feast. Finally, the hero assumed his reign name, Jimmu Tenno, and built a palace at Kashihara in Yamato and ruled from there.

The exploits of Jimmu Tenno, with their detailed place names and the names of his supporters and opponents, seem to be a mythical retelling of an actual historical event or process: the gradual conquest by a people or state called Yamato of other states and nations in central Japan. In this view, starting in Kyushu (the “west” of the myth, though actually southwards), the Yamato migrated (or conquered) over a period of years across the Sea of Japan to the Kii Peninsula, and from there, past the area that is now Osaka to the area around modern Nara, where they established the Yamato kingdom. Clearly, of course, the myth, which indicates that certain supporters were ancestors of important early Japanese clans, was written or recorded as a sort of imperial charter, justifying and explaining both place names and social and political relationships with the imperial house. It took several centuries from the establishment of the Yamato court in central Japan for the imperial system to spread throughout the Japanese islands. In the process, the ancient place names and origins have been lost. Some of the elements repeated in the myth clearly indicate archaic origins: rituals, marital customs (several of the protagonists marry their female relatives in what in modern Japanese society would be considered an act of incest), and dwellings (there are, for example, remains of pit dwellings that have been uncovered by archaeologists).

See also Amaterasu-π-mikami; Animals: crow; Ninigi-no-mikoto; Swords; Takemikazuchi-no-kami; Yamato.

References and further reading:

  • Aston, William G., trans. 1956. Nihongi. London: Allen and Unwin.
  • Davis, S. Hadland. 1913. Myths and Legends of Japan. London: George Harrap. (Facsimile edition 1992, New York: Dover Publications.) Annotated collection of legends, folktales, and myths.
  • Philippi, Donald, trans. and ed. 1968. Kπjiki. Tokyo: Tokyo University Press.


Handbook of Japanese Mythology written by Michael Ashkenazi – Copyright © 2003 by Michael Ashkenazi

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