Emperor Jimmu

Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇, Jinmu-tennō) was the legendary first emperor of Japan according to the Nihon Shoki and Kojiki.[1] His ascension is traditionally dated as 660 BC.[3][4] In Japanese mythology, he was a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, through her grandson Ninigi, as well as a descendant of the storm god Susanoo. He launched a military expedition from Hyuga near the Seto Inland Sea, captured Yamato, and established this as his center of power. In modern Japan, Jimmu's legendary accession is marked as National Foundation Day on February 11. In the 1930s and 1940s in Japan it was dangerous to question the existence of Jimmu.[5]

Emperor Jimmu
Tennō Jimmu detail 01.jpg
Emperor Jimmu with his emblematic self bow, the kinshikyū (金鵄弓).[1] By Adachi Ginkō.
Emperor of Japan
ReignFebruary 11, 660 – April 9, 585 BC[1][2]
BornHikohohodemi (彦火々出見)
February 13, 711 BC
DiedApril 9, 585 BC (aged 126)
Unebi-yama no ushitora no sumi no misasagi (畝傍山東北陵) (Kashihara, Nara)
Posthumous name
Kun'yomi: Kamu-yamato Iware-biko no Sumeramikoto (神日本磐余彦天皇),
also Kamu-yamato Iware-biko no Mikoto (神倭伊波礼毘古命)
On'yomi: Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇)
Emperor Jimmu
Japanese name

Historians have stressed that there is no evidence for the existence of Jimmu[6] with most scholars agreeing that the traditional narrative of Japan’s founding is mythical and Jimmu is a legendary figure.[7] However, stories of him may reflect actual events.[8][9][10]

Name and TitleEdit

Jimmu is recorded as Japan's first ruler in two early chronicles, Nihon Shoki (721) and Kojiki (712).[1] Nihon Shoki gives the dates of his reign as 660–585 BC.[1] In the reign of Emperor Kanmu (737–806),[11] the eighth-century scholar Ōmi no Mifune designated rulers before Emperor Ōjin as tennō (天皇, "heavenly sovereign"), a Japanese pendant to the Chinese imperial title Tiān-dì (天帝), and gave several of them including Jimmu their canonical names. Prior to this time, these rulers had been known as Sumera no mikoto/Ōkimi. This practice had begun under Empress Suiko, and took root after the Taika Reforms with the ascendancy of the Nakatomi clan.[12]

According to the legendary account in the Nihon Shoki, Emperor Jimmu was born on February 13, 711 BC (the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar), and died, again according to legend, on April 9, 585 BC (the eleventh day of the third month).

Both the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki give Jimmu's name as Kamu-yamato Iware-biko no Mikoto (神倭伊波礼琵古命) or Kamu-yamato Iware-biko no Sumeramikoto (神日本磐余彦天皇).[13] Iware indicates a toponym whose precise purport is unclear.

Among his other names were: Wakamikenu no Mikoto (若御毛沼命), Kamu-yamato Iware-biko hohodemi no Mikoto (神日本磐余彦火火出見尊) and Hikohohodemi (彦火火出見).

The Imperial House of Japan traditionally based its claim to the throne on its putative descent from the sun-goddess Amaterasu via Jimmu's great-grandfather Ninigi.[14]

Consorts and childrenEdit

Consort: Ahiratsu-hime (吾平津媛), Hosuseri's (Ninigi-no-Mikoto's son) daughter

  • First son: Prince Tagishimimi (手研耳命)
  • Prince Kisumimi (岐須美美命)
  • Princess Misaki (神武天皇)

Empress: Himetataraisuzu-hime (媛蹈鞴五十鈴媛), Kotoshironushi's daughter

  • Prince Hikoyai (日子八井命)
  • Second son: Prince Kamuyaimimi (神八井耳命, d.577 BC)
  • Third son: Prince Kamununakawamimi (神渟名川耳尊), later Emperor Suizei

Legendary narrativeEdit

Emperor Jimmu, ukiyo-e by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1880)
Emperor Jimmu, from the first National Census book 1920 in Japan

In Japanese mythology, the Age of the Gods is the period before Jimmu's accession.[15]

The story of Jimmu seems to rework legends associated with the Ōtomo clan (大伴氏), and its function was to establish that clan's links to the ruling family, just as those of Suijin arguably reflect Mononobe tales and the legends in Ōjin's chronicles seem to derive from Soga clan traditions.[16] Jimmu figures as a direct descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu via the side of his father, Ugayafukiaezu. 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 four sons. The last of these, Kamu-yamato Iware-biko no mikoto, became Emperor Jimmu.[17]


Depiction of a bearded Jimmu with his bow and the golden kite. This 19th-century artwork is by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

According to the chronicles Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, Jimmu's brothers were born in Takachiho, the southern part of Kyūshū in modern-day Miyazaki Prefecture. They moved eastward to find a location more appropriate for administering 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 Osaka), they encountered another local chieftain, Nagasunehiko ("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 ("eight-span crow"), they moved to Yamato. There, they once again battled Nagasunehiko and were victorious. The record in the Nihon Shoki of Emperor Jimmu states that his armed forces defeated a group of Emishi (蝦夷, 'shrimp barbarians') before his enthronement.[18] The Emishi were an ethnic group who lived in Honshu, particularly the Tōhoku region.

In Yamato, Nigihayahi [ja], who also claimed 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. Upon scaling a Nara mountain to survey the Seto Inland Sea he now controlled, Jimmu remarked that it was shaped like the "heart" rings made by mating dragonflies, archaically akitsu 秋津.[19] A mosquito then tried to steal Jimmu's royal blood but since Jimmu was a god incarnate Emperor, akitsumikami (現御神), a dragonfly killed the mosquito. Japan thus received its classical name the Dragonfly Islands, akitsushima (秋津島).

Unebi Goryō, the mausoleum of Jimmu in Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture

According to the Kojiki, Jimmu died when he was 126 years old. The Emperor's posthumous name literally means "divine might" or "god-warrior". It is generally thought that Jimmu's name and character evolved into their present shape just before[20] the time in which legends about the origins of the Yamato dynasty were chronicled in the Kojiki.[11] There are accounts written earlier than either Kojiki and Nihon Shoki that present an alternative version of the story. According to these accounts, Jimmu's dynasty was supplanted by that of Ōjin, whose dynasty was supplanted by that of Keitai.[21] The Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki then combined these three legendary dynasties into one long and continuous genealogy.

The traditional site of Jimmu's grave is near Mount Unebi in Kashihara, Nara Prefecture.[22]

Modern venerationEdit

The inner prayer hall of Kashihara Shrine in Kashihara, Nara, the principal shrine devoted to Jimmu

Veneration of Jimmu was a central component of the imperial cult that formed following the Meiji Restoration.[23] In 1873, a holiday called Kigensetsu was established on February 11.[24] The holiday commemorated the anniversary of Jimmu's ascension to the throne 2,532 years earlier.[25] After World War II, the holiday was criticized as too closely associated with the "emperor system."[24] It was suspended from 1948 to 1966, but later reinstated as National Foundation Day.[24][26]

Between 1873 and 1945 an imperial envoy sent offerings every year to the supposed site of Jimmu's tomb.[27] In 1890 Kashihara Shrine was established nearby, on the spot where Jimmu was said to have ascended to the throne.[28]

Before and during World War II, expansionist propaganda made frequent use of the phrase hakkō ichiu, a term coined by Tanaka Chigaku based on a passage in the Nihon Shoki discussing Emperor Jimmu.[29] Some media incorrectly attributed the phrase to Emperor Jimmu.[30] For the 1940 Kigensetsu celebration, marking the supposed 2,600th anniversary of Jimmu's enthronement, the Peace Tower[31] was constructed in Miyazaki.[32]

The same year numerous stone monuments relating to key events in Jimmu's life were erected around Japan. The sites at which these monuments were erected are known as Emperor Jimmu Sacred Historical Sites.[33]


There is no compelling evidence Jimmu existed, except the mention in the Nihon Shoki and Kojiki.[6][1][page needed] The dates of Jimmu reigning from 660 BC to 585 BC are improbable,[34] most modern scholars agree that the traditional founding of Japan in 660 BC is a myth and that Jimmu along with the first nine emperors are legendary.[7] The founding of Japan in the year 660 BC was probably created by the writers of Nihon Shoki to put the date on a kanototori year.[35]

However events during the mid to late Yayoi period may reflect stories of Jimmu.[10]: 102  According to historian Peter Wetzler, Jimmu’s conquest of Osaka and Nara may reflect an actual event. However the dates and much of the details are fictitious.[9] Historian Kenneth G. Henshall stated that Jimmu’s conquest may also reflect a time when the Yayoi people from continental Asia immigrated in masses starting from Kyushu and moving eastward during the Yayoi period.[8]

The Japanese historian Ino Okifu identifies Emperor Jimmu with the Chinese alchemist and explorer Xu Fu (255 BC - 195 BC), a hypothesis supported by certain traditions in Japan and regarded as possible by some modern scholars.[36][37] The Yayoi period (300 BCE–300 CE), during which significant changes in Japanese metallurgy and pottery occurred, started around the time of his supposed arrival.[38][39] However, the legend of Xu Fu's voyage also has numerous inconsistencies with the linguistic and anthropological history of Japan.[37]

Family treeEdit

Hikoyai [ja]*Kamuyaimimi [ja]Emperor SuizeiTagishimimiKisumimi [ja]*

* = not in the Nihon Shoki

See alsoEdit


1.^ So named after the incident in which a golden kite (金鵄, kinshi) landed on the tip of the upright bow during the final rout of Nagasunehiko's army.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Jimmu", Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (1993), Kodansha, ISBN 978-4069310980.
  2. ^ "Genealogy of the Emperors of Japan" at Kunaicho.go.jp; retrieved August 28, 2013.
  3. ^ Kelly, Charles F. "Kofun Culture", Japanese Archaeology. April 27, 2009.
  4. ^
    • Kitagawa, Joseph (1987). On Understanding Japanese Religion, 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."
    • Boleslaw Szczesniak, "The Sumu-Sanu Myth: Notes and Remarks on the Jimmu Tenno Myth", in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 10, No. 1/2 (Winter 1954), pp. 107–126. doi:10.2307/2382794. JSTOR 2382794.
  5. ^ Trevor, Malcolm (2001). Japan: Restless Competitor: The Pursuit of Economic Nationalism. Psychology Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-1-903350-02-7.
  6. ^ a b Ruoff, Kenneth J. (February 1, 2021). Japan's Imperial House in the Postwar Era, 1945–2019. BRILL. p. 171. ISBN 978-1-68417-616-8.
  7. ^ a b Shillony, Ben-Ami (2008). The Emperors of Modern Japan. BRILL. p. 15. ISBN 978-90-04-16822-0.
  8. ^ a b Henshall, Kenneth (November 7, 2013). Historical Dictionary of Japan to 1945. Scarecrow Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-8108-7872-3.
  9. ^ a b Wetzler, Peter (February 1, 1998). Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in Prewar Japan. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-0-8248-6285-5.
  10. ^ a b Brown, Delmer M.; Hall, John Whitney; Press, Cambridge University; McCullough, William H.; Jansen, Marius B.; Shively, Donald H.; Yamamura, Kozo; Duus, Peter (1988). The Cambridge History of Japan. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-22352-2.
  11. ^ a b Aston, William. (1896). Nihongi, pp. 109–137.
  12. ^ Jacques H. Kamstra Encounter Or Syncretism: The Initial Growth of Japanese Buddhism, Brill 1967 pp. 65–67.
  13. ^ 神倭伊波礼琵古命, OJ pronunciation: Kamu-Yamatö-ipare-biko (nö-mikötö) Donald Philippi, tr. Kojiki, University of Tokyo Press, 1969 p. 488
  14. ^ Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, [Japanese Loyalism Reconstrued: Yamagata Daini's Ryūshi Shinron of 1759], University of Hawai'i Press, 1995 pp. 106–107.
  15. ^ Nussbaum, "Jindai" at p. 421, p. 421, at Google Books.
  16. ^ Jacques H. Kamstra, Encounter Or Syncretism: The Initial Growth of Japanese Buddhism, Brill 1967 pp. 69–70.
  17. ^ Nussbaum, "Chijin-godai" at p. 111, p. 111, at Google Books.
  18. ^ 朝廷軍の侵略に抵抗 (in Japanese). Iwate Nippo. September 24, 2004. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved March 1, 2011.
  19. ^ メンテナンス中
  20. ^ Kennedy, Malcolm D. A History of Japan. London. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1963.
  21. ^ Ooms, Herman. Imperial Politics and Symbolics in Ancient Japan: the Tenmu Dynasty, 650–800. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2009
  22. ^ Imperial Household Agency (Kunaichō): 神武天皇 (1); retrieved August 22, 2013.
  23. ^ "Nationalism and History in Contemporary Japan". Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  24. ^ a b c "Kigensetsu Controversy", Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (1993), Kodansha. ISBN 978-4069310980.
  25. ^ Britannica Kokusai Dai-Hyakkajiten article on "Kigensetsu".
  26. ^ "Founding Day rekindles annual debate". The Japan Times. February 11, 1998. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  27. ^ Martin, Peter. (1997). The Chrysanthemum Throne: A History of the Emperors of Japan, p. 18–20.
  28. ^ Kashihara City website tourism page on "Kashihara Jingū".
  29. ^ Britannica Kokusai Dai-Hyakkajiten article on "Hakkō ichiu".
  30. ^ Dower, John W., War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War, faber and faber, 1993 p.223.
  31. ^ Peace Tower (平和の塔, Heiwa no Tō, originally called the "Hakkō Ichiu Tower" 八紘一宇の塔 Hakkō Ichiu no Tō or the "Pillar of Heaven and Earth" 八紘之基柱 Ametsuchi no Motohashira)
  32. ^ Motomura, Hiroshi (February 10, 2015). "Miyazaki's controversial Peace Tower continues to cause unease". The Japan Times. ISSN 0447-5763. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
  33. ^ Ruoff, Kenneth J. (September 9, 2014). Imperial Japan at Its Zenith: The Wartime Celebration of the Empire's 2,600th Anniversary. Cornell University Press. p. 41. ISBN 9780801471827. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  34. ^ Henshall, Kenneth (November 7, 2013). Historical Dictionary of Japan to 1945. Scarecrow Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-8108-7872-3.
  35. ^ Lu, David J. (March 4, 2015). Japan: A Documentary History: v. 1: The Dawn of History to the Late Eighteenth Century: A Documentary History. Routledge. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-317-46712-0.
  36. ^ Liu, Hong. The Chinese Overseas: Routledge Library of Modern China. Published by Taylor & Francis, [2006] (2006). ISBN 0-415-33859-X.
  37. ^ a b Major, John S. (1978). "Christy G. TurnerII, "Dental Evidence on the Origins of the Ainu and Japanese." Science193 (3 091976):911–913. - Marvin J. Allison, "Paleopathology in Peru". Natural History88.2 (02, 1978):74–82". Early China. 4: 78–79. doi:10.1017/S0362502800005988.
  38. ^ Lee, Khoon Choy Lee. Choy, Lee K. [1995] (1995). Japan--between Myth and Reality: Between Myth and Reality. World Scientific publishing. ISBN 981-02-1865-6.
  39. ^ Face to Face. The Transcendence of the Arts in China and Beyond - Historical Perspectives (First ed.). Lisbon, Portugal: Faculdade de Belas Artes. 2014. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9898300493.


External linksEdit

Emperor Jimmu
Born: 13 February 711 BC Died: 9 April 585 BC
Regnal titles
New creation Emperor of Japan
660–585 BC
(traditional dates)
Succeeded by