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The Three Sacred Treasures

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Written by   440
1 month ago

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.

The Sacred Mirror, Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡)

(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.

The Jewel, Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊勾玉)

(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.

The Sword, Kusanagi no Tsurugi (草薙劍)

(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.

The Symbolic Meaning of the Regalia

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.

History or Myth?

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.)

You find all my articles on Japanese Art & Culture here, and about symbols here.

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Comments

I sort of like to study Asian history and culture. Valour, Wisdom, and Benevolence? I love the symbolism of the 3 Sacred Treasures. ☺️

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1 month ago

Sometimes the story sound like a myth, because different countries has their own version of history and it sometimes connect to one place.

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1 month ago

True.

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1 month ago

I've always found Japanese history and its culture fascinating. Thanks for sharing this. It's hard to believe that still nowadays those treasures have remained so sacred that anybody have seen them.

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1 month ago

You can find my previous articles about Japanese culture and history here: https://read.cash/@Mictorrani/index-over-my-articles-at-read-cash-5f7c1e34#japanology

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1 month ago

Thank you for the link. I will take a look.

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1 month ago

It is an interesting story that you have written. I love this culture and its stories.

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1 month ago

I think i've leqrnt something quite new about Japan and its sacred places but what i'm in a total awe of is the facts that you said even the emperor knows nothing about the sacred places hmmmn! I'm really shocked by that great powerful exhibition that those sacred places are yielding

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1 month ago

I absolutely love reading about both History and mythology.. they both fascinate me, it is like walking into another dimension altogether... loved it totally

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1 month ago

Yes, somehow it is another dimension.

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1 month ago

It may be a short comment for this, but I surely want to discover a lot more about hidden and sacred history of Japan. I am fond of watching Japanese movies about historical events or those about ancient time. Though I have a problem on how to understand their language, thankfully, I still found some which has an English subtitles. Hehe..

Good day!☺️

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1 month ago

This is quite interesting, it's hard to discern if it is only a myth or it happened but I think that it did happen and the story has been passed down from generations. I am a great fan of history and I noticed that every single race and belief stemmed from these beings, it is possible they existed here on this planet long before human beings set foot on it. This might just be my nerdy side talking but that's what I think. Beautiful write-up, I'm.going now to search for a picture on the regalia, even if it's only one of them that is considered original.

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1 month ago

By the way, have you read Zecharia Sitchin?

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1 month ago

Not yet, let me write it down on my notebook.

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1 month ago

Read this series:

The 12th Planet, 1976, Stein and Day, ISBN 0-8128-1939-X

The Stairway to Heaven, 1980, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-75505-8

The Wars of Gods and Men, 1985, Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-89585-4

The Lost Realms, 1990, Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-75890-3

When Time Began, 1993, Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-77071-7

The Cosmic Code, 1998, Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-80157-4

I don't say that this is true or not true, but it is nevertheless interesting.

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1 month ago

Looks interesting, let me add it to my book list. Thanks for all the suggestions.

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1 month ago

Well, according to my research, there are no drawings or photos of the regalia.

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1 month ago

I was able to get a view of it on Wikipedia

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1 month ago

The "conjectural images" then, I suppose.

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1 month ago