The woman who created Japan

In 2005, for the first time ever, Japanese schoolchildren celebrated the life of the woman who created the nation of Japan.

Her name was Queen Himiko.

The first historical records of Himiko are found in Chinese classical historical texts, as in pre-Japan (the region known then as Wa) there weren’t any.

Before the year AD 180 a series of male tribal leaders tried in vain to govern portions of the area now known as Japan. They were unsuccessful and the region was chaotic and in constant warfare.

Then, according to the Wei Zhi 魏志 chronicle, a historical account written by Chinese diplomats, a woman named Himiko appeared. 

‘whereupon the people agreed upon a woman for their ruler.’

The chronicle reported that Himiko was a shaman. This early history describes how Himiko came to the throne.

The country formerly had a man as ruler. For some seventy or eighty years after that there were disturbances and warfare. Thereupon the people agreed upon a woman for their ruler. Her name was Himiko [卑彌呼]. She occupied herself with magic and sorcery, bewitching the people. Though mature in age, she remained unmarried. She had a younger brother who assisted her in ruling the country. After she became the ruler, there were few who saw her. She had one thousand women as attendants, but only one man. He served her food and drink and acted as a medium of communication. She resided in a palace surrounded by towers and stockades, with armed guards in a state of constant vigilance. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:13)

She left a phenomenal mark on history. In AD 180, Queen Himiko united the waring tribes into a single state called Wa, or Yamatai-Koku, which set the stage for the emergence of the nation state today known as Japan. She surrounded herself with a thousand female lieutenants , whose role it was to guard her palace. (Some historical texts translate the women’s role as “attendants”, others as “lieutenants”. Naturally, I prefer the latter.)

Her main skill was diplomacy, and unlike the Japanese rulers of today and in recent history, she understood the importance of befriending China. She exchanged diplomats with China and received boxfulls of exquisite gifts, including a hundred bronze mirrors, which they say she used in Shamanic rituals.

Her people prospered in peace. It appears that culinary developments were made during this time and the diet of the people expanded from the monotony of the traditional salted fish, rice and pickles.

Queen Himiko ruled for sixty years. SHe died in AD 248, making her at least eighty years old.. not too far off the current life expectancy.

When Himiko passed away, a great mound was raised, more than a hundred paces in diameter. Over a hundred male and female attendants followed her to the grave. Then a king was placed on the throne, but the people would not obey him. Assassination and murder followed; more than one thousand were thus slain. A relative of Himiko named Iyo [壹與], a girl of thirteen, was [then] made queen and order was restored. Chêng issued a proclamation to the effect that Iyo was the ruler. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:16)

Over the last century, archeologists have been discovering bronze mirrors of Chinese design in different locations around Japan, many of them  with dates and inscriptions corresponding with the age of Himiko.

Only in 2009, did archeologists finally find her tomb, as reported here in a brief Telegraph article. It was the end of a search which had lasted centuries.

Himiko’s single male attendant had a variety of roles, his most important one being that of personal chef, reflecting the high value the Queen placed on food. In honour of their long-ago Queen, and in keeping with the importance placed on food in Japan, the Japanese schoolchildren enjoyed a “Himiko Lunch”, consisting of rice, clear soup with clams, and simmered yams, representing the kind of food Himiko herself would have eaten.

Even though Japan Empresses reigned over Japan as recently as 1770, todays politicians  quibble over whether a woman should be allowed to assend to power in the twenty first century, refusing to accept women on the grounds it would break with tradition. But as we can see, at least in Japan’s case, patriarchy is not traditional. And for good measure, perhaps to chill and subdue the matrifocal, shamanic power that Queen Himiko’s name conjurs up, the patriarchs have now created a computer animation game depicting her as a childlike, infantile sex-bot!

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7 thoughts on “The woman who created Japan

  1. The artist in the painting at the top depicts Himiko holding a branch of Sakaki, a type of birch, which is used in all Shinto rituals today in Japan. Shinto is a religion unique to Japan, and is practiced almost universally by all. Shintou beliefs are based on paganism and the entire religion appears to be a throwback from the shaman rituals.

    Here is a clip of a modern day Priestess holding the leaves and dancing

  2. Loved this post Cherry. Interesting to wonder if women had ruled permanently, prior to the eighty years of war that resulted in people turning to Queen Himiko to rule them. I wonder if she was the end of thousands of years of tradition.
    Most of China and Japan were matriarchal once.

    Mirrors were sun symbols, as they were in ancient Egypt, Rome and all over the world. The tradition at winter solstice of hanging small mirrors on trees along with other sun symbols, such as orbs coins and candles, is a very ancient practice: mentioned in the bible, but far older. Many pagan mythes have replace the sun goddess with a god. But Amaterasu is still the goddess of the sun in Japanese Shinto.

    When we see all these things we realise that patriarchy is not as old as it would have us believe.

    • Glad you liked this post.

      Zeph, you know a lot more than me about Shintou! How interesting about mirrors. I’m glad you told me that, because I automatically assumed they’d given them to her as a gift because she was a woman, and therefore vain, because after all, that is what a modern, western (male) interpretation of the mirrors would be. Whereas that’s clearly not the case at all, not if mirrors were sun symbols!

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