Imperial Regalia of Japan

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Artist's impression of the Imperial Regalia of Japan.

The Imperial Regalia of Japan (三種の神器 Sanshu no Jingi / Mikusa no Kandakara?), also known as the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, consist of the sword Kusanagi (草薙劍 Kusanagi no Tsurugi?), the mirror Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡?), and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊曲玉?). The regalia represent the three primary virtues: valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror), and benevolence (the jewel).[1]

Due to the legendary status of these items, their locations are not confirmed, but it is commonly thought that the sword is located at Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, the jewel is located at Kōkyo (the Imperial Palace) in Tōkyō, and the mirror is located in the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture.[2]

Tradition[edit]

Since 690, the presentation of these items to the Emperor by the priests at the shrine has been a central element of the imperial enthronement ceremony. This ceremony is not public, and these items are by tradition only seen by the emperor and certain priests. Because of this, no known photographs or drawings exist. Two of the three treasures (the jewel and sword, as well as the emperor's seal and the state seal) were last seen during the accession and enthronement of Emperor Akihito in 1989 and 1993, but were shrouded in packages.

According to legend, these treasures were brought to earth by Ninigi-no-Mikoto, legendary ancestor of the Japanese imperial line, when his grandmother, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, sent him to pacify Japan. These treasures were eventually said to be passed down to Emperor Jimmu, who was the first Emperor of Japan and was also Ninigi's great-grandson. Traditionally, they were a symbol of the emperor's divinity as a descendant of Amaterasu, confirming his legitimacy as paramount ruler of Japan. When Amaterasu hid in a cave from her brother Susanoo, thus plunging the world in darkness, the goddess Ame-no-Uzume hung the mirror and jewels outside the cave and lured her out of the cave, at which point she saw her own reflection and was startled enough that the gods could pull her out of the cave. Susanoo later presented the sword Kusanagi to Amaterasu as a token of apology; he had obtained it from the body of an eight-headed serpent, Orochi.

At the conclusion of the Genpei War in 1185, the 8 year-old Emperor Antoku and the Regalia were under the control of the Taira clan. They were present when the Taira were defeated by the rival Minamoto clan at the Battle of Dan-no-Ura, which was fought on boats in the shallow Kanmon Straits. The child-emperor's grandmother threw herself, the boy, the sword and the jewel into the sea to avoid capture. The mirror was captured, but according to the main account of the battle, a Minamato soldier who tried to force open the box containing it was struck blind. The jewel was recovered shortly afterwards by divers, but the sword was lost.[3] There are a number of medieval texts relating to the loss of the sword, which variously contend that a replica was forged afterwards, that the lost sword was itself a replica or that the sword was returned to land by supernatural forces.[4]

The possession by the Southern Dynasty of the Imperial Regalia during the Northern and Southern dynasties period in the 14th century has led modern chroniclers to define it as the legitimate dynasty for purposes of reign names and genealogy.

The importance of the imperial regalia to Japan is evident also from the declarations made by Emperor Shōwa to Kōichi Kido on 25 and 31 July 1945 at the end of World War II, when he ordered the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal of Japan to protect them "at all costs".[5]

Other interpretations[edit]

The regalia can also be interpreted as the mirror representing the sun; the jewel, the moon; and the sword, the stars.[1]

Alvin and Heidi Toffler's Powershift use them to symbolize the three kinds of power they distinguish: force (sword), wealth (jewel) and knowledge (mirror.)[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b [1], ミニ講話 宮司のいい話 (in Japanese).
  2. ^ A replica of the mirror is also said to be in the Kashikodokoro, one of the Three Palace Sanctuaries
  3. ^ Turnbull, Stephen (2006) Samurai: The World of the Warrior, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978-1841769516 (pp. 33-38)
  4. ^ Selinger, Vyjayanthi R. (2013) Authorizing the Shogunate: Ritual and Material Symbolism in the Literary Construction of Warrior Order, Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 978-9004248106 (pp. 114-118)
  5. ^ Kido Koichi nikii, Tokyo, Daigaku Shuppankai, 1966, pp.1120–21.
  6. ^ Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century (1990), Bantam Books, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, ISBN 0-553-29215-3.