Historical Tales: 12—Japanese and Chinese - Charles Morris

Jingu, the Amazon of Japan

To-day the women of Japan are kept in seclusion and take no part in affairs of state. This does not seem to have been always the case. In the far past, we are told, women often rose to posts of honor and dignity, and some even filled the mikado's throne. Nor is this all. To a woman is given the glory of the greatest event in the history of ancient Japan, the conquest of Corea, from which land civilization, literature, and a new religion subsequently came to the island realm.

The name of this Japanese heroine was Okinaga Tarashi himé, but she is best known under the title of Jingu, or "warlike deed." The character given her in tradition is an attractive one, combining beauty, piety, intelligence, energy, and valor. The waves of the sea, the perils of the battle-field, and the toils or terrors of war alike failed to fill the soul of this heroine with fear, and the gods marched with her and aided her in her enterprises. Great as she was in herself, the Japanese give her higher honor still, as the mother of their god of war.

This imperial Amazon was the wife of the mikado Chinai, who in 193 A.D. set out at the head of his army for Kiushiu, a rebellion having broken out at Kumaso, in that island. His courageous wife took ship and followed him to the seat of war. On her voyage thither she stopped at one of the islands of the Inland Sea to offer worship to the gods. And as she did so the voice of the deity of the shrine came to her ears.

"Why do you trouble yourself to conquer Kumaso?" spoke the mysterious voice. "It is but a poor and barren spot, not worth your labor nor the work of your army. There is a country, larger and richer by far, a land as lovely as the face of a fair virgin, dazzlingly bright with gold, silver, and rare colors, and rich with treasures of every kind. Such a noble region is Shiraki [Corea]. Continue to worship me, and this rich land shall he yours without the shedding of blood. As for Kumaso, my help and the glory of your conquest will cause it to yield."

On joining the emperor, Jingu repeated to him the words of the god, but she found in him a doubting listener. There was a high mountain near the camp, and to the summit of this he climbed and looked far out over the westward sea. No land was visible to his eyes where she had declared the rich realm of Shiraki lay, and he was confirmed in his doubts. On returning to her he said,

"I looked everywhere, and saw water alone; no land was to be seen. Is there a country in the sky? If not, your words are false. And my ancestors worshipped all the gods; or if there are any they did not worship, I know them not. Why, then, should they not speak to me?"

"If you credit only your doubts," answered the god through the lips of the empress, "and declare that there is no country where I have said a country exists, you blaspheme, and shall never see this land, but the empress, your wife, shall have the glory of its conquest."

Even this was not enough to overcome the doubts of the emperor. He was not ready to believe that a god could speak through a woman, and refused to risk his army on an unknown sea. On the contrary, he led it against Kumaso, from which the rebels drove him back in defeat. Soon after he died suddenly in camp, or, as some declare, was slain in battle by an arrow. Takénouchi, his minister, kept his death a secret from the soldiers, while the valiant Jingu continued the war and soon brought the rebellion to an end.

The death of the mikado had left the power of the state and the command of the army in the hands of his wife, who had shown her valor and ability in the conquest of Kumaso. Her mind was now filled with the promise of the god and the hope of new glory to be won beyond the sea. But first she deemed it wise to obtain further signs from the celestial powers.

Going to the shore of the sea, she baited a hook with a grain of rice and threw it into the water, saying, "If a fish be caught with this grain of rice, then the conquest of a rich country shall indeed be mine."

When she drew up the line, to her delight she saw a fish on the hook. "Medzurashiki mono!"  ("wonderful thing!"), she exclaimed, viewing the marvel as a sure signal that the gods approved her design. Her words have been corrupted into Matsura, which is the name of the place to this day, and here, every year, at the opening of the fourth Japanese month, the women of the vicinity go fishing, no men being permitted to cast in their lines on that day.

The pious empress, as if some of the doubts of the mikado had clung to her mind, sought still another sign from the gods. She now let her long hair fall into the water, saying that if the gods favored her design her tresses would come out of the water dry and parted in two divisions. Again the celestial powers heard. Her abundant black locks left the water dry and neatly parted as by a comb.

Doubt no longer troubled her soul. She at once ordered the generals of the army to recruit new forces, build ships, and prepare for an ocean enterprise.

"On this voyage depends the glory or the ruin of our country," she said to them. "I intrust its details to you, and will hold you to blame if anything goes amiss through lack of care. I am a woman, and am young. But I shall undertake this enterprise, and go with you disguised as a man, trusting to you and my army, and, above all, to the gods. If we are wise and valiant, a wealthy country shall be ours. If we succeed, the glory shall be yours; if through evil fortune we fail, on me shall lie all the guilt and disgrace."

The enthusiasm of the empress infected the commanders, who promised her their full support in her enterprise, which was by far the greatest that Japan had ever ventured upon. The ships were built, but the perils of the voyage frightened the people, and the army increased but slowly. Impatient at the delay, but with no thought of giving up her task, the empress again appealed to the gods. A shrine of purification was built, lustrations were made, sacrifices offered, and prayers for speedy success sent up to the celestial hosts. The Kami, or gods, proved favorable still. Troops now came rapidly in. Soon a large army was assembled and embarked, and all was ready for the enterprise. It was the year 201 A.D., the first year of the third Christian century.

Jingu now issued her final orders, to the following effect:

"There must be no plundering.

"Despise not a few enemies, and fear not many.

"Give mercy to those who yield, but no quarter to the stubborn.

"The victors shall be rewarded; deserters shall be punished."

Then through her lips the gods spoke again: "The Spirit of Peace will always guide and protect you. The Spirit of War will guide your ships across the seas."

It must here be remarked that the annals of Japan do not seem to be in full harmony. In the days of Sujin the civilizer, a century and a half earlier, we are told that there was regular communication between Corea and Kiushiu, and that a prince of Corea came to Japan to live; while the story of Jingu seems to indicate that Corea was absolutely unknown to the islanders. There were none to pilot the fleet across the seas, and the generals seemed ignorant of where Corea was to be found, or of the proper direction in which to steer. They lacked chart and compass, and had only the sun, the stars, and the flight of birds as guides. As Noah sent out birds from his ark to spy out the land, so they sent fishermen ahead of the fleet, and with much the same result. The first of these messengers went far to the west, and returned with the word that land was nowhere to be seen. Another messenger was sent, and came back with cheering news. On the western horizon he had seen the snowy peaks of distant mountains.

Inspired by this report, the adventurers sailed boldly on. The winds, the waves, the currents, all aided their speed. The gods even sent shoals of huge fishes in their wake, which heaped up the waves and drove them forward, lifting the sterns and making the prows leap like living things.

At length land was seen by all, and with shouts of joy they ran their ships ashore upon the beach of Southern Corea. The sun shone in all its splendor upon the gallant host, which landed speedily upon the new-found shores, where it was marshalled in imposing array.

The Coreans seem to have been as ignorant of geography as the Japanese. The king of this part of the country, hearing that a strange fleet had come from the east and a powerful army landed on his shores, was lost in terror and amazement.

"Who can these be, and whence have they come?" he exclaimed. "We have never heard of any country beyond the seas. Have the gods forsaken us, and sent this host of strangers to our undoing?"

Such was the fear of the king that he made no resistance to the invaders. Corean envoys were sent to them with the white flags of peace, and the country was given up without a fight. The king offered to deliver all his treasures to the invading host, agreed to pay tribute to Japan, and promised to furnish hostages in pledge of his good faith. His nobles joined with him in his oath. The rivers might flow backward, they declared, or the pebbles in the river-beds leap up to the stars, but they would never break their word.

Jingu now set up weapons before the gate of the king in token of her suzerainty and of the peace which had been sworn. The spoils won from the conquered land consisted of eighty ships well laden with gold and precious goods of every kind the country possessed, while eighty noble Coreans were taken as hostages for the faith of the king. And now, with blare of trumpet and clash of weapons, with shouts of triumph and songs of praise to the gods, the fleet set sail for home. Two months had sufficed for the whole great enterprise.

Nine empresses in all have sat upon the throne of Japan, but of these Jingu alone won martial renown and gained a great place in history. The Japanese have always felt proud of this conquest of Corea, the first war in which their armies had gone to a foreign country to fight. They had, to use their common phrase, made "the arms of Japan shine beyond the seas," and the glory of the exploit descended not only on the Amazon queen, but in greater measure upon her son, who was born shortly after her return to Japan.

The Japanese have given more honor to this son still unborn when the conquest was achieved, than to his warlike mother. It was in him, not in his mother, they declare, that the Spirit of War resided, and he is now worshipped in Japan as the God of War. Ojin by name, he became a great warrior, lived to be a hundred and ten years old, and was deified after his death. Through all the centuries since he has been worshipped by the people, and by soldiers in particular. Some of the finest temples in Japan have been erected in his honor, and the land is full of shrines to this Eastern Mars. He is represented with a frightful and scowling countenance, holding in his arms a broad, two-edged sword. In all periods of Japanese art a favorite subject has been the group of the snowy-bearded Takénouchi, the Japanese Methuselah, holding the infant Ojin in his arms, while Jingu, the heroic mother, stands by in martial robes.