Japan’s imperial family is the world longest reigning monarch family. If ancient sources are accurate the first emperor, Emperor Jimmu, established his rule in Kashihara, Nara exactly 2,680 years ago, thus establishing Japan as a country. Naturally, events of things that took place so long are often shrouded in mystery and it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction. This case is also true of Emperor Jimmu, as most information we have on him comes from the Kojiki, which isn’t always the most reliable source.
Regardless of whether he was real or not, the legend of Emperor Jimmu is the reason the imperial family has held power and prestige for centuries. Though this story is very questionable today, it was fact to many for a long time. Today, we re-tell the Kojiki’s legend of Emperor Jimmu and how he became the first emperor of Japan.
Note: In the Kojiki, “Jimmu” acquired his name only after he became the first emperor at Kashihara, Nara. Before then, he goes by the name Kamuyamato Iwarebiko no Mikoto [神倭伊波礼毗古命] . In order to avoid confusion, we will just call him Jimmu.
**Like Japanese mythology? Check out our Oh Gods! Series where we retell Japan’s most important myths! Start at the beginning with Izanami, Izanagi, and the Creation of Japan!
Jinmu’s Great Journey East
After Amaterasu obtained Izumo from Okuninushi, she decided to send some of her descendants to live in the Reed Kingdom. They landed in Takachiho, Miyazaki where they lived happily for several generations. Jimmu was the fourth son of Ugayafukiaezu no mikoto [鸕鶿草葺不合尊] and Princess Tamayori [玉依姫命], making him a direct descendants of Amaterasu.
One day, Jimmu pondered how to make the world a better place to live. He decided to leave his family and home in Miyazaki and head east.
Jimmu’s journey east took him many places, such as Okada in north Kyushu, Takeri in Hiroshima. After eight years in Takashima in Okayama, he finally came to Shirakata Port in Osaka, allegedly near the foot of Mt. Ikoma. Unfortunately, the Kojiki does not say a lot about what happened on this long journey.
The War with Nagasunebiko
Upon arriving in Osaka, Jimmu was confronted by the army of of Nagasunebiko [那賀須泥毗古], who lived in Nara. Jimmu fought against Nagasunebiko, but he couldn’t win. To make matter worse, during the fighting Jimmu’s brother Itsuse no Mikoto [五瀬命] received a critical blow an arrow, and shortly after died.
Jimmu soon realized that the reason for he failed was because he attacked from the west. As a descendant of the sun goddess, he needed to attack with the sun, not against it. Thus he went around the Kii Peninsula so he could attack his enemy from the east. Along the way he buried his brother in Kamayama, Wakayama.
On arriving at Kumano in south Wakayama, Jimmu saw a gigantic bear and a horde of evil spirits. His soldiers were so terrified they passed out. In this desperate hour, a man by the name Takakuraji [高倉下] appeared, carrying with him the sword, Futsu no Mitama. Takakuraji explained to Jimmu that the god Takemikazuchi appeared to him in a vision and told him to bestow the sword to Jimmu. The instant Jimmu held the sword, everybody woke up and the evil spirits vanished.
Takakuraji then told Jimmu that there are many evil spirits on the way to Nara, so he should seek out the magical three legged crow Yatagarasu, in Kumano. In Kumano Shrine, Jimmu enlisted Yatagarasu to guide him. With Yatagarasu and Futsu no Mitama, he once again made his way to Nara.
During the trip to the Nara, Jimmu fought even more foes, such as Eukashi and Otoukachi, as well as Eushigi and Otoushigi.
The Final Battle
Before the final battle, Jimmu met a god named Nigihayahi, the brother-in-law to his great enemy, Nagasunebiko. Nigihayahi swore his allegiance to Jimmu and the Kojiki abruptly concludes this great journey by saying:
“In this manner, through defeating his evil enemies and those who didn’t follow him, he became emperor in Kashihara.”
Sadly the Kojiki doesn’t give us any details of how Jimmu beat Nagasunebiko, but according to Nihonshoki, the final battle was extremely bloody and difficult. Then suddenly in the middle of the battle, the sky got dark and a golden kite* appeared. Nagasunebiko became so dazzled by its splendor, he lost focus and was slain.
Later, Jimmu married Princess Himetatara Isukeyori, the daughter of Omononushi. Jimmu died at the age of 127 in Kashihara, Nara.
*the bird kind, not the paper kind.