Historic Tales, Vol. 12 (of 15) The Romance of Reality
THE FIRST OF THE MIKADOS.
The year 1 in Japan is the same date as 660 B.C. of the Christian era, so that Japan is now in its twenty-sixth century. Then everything began. Before that date all is mystery and mythology. After that date there is something resembling history, though in the early times it is an odd mixture of history and fable. As for the gods of ancient Japan, they were many in number, and strange stories are told of their doings. Of the early men of the island kingdom we know very little. When the ancestors of the present Japanese arrived there they found the islands occupied by a race of savages, a people thickly covered with hair, and different in looks from all the other inhabitants of Asia. These in time were conquered, and only a few of them now remain,—known as Ainos, and dwelling in the island of Yezo.
In the Japanese year 1 appeared a conqueror, Jimmu TennЕЌ by name, the first of the mikados or emperors. He was descended from the goddess of the Sun, and made his home at the foot of Kirishima, a famous mountain in the island of Kiushiu, the most southerly of the four large islands of Japan. As to the smaller islands of that anchored empire, it may be well to say that they form a vast multitude of all shapes and sizes, being in all nearly four thousand in number. The Sea of Japan is truly a sea of islands.
By way of the sailing clouds, and the blue sky which rests upon Kirishima's snowy top, the gods stepped down from heaven to earth. Down this celestial path came Jimmu's ancestors, of whom there were four between him and the mighty Sun goddess. Of course no one is asked to accept this for fact. Somewhat too many of the fathers of nations were sons of the gods. It may be that Jimmu was an invader from some foreign land, or came from a band of colonists who had settled at the mountain's foot some time before, but the gods have the credit of his origin.
At any rate, Hiuga, as the region in which he dwelt was called, was not likely to serve the ends of a party of warlike invaders, there being no part of Japan less fertile. So, as the story goes, Jimmu, being then fifty years old, set out to conquer some richer realm. He had only a few followers, some being his brothers, the others his retainers, all of them, in the language of the legends, being kami, or gods. Jimmu was righteous; the savages were wicked, though they too had descended from the gods. These savages dwelt in villages, each governed by a head-man or chief. They fought hard for their homes, and were not easily driven away.
The story of Jimmu's exploits is given in the Kojiki, or "Book of Ancient Traditions," the oldest book of Japan. There is another, called the Nihongi, nearly as old, being composed in 720 A.D. These give us all that is known of the ancient history of the island, but are so full of myths and fables that very little of the story is to be trusted. Histories of later times are abundant, and form the most important part of the voluminous literature of Japan. The islanders are proud of their history, and have preserved it with the greatest care, the annals of cities and families being as carefully preserved as those of the state....