Hachiro Tametomo, the Archer
by Yei Theodora Ozaki
Long, long ago there lived in Japan a man named Hachiro Tametomo, who
became famous as the most skilful archer in the whole of the realm at
that time. Hachiro means "the eighth," and he was so called because he
was the eighth son of his father, General Tameyoshi of the house of
Minamoto. Yoshitomo, who afterwards became such a great figure in
Japanese history, was his elder brother. Tametomo was therefore uncle to
the Shogun Yoritomo and the hero Yoshitsune, of whom you will soon read.
He belonged to an illustrious family indeed.
As a child Hachiro gave promise of being a very strong man, and as he
grew older this promise was more than fulfilled. He early showed a love
of archery, and his left arm being four inches longer than his right,
there was no one who could bend the bow better or send the arrow farther
than he could. By nature Hachiro was a rough, wild boy who did not know
what fear was, and he loved to challenge his elder brothers to fight. He
ever a grew wilder as he grew older, till at last he acted so rudely
and wilfully, respecting and obeying no one set over him, that even his
own father found him unmanageable.
Now it happened when Hachiro was thirteen years old that a learned man,
named Fujiwara-no-Shinsei, came to the Palace of the Emperor one day to
give a lecture on a certain book. During the lecture he said that there
could not be found in the whole of Japan a warrior whose skill in
archery could match that of Kiyomori, the chief of the Taira clan, or of
Yorimasa, the Minamoto knight. These two knights, though belonging to
two different clans, were the best archers throughout the land. Now
Hachiro, when he heard these words, laughed aloud in scorn, and said, so
that every one might hear him, that Fujiwara-no-Shinsei was right about
Yorimasa, but to call their enemy, that coward of a Kiyomori, a clever
archer, only showed what a foolish and ignorant man Fujiwara-no-Shinsei
This rude speech, so contrary to the rules of Japanese courtesy, which
commands young people to maintain a respectful and humble silence in the
presence of their elders, made Fujiwara very angry. When the lecture was
finished, he therefore sent for Tametomo and rebuked him sternly for his
behaviour, but the daring Tametomo, instead of being ashamed of his
unmannerly conduct and prostrating himself in apology before the
learned man, would not listen to anything he had to say, and was so
boisterous in declaring that he was right that Fujiwara gave up his task
of correction as a hopeless one.
But the lad's father, Tameyoshi, when he heard of what had happened, was
very angry with his son for daring to dispute with his elder and
superior, especially in the sacred precincts of the Palace. He was so
wroth indeed that at last he refused to see him or to keep him any
longer under his roof, and to punish him he sent him far away from his
home to the island of Kiushiu.
Now Tametomo, like the wilful, headstrong boy that he was, did not mind
his banishment at all; on the contrary, he felt like a hound let loose
from the leash, and rejoiced in his liberty, even though he had incurred
his father's displeasure.
When he reached the island of Kiushiu he made his way to the province of
Higo, and finally settled down in the plain of Kumamoto. Now that
Tametomo found himself free to do just as he liked, his thirst for
conflict became so great that he could not restrain himself. He gathered
round him a band of fighters as wild as himself and challenged the men
in all the neighbouring provinces to come out and match their strength
against his. In twenty battles which followed this challenge Tametomo
was never once defeated, so great was his strength, and his cleverness
in directing his soldiers. He was like a silkworm eating up the mulberry
tree. Just as the silkworm devours one leaf after another, with slow but
sure relentlessness, so Tametomo fought and fought the inhabitants of
the provinces round about till he had brought them all into subjection
under him. By the time he was eighteen years old he had made himself
chief of a large band of outlaws, distinguished for their reckless
bravery, and with them he had mastered the whole of Kiushiu, the western
part of Japan. It was now that the name of Chinsei was given him on
account of his having conquered the West. Chin means "to put down,"
and sei means the "West."
Tidings travelled slowly in those days, for there were no railways or
telegraph wires forming a network of lightning speed communication
across the land, and all carrying of news was done on foot by
messengers; so it was a long time before the Government at the capital
heard of the wild and lawless doings of Chinsei Hachiro Tametomo, but at
last his daring exploits became known, and the Government decided to
interfere and to put a stop to his outlawry. They sent a regiment of
soldiers to hunt him down and take him prisoner, but Tametomo and his
band were not only strong and fearless, but sharp of wit, and in the
frequent skirmishes that took place they always came out victorious. At
last the soldiers gave up their task of capturing him, for they found it
impossible to overcome him and nothing would make Tametomo surrender. So
the general returned to the capital and confessed that his expedition
had failed. The Government now decided to arrest the outlaw's father,
Tameyoshi, and so try to bring the rebel to bay. Tameyoshi was therefore
seized and punished for being the parent of such an incorrigible rebel.
Now even the wilful Tametomo was moved and distressed when he heard of
what had happened to his father, because of him. Although he was
undisciplined by nature, and ever ready to rebel against all authority,
yet hidden deep in his heart there was still a sense of duty to his
father, and on this his enemies had counted. He knew that it was
inexcusable to let his father suffer punishment for his misdoings. As
soon as the bad tidings reached him, he gave up without the least
hesitation all the land in Kiushiu, which had cost him several years of
hard fighting to wrest from the inhabitants, and taking with him only
ten of his men, with all the speed he could make, he went up to the
As soon as he reached the city he sent in a document signed and sealed
in his blood, asking pardon of the Government for all his former
offences, and begging that his father might be released at once. He
then waited calmly and quietly for his sentence of punishment to be
Now when those in authority saw his filial piety and his good conduct at
this crisis, they could not find it in their hearts to treat him with
"Even this man who has behaved like a demon can feel so much for his
father," they exclaimed; and merely rebuking him for his lawlessness
they handed him over to his father, whom they had set free.
At this time civil war broke out in the land, for two brothers, sons of
the late ex-Emperor Toba, aspired to sit on the Imperial throne. Owing
to the favouritism of their father the elder brother, Sutoku, was forced
to abdicate and retire, while Go-Shirakawa, the younger brother, was put
on the throne. On his deathbed the ex-Emperor Toba (also called the
Pontiff-Emperor) had foreseen that there would be strife between the
two, and left sealed instructions in case of emergency. On opening this
document it was found to contain a command to all the principal generals
to support Go-Shirakawa.
Hence the great chief of the Taira, Kiyomori, and Tametomo's eldest
brother, Yoshitomo,—indeed all the warriors of repute and
strength,—supported Go-Shirakawa, while such nobles as Yorinaga and
Fujiwara-no-Shinsei, who knew nothing of fighting, sided with the
retired Emperor Sutoku. Yorinaga, it is said, could not mount his
horse. Indeed the only efficient soldiers on Sutoku's side were
Tameyoshi and his seven younger sons, Tametomo, the reformed rebel,
amongst them. Sutoku was told of Tametomo's strength and wonderful skill
as an archer, and was advised to make use of him, so Tametomo was
summoned ere long to the ex-Emperor's presence.
Tametomo was now just twenty years of age; he was more than seven feet
in height; his eyes were sharp and piercing like those of a hawk, and he
carried himself with great pride and noble bearing. As he entered the
Imperial Audience Hall, so strong and brave and such a fine soldier did
he look, that Sutoku at once felt confidence in him, and without delay
consulted the young knight about the impending war.
Then Tametomo told the Emperor of how, when he had been banished to the
West by his father, he had lived the life of an outlaw for many
years—all that time his hand had been raised against every one, and
every one had fought against him. It had been his delight and pastime to
fight all who opposed his being lord of Kiushiu. He and his band had
always conquered, he said, because they had always fought at night. It
would be a good plan, he thought, for Sutoku and his men to attack the
Palace of Go-Shirakawa by night, to set fire to the Palace on three
sides and to place soldiers on the fourth side to seize the new Emperor
and his party when they tried to escape. If the ex-Emperor would follow
his advice, Tametomo said he felt sure that he would win the victory.
Yorinaga, who was attending the Council when he heard Tametomo's plan,
shook his head in disapproval, and said that Tametomo's scheme of attack
was an inferior one; that in his opinion it was a coward's trick to
attack by night; and that it was more befitting brave soldiers to fight
by day in the ordinary way. When Tametomo saw that his advice was
overruled and that Sutoku's Council would not follow his tactics, he
left the Palace.
When he reached home he told his men of all that had passed, and added
in his anger that Yorinaga was a conceited fellow who knew nothing of
fighting, though he had dared to give his worthless opinion and to
contradict him, Tametomo, who had fought without once being beaten all
his life long. Thus giving vent to his disappointment, Tametomo seated
himself on the mats, and as his anger passed away, he added with a sigh:
"I only fear that Sutoku will be defeated in the coming struggle!"
Had Tametomo's tactics been followed, Japanese history would certainly
have been different, for Kiyomori and Yoshitomo won a victory by the
very plan which Tametomo had advised Sutoku to follow.
That night, without any warning, the enemy made an attack on the
The wary Tametomo, however, expected an assault and had stationed
himself at the South Gate on guard. On seeing Kiyomori and his band
approaching he exclaimed: "You feeble worms! I'll surprise you!" and
taking his bow and arrow shot a samurai named Ito Roku through the
breast. The arrow was shot with such skill and force that it went right
through the soldier's body, and coming out through his back, pierced the
sleeve of the armour of Ito Go, his younger brother, who was riding
close behind him.
Ito Go, when he saw the precision and strength with which the arrow was
shot, knew that they had to deal with no common foe, and in alarm
carried the arrow to his general, Kiyomori, to show it to him. Kiyomori
examined the arrow carefully and found that it was made from a strong
bamboo of more than the usual thickness, and that the metal head was
like a big chisel, a formidable weapon indeed! It was so large that it
resembled a spear more than an arrow, and even the redoubtable Kiyomori
trembled at the sight of it.
"This looks more like the arrow of a demon than of a man. Let us find
another place of assault where our enemies are weaker and where the
leaders are not such remarkable marksmen!" said he.
Kiyomori then retired from the attack on the South Gate.
When Yoshitomo (who was now supporting Kiyomori, though later on he left
the Taira chief) heard of his brother Tametomo's doings, he said:
"Tametomo may be a daredevil and boast of his skill as an archer, but he
will surely not take up his bow and arrow against the person of his
elder brother," and he took Kiyomori's place at the South Gate of the
Palace which Tametomo was guarding.
Drawing near the great roofed gate, Yoshitomo called aloud to Tametomo
and said: "Is that you, Tametomo, on guard there? What a wicked deed you
commit to fight against your elder brother? Now quickly open the gate
and let me in. Tametomo! Do you hear? I am Yoshitomo! Retire there!"
Tametomo laughed aloud at his elder brother's command and answered
boldly: "If it is wrong for me to take up arms against you, my brother,
are you not an undutiful son to take up arms against your father?"
(Tameyoshi, his father, was fighting on the ex-Emperor's side.)
Yoshitomo had no words wherewith to answer his brother and was silent.
Tametomo, with his archer's eye, saw what a good mark his brother made
just outside the gate, and he was greatly tempted to shoot at him even
for sport. But he said that though war found them fighting on opposite
sides, yet they were brothers, born of the same mother, and that it
would be acting against his conscience to kill or hurt his own brother,
for surely he would do so if he took aim seriously! He would however for
the sake and love of sport continue to show Yoshitomo what a clever
marksman he was. Taking good aim at Yoshitomo's helmet, Tametomo raised
his bow and shot an arrow right into the middle of the star that topped
it. The arrow pierced the star, came out the other side, and then cut
through a wooden gate five or six inches in thickness.
Even Yoshitomo was astonished at the skill which his brother displayed
by this feat of archery. He now led his soldiers forward to the attack.
But Sutoku's army was far outnumbered by the enemy, who swept down upon
the Palace in overwhelming numbers, and though Tametomo fought bravely
and with great skill, his strength and valour were of no avail against
the great odds which assailed him. The enemy gained ground slowly, inch
by inch, till at last the gates were battered down, and they ruthlessly
entered the Palace. Calamity was added to calamity, the foe set fire to
several parts of the building, and great confusion ensued.
The ex-Emperor, in making a vain attempt to escape with Yorinaga, was
caught and taken prisoner. Seeing that for the present there was
nothing to be done, Tametomo, with his father Tameyoshi and his other
brothers, all loyal to Sutoku's cause, made good their escape and fled
to the province of Omi.
Tameyoshi was an old man unable to endure the hardships of a hunted
life, and he found that he could go no further; so he told his sons
that, as the Emperor had been taken prisoner, and as there was no hope
of raising Sutoku's flag again, at any rate for the present, it would be
wiser for them all to return to the capital and surrender themselves to
the conquerors—the Taira. They all agreed to this proposal except
Tametomo, so Tameyoshi, the aged general, and the rest of his sons went
back to Kyoto.
Now Tametomo was left behind, alone in his brave resolution to fight
another battle for the ex-Emperor Sutoku. As soon as he had parted, sad
and determined, from his father and brothers, he made his way towards
the Eastern provinces. But unfortunately, as he was journeying, the
wound he had received in the recent fight became so painful that he
stopped at some springs along the route, with the hope that the healing
waters, a panacea for so many ills in Japan, would heal his hurt. But
while taking the cure, his enemies came upon him and made him prisoner
and he was sent back a captive to the capital.
By the time Tametomo reached the city, his father and his brothers had
been put to death, and he was soon told that he was to meet the same
But courage always arouses chivalry in the hearts of friends and foes
alike, and it seemed to Tametomo's enemies a pity to put such a brave
man to death. In the whole land there was no man who could match him in
bending the bow and sending the arrow home to its mark, so it was
decided to spare his life at the last moment. But to prevent him from
using his wonderful skill against them, his enemies cut the sinews of
both his arms and sent him away to the island of Oshima off the coast of
the province of Idzuto live. Lest he should escape on the way they bound
him hand and foot and put him in a palanquin. He was surrounded by a
guard of fifty men, and so big and heavy was he that twenty bearers were
required to carry the palanquin.
In spite of all the misfortunes that had befallen him, he carried the
same courage, the same stout merry heart, the same love of wildness with
him, even into exile. As the twenty men carried him along in the
palanquin, Tametomo just for fun would now and again put forth all his
strength. So great was his weight then that the twenty bearers would
stagger and fall to the ground. These feats of strength alarmed the
escort of fifty soldiers. They feared lest he should act more savagely
and become unmanageable, past their power of control, so they treated
him in much the same way as they would have treated a lion or a tiger.
They tried not to anger him, but did their utmost to keep him in a good
humour during the journey.
At last they reached the province of Idzu and the seashore from whence
they had to cross over to the island. Here they hired a boat, and
putting Tametomo safely on board they took him to his last destination
and left him there.
Though Tametomo was banished to this island, yet once there his enemies
left him free to do much as he liked. He was not treated as a common
prisoner, but as a brave though vanquished foe. The simple islanders
recognized in him a great man and behaved to him accordingly and
listened to everything he chose to say. So he led an unmolested life,
free from care, except the sorrow of being an exile—but his was a
nature which took life as it came, without worrying about what he could
Now one day Tametomo was standing on the beach gazing out to sea,
thinking of the many adventures he had passed through and wondering if
fate would ever bring any change in the quiet life he was leading, when
he saw a sea-gull come flying over the water. At first Tametomo with his
keen eyes saw only a speck in the distance, but the speck grew larger
and larger till at last the seabird appeared. Tametomo now guessed that
there was an island lying in the direction from which the bird came. So
he got into a boat and set out on a voyage of discovery.
As he expected, he came to an island, after sailing from sunrise to
sundown. To his amazement he found the place inhabited by creatures very
different from human beings. They had dark red faces, with shocks of
bright red hair, the locks of which hung over their foreheads and eyes.
They looked just like demons. A whole crowd of these alarming-looking
creatures were standing on the beach when Tametomo landed. When they
caught sight of him they talked and gesticulated wildly amongst
themselves and with fierce looks they rushed towards him.
Tametomo saw at once that they meant him harm, but he was nothing
daunted. He went up to a large pine tree that was growing near by, laid
his hands on it, and uprooting it with as much ease as if it were a
weed, he brandished it over his head and called aloud threateningly:
"Come, you demons, fight if you will. I am Chinsei Hachiro Tametomo, the
Archer of great Japan. If you will henceforth become my servants and
look up to me as master in all things, it is well; otherwise I will beat
you all to little pieces."
When the demons saw Tametomo's great strength and his fearlessness they
trembled. They held a short parley amongst themselves, and then the
demon chief stepped forward, followed by all his band. They came in
front of Tametomo and prostrating themselves before him on the sand,
they one and all surrendered. Tametomo with much pride took possession
of this island of demons and made himself monarch of all he surveyed.
Having subdued the demons he returned to Oshima with the news. Great was
the praise and merit awarded him by all the islanders.
Another day, soon after this, Tametomo was walking along the sands of
the seashore, when he saw coming towards him, floating nearer and nearer
on the top of the waves, a little old man. Tametomo could hardly believe
his sight; he had never seen anything so strange in his whole life; he
rubbed his eyes, thinking he must be dreaming, and looked and looked
again. There sure enough was a tiny man, no bigger than one foot five
inches high, sitting gracefully on a round straw mat.
Filled with wonder, Tametomo walked to the edge of the sand, and as the
little creature floated nearer on an incoming wave he said: "Who are
"I am the microbe of small-pox," answered the stranger pigmy.
"And why, may I ask, do you come to this island?" inquired Tametomo.
"I have never been here before, so I came partly for sight-seeing and
partly with the desire to seize hold of the inhabitants—" answered the
Before he could finish his sentence Tametomo said angrily: "You spirit
of hateful pestilence! Silence, I say! I am no other than Chinsei
Hachiro Tametomo! Get out of my presence at once and take yourself far
from this place, or I will make you repent the day you ever came here!"
As Tametomo spoke, the small-pox microbe shrank and shrank from the form
of a tiny man one foot five inches high, till only something the size of
a pea was left in the middle of the straw mat. As he dwindled and
dwindled, the little creature said that he was sorry that he had
intruded into the island, but he had not known that it was in Tametomo's
possession; and he then floated away out to sea on his straw mat as
quickly and mysteriously as he had come.
The island of Oshima has always been free from small-pox, and to this
day the islanders ascribe the immunity they enjoy from the horrible
pestilence to Tametomo, who drove away the microbe when the hateful
creature would have landed there.
Now that Tametomo had subdued the demons on the neighbouring island and
had driven away the spirit of small-pox from Oshima, he was looked upon
as a king by the simple islanders. They rendered him every possible
honour and bowed their heads in the dust before him whenever he went
At last this state of affairs was reported to the authorities in the
capital. The Ministers of State decided that it was unsafe to allow this
to go on. Such a popular and powerful hero was a menace to the
Government. Tametomo, the Champion Archer, must be put down and without
delay. Such was the decree. A messenger was then and there despatched
with sealed orders to General Shigemitsu, in Idzu, to set sail with his
men for Oshima and subdue Tametomo.
One day Tametomo was standing on the beach and watching with pleasure,
as he often did, the ever-whispering sea laughing and sparkling in the
sunshine, when he saw fifty war-junks coming towards the island. The
soldiers standing on the fifty decks were all armed with swords and bows
and arrows, and clad in armour from head to foot, and they were beating
drums and singing martial songs. Tametomo smiled when he saw this fleet
all mustered in martial array and sent against him, a single man, for he
knew, somehow or other, what they had come for.
"Now," he said proudly to himself, "the opportunity is given me of
trying my archer's skill once more." Seizing his bow, he pulled it to
the shape of a full moon, and aiming it at the foremost ship, sent an
arrow right into the prow. In an instant the boat was upset and the
soldiers pitched into the sea.
Till that moment Tametomo had feared that his arm had lost its first
great strength, since his enemies had cut the sinews; but on the
contrary he now found that not only were his arms as strong as ever, but
that they had even grown longer, and that he was able to pull his bow
wider than before. He clapped his hands with joy at the discovery and
called aloud: "This is a happy thing!"
But now Tametomo reflected that if he fought against those who had been
sent by the Government to take him, he would only bring trouble on the
people of the island, who had been so kind to him and who had sheltered
him in his exile; he thought of how in their simple reverence for his
great strength they had almost worshipped him as a deified hero and had
looked up to him as their leader. No,—he would not, could not, bring
war and trouble and certain punishment upon these good folk, so for
their sake he decided not to fight more. He looked back with the keen
flight of thought that comes to mortals in moments of great crises, and
he remembered how with special mercy his life had been spared when he
was taken prisoner in the civil war. Since then he had enjoyed life for
over ten years. As a strong, brave man he could not grudge losing it
now. He had made himself owner of the islands and the people called him
their king; he felt that there was no shame or regret in dying when he
had reached the height of his glory. Therefore, with firm and quick
decision he made up his mind to die. He withdrew at once from the beach
and retired to his house, and here he committed suicide by harikiri,
thus saving himself from all dishonour and the islanders from all
trouble. He was only thirty-two years of age when he died. His death was
greatly regretted by all who loved him. But his glory did not die with
him. The people ever afterward honoured and reverenced him as a great
Such is one story of the death of Tametomo, but legend has created
another, still more interesting, about him. Instead of taking his own
life, this tradition says that he escaped from Oshima and reached
Sanuki. Here he visited the late Emperor's tomb and offered up prayers
for the illustrious dead. He then, believing that his day of usefulness
was over, prepared to kill himself; when suddenly, as in a dream, the
Emperor, Yorinaga, his father, and all those royalists who had fought
and died in the civil war, or had been taken prisoners and killed by
the victorious parties of the new Emperor, appeared to him in the clouds
and with a warning gesture prevented him from committing the dread deed
of harakiri. As Tametomo gazed wonderingly at the beautiful vision, the
bamboo curtain which hung before the ex-Emperor's palanquin lifted, and
as the sunshine and grace of His Majesty's smile fell upon the
awe-stricken man, the sword dropped from his hand and the wish to die
expired in his breast. He fell forward in humble prostration to the
ground. When Tametomo lifted his head, the vision had vanished within
the clouds; nothing remained to be seen of the royal array which had
saved him from his self-imposed death.
This wonderful visitation changed Tametomo's mind. He gave up all idea
of seeking death, and, leaving Sanuki, journeyed to Kiushiu, and took up
his abode on Mount Kihara. Here he collected a band of followers, and
with them embarked on board a ship with the intention of reaching the
capital and once more striking a blow at the arrogant and usurping House
of Taira. But misfortune followed him. He was overtaken by a storm, his
ship was wrecked, his men lost, while he only narrowly escaped with his
life to the island of Riukiu. Here he found the people in a state of
great excitement, for a party of rebels had risen against the King, who
was greatly oppressed by them, Tametomo put himself at the head of the
loyalists, rescued the King, who had been taken prisoner, subdued the
rebels, and then restored peace to the disturbed land. For these
meritorious services the King adopted him as his son, bestowed upon him
the title of Prince, and married him to one of the royal Princesses. At
last one day, when Tametomo had reached a good old age, happy in the
life of peace and bliss with which his later years had been crowned, as
he was walking along one of the spacious verandahs of the Palace, his
attendants noticed a trail of cloud coming towards their master from the
sky. As soon as the cloud touched Tametomo, he began to rise in the air
before their astonished gaze. Lost in speechless amazement, they watched
the hero mount higher and higher, till the clouds closed round him and
hid him from their view. Such is the pretty legend of the earthly end of
the brave archer Tametomo, one of the most interesting figures in
Japanese history, who conquered the trials and misfortunes of his youth,
and won through to bright days of prosperity. He left a son called
Shun-Tenno, who became King of Riukiu in due time.
TAMETOMO BEGAN TO
RISE IN THE AIR