Was Japan’s First Emperor a Chinese Refugee?

File:Emperor Jimmu.jpg

Emperor Jimmu, by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), From series: Mirror of Famous Generals of Japan

Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇 Jimmu-Tenno), whose name means “Divine Might” is the legendary founder of Japan’s Imperial House and a direct descendent of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. His rule is said to have been between 660 and 585 BC. Today, Emperor Akihito can claim, through an unbroken line of succession, direct descent from Jimmu. Jimmu himself is shrouded in legend and many modern scholars doubt whether he ever actually existed. The story of Emperor Jimmu has been passed to us from the Kojiki (古事記 Record of Ancient Matters). The Kojiki is a collection of the myths and legends of the Japanese islands, much of it forms the backbone of the Shinto rites of worship. The story of Jimmu, as related by the Kojiki, tells of Jimmu and his brothers migrating with a large following to the main Japanese island of Honshu. Jimmu lands on the Kii peninsula and subsequently defeats the native kings and declares himself the ruler of Japan. Jimmu died aged 126 and, on his death he was succeeded by his son, Emperor Suizei. It is not know where Jimmu was buried, however, his kami (spirit) is worshipped at the Kashihara shrine in Nara prefecture.

As mentioned previously most modern scholars do not believe that Emperor Jimmu ever existed. Indeed the first 9 Emperors of Japan are all disputed. The first Emperor who is universally recognized to have existed is the 10th Emperor, Sujin, in the 1st century BC. However, some (predominantly Chinese) scholars have made links between the legend of Emperor Jimmu and a Chinese explorer called Xu Fu. It is worth noting that there are some people who believe that the Jimmu story is a Japanese version of the story of Moses in the Book of Exodus (see previous article on the Japanese as the Lost Tribe of Israel).

Xu Fu is also worshipped in Japan as a deity known as Jofuku (徐福). Born in 255 BC Xu Fu was the court sorcerer to the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (see previous article on his mausoleum). Qin Shi Huang was obsessed with his own mortality and sought to find the elixir of immortality. This quest would eventually lead to his premature demise due to the Chinese belief that pills of mercury could prolong life. Xu Fu, as a prominent mystic at the court, was entrusted with a mission to sail east and find the legendary Penglai mountain where there lived a legendary sage called Anqi Sheng who was more than 1000 years old. Xu Fu first set out in 219 BC and searched for several years before returning to China empty-handed. When questioned by the Emperor Xu Fu reported that his way to the mountain had been blocked by a giant fish blocking his path. He requested archers with which to dispatch the monsters. Qin Shi Huang agreed and Xu Fu set out again in 210 BC with 60 barques, 3000 men, and 2000 women. He was never heard from again. It is likely that Xu Fu realized that returning empty-handed again would undoubtedly result in his death. Ancient Chinese legends speculate that he landed on a foreign island and made himself a king (presumably with the help of the archers that Qin Shi Huang gave him).

The Japanese themselves believe that Xu Fu landed in Japan (like Jimmu he also is said to have landed on the Kii peninsula) believing that Mt Fuji was the Penglai mountain. Japanese legend relates how Xu Fu introduced agriculture and medicinal plants to Japan hence he is venerated as the god of farming and medicine. A Japanese Scholar Ino Okifu formed a theory that merged the two countries’ respective legends on Xu Fu and came to the conclusion that Xu Fu and Emperor Jimmu were one and the same . It is also curious that around the time of Xu Fu’s supposed arrival in Japan the indigenous Jomon period gave way to the Yayoi period (equivalent to the iron age). Xu Fu’s time period of the 3rd century BC would also seem to make more sense as the start point of Japan’s monarchy than the traditional date of the 7th-6th century BC as it would condense the list of Japanese Emperors; the first couple of whom reign for ridiculously long periods of time. It is also important to note that the up until the Heian (8th century AD) the official court language was Chinese and that the ancient capital of Nara was based in design on Qin Shi Huang’s capital of Chang’an (although these links to China may have come long after Xu Fu).

Were the theory about Xu Fu true it would have startling consequences for Japan’s sense of identity. For a start the Japanese would not be the descendants of the Sun Goddess but rather of Chinese refugees. Similarly the Shinto religion would have, in effect, been founded by a Chinese man. In part this was the motivation for Ino Okifu formulate his theory: he was worried that the Japanese belief that they were a divine race was dangerous in the extreme and that the atrocities of World War II might repeat if they continued to believe it. Therefore he felt that it was necessary to cast a speculative light on the origins of the Imperial House.

Many Japanese scholars have cast this theory off as nonsense, however, it does raise the question of the truth behind Japan’s origins narrative. Whilst we don’t know where Jimmu is buried there are graves that are said to belong to his descendants. However, archaeology is forbidden on these ancient burial mounds out of respect for the former emperors and empresses. The first emperor whose reign is accurately recorded is the 29th emperor, Kinmei who ruled in the 6th century AD. As for his predecessors the best we can rely on is legend and tradition.

Whether Xu Fu is the historical Emperor Jimmu may never come to light and is doomed to remain speculation for eternity. However, what is certain is that he is, most likely, the first Chinese man to make contact with Japan; and so started centuries of Sino-Japanese relations. Perhaps it is fitting that he is revered as a god in his own right.



  1. johnkutensky · · Reply

    I find the story of Xu Fu so interesting! I just love the thought of a cultural refugee jump-starting a civilization.

  2. i dont understand why there has to be a clash between JImmu and Xu Fu? i believe in the evidence that the ancient israelites influenced prehistoric japanese culture, because of the strong language connections between hebrew and japanese, and also because of the strong connections between shinto and judaism. but even so, that doesnt mean that Xu Fu could not have arrived centuries later after jewish influence. because after xu fu arrived, as you have stated, japanese culture became more chinese. i am chinese myself and i find the story of xu fu very interesting. but after reading up on japanese culture myself, it seems that japanese culture is a combination of different cultures. i definitely dont believe that jimmu was moses! because moses lived 3000 years ago! jewish archeologists who have found strong connections between their own culture and japanese culture have found evidence that the first migrations of jews towards asia may have occurred in 800 BC. this according to bible history was when king solomon had lost the israelite empire to the assyrian invasion and many of the jews had fled their own country. if this is true then it is certainly possible that the first legendary kings of japan were indeed from the 7th century BC and perhaps were even jewish! but jewish influence waned considerably with the arrival of XU FU in the 3rd century BC. I dont not know whether the jews at that time had a fluent writing system, which was developed enough for the ancient japanese to develop but you are right when you say that japanese culture certainly flourished under the chinese writing system.

    1. Re-the Japanese-Israelite connection, please read my article on the subject https://thedailybeagle.net/2013/03/24/the-lost-tribes-nestorians-and-christ-in-japan/

  3. what rubbish that japanese are jews.
    obviously japanese are refugees from china back in ancient time. one must know that there’s alot of languages back in ancient china.
    japanese had long denied the facts they originate from china due to the atrocities that they committed back in WW2 China.
    this is like a slap back in their face for killing/slaughtering their ‘own kind’.

    1. dr. qt · · Reply

      I’m sorry but you are ignorant of the latest research in science. I myself have a phd in science and I’m Chinese. there are Japanese minorities which include the Ainu people who have been proven genetically to be non-Asian. in fact they have Caucasoid genes. the ainu are descendants of the first prehistoric settlers of japan called the Jomon. they have white genes. one of the major differences in Asian and Caucasian genes has got to do with the facial hair of men. as a Chinese man myself I can only grow facial hair around my mouth, but Caucasian men can grow hair on the bottom half of their faces. the men of the jomon culture did not grow facial hair the way Asian men could. in addition, when ancient Chinese people settled in japan it was only after 1000’s of years of jomon culture, by that time the Chinese introduced Asian genes and they were known as the YAYOI people. the population of japan consists of yayoi, jomon and a combination of both. in addition I know much about jewish culture and archaeology because I am christian. many aspects of Japanese culture reflect cultural traits of the old testament jews in the bible. japan has a native religion which is different from Buddhism and Confucianism from china, it has something called Shinto. many of the traits of Shinto are similar to the cultural traits described in the bible in the old testament.

  4. Speaking of the origins of the Japanese Monarchy, &/or Aristocracy, check out an article on another site that I commented on, regarding the divine descent of the Japanese ruling/reigning classes, & a little-known Shaman Queen of Prehistoric Japan:


    Even if the 1’st Sovereign of the currently-reigning Japanese Dynasty wasn’t himself descended from the mythological ancestress of the Japanese Royal/Imperial Family, @some point(s), his family might well have intermarried with people who WERE descended from an INCARNATION of said Sun Goddess, & maybe he was somehow related to Himiko, &/or descended from another incarnation of Amaterasu, &/or any other semi-divine/divine being(s)!!

    Also worth noting is that Shintoism per-se is drawn from a multitude of sources, (much like Hinduism), & there are @least a couple of other indigenous spiritual belief-systems IN ADDITION TO SHINTO, in the Japanese Archipelago:




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