Yamato Takeru (ヤマトタケル)

Yamato Takeru no Mikoto (written in Chinese characters as 日本武尊, also written as 倭建命 in the "Kojiki" (Records of Ancient Matters)), who was also called Ousu no Mikoto (小碓命, Prince Ousu) and Yamato Oguna (written as 日本童男), is a person who is regarded as the son of Emperor Keiko and the father of Emperor Chuai. He appears in Japanese myths as a hero. According to the description in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and the Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), he is considered to have lived in around the second century. There is a viewpoint that he is, in fact, a fictitious character embodying several heroes in Yamato who lived in the period between the fourth and sixth or seventh centuries (a theory by Sokichi TSUDA).

The genealogy

Yamato Takeru no Mikoto is the second son of Emperor Keiko in the "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan). He is the third son in the "Kojiki." His mother is Harima no Inabi no Oiratsume (播磨稲日大郎姫).

Wife: Futaji no Iri Hime no Hime Miko (両道入姫皇女, the princess of Emperor Suinin.)

Son: Ina Yori Wake no Miko (稲依別王), ancestor of the Inukami clan and the Takerube clan.

Son: Tarashi Nakatsu Hiko no Sumeramikoto (足仲彦天皇, also called Emperor Chuai)

Daughter: Nunoshi Irihime no Hime Miko (布忍入姫命)

Son: Waka Take no Miko (稚武王)

Wife: Kibi no Anato no Take Hime (吉備穴戸武媛, the daughter of KIBI no Takehiko)

Son: Take Kaiko no Miko (武卵王, also written as 武殻王 and 建貝児王), the ancestor of the Aya clan of Sanuki Province and the Miyaji clan.

Son: Toki Wake no Miko (十城別王), the ancestor of Iyo no wake kimi (伊予別君).

Wife: Oto Tachibana Hime (弟橘媛, the daughter of Sukune OSHIYAMA of the Hozumi clan.)

Son: Waka Takehiko no Miko (稚武彦王)

Wife: Yamashiro no Kukuma Mori Hime (山代之玖玖麻毛理比売)

Son: Ashi Kagami Wake no Miko (蘆髪蒲見別王, also written as 蘆髪蒲見別王 and as 葦噉竈見別王), ancestor of the Wake family in Kamakura.

Wife: Futaji Hime (布多遅比売, the daughter of Otamuwake, who was an ancestor of the governor of Chikatsu-Omi.)

Son: (Ina Yori Wake no Miko) -> He seems to be the son of Futaji no Iri Hime no Hime Miko.

A wife (name unknown)

Son: Okinaga Ta Wake no Miko (息長田別王, only appearing in the "Kojiki".)

His brother is Oousu no Mikoto (大碓命, Prince Oousu). According to the "Nihonshoki," Yamato Takeru and this Oousu no Mikoto are considered to be twins.

There are quite a lot of differences concerning the brothers of Yamato Takeru no Mikoto and the relationship of his wives and their children between the "Kojiki" and the "Nihonshoki." In addition, the "Kojiki" has a lineage so incomprehensible that it has Kaguro Hime no Mikoto, who is the great-granddaughter of Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, become the consort of the Emperor Keiko and gave birth to Oe no Miko (大江王, also called Hikohito no Oe 彦人大兄). From the above, there are some theories that are negative about the parent-child relationship between Emperor Keiko and Yamato Takeru no Mikoto (such as those of Iwao YOSHII and Masao SUGANO).

Summary of anecdotes according to the "Kojiki"

The anecdotes appearing in the "Kojiki" and the "Nihonshoki" are, in basic points, the same. However, there are remarkable differences in how the leading character is portrayed, how the anecdotes are seen, and in the overall atmosphere. Here those anecdotes are described, with a focus on the "Kojiki," which is more romantic and colored by the tragedy resulting from the relationship between the main character and his father, the emperor.
(The differences between these and the ones in the "Nihonshoki" are shown at the end of each paragraph.)
(On the whole, the "Nihonshoki" has a higher tendency to praise emperors and be subordinate to them.)

Conquest of the western regions

Ousu no Mikoto slew his brother Oousu no Mikoto with his bare hands due to a disagreement about the interpretation of the commands of his father, the emperor, against his brother, who had deprived his father of his favorite consort. Due to that, his father feared and shunned Ousu no Mikoto, and ordered him to subjugate the brothers Kumaso Takeru in Kyushu. Ousu no Mikoto, with only a few servants, first went to Ise Province where his aunt Yamato Hime no Mikoto had been serving as the high priestess and he was given some female clothing. At that time, he was still so young that his hair was done up in the style for boys.
(In the "Nihonshoki," there is no story of fratricide.)
(It says that there was a rebellion again in the Kyushu region where his father, the emperor had subjugated once, and the emperor dispatched the 16-year-old Ousu no Mikoto to subdue it.)
(Yamato Hime does not appear in this story, and servants are given to him.)

Coming to Kyushu, Ousu no Mikoto disguised himself as a beautiful girl and slipped into the banquet celebrating Kumaso Takeru's newly-built dwelling. Waiting for the feast to reach its height, first he killed off the older brother with a sword, then stabbed the younger brother. The executed younger brother Takeru, at the moment of his death, lauded Ousu no Mikoto's bravery, and gave the name of Yamato Takeru to him, who had been called Yamato Oguna.
(In the "Nihonshoki," the story is almost the same except for the following: the head of Kumaso was Kawakami no Takeru (川上梟帥) alone, and the lines spoken sound more subordinate to the Imperial family than the ones in the "Kojiki.")
(Yamato Takeru no Mikoto is written in Chinese characters as 日本武尊.)

Then Yamato Takeru no Mikoto went to Izumo Province and was on good terms with Izumo Takeru. But one day, he exchanged Izumo Takeru's sword for a false one in advance, then asked him to cross swords and killed him.
(In the "Nihonshoki," the same type of tale is seen in the article of Emperor Sujin as a story between Izumo no Furune and his younger brother Iiirine.)
(However, this episode in Izumo is not told at all as a story about Yamato Takeru no Mikoto.)
(After he subdued the Kumaso, he destroyed evil deities in Kibi and Naniwa and opened the routes on land and water, and the emperor praised him and bestowed favor upon him.)

Conquest of the eastern regions

As soon as Yamato Takeru returned from his conquest of the savage tribes in the western regions, the Emperor Keiko ordered him to subjugate the savage tribes in the eastern regions. Yamato Takeru no Mikoto visited Yamato Hime no Mikoto again and lamented to her that his father the emperor likely wished for his death.
Yamato Hime no Mikoto gave Yamato Takeru no Mikoto the sacred sword, Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi (the Kusanagi sword, literally grass-mowing sword) and a bag, which had been placed in the Ise-jingu Shrine, and told him, 'Open it at a critical juncture.'
(In the "Nihonshoki," Oousu no Mikoto was chosen as the general for the conquest in the eastern region at first, but he was seized with fear and fled.)
(As a substitute for him, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto announced his candidacy.)
(The emperor bestowed the highest praise on him and promised him succession to the throne, and sent him forth with the Kibi clan and the Otomobe clan.)
(Yamato Takeru no Mikoto stopped in Ise and was granted Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi (the sword Ame-no-Murakumo, literally "Heavenly Sword of Assembled Clouds") by Yamato Hime no Mikoto.)
(This part is the biggest difference between the two records.)
(In the "Nihonshoki," his brother, Oousu no Mikoto, is still alive.)
(The story develops in such a way that Yamato Takeru no Mikoto voluntarily heads off to the conquest instead of his brother who lacks courage.)
(The image of Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, who sets off as the focus of the emperor's expectations, is full of glory.)
(There is a big gap between this and the impression of Yamato Takeru no Mikoto in the "Kojiki" who leaves for the journey in tears.)

First Yamato Takeru no Mikoto went to the house of the Owarinokuni-no-miyatsuko (the governor of Owari Province), was betrothed to Miyazu Hime (美夜受媛, also written as 宮簀媛) and then set off for the eastern provinces.
(The "Nihonshoki" does not have this part.)

In Sagami Province, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, deceived by a kuninomiyatsuko that there was a savage deity there, was attacked by setting fire to the plain. When he opened the bag that his aunt had given him, he found a piece of flint in it. He cut down the grass using the sword Kusanagi (Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi), set a counter-fire against his enemies, and burned them to the ground. Therefore, the place was called Yakizu (literally, a burned shore).
(In the "Nihonshoki," it says that this episode occurred in Suruga Province, but the basic points are overall the same.)
(It became the origin of the place name of Yaizu City.)
(However, the pieces of flint were not the ones given by his aunt.)

When he went across from Sagami to Kazusa Province, the deity of Hashirimizu no umi (the sea of Hashirimizu, present-day Yokosuka City) made waves rough and Yamato Takeru no Mikoto's ship was unable to move forward. At that time, his wife Oto Tachibana Hime leaped into the sea on his behalf, and the waves became calm by themselves. As she was about to leap into the water, she composed a poem remembering how gentle her husband Yamato Takeru no Mikoto had been when they were attacked by fire.

Sanesashi Sagamu no ono ni moyuru hi no honaka ni tachite tohishi kimi ha mo

You who once, surrounded by the fires at the plains of Sagamu, spoke to me, worried about me…

佐泥佐斯 佐賀牟能袁怒邇 毛由流肥能 本那迦邇多知弖斗比斯岐美波母'
Oto Tachibana Hime, with the memory of Yamato Takeru no Mikoto in her heart, went down on many layers of mats upon the waves, and leaped into the sea. Seven days later, her comb washed up on the opposite shore, and they built a tomb and put the comb in it.
(In the "Nihonshoki," it is clearly written that Yamato Takeru no Mikoto boasted, 'We can cross such a small sea in a single bound,' and that made the gods angry.)
(It was recorded as well that he escaped danger thanks to the sacrifice of his consort Oto Tachibana Hime.)
(But the waka poem is not inserted here.)

Then Yamato Takeru no Mikoto killed the deity of the pass of Ashigara (the border between present-day Kanagawa and Shizuoka Prefectures) by striking it with a piece of leek, and conquered the eastern regions. Standing at 四阿嶺 he saw the eastern regions from there and thought of Oto Tachibana Hime, grieving, 'Azuma haya' (My wife, alas...) three times. Thus, the eastern regions came to be called Azuma. Also he composed a poem, 'How many nights have we slept since we passed the Niibari and the Tsukuba Provinces?,' which is regarded as the cradle of renga, at the Sakaorimiya in Kai Province (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture).
He appointed the old man tending the fires who had finished the verse, 'When the days are put together, nine nights and ten days have already passed, as the kuninomiyatsuko of Azuma.'
Then Yamato Takeru no Mikoto entered Owari Province by way of Shinano Province (present-day Nagano Prefecture).
(In the "Nihonshoki," the route is quite different from above.)
(In the Nihonshoki, he went up further north from Kazusa, as far as the Kitakami river basin (present-day Miyagi Prefecture) by sea.)
(After he subdued Mutsu, he went to the Sakaorimiya in Kai and composed the poem above just as in the "Kojiki.")
(Then he traveled to Musashi (present-day Tokyo and Saitama Prefectures) and Kozuke (present-day Gunma Prefecture), and grieved 'Azuma haya...' at the pass of Torii (the border between present-day Gunma and Nagano Prefectures).)
(Here Yamato Takeru no Mikoto sent KIBI no Takehiko to Koshi (present-day Hokuriku area), and he himself went on to Shinano (present-day Gunma Prefecture).)
(He killed the deity of the pass in Shinano using a piece of leek, joined KIBI no Takehiko who had been travelling around Koshi, and then went to Owari.)

After arriving in Owari, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto exchanged poems with Miyazu Hime who had already been engaged to be married. Although he knew that she was having her period at that time, they got married. Then, leaving the sacred sword of Ise, the Kusanagi sword (Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi), with Miyazu Hime, he departed for Mt. Ibuki (the border between present-day Gifu and Shiga Prefectures) to slay the deity there with his bare hands.
(Although the "Nihonshoki" does not have a waka poem about the menstrual blood, there is no difference about the marriage to Miyazu Hime and the details of going to slay the deity of Mt. Ibuki while leaving the sword Kusanagi behind.)

In front of Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, who had gone to confront the deity of Ibuki with his bare hands, a big white boar appeared. Yamato Takeru no Mikoto thought it was a messenger of the deity and ignored it, but in fact, it was the deity itself in the guise of a boar. It caused a heavy violent hail storm and he fainted. Climbing down the mountain, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto came to his senses again at the spring of Isame (there are two theories about where it was: present-day Sekigahara Town at the foot of the mountain or Yonehara City). However, he had already become ill.

Growing feeble, he headed for Yamato and moved toward Tagi, the Tsuetsuki pass, Otsu and the village of Mie (in the south of present-day Gifu Prefecture and the north of present-day Mie Prefecture). Here continues the description of Yamato Takeru no Mikoto's feelings in his last moments with anecdotes about the origin of the place names connected with it. Finally arriving in Nobono (present-day Kameyama City in Mie Prefecture), Yamato Takeru no Mikoto composed four songs recalling his homeland starting with 'Yamato ha kuni no mahoroba...' (Yamato is an unsurpassed place among the lands...), and ended his life there.
(In the "Nihonshoki," Yamato Takeru no Mikoto had walked over the deity of Ibuki in serpent guise, and had had hail rained down upon him by the deity.)
(Because of that, he climbed down the mountain in a daze.)
(Yamato Takeru no Mikoto at last regained his senses at Isamegai, but became sick and went from Otsu to Nobono.)
(He presented Emishi captives to the Ise-jingu Shrine from here.)
(He sent KIBI no Takehiko to the Imperial court to make reports, and he himself passed away at Nobono.)
(It is said that he was thirty years of age.)
(The songs recalling his homeland do not appear here.)
(They are regarded as poems composed in Hyuga by his father, Emperor Keiko, on the way to subjugate Kyushu.)
(Although the lines are almost the same as in the Kojiki, which regards them as Yamato Takeru no Mikoto's farewell poems, the impression they leave is different.)

Receiving the news of Yamato Takeru no Mikoto's death, it was his wives and children who visited there from Yamato. They built a tomb, and crawled around it and sang. Then, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto became yahiroshirochidori (a large white bird) and flew away. His wives followed it while composing three more poems. These poems became the 'o-mihafurino uta' (songs for imperial obsequies).
(In the "Nihonshoki," it is said that the father, the emperor, unable to eat and sleep well, commanded his subordinates to bury Yamato Takeru no Mikoto in the Nobono burial mound.)
(But Yamato Takeru no Mikoto became a white bird and flew toward Yamato.)
(Only his clothes were left behind.)

The white bird left Ise, stayed at Shiki in Kawachi Province, and built a tomb there as well. After a while, it flew across the sky from that land, and flew away.

(In the "Nihonshoki," it records that the white bird flew from Nobono, by way of Yamato Kotohiki no hara (present-day Gose City in Nara Prefecture) to Kawachi Furuichi (present-day Habikino City in Osaka Prefecture).)
(It says that the bird built tombs at these three places.)
(Then the white bird went up to heaven.)
(Later, the emperor decided on Takerube as a proxy for Yamato Takeru no Mikoto.)
(Unlike in the "Kojiki," it should be noticed that here the bird flew to Yamato.)

Kusanagi no Tsurugi (the Kusanagi sword)

In these anecdotes, he mowed down grass with Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi (the sword Ame-no-Murakumo, literally "Heavenly Sword of Assembled Clouds") and escaped danger when he was attacked with fire on a plain in Suruga. It is believed that this is why this sword came to be called "the Kusanagi sword" (grass-mowing sword). After that, the Kusanagi sword was enshrined at the Atsuta-jingu Shrine in Owari, which was at the side of Miyazu Hime. But it was stolen by the Buddhist monk Dogyo in the seventh year of the emperor Tenchi's reign (668) and kept in the Imperial court. However, in 686, it was found that the curse of the Kusanagi sword was causing the sickness of the Emperor Tenmu, and the sword came to be enshrined at the Atsuta-jingu Shrine once more. There is a ritual service at Atsuta-jingu Shrine called 'Eyodo shinji' in which people celebrate the return of the sword on that occasion. This implies that the Kusanagi sword was originally a sacred treasure belonging to the Atsuta-jingu Shrine. It is likely that there was some sort of friction between the Imperial court and the Atsuta-jingu Shrine about religious rites for the Kusanagi sword, which became a sacred treasure, and that Emperor Ankan and Emperor Senka, whose mother was from the Owari clan, had something to do with it. Possibly, it was decided in the end that the religious rites would be conducted at the Atsuta-jingu Shrine, and the story of the sword, how it came from the Ise-jingu Shrine to be enshrined at Owari through the hands of Yamato Takeru, was told to give a reasonable explanation.

In addition to that, according to a legend of the Kusanagi-jinja Shrine, which worships Yamato Takeru, 'Although he subdued the eastern regions, he passed away at Nobono in Ise on his way back to the capital. Thus, the father, Emperor Keiko, grieved over it and made an imperial visit to the eastern regions to see what his son had achieved. At that time, the emperor stopped his palanquin at this land. It is said that the emperor worshiped his son, changed the name of 'Murakumo,' a memento of him, built the 'Kusanagi-jinja Shrine' and put 'the Kusanagi sword' in it. Later, by an Imperial order, 'the Kusanagi sword' was enshrined at the present Atsuta-jingu Shrine in 686.

The structure of the anecdotes about Yamato Takeru

As Iwao YOSHII once pointed out, the tale of Yamato Takeru has the feature that the name of the main character changes as the scenes change. Also, the woman playing opposite him varies in each anecdote. In addition, the genealogical chart is quite huge. It tells us that various clans and the needs of the times were involved in the formation of the character and the anecdotes.

The tale of Ousu no Mikoto (legends of spirits of the harvest with Omi and Mino at the center)

One of his wives is Futaji Hime of Yasu, and her son is Ina Yori Wake no Miko, who is an ancestor of the Takerube clan and Inukami clan. The ichinomiya (a shrine occupying the highest rank among the shrines of a province) of Omi Province is the Takebe-taisha Shrine, and Yamato Takeru is the deity to which it is dedicated. These things show that Omi, present-day Shiga Prefecture, has close ties to Yamato Takeru. Also considering that the fief of his brother Oousu no Mikoto is Mino, the legends of Omi seem to be about Ousu no Mikoto. From the names of Usu (a mortar) and Ina Yori Wake (winnowing chaff from rice), it can be guessed that they are spirits of the harvest. However, the story of a piece of rice cake, which is made using a mortar, turning into a white bird is seen in the "Yamashiro-koku Fudoki" (regional gazetteers of Yamashiro Province) and other records, and that implies some sort of a connection to a white bird. Additionally, there is an anecdote that Yamato Takeru was transformed into a white bird at Mt. Ibuki in the "Muchimaro den" (The Life of Muchimaro), and another one that says he changed into one in Omi in the chapter about the sword in the "Heike Monogatari" ("The Tale of the Heike"). The possibility cannot be denied that the origin of the story of turning into a white bird was in Omi.

The tale of Yamato Hime and Yamato Oguna (legends about child-spirits in Yamato)

There are a lot of Japanese fables such as Momotaro (the Peach Boy) and Issunboshi (the Inch-High Samurai) where evil characters are defeated by a child hero. It is considered that this part also seems to have the same kind of pattern. Also, in analysis of these things, Shinobu ORIKUCHI has pointed out the existence of a 'madam,' who raises a kind of child-spirit model. In this case, Yamato Hime seems to meet that condition. In addition, about Yamato Takeru's dressing himself in female clothing despite being a boy, it has been pointed out that this has something in common with the wearing of the opposite sex's clothes seen in the shamanism of various culture areas.

The tale of Izumo Takeru

(The tale of battles for power within the Kando no omi clan in Izumo has been added => the original is in an anecdote about Izumo no Furune in the volume of Emperor Sujin.)

The tale of タケル大王 and 橘姫 (a heroic legend of the Kanto area?)

They are recorded as Yamato Takeru no Sumeramikoto (倭武天皇, Emperor Yamato Takeru) and Tachibana no Okisaki (橘皇后, Empress Tachibana) or O Tachibana Hime (大橘姫) in records such as the "Hitachi no kuni fudoki" (the topography of Hitachi Province), and various kinds of anecdotes explaining the origins of place names have survived. It is estimated that it was originally a myth about 武王 who is the symbol of mountains and 橘后 who stands for the sea. It is thought that they are legends that have taken deep root in the Kanto area because even now there remains a lot of anecdotes about place names such as in Chiba Prefecture.

The tale of Miyazu Hime and the sword Kusanagi (legends about the Atsuta-jingu Shrine)

Iwao YOSHII regards this tale as a story added to the Yamato Takeru legend in order to explain the reason why the Kusanagi sword, originally one of the Three Sacred Treasures of the Imperial House and a symbol of the Imperial Throne, has been placed in the Atsuta-jingu Shrine in Owari. For details, see the article on the Kusanagi sword.

The tales of Yamato Hime, the high priestess (legends about the Ise-jingu Shrine)

Stories about wandering when one is facing death are told in the area where kanbe (sustenance households) of the Ise-jingu Shrine can be found. Furthermore, it overlaps the route taken during the Jinshin War by the army of Emperor Tenmu, who established the system of saigu (where an unmarried princess was sent by the reigning emperor to serve at the Ise-jingu Shrine). For these reasons, it is thought that there is some connection with Ise. However, Kenichi YOKOTA has pointed out that the "Kotai jingu gishikicho" and the "Yamato Hime no Mikoto seiki" do not have stories about Yamato Takeru. Possibly it is due to the issue of the Kusanagi sword that Yamato Hime, a character appearing in the anecdote about Yamato Oguna, was linked to the high priestess Yamato Hime no Mikoto. It is likely because of this that anecdotes in Ise area were tacked onto Yamato Takeru.

The tale of the o-mihafuri (legends of the Haji clan that was in charge of funeral rites)

Iwao YOSHII thinks that the story of Prince Kume, who was the younger brother of Prince Shotoku and the first real Imperial general who died of illness in Kyushu where he had been at the front, is the model for this tale. He believes that the funeral protocol of the Haji clan, who took the initiative in this funeral, was borrowed for the story.


There were several burial mounds which were believed to be the tomb of Yamato Takeru (the Hakuchoryo burial mounds) in the north of Mie Prefecture, which is where Nobono is thought to have been, where Yamato Takeru died. Among them, a round burial mound called the 'Shiratorizuka burial mound' in Kasado in Suzuka City had been regarded as the most likely one.
However, in 1879, the Ministry of Home Affairs specified a keyhole-shaped mound in Tamura-cho, Kameyama City (the Nobono Otsuka burial mound), which had been called the 'Cho-ji zuka,' as the tomb of Yamato Takeru, and named it the 'Nobono burial mound.'
The Nobono burial mound, approximately 90 meters in full length and approximately nine meters in height, is the largest keyhole-shaped mound in the northern part of Mie Prefecture. In 1895, the Nobono-jinja Shrine, which was consecrated to Yamato Takeru, was built next to the Nobono burial mound.

Moreover, following the "Nihonshoki," the burial mounds in Habikino City in Osaka Prefecture (the Karusato Otsuka mound) and the one in Gose City in Nara Prefecture have been identified as the Hakuchoryo burial mounds. Yamato Takeru is also worshiped as the main deity of the Takebe-taisha Shrine (Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture) which is said to have been built by his son, and the Otori-taisha Shrine (Nishi Ward, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture), which is said to have been built at the place where Yamato Takeru landed in the end after turning into a white bird. Both attracted strong faith as the ichinomiya (a shrine occupying the highest rank among the shrines of a province) of each province. There are many Otori-jinja Shrines (大鳥神社, also written as 鷲神社) scattered over various regions, and the Otori-taisha Shrine is considered to be the chief among them.

[Original Japanese]