The Japanese imperial regalia, how they are handled and the stories behind them are unique for Japan. They are so sacred that no now living individual has seen them, not even the emperor! Indeed, nobody has seen them for centuries, since they are always shrouded. Traditionally, the priests of the temples where they are stored present them to the emperor during his enthronement, but that is a private ceremony in the presence of emperor and priests only. Yet, even then the regalia are shrouded.
To be correct, one should say that nobody knows if the genuine regalia exist. Indeed, there is reason to believe they are not, not all of them. They consist of a mirror, a sword, and a jewel – and it might very well be that the jewel is the only original and that as well sword as mirror are later copies/replacements.
The Three Sacred Treasures are all connected to Japanese mythology and the origin of the Japanese imperial line, which, according to legend, descend from the sun-goddess Amaterasu. She sent the regalia to earth with her grandson, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, whose great grandson was Jimmu, the legendary first emperor. Thus the regalia are a symbol of the divinity of the emperor and of his legitimacy as a descendant of Amaterasu - and as the ruler of Japan.
(kept in Ise Grand Shrine)
Amaterasu did hide in a cave after an argument with her brother, Susanoo-no-Mikoto, the god of the sea and of storms. The world became dark (Amaterasu is the sun). Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto, a goddess, placed the mirror and the jewel outside the cave and when Amaterasu saw her own reflection, she lost attention long enough for the others to drag her out.
The mirror is kept in the inner shrine of Ise. The shrine is dedicated to Amaterasu and is probably from the 3rd century A.D, although legend holds that it is from 4 B.C.
This is one of the holiest places of Shintoism.
There is evidence that the original mirror was destroyed in a fire in 1040 A.D.
(kept in Tokyo Imperial Palace)
The jewel share the story about the mirror and was involved in the same event. It might very well be the only original piece of the regalia that remains. It is kept in Tokyo Imperial Palace - in Kashiko-dokoro, the central of the Three Palace Sanctuaries; it is dedicated to Amaterasu.
(kept in Atsuta Shrine, in Nagoya)
After their argument, Susanoo-no-Mikoto presented Kusangi, the sword, as a gift to Amaterasu, an apology for tricking her to come out from the cave.
The original sword was lost at sea in the 12th century, after which it was replaced with a replica. This story is unclear though, and nobody knows for sure what is true and what is not. There are sources which indicate that it was the lost sword that was a replica. We will never know.
According to legend, Susanoo found Kusanagi in the body of an eight-headed serpent Yamata-no-Orochi. He killed the serpent and took the sword, which is said to have power over the wind.
In symbology, three is a powerful number, and the Three Sacred Treasures symbolise the three virtues; sword for valour, mirror for wisdom, and jewel for benevolence.
From a symbolic point of view, the most interesting of these is the mirror. In a large part of the world, a mirror would symbolise vanity, which is something negative or at least dubious. One expression of this can be found in the myth of Narkissos (Narcissus) who fell in love with his own reflected image, which he admired in a well until he perished. He was transformed into the flower, narcissus.
In Japan, however, a mirror is a symbol of truth and wisdom; truth, because it shows how things really are, and wisdom as a result of self-reflection. It has positive connotations.
It is difficult, even impossible, to know what is true about these regalia. One could go one step further and say that it is impossible to know with certainty where they are or if they even exist. Something has existed, that's for sure, but what there is now, we simply do not know with any degree of certainty. It is so difficult because all ceremonies where they are used are private, not public, and even then, the regalia appear only shrouded. Moreover, information and stories told about them are sometimes contradictory.
Copyright © 2021 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.
(The lead image shows Tokyo Imperial Palace. Photo by Pierre Blaché/Pixabay, CC0/Public Domain.)
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