Historic Tales, Vol. 12 (of 15) - The Romance of Reality
by Charles Morris
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Transcribers Notes:

1. Passages in italics are surrounded by underscores. 2. 4 minor spelling corrections have been made. See list at end of text.

Edition d'Elite

Historical Tales

The Romance of Reality



Author of "Half-Hours with the Best American Authors," "Tales from the Dramatists," etc.


Volume XII

Japanese and Chinese


Copyright, 1898, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.

Copyright, 1904, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.

Copyright, 1908, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.




















































GREAT GATE, NIKKO Frontispiece.




















* * * * *


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 Tenno 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.

Jimmu the conqueror, as his story is told in the Kojiki, met strange and frightful enemies on his march. Among them were troops of spiders of colossal size and frightful aspect, through whose threatening ranks he had to fight his way. Eight-headed serpents had also to be dealt with, and hostile deities—wicked gods who loved not the pious adventurer—disputed his path. Some of these he rid himself of by strength of arm and sharpness of sword, some by shrewdness of wit. His line of march lay to Usa, in the district of Buzen; thence to Okada, where he took ship and made his way through the windings of the Suwo Nada, a part of the Inland Sea of Japan.

Landing in Aki, Jimmu built himself a palace, and dwelt there for seven years, after which he sought the region of Bizen, where for eight years more he lived in peace. Then, stirred once more by his in-dwelling love of adventure, he took to the sea again with his faithful band and sailed to the eastward. Rough waves and swift currents here disputed his way, and it was with difficulty that he at length landed on Hondo, the main island of Japan, near where the city of Osaka now stands. He named the spot Nami Haya ("swift waves").

Jimmu Tenno, the name of the conqueror, means "spirit of war," and so far victory had perched upon his banners as he marched. But now defeat came. The people of the great island fought fiercely for their homes and liberties, a brother of Jimmu was wounded, and he and his band of followers were driven back with loss.

The gods surely had something to do with this,—for in those days the gods were thought to have little to do besides busying themselves with the affairs of men,—and the cause of the defeat was sought by means of sacred ceremonies and invocations. It proved to be an odd one. The legend states they had offended the Sun goddess by presuming to travel to the east, instead of following the path of the sun from east to west. This insult to the gods could be atoned for only by a voyage to the west. Taking to their ships again, they sailed westward around Kii, and landed at Arasaka.

Jimmu had expiated his fault, and was again in favor with the gods. The chief whom he now faced surrendered without a blow, and presented the conquering hero with a sword. A picture of this scene, famous in the early history of Japan, is printed on one of the Japanese greenback notes issued in 1872.

The victor next sought the mountain-defended land of Yamato, which was to be reached only by difficult mountain-passes, unknown to the chief and his followers. But the gods had taken him in charge and came to his aid, sending a giant crow, whose wings were eight feet long, to guide him to the fertile soil of Yamato. A crow with smaller spread of wing might have done the work as well, but would have been less satisfactory to the legend-makers.

Fierce was the conflict now impending, and stern the struggle of the natives for life and liberty. Here were no peaceful chiefs, like the one met at Arasaka, and only by dint of trenchant blows was the land to be won. On went the fight, victory now inclining to one side, now to the other, until in the midst of the uncertain struggle the gods sent down a deep and dark cloud, in whose thick shadow no man could see his foe, and the strife was stayed. Suddenly, through the dense darkness, a bird in the shape of a hawk came swooping down from the skies, enveloped in a flood of golden light, and, dispersing the cloud, rested upon the hero's bow. The light shed by his refulgent wings struck like the glare of lightning upon the eyes of the enemy, so dazzling them with its radiance that they broke into panic flight.

A victory gained in such a fashion as this does not seem quite satisfactory to modern ideas. It is not fair to the other side. Yet it was in this way that the Greeks won victory on the plains of Troy, and that many other legendary victories were obtained. One cannot help wishing that the event of battle had been left to the decision of brave hearts and strong hands, instead of depending upon the interposition of the gods. But such was the ancient way,—if we choose to take legend for truth,—and we must needs receive what is given us, in default of better.

At any rate, Jimmu was now lord of the land, and built himself a capital city at Kashiwabara, near the site of the modern Kioto, from which he governed the wide realms that the sword had made his own. The gods were thanked for their aid by imposing religious ceremonies, and the people rejoiced in the peace that had come upon the land. The soldiers who had followed the hero to victory were amply rewarded, and his chiefs made lords of provinces, for the control over which they were to pay in military service. Thus early a form of feudal government was established in Japan.

All being now at peace within the realm, the weapons of war were hung up in home and temple, sacrifices were offered to the goddess of the Sun, and the three sacred emblems of the new kingdom, the mirror, the sword, and the ball, were deposited with solemn ceremonies in the palace of the emperor.

The remainder of Jimmu's story may be briefly told. He took for bride the princess Tatara, the daughter of one of his chiefs, and the most beautiful woman in all the land. The rest of his life was spent in strengthening his rule and extending the arts of civilization throughout his realm. Finally he died, one hundred and thirty-seven years old, as the Kojiki states, leaving three children, one of whom he had chosen as the heir of the throne.

That there was an actual Jimmu Tenno is more than any one can say. Of course the crow and kite, serpents and spiders, are myths, transformed, perhaps, from some real incidents in his career, and the gods that helped and hindered were doubtless born in men's fancies in later days.

The Chinese have their story of how Japan was settled. Taiko, grandfather of the first emperor of the Shu dynasty, had three sons, and, loving the youngest most, wished to leave him his title and estate. These by law and custom belonged to the eldest, and the generous young prince, not wishing to injure his brother, secretly left home and sailed to the south. Leaving Southern China with a colony, he landed in Japan. This took place about forty-six years before the beginning of Jimmu's conquering career, so that the dates, at least, agree.

Whether there ever was a Jimmu or not, the Japanese firmly believe in him. He stands on the list as the first of the mikados, and the reigning emperor claims unbroken descent from him. April 7 is looked upon as the anniversary of his accession to the throne, and is the Japanese national holiday, which is observed with public rejoicings and military and naval salutes. The year 1 was the year in which Jimmu ascended the throne.


There is not much of absorbing interest in early Japanese history. For a period of some twelve hundred years nearly all that we know of the mikados is that they "lived long and died happy." No fewer than twelve of these patriarchs lived to be over one hundred years old, and one held the throne for one hundred and one years. But they were far surpassed in longevity by a statesman named Takenouchi, who served five mikados as prime minister and dwelt upon the earth for more than three hundred and fifty years. There was not much "rotation in office" in those venerable times.

We must come down for six hundred years from the days of Jimmu to find an emperor who made any history worth the telling. In truth, a mist of fable lies over all the works of these ancient worthies, and in telling their stories we can never be sure how much of them is true. Very likely there is sound history at the bottom, but it is ornamented with a good deal that it is not safe to believe.

The first personage after Jimmu upon whom we need dwell was a wise and worthy mikado named Sujin, who spent his days in civilizing his people, probably no easy task. The gap of six centuries between Jimmu's time and his had, no doubt, its interesting events, but none of particular importance are upon record.

As a boy Sujin displayed courage and energy, together with the deepest piety. As a man he mourned over the sinfulness of his people, and earnestly begged them to give up their wicked ways and turn from sin to the worship of the gods. He was not at first very successful. The people were steeped in iniquity, and continued so until a pestilence was sent to change the current of their sinful thoughts.

The pious monarch called upon the gods to stay the plague, doing penance by rising early, fasting, and bathing,—possibly an unusual ceremony in those days. The gods at length heard the voice of the king, and the pestilence ceased. It had done its work. The people were convinced of the error of their ways and turned from wantonness to worship, and everywhere religious feeling revived.

As yet Japan possessed no temples or shrines, all worship being conducted in the open air. The three holy emblems of the nation, the mirror, the sword, and the ball, had thus far been kept within the palace. Wherever they were the divine power dwelt, and the mikado, living within their influence, was looked upon as equal to a god.

But the deities taught Sujin—or at least he thought they did—that this was not the proper place for them. A rebellion broke out, due, doubtless, to the evil spirit of men, but arising, in his opinion, from the displeasure of the gods, who were not pleased with his keeping these sacred objects under his own roof, where they might be defiled by the unholiness of man. He determined, therefore, to provide for them a home of their own, and to do so built the first temple in his realm. The sacred symbols were placed under the care of his daughter, who was appointed priestess of the shrine. From that day to this a virgin princess of imperial blood has been chosen as custodian of these emblems of deific power and presence.

The first temple was built at Kasanui, a village in Yamato. But the goddess Amaterasu warned the priestess that this locality was not sufficiently holy, so she set off with the mirror in search of a place more to the taste of the gods, carrying it from province to province, until old age overtook her, yet finding no spot that reflected the clear light of holiness from the surface of the sacred mirror. Another priestess took up the task, many places were chosen and abandoned, and finally, in 4 A.D., the shrine of Uji, in Ise, was selected. This apparently has proved satisfactory to the deities of Japan, for the emblems of their divinity still rest in this sacred shrine. Sujin had copies made of the mirror and the sword, which were kept in the "place of reverence," a separate building within the palace. From this arose the imperial chapel, which still exists within the palace bounds.

We speak of the "palace" of the mikado, but we must warn our readers not to associate ideas of splendor or magnificence with this word. The Emperor of Japan dwells not in grandeur, but in simplicity. From the earliest times the house of the emperor has resembled a temple rather than a palace. The mikado is himself half a god in Japanese eyes, and is expected to be content with the simple and austere surroundings of the images of the gods. There are no stateliness, no undue ornament, no gaudy display such as minor mortals may delight in. Dignified simplicity surrounds the imperial person, and when he dies he is interred in the simplest of tombs, wonderfully unlike the gorgeous burial-places in which the bodies of the monarchs of continental Asia lie in state.

When Sujin came to the throne the people of Japan were still in a state of barbarism, and there was scarce a custom in the state that did not call for reform. A new and better system of arranging the periods of time was established, the year being divided into twenty-four months or periods, which bear such significant names as "Beginning of Spring," "Rain-water," "Awakening of the Insects," "Clear Weather," "Seed-rain," etc. A census was ordered to be taken at regular intervals, and by way of taxation all persons, men and women alike, were obliged to work for the government for a certain number of days each year.

To promote commerce, the building of boats was encouraged, and regular communication was opened with Corea, from which country many useful ideas and methods were introduced into Japan. Even a prince of one of the provinces of Corea came to the island empire to live. Agriculture was greatly developed by Sujin, canals being dug and irrigation extensively provided for. Rice, the leading article of food, needs to be grown in well-watered fields, and the stealing of water from a neighbor's field is looked upon as a crime of deepest dye. In old times the water-thief was dealt with much as the horse-thief was recently dealt with in some parts of our own country.

Sujin's work was continued by his successor, who, in 6 A.D., ordered canals and sluices to be dug in more than eight hundred places. At present Japan has great irrigating reservoirs and canals, through which the water is led for miles to the farmers' fields. In one mountain region is a deep lake of pure water, five thousand feet above the sea. Many centuries ago a tunnel was made to draw off this water, and millions of acres of soil are still enriched by its fertilizing flood. Such are some of the results of Sujin's wise reforms.

Another of the labors of Sujin the civilizer was to devise a military system for the defence of his realm. In the north, the savage Ainos still fought for the land which had once been all their own, and between them and the subjects of the mikado border warfare rarely ceased. Sujin divided the empire into four military departments, with a shogun, or general, over each. At a later date military magazines were established, where weapons and rations could be had at any time in case of invasion by the wild tribes on the border or of rebellion within the realm. In time a powerful military class arose, and war became a profession in Japan. Throughout the history of the island kingdom the war spirit has been kept alive, and Japan is to-day the one nation of Eastern Asia with a love of and a genius for warlike deeds. So important grew the shoguns in time that nearly all the power of the empire fell into their hands, and when the country was opened to foreign nations, one of these, calling himself the Tai Kun (Tycoon), posed as the emperor himself, the mikado being lost to sight behind the authority of this military chief.

At length old age began to weigh heavily upon Sujin, and the question of who should succeed him on the throne greatly troubled his imperial mind. He had two sons, but his love for them was so equally divided that he could not choose between their claims. In those days the heirship to the throne seems to have depended upon the father's will. Not being able to decide for himself, he appealed to fate or divination, asking his sons one evening to tell him the next morning what they had dreamed during the night. On their dreams he would base his decision.

The young princes washed their bodies and changed their clothes,—seemingly a religious rite. Visions came to them during the still watches of the night, and the next morning they eagerly told their father what dreams the gods had sent.

"I dreamed that I climbed a mountain," said the elder, "and on reaching its summit I faced the east, and eight times I cut with the sword and thrust with the spear."

"I climbed the same mountain," said the younger, "and stretched snares of cords on every side, seeking to catch the sparrows that destroy the grain."

The emperor listened intently, and thus sagely interpreted the visions of his sons.

"You, my son," he said to the elder, "looked in one direction. You will go to the east and become its governor. You looked in every direction," he said to the younger. "You will govern on all sides. The gods have selected you as my heir."

His words came true. The younger became ruler over all the land; the elder became a warrior in the east and governor over its people.

And Sujin the civilizer, having lived long and ruled wisely, was gathered to his fathers, and slept death's dreamless sleep.


We have now to deal with the principal hero of Japanese legend, Yamato-Dake, the conqueror. His story is full of myth and fable, but there is history in it, too, and it is well worth the telling. Every ancient nation has its legendary hero, who performs wonderful feats, dares fearful perils, and has not only the strength of man but the power of magic and the wiles of evil spirits to contend against. We give the story as it stands, with all its adventures and supernatural incidents.

This Japanese hero of romance, born 71 A.D., was the son of Keiko, the twelfth in line of the mikados. In form he was manly and graceful, fair of aspect, and of handsome and engaging presence. While still a youth he led an army to Kiushiu, in which island a rebellion had broken out. In order to enter the camp of the rebel force, he disguised himself as a dancing-girl, a character which his beardless face and well-rounded figure enabled him easily to assume. Presenting himself before the sentinel, his beauty of face and form disarmed the soldier of all doubt, and he led the seeming damsel to the presence of the rebel chief, from whom he hoped for a rich reward.

Here the visitor danced before the chief and his guests with such winning grace that they were all captivated, and at the end of the dance the delighted chief seized his prize by the hand and drew the seemingly coy damsel into his own tent. Once within its folds, the yielding girl suddenly changed into a heroic youth who clasped the rebel with a vigorous embrace and slew him on the spot. For this exploit the youthful prince received his title of Yamato-Dake, or "Yamato the Warlike."

Thirteen years later a revolt broke out among the wild tribes of Eastern Japan, and the young hero marched with an army to subdue them. His route led him past the shrine of the Sun goddess, in Ise, and here the priestess presented him with the sacred sword, one of the holy emblems of the realm. His own sword was left under a neighboring pine.

Armed with this magical blade, he continued his march into the wilds of Suruga, the haunt of the insurgent Ainos. But he found it no easy matter to bring these savage foes to an open fight. Fleeing before his army into the woods and mountains, they fought him from behind rocks and trees, it being their policy of warfare to inflict damage upon the enemy with as little loss as possible to themselves. Like the American Indians, these savages were used to all the forest wiles, quick to avail themselves of every sound or sign, able to make their way with ease through tangled thickets and pathless forests, and adepts in all the lore of wood and wild.

As the army of Yamato pressed them too closely, they set fire to the dry underbrush which densely surrounded their lurking-place. The high wind carried the flames in roaring waves towards the Japanese army, which was in the most serious danger, for it was encamped amid tall, dry grass, which quickly became a sea of soaring flame. With yells of delight the Ainos gazed upon the imminent peril of their foes; but suddenly their exultation was changed to dismay. For at this moment of danger the Sun goddess appeared to Yamato, and at her suggestion he drew the sacred sword—Murakumo, or "Cloud Cluster"—and cut the grass that thickly rose around him. Before the magic of the blade fire itself was powerless, and the advancing flames turned and swept towards the enemy, many of whom were consumed, while the others fled in panic fear. Grateful to the gods for this timely aid, the hero changed the name of the sword, decreeing that thenceforth it should be known as Kusanagi, or "Grass-Mower."

His route now led, by a mountain pathway, into the great plain of Eastern Japan, afterwards known as the Kuanto, which extends from the central ranges to the Pacific coast. Reaching the shores of the Bay of Yedo, he looked across from its southern headland to the opposite peninsula of Awa, whose hills seemed very close at hand.

"It will be easy to cross that channel," he said: "it is but a trifle. Let the army embark."

He did not know how treacherous was the navigation of this strait, whose weather is never to be trusted, and whose winds, tides, and currents are baffling and perilous. Embarking with his followers, he looked for an easy and rapid progress; but a terrible storm arose, tossing the boats so frightfully that death seemed their sure fate.

Yamato was not at a loss to know what was amiss. He was familiar with the ways of the gods, and knew that some hostile deity was at work to ruin him. His contemptuous remark about the ease of the passage had given deep offence to the Japanese Neptune, the god of the Sea, who was punishing him for his lack of reverence. There was only one way by which the angry deity might be appeased,—the sacrifice of a victim to his wrath. But who among them was ready to yield life for duty? The question was answered by Tachibana, the youthful wife of the chief, who was in the boat with her lord. With a hurried farewell, the devoted woman sprang into the wild waves, which in a moment swept her far away. It was an acceptable sacrifice. The winds fell, the waves went down, the clouds broke, and soon the sun was serenely shining on ruffled sea and tranquil shore.

All that Yamato saw again pertaining to his wife was her perfumed wooden comb, which floated ashore and was dedicated by him as a precious relic in a shrine which he built to the gods. A shrine still stands on the spot, which is within the modern city of Tokio, and there to-day fishermen and sailors worship the spirits of Yamato and his sainted wife.

Thence the hero sailed along the shore, subduing the tribes as he went, until the northern boundary of the empire was reached. Here the leaders of the Ainos had gathered a great army to repel the invader. But on seeing the ships, which were new objects to their eyes, awe and consternation overwhelmed them.

"They are living things," they said,—"strange moving monsters who glide over the sea and bring our foes to our undoing. The gods must have sent them, and will destroy us if we draw bow against these works of their hands."

Throwing down their arms, they surrendered to Yamato when he sprang ashore, and agreed to pay tribute to the state. Taking their leaders as hostages for their good conduct, the hero turned homeward, eager to reach again the capital from which he had been so long away. His route was now overland, and to entertain himself on the long journey he invented a form of poetic verse which is still much in use by the poets of Japan.

As yet all his work had been done on the plain near the shores of the sea. Now, marching inland, he ascended to the great table-land of Shinano, from twenty-five hundred to five thousand feet above the sea, around and within which lie the loftiest mountains of Japan. From this height could be obtained a magnificent view of the Bay of Yedo, the leafy plains surrounding, and the wide-extending ocean. Japan has no more beautiful scene, and Yamato stood silently gazing over its broad expanse, the memory of his beloved wife, who had given her life for his, coming back to him as he gazed. "Adzuma, adzuma" ("my wife, my wife"), fell in sad accents from his lips. These words still haunt that land. In the poet's verse that broad plain is to-day called Adzuma, and one of the great ships of the new navy of Japan is named Adzuma-kuan.

It was no light task which now lay before the army and its chief. Even to-day the mountains of Shinano are far from easy to cross. Then they were unknown, and their crossing was a work of the greatest difficulty and risk. There were rocky defiles and steep ascents to climb, river torrents to pass, rugged paths to mount, without a road to follow or a guide to conduct, and with clouds and fogs to double the dangers of the way. Here, to their fancy, in caves and ravines hostile spirits lurked; every mountain had its tutelary god; at every step the deities of good and evil seemed to be at strife for their destiny, and with all the perils of the way the gods were thought to have something to do.

Thus on one day the god of the mountain came to Yamato in the form of a white deer, with purpose to work him evil. The hero, on the alert against the hostile spirits, threw wild garlic in the animal's eyes, causing so violent a smarting pain that it died. At once a dense mist descended upon the hill-slopes and the path vanished, leaving the army to grope onward in danger and dismay. But at this moment of dread a white dog appeared—a god again, but a friendly one this time—who led the bewildered soldiers in safety to the plains of Mino.

But they were not yet free from the wiles of the white deer. Its spirit now appeared, discharging among them poisonous gases, before whose stupefying influence they fell helpless to the ground. The wild garlic again was their salvation. Some one ate of it with happy effect, and gave it to all the men and animals, so that all got well again. Wild garlic is still looked upon in Japan as a specific against disease and as a safeguard against witches. For this purpose it is hung up before gates and doorways in times of epidemic or superstitious fear.

The hero next came to Ibuki yama, a cone-shaped mountain whose flattened summit seemed to pierce the skies. Here too dwelt a hostile spirit, who disputed the way, and against whom Yamato advanced unarmed, leaving his sword, "Grass-Mower," under a tree at the mountain's foot. The gods of Japan, perhaps, were proof against weapons of steel. Not far had the hero gone before the deity appeared upon his path, transformed into a threatening serpent. Leaping over it, he pursued his way. But now the incensed deity flung darkness on the mountain's breast, and the hero, losing his path, swooned and fell. Fortunately, a spring of healing water bubbled beside him, a drink from which enabled him to lift his head. Onward he went, still feeble, for the breath of the serpent god was potent for ill, and at length reached Otsu, in the district of Ise, where, under the pine-tree, he found the sword which he had left there on setting out, three years before. His gladness found vent in a poem composed of these words: "O pine, if you were a man, I should give you this sword to wear for your fidelity."

The conquering prince was now near the end of his career. Still sick unto death from his adventure upon the mountain, he told before the shrine of the gods the tale of his victories and perils, offered to them his weapons and prisoners, and thanked them piously for their care. Then he sent a report of his doings to his father, the mikado, and begged to see him. Keiko, the father, sent a messenger with words of comfort, but when he arrived the heroic Yamato-Dake was dead.

He was buried near where he died, and from his tomb a white bird was seen to fly. On opening the tomb nothing was found but the dead hero's chaplet and robes. The place where the bird was seen to alight bears still a name signifying Imperial Tomb of the White Bird. Thus ended the career of the leading Japanese hero of romance. His story sounds like a fairy-tale, though it may well be that Yamato-Dake was a real person and that many of the things told of him actually occurred.


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 hime, 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 be 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. Takenouchi, 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 Takenouchi, the Japanese Methuselah, holding the infant Ojin in his arms, while Jingu, the heroic mother, stands by in martial robes.


Our journey through Japanese history now takes us over a wide leap, a period of nearly a thousand years, during which no event is on record of sufficient interest to call for special attention. The annals of Japan are in some respects minute, but only at long intervals does a hero of importance rise above the general level of ordinary mortals. We shall, therefore, pass with a rapid tread over this long period, giving only its general historical trend.

The conquest of Corea was of high importance to Japan. It opened the way for a new civilization to flow into the long isolated island realm. For centuries afterwards Corea served as the channel through which the arts and thoughts of Asia reached the empire of the mikados. We are told of envoys bearing tribute from Corea of horses, and of tailors, and finally a schoolmaster, being sent to Japan. The latter, Wani by name, is said to have introduced the art of writing. Mulberry-trees were afterwards planted and silk-culture was undertaken. Then came more tailors, and after them architects and learned men. At length, in the year 552, a party of doctors, astronomers, astrologists, and mathematicians came from Corea to the Japanese court, and with them a number of Buddhist missionaries, who brought a new religion into the land.

Thus gradually the arts, sciences, letters, and religions of Asia made their way into the island kingdom, and the old life of Japan was transformed. A wave of foreign civilization had flowed across the seas to give new life and thought to the island people, and the progress of Japan from the barbarism of the far past towards the civilization of the present day then fairly began.

Meanwhile, important changes were taking place in the government. From the far-off days of Jimmu, the first emperor, until a century after Buddhism was introduced, the mikados were the actual rulers of their people. The palace was not a place of seclusion, the face of the monarch was visible to his subjects, and he appeared openly at the head of the army and in the affairs of government. This was the golden age of the imperial power. A leaden age was to succeed.

The change began in the appointment by Sujin of shoguns or generals over the military departments of the government. Gradually two distinct official castes arose, those in charge of civil affairs and those at the head of military operations. As the importance of these officials grew, they stood between the emperor and his subjects, secluding him more and more from the people. The mikado gradually became lost to view behind a screen of officialism, which hid the throne. Eventually all the military power fell into the hands of the shoguns, and the mikado was seen no more at the head of his army. His power decayed, as he became to the people rather a distant deity than a present and active ruler. There arose in time a double government, with two capitals and centres of authority; the military caste became dominant, anarchy ruled for centuries, the empire was broken up into a series of feudal provinces and baronies, and the unity of the past was succeeded by the division of authority which existed until far within the nineteenth century. The fact that there were two rulers, in two capitals, gave the impression that there were two emperors in Japan, one spiritual and one secular, and when Commodore Perry reached that country, in 1853, he entered into a treaty with the shogun or "tycoon," the head of the military caste, under the belief that he was dealing with the actual ruler of Japan. The truth is, there has never been but one emperor in Japan, the mikado. His power has varied at times, but he is now again the actual and visible head of the empire, and the shoguns, who once lorded it so mightily, have been swept out of existence.

This explanation is necessary in order that readers may understand the peculiar conditions of Japanese history. Gradually the mikado became surrounded by a hedge of etiquette which removed him from the view of the outer world. He never appeared in public, and none of his subjects, except his wives and his highest ministers, ever saw his face. He sat on a throne of mats behind a curtain, even his feet not being allowed to touch the earth. If he left the palace to go abroad in the city, the journey was made in a closely curtained car drawn by bullocks. To the people, the mikado became like a deity, his name sacred and inviolable, his power in the hands of the boldest of his subjects.

Buddhism had now become the official religion of the empire, priests multiplied, monasteries were founded, and the court became the chief support of the new faith, the courtiers zealously studying the sacred books of India, while the mikado and his empress sought by every means to spread the new belief among their people.

An emperor thus occupied could not pay much attention to the duties of government, and the power of the civil ministers and military chiefs grew accordingly. The case was like that of the Merovingian monarchs of France and the Mayors of the Palace, who in time succeeded to the throne. The mikados began to abdicate after short reigns, to shave off their hair to show that they renounced the world and its vanities, to become monks and spend the remainder of their days in the cloister. These short reigns helped the shoguns and ministers in their ambitious purposes, until in time the reins of power fell into the hands of a few great families, who fought furiously with one another for the control. It is with the feuds of these families that we have now to do. The mikados had sunk out of sight, being regarded by the public with awe as spiritual emperors, while their ministers rose into power and became the leaders of life and the lords of events in Japan.

First among these noble families to gain control was that of the Fujiwara (Wistaria meadow). They were of royal origin, and rose to leading power in the year 645, when Kamatari, the founder of the family, became regent of the empire. All the great offices of the empire in time fell into the hands of the Fujiwaras: they married their daughters to the mikados, surrounded them with their adherents, and governed the empire in their name. In the end they decided who should be mikado, ruled the country like monarchs, and became in effect the proprietors of the throne. In their strong hands the mikado sank into a puppet, to move as they pulled the strings.

But the Fujiwaras were not left to lord it alone. Other great families sought a share of the power, and their rivalry often ended in war and bloodshed. The most ancient of these rivals was the family of the Sugawara. Greatest in this family was the renowned Sugawara Michizane, a polished courtier and famous scholar, whose talents raised him to the highest position in the realm. Japan had no man of greater learning; his historical works became famous, and some of them are still extant. But his genius did not save him from misfortune. His rivals, the Fujiwara, in the end succeeded in having him banished to Kiushiu, where, exposed to dire poverty, he starved to death. This martyr to official rivalry is now worshipped in Japan as a deity, the patron god of literature and letters. Temples have been erected to him, and students worship at his shrine.

At a later date two other powerful families became rivals for the control of the empire and added to the anarchy of the realm. The first of these was the Taira family, founded 889 A.D., whose members attained prominence as great military chiefs. The second was the Minamoto family, founded somewhat later, which rose to be a powerful rival of the Taira, their rivalry often taking the form of war. For centuries the governmental and military history of Japan was made up of a record of the jealousies and dissensions of these rival families, in whose hands lay war and peace, power and place, and with whose quarrels and struggles for power our next tales will be concerned.


In the struggle of the great families of Japan for precedence, the lords of the Fujiwara held the civil power of the realm, while the shoguns, or generals, were chosen from the Taira and Minamoto clans. Bred to arms, leading the armies of the empire in many a hard-fought war, making the camp their home, and loving best the trumpet-blast of battle, they became hardy and daring warriors, the military caste of Japan. While war continued, the shoguns were content to let the Fujiwara lord it at court, themselves preferring the active labors of the field. Only when peace prevailed, and there were no enemies to conquer nor rebels to subdue, did these warriors begin to long for the spoils of place and to envy the Fujiwara their power.

Chief among those thus moved by ambition was Kiyomori, the greatest of the Taira leaders. As a boy he possessed a strong frame and showed a proud spirit, wearing unusually high clogs, which in Japan indicates a disposition to put on lordly airs. His position as the son of a soldier soon gave him an opportunity to show his mettle. The seas then swarmed with pirates, who had become the scourge alike of Corea and of Japan and were making havoc among the mercantile fleets. The ambitious boy, full of warlike spirit, demanded, when but eighteen years of age, to be sent against these ocean pests, and cruised against them in the Suwo Nada, a part of the Inland Sea. Here he met and fought a shipload of the most desperate of the buccaneers, capturing their vessel, and then attacking them in their place of refuge, which he destroyed.

For years afterwards Kiyomori showed the greatest valor by land and sea, and in 1153, being then thirty-six years of age, he succeeded his father as minister of justice for Japan. Up to this time the families of the Taira and the Minamoto had been friendly rivals in the field. Now their friendship came to an end and was succeeded by bitter enmity. In 1156 there were rival claimants for the throne, one supported by each of these great families. The Taira party succeeded, got possession of the palace, and controlled the emperor whom they had raised to the throne.

Kiyomori soon attained the highest power in the realm, and in him the military caste first rose to pre-eminence. The Fujiwara were deposed, all the high offices at court were filled by his relatives, and he made himself the military chief of the empire and the holder of the civil authority, the mikado being but a creature of his will.

History at this point gives us a glimpse of a curious state of affairs. Go-Shirawaka, the emperor whom Kiyomori had raised to the throne in 1156, abdicated in 1159, shaved off his hair, and became a Buddhist monk, professing to retire from the world within the holy cloisters of a monastery. But nothing was farther from his thoughts. He was a man of immoral desires, and found his post on the throne a check to the debaucheries in which he wished to indulge. As a monk he exercised more power than he had done as a mikado, retaining the control of affairs during the reigns of his son and his two grandsons. The ranks and titles of the empire were granted by him with a lavish hand, and their disposition was controlled by Kiyomori, his powerful confederate, who, in addition to raising his relatives to power, held himself several of the highest offices in the realm.

The power of the Taira family increased until sixty men of the clan held important posts at court, while their lands spread over thirty provinces. They had splendid palaces in Kioto, the capital, and in Fukuwara, overlooking the Inland Sea. The two sons of Kiyomori were made generals of high rank, and his daughter became wife of the emperor Takakura, a boy eleven years of age. The Taira chief was now at the summit of power, and his foes in the depths of distress. The Fujiwara, who had no military power, were unable to contend with him, and his most dangerous rivals, the Minamoto, were slain or driven into exile. Yoshitomo, the head of the house, was assassinated by a traitor bribed by Kiyomori, his oldest son was beheaded, and the others—whom he thought to be the last of the Minamoto—were either banished or immured in monasteries. All the reins of power seemed to be in the regent's grasp.

The story is here diversified by a legend well worth repeating. One of the Minamoto, Tametomo by name, was an archer of marvellous powers. His strength was equal to that of fifty ordinary men, and such was the power of his right arm, which was shorter than his left, that he could draw a bow which four common archers could not bend, and let fly a shaft five feet long, with an enormous bolt as its head. This Japanese Hercules was banished from the court at the instigation of the Taira, the muscles of his arm were cut, and he was sent in a cage to Idzu.

Escaping from his guards, he fled to one of the smaller islands, and remained in concealment until his arm had healed. Here the great archer became governor of the people, and forbade them to pay tribute to the throne. A fleet of boats was despatched against him, but, standing on the strand, he sent an arrow hurtling through the timbers of the nearest vessel and sunk it beneath the waves. Then, shouting defiance to his foes, he shut himself up in his house, set fire to it, and perished in the flames. But another legend relates that he fled to the Loochoo Islands, where he became ruler and founder of their dynasty of kings. On the Japanese greenback notes is a picture of this mighty archer, who is shown grasping his bow after sinking the ship.

It was the purpose of Kiyomori to exterminate the family of his foes. In two instances he was induced to let sons of that family live, a leniency for which the Taira were to pay bitterly in the end. The story of both these boys is full of romance. We give one of them here, reserving the other for a succeeding tale. Yoritomo, the third son of Yoshitomo, was twelve years of age at the date of his father's defeat and death. During the retreat the boy was separated from his companions, and fell into the hands of an officer of the opposite party, who took him as prisoner to Kioto, the capital. Here the regent sentenced him to death, and the day for his execution was fixed. Only the tender heart of a woman saved the life of one who was destined to become the avenger of his father and friends.

"Would you like to live?" the boy's captor asked him.

"Yes," he replied; "my father and mother are both dead, and who but I can pray for their happiness in the world to come?"

The feelings of the officer were touched by this reply, and, hoping to save the boy, he told the story to the step-mother of Kiyomori, who was a Buddhist nun. The filial piety of the child affected her, and she was deeply moved when the officer said, "Yoritomo is much like Prince Uma."

Uma had been her favorite son, one loved and lost, and, her mother's heart stirred to its depths, she sought Kiyomori and begged him to spare the boy's life. He was obdurate at first, worldly wisdom bidding him to remove the last scion of his foes, but in the end he yielded to his mother's prayer and consented to spare the child, condemning him, however, to distant exile. This softness of heart he was bitterly to regret.

Yoritomo was banished to the province of Idzu, where he was kept under close guard by two officers of the Taira. He was advised by a friend to shave off his hair and become a monk, but a faithful servant who attended him counselled him to keep his hair and await with a brave heart what the future might bring forth. The boy was shrewd and possessed of high self-control. None of the remaining followers of his father dared communicate with him, and enemies surrounded him, yet he restrained all display of feeling, was patient under provocation, capable of great endurance, and so winning in manner that he gained the esteem even of the enemies of his family.

The story of Yoritomo's courtship and marriage is one of much interest. Hojo Tokimasa, a noble with royal blood in his veins, had two daughters, the elder being of noted beauty, the younger lacking in personal charms. The exiled youth, who wished to ally himself to this powerful house and was anxious to win the mother's favor in his suit, was prudent enough to choose the homely girl. He sent her a letter, asking her hand in marriage, by his servant, but the latter, who had ideas of his own and preferred the beauty for his master's wife, destroyed the letter and wrote another to Masago, the elder daughter.

That night the homely sister had a dream. A pigeon seemed to fly to her with a box of gold in its beak. She told her vision to her sister, whom it deeply interested, as seeming to be a token of some good fortune coming.

"I will buy your dream," she said. "Sell it to me, and I will give you my toilet mirror in exchange. The price I pay is little," she repeated, using a common Japanese phrase.

The homely sister willingly made the exchange, doubtless preferring a mirror to a dream. But she had hardly done so when the messenger arrived with the letter he had prepared. Masago gladly accepted, already being well inclined towards the handsome youth, but her father had meanwhile promised her hand to another suitor, and refused to break his word. The marriage was solemnized. But an understanding had been reached between the lovers, and early on the wedding-night Masago eloped with the waiting youth. In vain the husband sought for the fleeing pair. The father, seemingly angry, aided him in his search, though really glad at the lovers' flight. He much preferred Yoritomo, though he had been bound by his word, and in later years he became one of his ablest partisans. Masago rose to fame in Japanese history, aided in the subsequent triumph of her spouse, and did much to add to the splendor and dignity of his court.

During this period Kiyomori was making enemies, and in time became so insolent and overbearing that a conspiracy was formed for his overthrow. At the head of this was one of the royal princes, who engaged Yoritomo in the plot. The young exile sent out agents right and left to rouse the discontented. Many were won over, but one of them laughed the scheme to scorn, saying, "For an exile to plot against the Taira is like a mouse plotting against a cat."

But a conspiracy cannot be killed by a laugh. Yoritomo was soon in the field at the head of a body of followers. A fierce fight took place in the mountains, in which the young rebel fought bravely, but was defeated and forced to flee for his life. Pursuit was sharp, and he escaped only by hiding in a hollow log. He afterwards reached a temple and concealed himself in the priests' wardrobe. At length he succeeded in crossing the Bay of Yedo to Awa, on its northern side. Here he found friends, sent out agents, and was not long in gathering a new army from the old friends of the Minamoto and those who hated the tyrant. In a few months he was at the head of a large and well-drilled force, with many noted generals in command. The country was fertile and food abundant, and day by day the army became larger.

But the Taira were not idle. Kiyomori quickly gathered a large army, which he sent to put down the rebellion, and the hostile forces came face to face on opposite sides of the Fuji River, the swiftest stream in Japan. Between them rolled the impetuous flood, which neither party dared to cross in the face of the foe, the most they could do being to glare at one another across the stream.

The story goes that one of the Taira men, knowing that the turn of the tide would favor their enemies, went to the river flats at night and stirred up the flocks of wild fowl that rested there. What he hoped to gain by this is not very clear, but it told against his own side, for the noise of the flocks was thought by the Taira force to be due to a night attack from their foes, and they fled in a sudden panic.

After this bloodless victory Yoritomo returned to his chosen place of residence, named Kamakura, where he began to build a city that should rival the capital in size and importance. A host of builders and laborers was set at work, the dense thickets were cleared away, and a new town rapidly sprang up, with streets lined with dwellings and shops, store-houses of food, imposing temples, and lordly mansions. The anvils rang merrily as the armorers forged weapons for the troops, merchants sought the new city with their goods, heavily laden boats flocked into its harbor, and almost as if by magic a great city, the destined capital of the shoguns, rose from the fields.

The site of Kamakura had been well chosen. It lay in a valley facing the open sea, while in the rear rose a semicircle of precipitous hills. Through these roadways were cut, which might easily be defended against enemies, while offering free access to friends. The power of the Minamoto had suddenly grown again, and the Taira saw fronting them an active and vigorous foe where a year before all had seemed tranquil and the land their own.

To the proud Kiyomori this was a bitter draught. He fell sick unto death, and the high officials of the empire gathered round his bed, in mortal fear lest he to whom they owed their power should be swept away. With his last breath the vindictive old chief uttered invectives against his foes.

"My only regret is that I am dying," he said, "and have not yet seen the head of Yoritomo of the Minamoto. After my decease do not make offerings to Buddha on my account; do not read the sacred books. Only cut off the head of Yoritomo of the Minamoto and hang it on my tomb. This is my sole command: see that it be faithfully performed."

This order was not destined to be carried out. Yoritomo was to die peacefully, eleven years afterwards, in 1199, with his head safe on his shoulders. Yet his bedchamber was nightly guarded, lest traitors should take his life, while war broke out from end to end of the empire. Kiyomori's last words seemed to have lighted up its flames. Step by step the forces of Yoritomo advanced. Victory followed their banners, and the foe went down in death. At length Kioto, the capital of the mikado, was reached, and fell into their hands. The Taira fled with the young mikado and his wife, but his brother was proclaimed mikado in his stead, and all the treasures of the Taira fell into the victors' hands.

Though the power of Yoritomo now seemed assured, he had a rebellion in his own ranks to meet. His cousin Yoshinaka, the leader of the conquering army, was so swollen with pride at his success that he forced the court to grant him the highest military title, imprisoned the old ex-mikado Go-Shirakawa, who had long been the power behind the throne, beheaded the Buddhist abbots who had opposed him, and acted with such rebellious insolence that Yoritomo had to send an army against him. A battle took place, in which he was defeated and killed.

Yoritomo was now supreme lord of Japan, the mikado, for whom he acted, being a mere tool in his hands. Yet one great conflict had still to be fought by the shogun's younger brother, whose romantic story we have next to tell.


Yoritomo was not the only son of the Minamoto chief whom the tyrant let live. There was another, a mere babe at the time, who became a hero of chivalry, and whose life has ever since been the beacon of honor and knightly virtue to the youth of Japan.

When Yoshitomo fled from his foes after his defeat in 1159, there went with him a beautiful young peasant girl, named Tokiwa, whom he had deeply loved, and who had borne him three children, all boys. The chief was murdered by three assassins hired by his foe, and Tokiwa fled with her children, fearing lest they also should be slain.

It was winter. Snow deeply covered the ground. Whither she should go or how she should live the poor mother knew not, but she kept on, clasping her babe to her breast, while her two little sons trudged by her side, the younger holding her hand, the older carrying his father's sword, which she had taken as the last relic of her love. In the end the fleeing woman, half frozen and in peril of starvation, was met by a soldier of the army of her foes. Her pitiable condition and the helplessness of her children moved him to compassion, and he gave her shelter and food.

Her flight troubled Kiyomori, who had hoped to destroy the whole family of his foes, and had given strict orders for her capture or death. Not being able to discover her place of retreat, he conceived a plan which he felt sure would bring her within his power. In Japan and China alike affection for parents is held to be the highest duty of a child, the basal element of the ancient religion of both these lands. He therefore seized Tokiwa's mother, feeling sure that filial duty would bring her to Kioto to save her mother's life.

Tokiwa heard that her mother was held as a hostage for her and threatened with death unless she, with her children, should come to her relief. The poor woman was in an agony of doubt. Did she owe the greatest duty to her mother, or to her children? Could she deliver up her babes to death? Yet could she abandon her mother, whom she had been taught as her first and highest duty to guard and revere? In this dilemma she conceived a plan. Her beauty was all she possessed; but by its aid she might soften the hard heart of Kiyomori and save both her mother and her children.

Success followed her devoted effort. Reaching the capital, Tokiwa obtained an audience with the tyrant, who was so struck with her great beauty that he wished to make her his mistress. At first she refused, but her mother begged her with tears to consent, and she finally yielded on Kiyomori's promise that her children should be spared. This mercy did not please the friends of the tyrant, who insisted that the boys should be put to death, fearing to let any one live who bore the hated name of Minamoto. But the beauty of the mother and her tearful pleadings won the tyrant's consent, and her sacrifice for her children was not in vain.

The youngest of the three, the babe whom Tokiwa had borne in her arms in her flight, grew up to be a healthy, ruddy-cheeked boy, small of stature, but fiery and impetuous in spirit. Kiyomori had no intention, however, that these boys should be left at liberty to cause him trouble in the future. When of proper age he sent them to a monastery, ordering that they should be brought up as priests.

The elder boys consented to this, suffering their black hair to be shaved off and the robes of Buddhist neophytes to be put on them. But Yoshitsune, the youngest, had no fancy for the life of a monk, and refused to let the razor come near his hair. Though dwelling in the monastery, he was so merry and self-willed that his pranks caused much scandal, and the pious bonzes knew not what to do with this young ox, as they called the irrepressible boy.

As Yoshitsune grew older, his distaste at the dulness of his life in the cloister increased. The wars in the north, word of which penetrated even those holy walls, inspired his ambition, and he determined in some way to escape. The opportunity to do so soon arose. Traders from the outer world made their way within the monastery gates for purposes of business, and among these was an iron-merchant, who was used to making frequent journeys to the north of the island of Hondo to obtain the fine iron of the celebrated mines of that region. The youth begged this iron-merchant to take him on one of his journeys, a request which he at first refused, through fear of offending the priests. But Yoshitsune insisted, saying that they would be glad enough to be rid of him, and the trader at length consented. Yoshitsune was right: the priests were very well satisfied to learn that he had taken himself off.

On the journey the youthful noble gave proofs of remarkable valor and strength. He seized and held prisoner a bold robber, and on another occasion helped to defend the house of a man of wealth from an attack by robbers, five of whom he killed. These and other exploits alarmed a friend who was with him, and who bade him to be careful lest the Taira should hear of his doings, learn who he was, and kill him.

The boy at length found a home with the prince of Mutsu, a nobleman of the Fujiwara clan. Here he spent his days in military exercises and the chase, and by the time he was twenty-one had gained a reputation as a soldier of great valor and consummate skill, and as a warrior in whom the true spirit of chivalry seemed inborn. A youth of such honor, virtue, courage, and martial fire Japan had rarely known.

In the war that soon arose between Yoritomo and the Taira the youthful Bayard served his brother well. Kiyomori, in sparing the sons of the Minamoto chief, had left alive the two ablest of all who bore that name. So great were the skill and valor of the young warrior that his brother, on the rebellion of Yoshinaka, made Yoshitsune commander of the army of the west, and sent him against the rebellious general, who was quickly defeated and slain.

But the Taira, though they had been driven from the capital, had still many adherents in the land, and were earnestly endeavoring to raise an army in the south and west. Unfortunately for them, they had a leader to deal with who knew the value of celerity. Yoshitsune laid siege to the fortified palace of Fukuwara, within which the Taira leaders lay intrenched, and pushed the siege with such energy that in a short time the palace was taken and in flames. Those who escaped fled to the castle of Yashima, which their active enemy also besieged and burned. As a last refuge the Taira leaders made their way to the Straits of Shimonoseki, where they had a large fleet of junks.

The final struggle in this war took place in the fourth month of the year 1185. Yoshitsune had with all haste got together a fleet, and the two armies, now afloat, met on the waters of the strait for the greatest naval battle that Japan had ever known. The Taira fleet consisted of five hundred vessels, which held not only the fighting men, but their mothers, wives, and children, among them the dethroned mikado, a child six years of age. The Minamoto fleet was composed of seven hundred junks, containing none but men.

In the battle that followed, the young leader of the Minamoto showed the highest intrepidity. The fight began with a fierce onset from the Taira, which drove back their foe. With voice and example Yoshitsune encouraged his men. For an interval the combat lulled. Then Wada, a noted archer, shot an arrow which struck the junk of a Taira chief.

"Shoot it back!" cried the chief.

An archer plucked it from the wood, fitted it to his bow, and let it fly at the Minamoto fleet. The shaft grazed the helmet of one warrior and pierced the breast of another.

"Shoot it back!" cried Yoshitsune.

"It is short and weak," said Wada, plucking it from the dead man's breast. Taking a longer shaft from his quiver, he shot it with such force and sureness of aim that it passed through the armor and flesh of the Taira bowman and fell into the sea beyond. Yoshitsune emptied his quiver with similar skill, each arrow finding a victim, and soon the tide of battle turned.

Treason aided the Minamoto in their victory. In the vessel containing the son, widow, and daughter of Kiyomori, and the young mikado, was a friend of Yoshitsune, who had agreed upon a signal by which this junk could be known. In the height of the struggle the signal appeared. Yoshitsune at once ordered a number of captains to follow with their boats, and bore down on this central vessel of the Taira fleet.

Soon the devoted vessel was surrounded by hostile junks, and armed men leaped in numbers on its deck. A Taira man sprang upon Yoshitsune, sword in hand, but he saved his life by leaping to another junk, while his assailant plunged to death in the encrimsoned waves. Down went the Taira nobles before the swords of their assailants. The widow of Kiyomori, determined not to be taken alive, seized the youthful mikado and leaped into the sea. Munemori, Kiyomori's son and the head of the Taira house, was taken, with many nobles and ladies of the court.

Still the battle went on. Ship after ship of the Taira fleet, their sides crushed by the prows of their opponents, sunk beneath the reddened waters. Others were boarded and swept clear of defenders by the sword. Hundreds perished, women and children as well as men. Hundreds more were taken captive. The waters of the sea, that morning clear and sparkling, were now the color of blood, and the pride of the Taira clan lay buried beneath the waves or were cast up by the unquiet waters upon the strand. With that fatal day the Taira vanished from the sight of men.

Yoritomo gave the cruel order that no male of that hated family should be left alive, and armed murderers sought them out over hill and vale, slaying remorselessly all that could be traced. In Kioto many boy children of the clan were found, all of whom were slain. A few of the Taira name escaped from the fleet and fled to Kiushiu, where they hid in the lurking-places of the mountains. There, in poverty and pride, their descendants still survive, having remained unknown in the depths of their covert until about a century ago.

The story of Yoshitsune, which began in such glory, ends in treachery and ingratitude. Yoritomo envied the brother to whose valor his power was largely due. Hatred replaced the love which should have filled his heart, and he was ready to believe any calumny against the noble young soldier.

One Kajiwara, a military adviser in the army, grew incensed at Yoshitsune for acting against his advice, and hastened to Yoritomo with lies and slanders. The shogun, too ready to believe these stories, forbade Yoshitsune to enter the city on his return with the spoils of victory. The youthful victor wrote him a touching letter, which is still extant, recounting his toils and dangers, and appealing for justice and the clearance from suspicion of his fair fame.

Weary of waiting, he went to Kioto, where he found himself pursued by assassins. He escaped into Yamato, but was again pursued. Once more he escaped and concealed himself, but spies traced him out and the son of his host tried to murder him.

What finally became of the hero is not known. The popular belief is that he killed himself with his own hand, after slaying his wife and children. Some believe that he escaped to Yezo, where for years he dwelt among the Ainos, who to-day worship his spirit and have erected a shrine over what they claim to be his grave. The preposterous story is even advanced that he fled to Asia and became the great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan.

Whatever became of him, his name is immortal in Japan. Every Japanese youth looks upon the youthful martyr as the ideal hero of his race, his form and deeds are glorified in art and song, and while a martial thought survives in Japan the name of this Bayard of the island empire will be revered.


Under the rule of Yoritomo Japan had two capitals and two governments, the mikado ruling at Kioto, the shogun at Kamakura, the magnificent city which Yoritomo had founded. The great family of the Minamoto was now supreme, all its rivals being destroyed. A special tax for the support of the troops yielded a large revenue to the shoguns; courts were established at Kamakura; the priests, who had made much trouble, were disarmed; a powerful permanent army was established; a military chief was placed in each province beside the civil governor, and that military government was founded which for nearly seven centuries robbed the mikado of all but the semblance of power. Thus it came that the shogun, or the tycoon as he afterwards named himself, appeared to be the emperor of Japan.

We have told how Yoritomo, once a poor exile, became the lord of the empire. After conquering all his enemies he visited Kioto, where he astonished the court of the mikado by the splendor of his retinue and the magnificence of his military shows, athletic games, and ceremonial banquets. The two rulers exchanged the costliest presents, the emperor conferred all authority upon the general, and when Yoritomo returned to his capital city he held in his control the ruling power of the realm. All generals were called shoguns, but he was the shogun, his title being Sei-i Tai Shogun (Barbarian-subjugating Great General). Though really a vassal of the emperor, he wielded the power of the emperor himself, and from 1192 until 1868 the mikados were insignificant puppets and the shoguns the real lords of the land. Such was the strange progress of political evolution in Japan. The mikado was still emperor, but the holders of this title lay buried in sloth or religious fanaticism and let their subordinates rule.

And now we have another story to tell concerning this strange political evolution. As the shoguns became paramount over the mikados, so did the Hojo, the regents of the shoguns, become paramount over them, and for nearly one hundred and fifty years these vassals of a vassal were the virtual emperors of Japan. This condition of affairs gives a curious complication to the history of that country.

In a previous tale it has been said that the father of Masago, the beautiful wife of the exiled prince, was named Hojo Tokimasa. He was a man of ability and was much esteemed and trusted by his son-in-law. After the death of Yoritomo and the accession of his son, Tokimasa became chief of the council of state, and brought up the young shogun in idleness and dissipation, wielding the power in his name. When the boy reached manhood and began to show ambition to rule, Tokimasa had him exiled to a temple and soon after assassinated. His brother, then twelve years old, succeeded as shogun. He cared nothing for power, but much for enjoyment, and the Hojo let him live his life of pleasure while they held the control of affairs. In the end he was murdered by the son of the slain shogun, who was in his turn killed by a soldier, and thus the family of Yoritomo became extinct.

From that time forward the Hojo continued preeminent. They were able men, and governed the country well. The shoguns were chosen by them from the Minamoto clan, boys being selected, some of them but two or three years old, who were deposed as soon as they showed a desire to rule. The same was the case with the mikados, who were also creatures of the Hojo clan. One of them who had been deposed raised an army and fought for his throne. He was defeated and exiled to a distant monastery. Others were deposed, and neither mikados nor shoguns were permitted to reign except as puppets in the hands of the powerful regents of the realm.

None of the Hojo ever claimed the office of shogun. They were content to serve as the power behind the throne. As time went on, the usual result of such a state of affairs showed itself. The able men of the Hojo family were followed by weak and vicious ones. Their tyranny and misgovernment grew unbearable. They gave themselves up to luxury and debauchery, oppressed the people by taxes to obtain means for their costly pleasures, and crushed beneath their oppressive rule the emperor, the shogun, and the people alike. Their cup of vice and tyranny at length overflowed. The day of retribution was at hand.

The son of the mikado Go-Daigo was the first to rebel. His plans were discovered by spies, and his father ordered him to retire to a monastery, in which, however, he continued to plot revenge. Go-Daigo himself next struck for the power of which he possessed but the name. Securing the aid of the Buddhist priests, he fortified Kasagi, a stronghold in Yamato. He failed in his effort. In the following year (1331) an army attacked and took Kasagi, and the emperor was taken prisoner and banished to Oki.

Connected with his exile is a story of much dramatic interest. While Go-Daigo was being borne in a palanquin to his place of banishment, under a guard of soldiers, Kojima, a young noble of his party, attempted his rescue. Gathering a party of followers, he occupied a pass in the hills through which he expected that the train would make its way. But another pass was taken, and he waited in vain.

Learning their mistake, his followers, disheartened by their failure, deserted him. But the faithful vassal cautiously followed the train, making various efforts to approach and whisper hope to the imperial exile. He was prevented by the vigilance of the guard, and finally, finding that either rescue or speech was hopeless, he hit upon a plan to baffle the vigilance of the guards and let the emperor know that friends were still at work in his behalf.

Under the shadows of night he secretly entered the garden of the inn where the party was resting, and there scraped off the outer bark of a cherry-tree, laying bare the smooth white layer within. On this he wrote the following stanza:

"O Heaven, destroy not Kosen While Hanrei still lives."

The next morning the soldiers noticed the writing on the tree. Curious to learn its meaning, but unable to read, they showed it to their prisoner, who, being familiar with the quotation, caught, with an impulse of joy, its concealed significance. Kosen was an ancient king of China who had been deposed and made prisoner, but was afterwards restored to power by his faithful follower Hanrei. Glad to learn that loyal friends were seeking his release, the emperor went to his lonely exile with renewed hope. Kojima afterwards died on the battle-field during the war for the restoration of the exiled mikado.

But another valiant soldier was soon in the field in the interest of the exile. Nitta Yoshisada, a captain of the Hojo forces, had been sent to besiege Kusunoki, a vassal of the mikado, who held a stronghold for his imperial lord. Nitta, roused by conscience to a sense of his true duty, refused to fight against the emperor, deserted from the army, and, obtaining a commission from Go-Daigo's son, who was concealed in the mountains, he returned to his native place, raised the standard of revolt against the Hojo, and soon found himself at the head of a considerable force.

In thirteen days after raising the banner of revolt in favor of the mikado he reached the vicinity of Kamakura, acting under the advice of his brother, who counselled him to beard the lion in his den. The tyranny of the Hojo had spread far and wide the spirit of rebellion, and thousands flocked to the standard of the young general,—a long white pennant, near whose top were two bars of black, and under them a circle bisected with a zone of black.

On the eve of the day fixed for the attack on the city, Nitta stood on the sea-shore in front of his army, before him the ocean with blue islands visible afar, behind him lofty mountain peaks, chief among them the lordly Fusiyama. Here, removing his helmet, he uttered the following words:

"Our heavenly son [the mikado] has been deposed by his traitorous subject, and is now an exile afar in the west. I have not been able to look on this act unmoved, and have come to punish the traitors in yonder city by the aid of these loyal troops. I humbly pray you, O god of the ocean waves, to look into the purposes of my heart. If you favor me and my cause, then bid the tide to ebb and open a path beside the sea."

With these words he drew his sword and cast it with all his strength into the water. For a moment the golden hilt gleamed in the rays of the setting sun, and then the blade sank from sight. But with the dawn of the next day the soldiers saw with delight that there had been a great ebb in the tide, and that the dry strand offered a wide high-road past the rocky girdle that enclosed Kamakura. With triumphant shouts they marched along this ocean path, following a leader whom they now believed to be the chosen avenger of the gods.

From two other sides the city of the shogun was attacked. The defence was as fierce as the assault, but everywhere victory rested upon the white banner of loyalty. Nitta's army pressed resistlessly forward, and the Hojo found themselves defeated and their army destroyed. Fire completed what the sword had begun, destructive flames attacked the frame dwellings of the city, and in a few hours the great capital of the shoguns and their powerful regents was a waste of ashes.

Many of the vassals of the Hojo killed themselves rather than surrender, among them a noble named Ando, whose niece was Nitta's wife. She wrote him a letter begging him to surrender.

"My niece is the daughter of a samurai house," the old man indignantly exclaimed. "How can she make so shameless a request? And why did Nitta, who is himself a samurai, permit her to do so?" Wrapping the letter around his sword, he plunged the blade into his body and fell dead.

While Nitta was winning this signal victory, others were in arms for the mikado elsewhere, and everywhere the Hojo power went down. The people in all sections of the empire rose against the agents of the tyrants and put them to death, many thousands of the Hojo clan being slain and their power utterly destroyed. They had ruled Japan from the death of Yoritomo, in 1199, to 1333. They have since been execrated in Japan, the feeling of the people being displayed in their naming one of the destructive insects of the island the Hojo bug. Yet among the Hojo were many able rulers, and under them the empire was kept in peace and order for over a century, while art and literature flourished and many of the noblest monuments of Japanese architecture arose.

Go-Daigo was now recalled from exile and replaced on the imperial throne. For the first time for centuries the mikado had come to his own and held the power of the empire in his hands. With judgment and discretion he might have restored the old government of Japan.

But he lacked those important qualities, and quickly lost the power he had won. After a passing gleam of its old splendor the mikadoate sank into eclipse again.

Go-Daigo was ruined by listening to a flatterer, whom he raised to the highest power, while he rewarded those who had rescued him with unimportant domains. A fierce war followed, in which Ashikaga, the flatterer, was the victor, defeating and destroying his foes. Go-Daigo had pronounced him a rebel. In return he was himself deposed, and a new emperor, whom the usurper could control, was raised to the vacant throne. For three years only had the mikado remained supreme. Then for a long period the Ashikagas held the reins of power, and a tyranny like that of the Hojo existed in the land.


In all its history only one serious effort has been made to conquer the empire of Japan. It ended in such dire disaster to the invaders that no nation has ever repeated it. During the thirteenth century Asia was thrown into turmoil by the dreadful outbreak of the Mongol Tartars under the great conqueror Genghis Khan. Nearly all Asia was overrun, Russia was subdued, China was conquered, and envoys were sent to Japan demanding tribute and homage to the great khan.

Six times the demand was made, and six times refused. Then an army of ten thousand men was sent to Japan, but was soon driven from the country in defeat. Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor of China, now sent nine envoys to the shogun, bidding them to stay until they received an answer to his demand. They stayed much longer than he intended, for the Hojo, who were then in power, cut off their heads. Once again the Chinese emperor sent to demand tribute, and once again the heads of the envoys were severed from their bodies.

Acts like these could have only one result, and the Japanese made rapid preparations to meet the great power which had conquered Asia. A large army was levied, forts and defences were put in order, stores gathered in great quantities, and weapons and munitions of war abundantly prepared. A fleet of junks was built, and all the resources of the empire were employed. Japan, though it had waged no wars abroad, had amply learned the art of war from its frequent hostilities at home, and was well provided with brave soldiers and skilful generals. The khan was not likely to find its conquest an easy task.

While the islanders were thus busy, their foes were as actively engaged. The proud emperor had made up his mind to crush this little realm that so insolently defied his power. A great fleet was made ready, containing thirty-five hundred vessels in all, in which embarked an army of one hundred thousand Chinese and Tartars and seven thousand Corean troops. It was the seventh month of the year 1281 when the expectant sentinels of Japan caught the glint of the sun's rays on the far-off throng of sails, which whitened the seas as they came on with streaming banners and the warlike clang of brass and steel.

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