The story of Empress Jingū is entrenched in legend. Until the early 20th century she was considered a historical figure and the 15th imperial ruler of Japan. Since then her historicity has been re-evaluated, and Jingū has been removed from the traditional order of succession.
The sources say that she was married to Emperor Chūai and acted as his consort until his death in 201. After this Jingū acted as Empress Regent to her son, Ōjin, until he took the throne in 270.
Many of the Japanese Emperors from this time period lack solid historical evidence, including Ōjin and Jingū. There are certainly aspects of Jingū’s story which seem fantastical to us today. She supposedly owned two divine jewels which gave her the power to control the tides, and used them to carry out a bloodless conquest of Korea.
While there is no evidence that Japan had conquered Korea during the timeframe given for Jingū’s rule, some sources do demonstrate Japanese presence in southern Korea by the 4th century. Korean and Chinese records also describe Japan (known then as Wa) as ‘the Queen’s land’.
The legend also states that Jingū conceived her son before her husband died, but did not give birth for three years while she completed her conquest. It could be simply that the calculations for the pregnancy were incorrect, or that Ōjin was only symbolically the son of Chūai, and his biological father was someone else.
Jingū has a specially designated tomb in modern day Nara and in 1881 became the first woman featured on a Japanese banknote.
The Future and the Past: A Translation and Study of the Gukanshō – Jien, Delmer Myers Brown, Ichirō Ishida
Heroic with Grace: Legendary Women of Japan – Chieko Irie Mulhern