V. THE TWILIGHT OF FABLE.
BETWEEN the long night of the unknown ages that preceded the advent of the conquerors, and the morning of what may be called real history, there lies the twilight of mythology and fabulous narration.
The mythology of Nippon, though in essence Chinese, is Japanese in form and coloring, and bears the true flavor of the soil from whence it sprung. The patriotic native or the devout Sbintōist may accept the statements of the Kojiki as genuine history; but in the cold, clear eye of an alien they are the inventions of men shaped to exalt the imperial family. They are a living and luxurious growth of fancy around the ruins of facts that in the slow decay of time have lost the shape by which recognition is possible. Chinese history does indeed, at certain points, corroborate what the Japanese traditions declare, and thus gives us some sure light; but for a clear understanding of the period antedating the second century of the Christian era, the native mythology and the fabulous narrations of the Kojiki are but as moonlight.
Jimmu Tennō, the first mikado, was the fifth in descent from the Sun-goddess. His original name was Kan Yamato Iware Hiko no mikoto. The title Jimmu Tennō, meaning "spirit of war," was posthumously applied to him many centuries afterward. When the Kojiki was compiled, pure Japanese names only were in use. Hence, in that book we meet with many very long quaint names and titles which, when written in the Chinese equivalents, are greatly abbreviated. The introduction of the written characters of China at a later period enabled the Japanese to express almost all their own words, whether names, objects, or abstract ideas, in Chinese as well as Japanese. Thus, in the literature of Japan two languages exist side side, or imbedded in each other. This applies to the words only. Japanese syntax, being incoereible, has preserved itself almost entirely unchanged.
The Kojiki states that Jimmu was fifty years old when he set out upon his conquests. He was accompanied by his brothers and a few retainers, all of whom are spoken of as kami, or gods. The country of Japan was already populated by an aboriginal people dwelling in villages, each under a head-man, and it is interesting to notice how the inventors of the Kojiki account for their origin. They declare, and the Japanese popularly believe, that these aboriginal savages were the progeny of the same gods (Izanagi and Izanami) from whom Jnnmu sprung; but they were wicked, while Jimmu was righteous.
The interpretation doubtless is, that a band of foreign invaders landed in Hinga, in Kiushiu, or they were perhaps colonists, who had occupied this part of the country for some time previous. The territory of Hiuga could never satisfy a restless, warlike people. It is mountainous, volcanic, and one of the least productive parts of Japan.
At the foot of the famous mountain of Kirishima, which lies on the boundary between Hiuga and Ōzumi, is the spot where Jimmu resided, and whence he took his departure.
Izanagi and Izanami first, and afterward Ninigi, the fourth ancestor of Jimmu, had descended from this same height to the earth. Every Japanese child who lives within sight of this mountain gazes with reverent wonder upon its summit, far above the sailing clouds and within the blue sky, believing that here the gods came down from heaven.
The story of Jimmu's march is detailed in the Kojiki, and the numerous popular books based upon it. A great many wonderful creatures and men that resembled colossal spiders were encountered and overcome. Even wicked gods had to be fought or circumvented. His path was to Usa, in Buzen; thence to Okada; thence by ship through the windings of the Suwo Nada, a part of the Inland Sea, landing in Aki. Here he built a palace, and remained seven years. He then went to the region of Bizen, and, after dwelling there eight years, he sailed to the East. The waves were very rough and rapid at the spot near the present site of Ōzaka, where he finally succeeded in langing, and he gave the spot the name Nomi Haya, (swift waves). This afterward became, in the colloquial, and in poetry, Naniwa.
Hitherto the career of the invaders had been one of victory and easy conquest, but they now received their first repulse. After severe fighting Jimmu was defeated, and one of his brothers was wounded. A council of war was held, and sacred ceremonies celebrated to discover the cause of the defeat. The solemn verdict Was that as children of the Sun-goddess they had acted with irreverence and presumption in journeying in opposition to the course of the sun from west to east, instead of moving, as the sun moves, from east to west. Thereupon they resolved to turn to the south, and advance westward. Leaving the ill-omened shores, they coasted round the southern point of Kii, and landed at Arasaka. Here a peaceful triumph awaited them, for the chief surrendered, and presented Jimmu with a sword. A representation of this scene, engraved on steel, now adorns the greenback of one of the denominations of the national bank-notes issued in 1872. The steps of the conqueror were now bent toward Yaniato. The mountain-passes were difficult, and the way unknown; but by act of one of the gods, Michi no Omi no mikoto, who interposed for their guidance, a gigantic crow, having wings eight feet long, went before the host, and led the warriors into the rich land of Yamato. Here they were not permitted to rest, for the natives fought stoutly for their soil.
On one occasion the clouds lowered, and thick darkness brooded over the battle-field, so that neither of the hosts could discern each other, and the conflict stayed. Suddenly the gloom was cleft by the descent from heaven of a bird like a hawk, which, hovering in a flood of golden effulgence, perched upon the bow of Jimmu. His adversaries, dazzled to blindness by the awful light, fled in dismay. Jimmu, being now complete victor, proceeded to make his permanent abode, and fixed the miako, or capital, at. Kashiwabara, some miles distant from the present site of Kiōto. Here he set up his government, and began to rule over all the lands which he had conquered. Peace was celebrated with rejoicings, and religious ceremonies of imposing magnificence. He distributed rewards to his soldiers and officers, and chose his chief captains to be rulers over provinces, apportioning them lands, to be held in return for military service. It will be noticed that this primal form of general government was a species of feudalism. Such a political system was of the most rudimentary kind; only a little better than the Council of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, or was similar to that of the Aztecs of Mexico.
The country being now tranquilized, weapons were laid aside, and attention was given to the arts of peace. Among the first things accomplished was the solemn deposit of the three sacred emblems - mirror, sword, and ball - in the palace. Sacrifices were offered to the Sun-goddess on Torimino yama.
Jimmu married the princess Tatara, the most beautiful woman in Japan, and daughter of one of his captains. During his life-time his chief energies were spent in consolidating his power, and civilizing his subjects. Several rebellions had to be put down. After choosing. all heir, he died, leaving three children, at the age of one hundred and twenty-seven years, according to the Nihongi, and of one hundred and thirty-seven, according to the Kojiki.
It is by no means certain that Jimmu was a historical character. The only books describing him are but collections of myths and fables, in which exists, perhaps, a more skeleton of history. Even the Japanese writers, as, for instance, the author of a popular history (Dai Nihon Koku Kai Biaku Yuraii Ki), interpret the narratives in a rationalistic manner. Thus, the "eight-headed serpents" in the Kojiki are explained to be persistent arch-rebels, or valorous enemies; the "ground-spiders," to be rebels of lesser note; and the "spider-pits or holes," the rebels' lurking-places. The gigantic crow, with wings eight feet long, that led the host into Yamato was probably, says the native writer, a famous captain whose name was Karasŭ (crow), who led the advance-guard into Yamato, with such valor, directness, and rapidity, that it seemed miraculous. The myth of ascribing the guidance of the army to a crow was probably invented later. A large number of the incidents related in the Kojiki have all the characteristics of the myth.
Chinese tradition ascribes the peopling of Japan to the following causes: The grandfather (Taiko) of the first emperor (Buwo) of the Shu dynasty (thirty-seven emperors, eight hundred and seventy-two years, B.C. 1120-249) in China, having three sons, wished to bequeath his titles and estates to his youngest son, notwithstanding that law and custom required him to endow the eldest. The younger son refused to receive the inheritance; but the elder, knowing that his father Taiko would persist in his determination, and unwilling to cause trou- ble, secretly left his father's house and dominions, and sailed away to the South of China. Thence he is supposed to have gone to Japan and founded a colony in Hiuga. His name was Taihaku Ki. From this legend the Chinese frequently apply the name Kishi Koku, or "country of the Ki family," to Japan.
Whatever may be the actual facts, Jimmu. Tennō is popularly believed to have been a real person, and the first emperor of Japan. He is deified in the Shintō religion, and in thousands of shrines dedicated to him the people worship his spirit. In the official list of mikados, he is named as the first. The reigning emperor refers to him as his ancestor from whom he claims unbroken descent. The 7th day of the Fourth month (April 7th) is fixed as the anniversary of his ascension to the throne, and that day is a national holiday, on which the iron-clad navy of modern Japan fires salutes, from Krupp and Armstrong gans, in his honor, and the military, in French uniforms, from Snider and Remington rifles, burn in memoriam powder.
The era of Jimmu is the starting-point of Japanese chronoloy, and the year I of the Japanese era is that upon which he ascended the throne at Kashiwabara. A large number of Japanese students and educated men who have been abroad, or who, though remaining at home, have shed their old beliefs, and imbibed the modern spirit of nihilism, regard Jimmu as a myth. The majority, however, cling to their old belief that the name Jimmu represents a historical verity, and hold it as the sheet-anchor of their shifting faith. A young Japanese, fresh from several years' residence in Europe, was recently rallied concerning his belief in the divinity of the mikado and in the truth of the Kojiki. His final answer was, "It is my duty to believe in them."