More than six hundred years ago, a great traveller returned to Europe and told the world of the wonders he had seen when journeying in the Far East. This was the famous Marco Polo, the Venetian, who had travelled through China in the year 1295. He tells us that when he was in China he heard of "Chipangue, an island towards the east, in the high seas, 1500 miles from the Continent; and a very great island it is. The people are white, civilised, and well favoured. They are idolaters, and are dependent on nobody. And I can tell you the quantity of gold they have is endless; for they find it in their own islands." Here we have the first news which Europe heard of Japan, for Chipangue was the Chinese name for the island empire, and Japan is a shortened form of the word.
But the history of Japan was many centuries old when Marco Polo heard of the country, and the early story of the land is hidden in a mist of legend and myth. It was about the end of the seventh century when their earliest records were made by order of the Emperor Temmu, and in this, the oldest Japanese history, the traditions of a thousand years are set down.
These early legends trace the origin of the line of emperors to a divinity called the Sun Goddess, and from her race sprang the famous Jimmu, the first Emperor of Japan. It is said that he began to reign about 660 B.C. The legends are full of stories of Jimmu's great exploits, of the manner in which he overran the land, and conquered the barbarians whom he found there. There can be no doubt that these stories of Jimmu refer to a time when a great movement of new tribes into Japan took place...