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Sanshu no Jingi: The Imperial Regalia of Japan


Japan has three precious treasures that hold a beautiful history tied to the Shinto religion. They originated from the Shinto gods and are symbols of the legitimacy of the Japanese emperor. These sacred items (a sword, a mirror and a jewel) are scattered around Japan and kept out of public view in each one of the three Japanese Imperial Shrines; they are only visible to shrine priests and the emperor during their enthronement ceremony. No one else has seen or taken pictures of the treasures before, so the image you see to the right is an artist’s representation of what the regalia could possibly look like.

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 covered from view.

What is the story of these items and what makes them so sacred? Here is short introduction to each piece and where they can be found (though you’ll never see them anyway):

The Sword, Kusanagi no Tsurugi (草薙劍)

Found in: Atsuta Jingu, Nagoya; Represents: Valor

The sacred sword was discovered by Susanoo, the God of the Oceans and brother of Amaterasu, in one of the tails of an eight headed dragon that he had killed. 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 Mirror, Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡)

Found in: Ise Jingu, Mie; Represents: Wisdom

As discussed in a previous post about Japanese mythology, the sacred mirror was used to lure Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, out of a cave where she had withdrawn after her brother Susanoo had misbehaved himself.

The Jewel, Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊曲玉)

Found in: Imperial Palace, Tokyo; Represents: Benevolence

Like the mirror, the jewel was hung to lure Amaterasu out of her cave when the earth became shrouded in darkness. It is believed to be a necklace composed of jade magatama stones.

The Link to the Emperor

Amaterasu gave the sacred jewel together with the mirror and sword to her grandson, Ningi no Mikoto, when she sent him down to earth. He handed the three regalia to his grandson Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan.

Modern Times

In modern times, Japanese people have come to use the expression “sanshu no jingi” for the three regalia of modern comfort, such as the refrigerator, washing machine and vacuum cleaner in the 1950’s, or the color television, car and cooler (three “C’s”) in the 1970’s. (via Japan Glossary)

What do you think of the Imperial Regalia? I love the mythology and symbolism behind the pieces, and their secrecy only helps to pique my interest. If I ever had the opportunity to see just one treasure, I think I would choose the sword. What about you?


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