Kantake and the Song of the Miyako Bird - The Reign of Jimmu -
Jimmu is regarded as the first real "emperor" of Japan. But he himself recognized Ninikine, the "Heavenly Grandchild", as the forefather of the earthly sovereigns. Ninikine had devoted his life to developing new land for rice cultivation. He had worked tirelessly throughout the country to convert wetlands and constricted flood plains into the paddy field landscape that survives to this day. As the food supply consequently increased, so too did the population, and with it the nation grew in power. Thus started a prolonged period of peace and political stability.
The Lord Amateru, richly praising the achievements of his grandson, saw in him the spirit of the ancestral greats. He bestowed on him the laudatory name of Wakeikazuchi (literally "Divider of Lightning"). This referred to his feats in controlling lightning, source of many calamities, by dividing it into the elements of light and water. He diverted the water to the paddy fields, thus enriching the people's lives and bringing prosperity to the land. And to reward him for these great achievements, Amateru also bestowed on him the "Three Heavenly Treasures".
Now, as they prepared for the accession of Kanyamato Ihawarehiko (or Kantake, later known as Jimmu), an assembly of all the nobles was first convened. The normal custom was for the reigning sovereign to be present and to personally hand the Three Heavenly Treasures to his successor. This time, however, the previous sovereign (Ugaya) had already passed away, and a new rule for the ceremonial ritual and sharing of roles had to be discussed.
The assembly ended in a unanimous decision. The servant of the sun would be Michiomi. Atane would serve the moon, and Ametomi the stars. Ametomi was thereupon granted the title of Imbe (Master of Rites), and, after purifying himself, prepared to preside over the ceremony.
On the 1st day of the 1st year of Ihawarehiko's reign (the year sanato in the 60 year cycle), the sovereign-to-be duly entered his newly built palace at Kashihara. The ministers and nobles all proceeded to the palace to pay their customary new year respects. Umashimachi took this occasion to present the Ten Divine Treasures to the sovereign. He had received them from Kushitama Honoakari Teruhiko, elder brother of the Heavenly Grandchild Ninikine. They had been used as symbols to legitimize Honoakari's son Nigihayahi, who had ruled Yamato from his palace at Asuka.
Next, Ame-no-Taneko, the Lord Kasuga, wrote down an ancient chronicle of the Age of the Gods, which he also presented to the sovereign.
On the 7th day, they shared a nanakusa herbal broth. On the 15th, they lit a tondoho ritual bonfire and performed divination with a ritual rice gruel. And finally, on the 21st day, the Rites of Accession were held in all pomp at the sovereign's palace. Ametomi brought the yahegeki sword that had been kept at Wakezuchi (in modern-day Kyoto) since the reign of Ugaya. Atane brought the mirror that had been venerated at the Kawahi Palace (the Shimo-Kamo Shrine in Kyoto). Ihawarehiko solemnly entered the High Hall, where he sat on nine cushions. Ame-no-Taneko, Minister of the Left, sat on three cushions and Kushimikatama, Minister of the Right, sat on two.
Michiomi, Minister of the Sun, now started to recite the Song of the Miyako Bird. The sovereign and his ministers knelt in formal posture as they listened to the Song. It told of Ninikine's acceptance of the Three Heavenly Treasures in earlier times, and went something like this:
"Kasuga and Komori were the Ministers on either side of the great sovereign Ninikine, who ruled heaven and earth. Together, they governed the land with one spirit.
Their government was likened to a great creature called the Miyako Bird. The body of the bird was the people. Its head was the sovereign, and its wings were the Ministers of Left and Right. The legs of the Miyako Bird were the mononobe warriors who guarded the land.
If the Minister of the Left, Holder of the Mirror, were to fall, the people would lose their faith in government and the sovereign line would wither. If the Minister of the Right, Holder of the Sword, were to fall, the mononobe would rise up and there would be tumult throughout the land.
The function of the Minister of the Left is to guide the people well in agricultural works and thereby enrich their lives. The function of the Minister of the Right is to subdue wrongdoers and maintain the peace by controlling the power of the mononobe.
Thus, the reason for dividing the Three Heavenly Treasures, symbols of divine authority, is to share out the power equally, so that all may remain united in their correct government of the land.
Amateru had these matters recorded in a document, which he personally handed to his grandson Ninikine. Seoritsu, Amateru's Chief Consort, took the Mirror and presented it to Kasuga. Haya-akitsume, another of the consorts, took the Sword and presented it to Komori. All bowed thrice before accepting the Treasures.
This is the shape of the Miyako Bird that governs succession to the rule of Yamato."
On finishing his recital of the Song, Michiomi presented a box containing the Divine Scriptures to the sovereign. Atane handed the Mirror to Ame-no-Taneko, and Ametomi presented the Sword to Kushimikatama.
Now all the other ministers and officials rendered vows of allegiance, after which all in attendance joined voice in vigorous cries of "Yorotoshi! Yorotoshi!" ("Long may he reign!").
Eventually, the Mirror was bestowed to the safekeeping of the Chief Consort Isosuzu and the Sword to the Second Consort Ahiratsu. The Divine Scriptures, meanwhile, were retained in the person of the sovereign. Thenceforth they were all stored in the interior of the palace buildings, which, in imitation of the custom started by Ninikine, came to be known as the Inner Palace.
On the following day, the people were allowed to worship the Divine Adornments, whereupon the ritual embodiment of the Miyako Bird (kimi, sovereign + tomi, ministers + tami, people) was complete.
In the month of the winter solstice, preparations for made for a Great Festival of Accession to formally announce the rule of the new sovereign under the name of Kantake (Jimmu).
First, Kantake built the a-yuki and wa-suki (shrines of heaven and earth), where he venerated the 48 primordial deities of heaven and earth in a secret ritual. Thus, with the consent of heaven, earth and people, Kantake formally ascended the throne through his mystical pact with the heavens.
Now, with the Ministers Ame-no-Taneko and Kushimikatama to his left and right, the sovereign presided over a ceremony for the distribution of food. Umashimachi and the mononobe guarded the entrance to the palace. Michiomi and the kume soldiers guarded the stockades and ramparts. Ametomi (the Imbe or Master of Rites) conducted the mystic rites for veneration of the deities.
On the 11th day of the following new year, the sovereign issued a decree of commendation:
"That we have safely greeted this new spring in peace is thanks to the loyalty of Umashimachi. For this reason, we shall henceforth appoint him and his progeny as Masters of the Mononobe. To Michiomi we shall grant the Palace of Tsukizaka and the fiefdom of Kume1. We shall also appoint Utsuhiko as Governor of Yamato for his assistance in guiding our ships and retrieving the sacred clay from Mount Kagu. Ukeshi the Younger shall be Governor of Takeda, and Kurohaya shall be Governor of Shigi. Amehiwake shall be Governor of Ise, and Atane shall be Governor of Kamo in Yamashiro. Tsurugine, grandson of Katsute, shall be Governor of Katsuki2. And Yatakarasu, for your assistance in guiding us safely to Ugachi, you shall be made headman of that village. And your descendants henceforth shall be Governors of Kadono3."
In the third year of Kantake's reign, there were 40 days of continuous rain starting in the fifth month (the rainy season). Pestilence became rife among the people and blight damage to the rice crop started to spread. When this calamitous news reached the sovereign's ear, he sent his Ministers Ame-no-Taneko and Kushimikatama to the River Yasu (Shiga Prefecture). There, they built a temporary shrine, where they prayed and conducted purification rites to drive out the pestilence. As a result, the contagion ceased and the rice returned to good health. The sovereign, much gladdened by this, now issued a new decree.
"Wanihiko1, your ancestor Kushihiko2 was granted the title of Lord of Yamato by Amateru in reward for his bravery and loyalty. Now, to reward your family's good deeds over three generations, I shall bestow on you anew the name of Mononushi (Lord of Arms). And to Taneko, whose line has loyally served as Holder of the Mirror since your ancestor Wakahiko3, I shall bestow the new name of Nakatomi (Minister of the Centre). You shall pass these noble names on to your children and your children's children, and they shall continue to govern the land."
In the 2nd month of the 4th year, the sovereign issued another decree.
"The Miyako Bird of our ancestral deities changed into a bird of gold that shone down on ourselves and our army. As a result, our foes were defeated and came under our rule. Ametomi shall remove the Kamo deity to this place and shall venerate the ancestral deities at Mount Torimi in Harihara. And Atane shall succeed to the veneration of Kamo Takezumi as Governor of Yamashiro."
In the autumn of the 8th year at the Kashihara Palace, a messenger named Takakurashita returned to the court after a lengthy sojourn. He delivered the following report to the sovereign:
"Some time ago, I was commanded to travel first to Tsukushi in the far west, where I toured the 32 counties and brought them all under your rule. Then I went to Yamakage* and did the same, and thence to the Land of Koshiushiro. There, I came across some local rebels on Mount Yahiko who would not accept your sovereignty. I fought them five times with my halberd, and in the end I slew them all. So then I brought their 24 counties under our rule." He had also drawn up maps of the lands under Kantake's command, which he now presented. In return, the sovereign made him Governor of Kii and bestowed on him the title of "Oho-Muraji" (Grand Duke).
* the San'in region
In the 20th year, the counties of Koshiushiro failed to pay the customary tribute of first rice. Takakurashita was again sent to bring them into line. This time, he didn't even need to take out his sword, as the rebels bowed to his command peacefully. The sovereign rewarded him by appointing him Governor of Koshiushiro, and bestowed on him the laudatory title of Lord Yahiko. Knowing that Takakurashita would thenceforth live in that land, the sovereign granted the Palace of Kii to his brother-in-law Ame-no-Michine, to rule as Governor there in his stead.
By the 24th year, the sovereign still had no child who could succeed to his rule. One day, he came to know of a princess named Isukiyori, daughter of Kume, who was renowned for her beauty. The sovereign wished to bring her into the court, but was rebuked by his Chief Consort Isozuzu. So he changed her name to Yurihime and went to see her in secret at the Kume Palace.
Then the Chief Consort became pregnant. The following summer, she gave birth to the Prince Kanyayi-mimi, who was given the familiar name of Ihohito.
In the winter of the 26th year, while the sovereign was attending festivities at Yasutare by the River Nuna, the Chief Consort delivered him another child, whom they named Kanunakawa-mimi. His familiar name was Yasugine.
In the summer of the 30th year, Takakurashita, now the Lord Yahiko, returned to pay homage to the court after a four-year absence. The sovereign thereupon invited Yahiko to join him in a drink of sak#233;, which soon turned into several. In this convivial atmosphere, Kantake asked:
"In days of old, you would not drink so much. Why is it now that I find you so strong?"
"Koshiushiro is such a cold place that we drink every day", the visitor replied, "and in the end we like it."
Kantake smiled and said, "Well, it seems to have made you younger, and more of a man too. Let me give you a woman to go with your drink." The woman was no less than the sovereign's lesser consort Isukiyori, beautiful daughter of Kume, now renamed Yurihime.
Takakurashita may have been surprised at the gift, for he was 77 and she only 20. But, in the end, she returned to Koshiushiro as his wife, and they had two fine children, a boy and a girl.
How had the sovereign first met Yurihime? It happened when he was out viewing the lilies by the River Sayu, and stayed overnight in Kume's palace. It was Kume's daughter Isukiyori who served him at his meal that evening. The sovereign was well taken with the beautiful girl, and conveyed his desire for her by composing a song:
"In an overgrown cottage on the reed plains, let us lay down sedge mats and sleep together."
In this way, the sovereign had already made Isukiyori his consort. Later, however, the Prince Tagishi fell deeply in love with her. When he appealed to her father, Kume felt moved by the depth of his passion and wanted to grant his wish. But first, he called his daughter in to see them. Noting the sharp look in the Prince's eye, she composed a nineteen-beat poem as she stood before him:
"Do you wish to part me from my lord, who holds heaven and earth, with that sharp look?"
Prince Tagishi then stepped forward and composed a poem in reply:
"No, my lady, I only wish to see you. Do not avoid me with that sharp look."
Seeing that his daughter's dilemma arose from her deep sense of loyalty, her father begged leave of the Prince to consider the matter at greater length. The Prince agreed and left.
One of the serving women reported the incident to Kushimikatama, Minister of the Right, who in turn brought it to the sovereign's attention.
"This matter", he explained, "will bring shame to your kind. I beg you to keep it secret."
Kantake saw the wisdom of this, and resolved to conceal the whole matter thenceforth.
On the 1st day of the 4th month in the 31st year, the sovereign went to the hill of Hohoma in Wakikami (now Mount Kunimi in Gose City, Nara Prefecture). As he surveyed the beautiful land of Yamato, his emotions were greatly stirred, causing him to declare:
"Ah, what a beautiful and joyous country to possess! Its shape is very much like a mating dragonfly. This is the Land of Akitsushima1, called Yamato-Urayasu by the heavenly sovereigns, and containing the Lands of Koyene2, Yamato Hitakami3, Sahoko-Chitaru4, and Shiwakami-Hotsuma5, as well as Tamagakiuchitsu6 from the time of Ohonamuchi, and called Soramitsu-Yamato by Nigihayahi."
On the 3rd day of the 42nd year, the Prince Kanunakawa-mimi was made Crown Prince. His Minister of the Left was to be the Nakatomi Usamaro, and his Minister of the Right would be Adatsu-Kushine, son of the Mononushi. Together with Ushimachi, Master of the Mononobe, they were to assist the Prince in his future government of the land.
On the 15th day of the 76th year, the sovereign issued a decree.
"Since I have grown old, I will now entrust the government to the Nakatomi and the Mononushi, father and son. All the other ministers shall obey these and the Crown Prince."
So saying, he retreated into his palace, where he passed away on the 10th day of the 3rd month.
Kantake's consort Ahiratsu and his Minister of the Right Kushimikatama, who had shared so many tribulations with this great leader in former times, now entered a lengthy period of mourning. In fact, they continued to serve him as if he were still alive.
The Nakatomi Ame-no-Taneko, Minister of the Left, together with his son Usamaro and Kushine (the appointed Ministers for the Crown Prince), started to discuss the funeral arrangements with Kanunakawa-mimi. But his elder half-brother, the Prince Tagishi, now tried to take control of the government. The three Ministers asked Kanunakawa for assistance, but he gave no answer and went into mourning, entrusting the government to them. Tagishi refused to allow the funeral, which was therefore postponed.
Prince Tagishi now plotted secretly to kill his two half-brothers.
One day, Tagishi prepared a temporary pavilion by the River Sayu in the foothills of Mount Unebi. There, he invited his two younger half-brothers and their mother Isosuzu for a flower viewing party to see the lilies in bloom. Isosuzu thought this strange, as such a party would normally be held in far grander circumstances.
To warn her sons of her misgivings, she composed two songs on wooden tablets, which she handed to them under the pretence of asking for corrections. When the Crown Prince took the tablets, he found them to contain some darkly foreboding double meanings. One read:
"By the waters of the Sayu, clouds rise up and drift across. On Mount Unebi, a wind will blow, but not cause the leaves of the trees to rustle."
And the other:
"On Mount Unebi, clouds dwell during the day. But when night is gone, a wind will blow, and the trees will rustle."
The Crown Prince pondered awhile on the meaning of the two songs, but soon realized what his mother was trying to convey. This very night, here by the River Sayu, a terrible deed of malice had been planned against himself and his brother, as well as their mother Isosuzu. There was no time to be lost. Kanunakawa-mimi took his elder brother Kanyayi-mimi to one side and relayed his suspicions.
"Long ago, our brother wished to have carnal relations with our father's consort Isukiyori, but his plan was discovered", he explained. "Out of familial compassion, our father decided to keep it secret. But now Tagishi intends to take power, and deports himself as he thinks fit. Normally, the power of government should be entrusted to the Ministers. Now he refuses to proceed with our father's funeral arrangements. He has invited us here with evil intent, to be sure. We must strike first before he can make good his plan."
Kanunakawa-mimi had Wakahiko make a bow, and had Manaura fashion arrowheads out of deer bone. He gave Kanyayi-mimi the quiver to carry, and with that, they set off for Kataoka, where they knew Tagishi to be.
When they arrived, Tagishi lay asleep on the floor, and was unaware of their presence. Kanunakawa-mimi said quietly to his brother, "We will achieve nothing by attacking him together. I will go in first, then you must shoot him with the bow." But as Kanunakawa-mimi thrust open the door to enter the room, Tagishi awoke. Angered to see his younger half-brothers entering the room with bow and arrows, he leapt to his feet and pulled out a sword. Kanyayi-mimi's hands shook with fear and he was unable to fire the arrow. So Kanunakawa-mimi snatched the bow from him, and fired an arrow straight into Tagishi's breast. The second arrow struck him in the back. And with that, Tagishi lay dead.
They buried the body in the same place, and erected a shrine to honour him as a deity.
In shame at his weakness of resolve, Kanyayi-mimi, the older of the two brothers, withdrew from public office and went to live in Toichi (now Toichi-cho, Shiki-gun, Nara Prefecture). There he changed his name to Iho-no-Tomi Shiritsuhiko. He spent the rest of his days in divine service, honouring the soul of his dead half-brother Tagishi.
In the 134th year since the start of the new calendar, Kanunakawa-mimi (later known as the Emperor Suizei) duly acceded to the heavenly dignity at the age of 52. The ceremony was held at the Takaoka Palace in Katsuragi (Nara Prefecture) on the 21st day, after three days of festivities to celebrate the new year.
On the 12th day of the 9th month, the body of the late sovereign Kantake was taken from the Kashihara Palace and buried in a mound at Kashiwo (to the northeast of Mount Unebi). During the burial rites, his consort Ahiratsu and his Minister of the Right Kushimikatama, who had spent their whole lives in devoted service to him, proclaimed in words the greatness of their departed master. Then they entered the mound with his body and died with him there.
When the people heard this the next day, 33 others followed their master into death. This was commemorated in a popular song of the time:
"When the heavenly prince returns to heaven, 33 others follow him there. May heaven reward loyalty and virtue !"
(Seiji Takabatake, from the 30th and 31st aya of the Hotsuma-Tsutae)
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