Regular Feature

Greetings from the Outskirts of Kyoto vol.40

February 29, 2024

Japan’s founding myths feature a prince called Yamato Takeru. He is an imaginary figure, but for generations he has been treated as a hero.

There is an anecdote about Yamato Takeru dressing as a woman. The story has him impersonate a woman to eliminate a foe. He enchants the enemy leader with his beauty, and when the enemy drops his guard, Yamato Takeru slays him. This story was circulating by the beginning of the eighth century, if not earlier. Today, too, the story is frequently revisited. Yamato Takeru remains a popular hero.

More than a decade ago now, a group of Chinese exchange students told me that they all felt the same regarding this legend. Namely, that pretending to be a woman to beguile and kill your enemies is cowardly; it’s a disgrace, rather than the actions of a hero. Fascinated as I am by the legend of Yamato Takeru, their views came as a shock.

It seems there is an unbridgeable gap on this point between China and Japan. I thought it would be interesting to probe further into the matter. And, at last, my book on the subject has appeared. Please do keep an eye out for Yamato Takeru no Nihonshi!

“The Legendary Prince Yamato Takeru” By Aoki Shigeru (1882–1911). Source: ColBase(<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"></a>)

“The Legendary Prince Yamato Takeru” By Aoki Shigeru (1882–1911). Source: ColBase(