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Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Imperial Regalia of Japan

Rarely seen, the Imperial Regalia of Japan (三種の神器, Sanshu no Jingi/Mikusa no Kandakara), are called the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, and are presented to the emperor at the time of their enthronement.

The three treasures:
  1. the sword Kusanagi (草薙劍Kusanagi no Tsurugi)
  2. the mirror Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡);
  3. and the jeweled necklace Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊勾玉)
 Each of these items is meant to represent the primary virtues of Japan and its emperor.

The sword represents valor, the mirror represents wisdom, and the jewelry represents benevolence.

A legendary sword? Cool.

Originally called Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi (天叢雲剣, Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven), its name was later changed to Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (the Grass-Cutting Sword).

I'm pretty sure I prefer the Gathering Clouds of Heaven name over something that's akin to a scythe.

Here's a history of the sword per Wikipedia.

According to Kojiki (collection of Japanese history, but ultimately myth), the god Susanoo encountered a grieving family of kunitsukami (gods of the land) headed by Ashinazuchi (足名椎) in Izumo Province. When Susanoo inquired of Ashinazuchi, he told him that his family was being ravaged by the fearsome Yamata-no-Orochi, an eight-headed serpent of Koshi, who had consumed seven of the family's eight daughters and that the creature was coming for his final daughter, Kushinada-hime (奇稲田姫). Susanoo investigated the creature, and after an abortive encounter he returned with a plan to defeat it. In return, he asked for Kushinada-hime's hand in marriage, which was agreed. Transforming her temporarily into a comb (one interpreter reads this section as "using a comb he turns into [masquerades as] Kushinada-hime") to have her company during battle, he detailed his plan into steps.
He instructed the preparation of eight vats of sake (specifically rice wine) to be put on individual platforms positioned behind a fence with eight gates. The monster took the bait and put one of its heads through each gate. With this distraction, Susanoo attacked and slew the beast (with his sword Worochi no Ara-masa). He chopped off each head and then proceeded to the tails. In the fourth tail, he discovered a great sword inside the body of the serpent which he called Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, which he presented to the goddess Amaterasu to settle an old grievance.
The Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya is purported to house the Kusanagi sword. It was built art around 100CE.
Generations later, in the reign of the twelfth Emperor, Keikō (around the 12th century), the sword Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi was given to the great warrior, Yamato Takeru as part of a pair of gifts given by his aunt, Yamatohime-no-mikoto the Shrine Maiden of Ise Shrine, to protect her nephew in times of peril.  These gifts came in handy when Yamato Takeru was lured onto an open grassland during a hunting expedition by a treacherous warlord. The lord had fiery arrows loosed to ignite the grass and trap Yamato Takeru in the field so that he would burn to death. He also killed the warrior's horse to prevent his escape. Desperately, Yamato Takeru used the Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi to cut back the grass and remove fuel from the fire, but in doing so, he discovered that the sword enabled him to control the wind and cause it to move in the direction of his swing. Taking advantage of this magic, Yamato Takeru used his other gift, fire strikers, to enlarge the fire in the direction of the lord and his men, and he used the winds controlled by the sword to sweep the blaze toward them. In triumph, Yamato Takeru renamed the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (Grasscutter Sword) to commemorate his narrow escape and victory. Eventually, Yamato Takeru married and later fell in battle with a monster, after ignoring his wife's advice to take the sword with him.

Thank-you Wikipedia.

Nag, nag, nag... it doesn't even matter if she was right. LOL!

If you notice that in the cutline in the photo immediately above, I stated that the sword is purported to be there.

Because the sword, mirror and jewelry are such important cultural treasures belong to the godhood (now former godhood) of the emperor, the exact location of the three sacred items is kept secret and are never placed in for public viewing.

The image at the very top is an artist's rendition of what the items look like.

Still, it believed that the sword resides in Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, the mirror at Ise Grand Shrine in Mie-ken, and the jewel at the Three Palace Sanctuaries in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Since 690AD, these three items are presented to the ascending emperor by priests of the enthronement ceremony.

This ceremony is not public, and these items are by tradition seen only by the Emperor and certain priests. It's why we don't have photographs of them.

Here's the thing... only two of the three items are actually given to the emperor at that time.

He receives two boxes, each containing either a replica of the Grasscutter Sword and the Yasakani no magatama jeweled necklace.

I always wondered what the Japanese crown looked like, but guess what—there is no crown.

The three objects are (according to legend and myth) given by the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-ōmikami, to her grandson when he first descended to earth and became the founder of the imperial dynasty.

What of the mirror, Yata no Kagami?

Considered the most important of the three scared items, it is meant to be the embodiment of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu-ōmikami, herself.

Well, you certainly don't want to moving the goddess around every 40 years... she'd get cranky.

Instead of presenting the mirror to the emperor (though I don't know why a replica isn't made like they have done with the Sword), Imperial messengers and priests are sent to the housing shrine of the mirror, as well as to the tomb-shrines of the four Emperors whose reigns immediately preceded his, to inform them of the new Emperor's accession.

In other words, after four coronation ceremonies, the dead emperor finally get to rest in peace... Let's see... should the current emperor pass away, and the ceremony to raise Naruhito to be emperor... the priests and imperial messengers will go to the tomb shrines of: the recently passed Akihito who will take on the name Emperor Heisei, his father Emperor Showa (the former Hirohito of WWII fame), his father Emperor Taishō, and his father before him Emperor Meji.

As you'll note, all bar the name of the Japanese era in which each emperored... er, presided?

Oh yeah, ruled.

Andrew Joseph

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