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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Attributed to Nintoku on the occasion


Nintoku

had the active support of the Takenouchi magnates, and although the Crown Prince may have desired to assert the title conferred on him by his father, he found himself helpless in the face of obstructions offered by the prime minister and his numerous partisans. These suffered him to deal effectively with that one of his elder brothers who did not find a place in their ambitious designs, but they created for Waka-iratsuko a situation so intolerable that suicide became his only resource. Nintoku's first act on ascending the throne explains the ideographs chosen for his posthumous name by the authors of the Chronicles, since nin signifies "benevolence" and toku, "virtue." He made Naniwa (Osaka) his capital, but instead of levying taxes and requisitioning forced labour to build his palace of Takatsu, he remitted all such burdens for three years on observing from a tower that no smoke ascended from the roofs of the houses and construing this to indicate a state of poverty. During those three years the palace fell into a condition of practical ruin, and tradition describes its inmates as being compelled to move from room to room to avoid the leaking rain.*

*Doubts have been thrown on the reality of this incident because a poem, attributed to Nintoku on the occasion, is couched in obviously anachronistic language. But the poem does not appear in either the Records or the Chronicles: it was evidently an invention of later ages.

justify;">Under Nintoku's sway riparian works and irrigation improvements took place on a large scale, and thus the eminent historian, Rai Sanyo, may not be without warrant for attributing to this ruler the sentiment quoted in the Chronicles: "A sovereign lives for his people. Their prosperity is his enrichment; their poverty, his loss." Yet it is in connexion with Nintoku's repairs of the Manda river-bank that we find the first mention of a heinous custom occasionally practised in subsequent ages--the custom of sacrificing human life to expedite the progress or secure the success of some public work.

At the same time, that habits indicating a higher civilization had already begun to gain ground is proved by an incident which occurred to one of the Imperial princes during a hunting expedition. Looking down over a moor from a mountain, he observed a pit, and, on inquiry, was informed by the local headman that it was an "ice-pit." The prince, asking how the ice was stored and for what it was used, received this answer: "The ground is excavated to a depth of over ten feet. The top is then covered with a roof of thatch. A thick layer of reed-grass is then spread, upon which the ice is laid. The months of summer have passed and yet it is not melted. As to its use--when the hot months come it is placed in water or sake and thus used." [Aston's Nihongi.] Thenceforth the custom of storing ice was adopted at the Court. It was in Nintoku's era that the pastime of hawking, afterward widely practised, became known for the first time in Japan. Korea was the place of origin, and it is recorded that the falcon had a soft leather strap fastened to one leg and a small bell to the tail. Pheasants were the quarry of the first hawk flown on the moor of Mozu.

Light is also thrown in Nintoku's annals on the method of boatbuilding practised by the Japanese in the fourth century. They used dug-outs. The provincial governor* of Totomi is represented as reporting that a huge tree had floated down the river Oi and had stopped at a bend. It was a single stem forked at one end, and the suzerain of Yamato was ordered to make a boat of it. The craft was then brought round by sea to Naniwa, "where it was enrolled among the Imperial vessels." Evidently from the days of Ojin and the Karano a fleet formed part of the Imperial possessions. This two-forked boat figures in the reign of Nintoku's successor, Richu, when the latter and his concubine went on board and feasted separately, each in one fork.


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