E49 The Sacred Regalia


Show Notes for episode 49 of our Podcast – The Sacred Regalia.

Story Notes

EP49 Sacred Regalia

Today I wanted to try and piece together the history of the Sacred Regalia in Japan. Where as England has their crown jewels for example, in Japan they have these Regalia, or the Sanshu no Jingi as they’re known in Japan. 

These items consists of the Sword Kusanagi, the Mirror Yata no Kagami and a Jewel known as Yasakami no Magatama. These days it is said the original mirror is kept in the Ise Grand Shrine, with the original Sword being housed in the Atsuta Shrine. The Jewel is held inside the Royal Palace. This Jewel is kept alongside a replica sword in the Kenji no Ma (or Room of the Sword and Seal) and upon the coronation of a new Emperor the Jewel and Sword are used for a kind of ‘transfer’ ceremony of the item from one Emperor to another. This ceremony known as the Kenji Togyo no Gi. Now, saying that, a news article I read included pictures of the sword and jewel in boxes being carried onto a Shinkansen. Now considering the ceremony happened in Tokyo where the apparent items used are held, I am a little confused where they were actually brought from as they according to the rest of the research I did, they are in the Palace where the ceremony occurred. 

Sacred Regalia
Conjectural images of the Sacred Regalia.

There is also a replica mirror held in the palace, in the Kashikodokoro, one of the three palace shrines.  

Now the sword we have already brought into our little show, having been found inside the tail of the Dragon Yamato no Orochi. Then handed over by Susano-o who found it to his sister the sun kami Amaterasu.  

As for its appearance, we may be able to turn to an account from the Edo Period when repairs were carried out at the Atsuta Shrine including replacement of the outer wooden box housing the sword. At the time there was a priest called Matsuoka Masanao who said he and a few other priests saw the Sword and this is his description of it: 

“a stone box was inside a wooden box of length 150 cm, with red clay stuffed into the gap between them. Inside the stone box was a hollowed log of a camphor tree, acting as another box, with an interior lined with gold. Above that was placed a sword. Red clay was also stuffed between the stone box and the camphor tree box. The sword was about 82 cm long. Its blade resembled a calamus leaf. The middle of the sword had a thickness from the grip about 18cm with an appearance like a fish spine. The sword was fashioned in a white metallic color, and well maintained.”  

And in a strange turn of events, kind of like the curse of Egyptian mummies, afterward the grand priest found himself banished with all the other priests save for Matsuoka dying of strange diseases. 

But where did the Jewel and Mirror come from? According to the tales, the Jewel was giving to Amaterasu by the kami of Heaven (Takamagahara) and the mirror was actually a mirror we have come across before. This being the mirror that was used to coax Amaterasu out the Rock Cave when she fled and brought darkness to everything. 

A man known as Daniel Clarence Holtom stated all the was back in 1928 that out of the 3 Sacred Regalia the mirror is now the only one to exist in its original form and the claim has received a lot of support over time.  

Now eventually all of these items were gifted down to a man known as Ninigi, his full name is much longer, so I will leave it at Ninigi. He was a descendant of Amaterasu and she gifted these items to him with the decree of subduing all of Japan so that he and his descendants could rule over it. 

Emperor Suijin (10th Emperor 97-30BC) 

The Emperor Suijin had a big problem to deal with during his reign, the problem being widespread pestilence in Japan.  

Until this point the Regalia had been held safe in the Palace, but the Emperor fearing the pollution of these items instructed numerous copies of the Mirror and Sword to be made.  

The Mirror and Sword were then moved to Kasanui in Yamato and one of his daughters known as Toyotsukiiri-hime was entrusted with their worship. 

Emperor Suinin (11th Emperor – 29BC-70AD) 

A small note on the Sacred Regalia during the reign of Emperor Suinin, he again has the Regalia moved. This time giving them a home in the Naiku Shrine (or Inner Shrine) at the Grand Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture. He charges his daughter, Yamato-hime with the worshipping of these objects.  

Emperor Keiko (12th Emperor 71-130AD) 

Yamato Takeru
Yamato Takeru

Now the Regalia in question here merely relates to the Sword.  

Emperor Keiko had a son, known most famously now by the name Yamato Takeru

Now this man, during this life he held many exploits, and I will give him an episode to himself, however one such exploit included him using the Sacred Sword. Approaching his aunt, Yamato-hime who we just mentioned from the reign of Emperor Suinin, still in charge at these times with the worship of the sacred regalia, he asks to borrow the sword. 

His next job in his several exploits, was to deal with people known as the Emishi (some believe this to be a term for the Ainu). On his way he comes across a chieftain who attempts to kill him in a grass fire. Yamato Takeru, uses to sword, mowing down the grass around him to escape before then killing the chieftain. He then continues on with his exploit. (I find the fact he mows down grass interesting, and I feel perhaps this tale may have been used as a way to elaborate on why the sword is called Kusanagi, as it translates to ‘Grass Mower’). 

After his subsequent death during this final expedition, the sword then finds itself houses in the Atsuta shrine in Aichi Prefecture.  

6th Century 

I am unsure as to an actual date for this, only finding that it occurred in the 6th century, which could mean it occurred under the reign of several different Emperor. Records say that the sword was stolen in the 6th Century by a monk who came from Silla (this being in modern day Korea). However, his ship allegedly sank and the sword eventually washed up on shore at Ise, where it was recovered by Shinto Priests. 

Emperor Go-Suzaku (69th Emperor – 1036-1045) 

A rather big jump now, from the 12th to the 69th Emperor Go-Suzaku. A jump of some 1000 years.  

It is said that in 1040, the compartment which contained the Sacred Mirror was burned in a fire, however, whether the mirror was merely damaged or entirely lost is not said.  

Emperor Antoku (81st Emperor – 1180-1183) 

Another jump now, from the 70th to the 81st Emperor..  

A short lived Emperor, who sadly died at the age of six. 

In fact Antoku was named crown prince at at the very early age of one month old. But did not actually ascend until the ripe old age of two, all power held by his grandfather, a man known as Taira no Kiyomori. 

Now in his final year of life, and as Emperor ended at the battle of Dan no Ura.  

Battle of Dan no Ura
Battle of Dan no Ura. Tosa Mitsunobu

This was the culmination of a feud between the Minamoto and Taira Clans. The Minamoto Clan decree Go-Toba as Emperor, causing their to be two at once. And so Minamoto no Yoshinaka entered the capital of Kyoto causing the Taira Clan with Emperor Antoku to flee with the Sacred Treasures.  

The Battle of Dan no Ura, was a naval battle, and the Taira clan here found themselves defeated. And so the Empress Dowager, Taira no Tokiko, at the time jumps into the ocean to her death with the Sacred Regalia, however the Jewel and Mirror were saved. This also ended the young Emperors life, aged, six. The sword was lost here. However, these apparently were the copies of the original Regalia made over 1000 years ago now under the orders of Emperor Suinin.  

Due to these events, the following Emperor Go-Toba had a kind of unofficial ceremony in that the handing over of the sacred treasures from the previous emperor to the new did not occur.  

Emperor Go-Hanazono (101st Emperor – 1428-1464) 

We’re making a big jump here, some 300 years almost, until I found mention of the Sacred Regalia again. 

It appears that during his reign, two people attempted to over throw the Emperor, these known as Kusunoki Jiro and Hino Arimitsu. They decreed that a different person, Takayoshi-O was the Emperor, he being a grandson of the 98th Emperor Go-Kameyama (according to the family tree in the book I have) 

Now they make an attempt to overthrow the Emperor, entering into his Palace. Fortunately the Emperor escaped, but these uprisers managed to get hold of the Regalia and flee to Enryaku-ji. Here they were mostly defeated by the bakufu, and Takayahi-O and Hino Arimitsu were made to commit seppuku. During this the sword was dropped and recovered, but some other members of the party managed to carry off the Jewel. They then set up Takayoshi-O’s sons Takahide-O and Tadayoshi-O as then next in line, according to their own wishes. 

Another attempt was made to recover the Jewel in 1457 by Taro Sayemon. He kills these two princes and get hold of the Jewel, but he is then counter attacked and loses it again. The next year, looking again for others they can call Emperor, they choose Takamasa-O, the third brother but he was killed by someone known as Kodera Tobyoei, and finally the Regalia was restored to the Emperor in Kyoto.  

Emperor Naruhito 

Now reaching the modern day we turn to Emperor Naruhito, who ushered in the new age called Reiwa, to replace that of Heisei. 

News articles did talk a little about the regalia in association with him stating that during his inauguration two boxes were presented to him. One said to house the Sword and the other the Jewel. As we mentioned before, the mirror was not brought as it does not appear to be required. And this all leads into the rights and passage of coronation rules, customs and regulations, which I will delve into at a later point and hopefully be able to bring it to you in a future episode.  

Poem Notes

Otomo no Yakamochi
Otomo no Yakamochi

Well, we’ve touched on botany in the podcast, but only briefly dabbled in entomology. Let’s dive further into a new topic of biology as we talk about one of the sounds of the Japanese summer, the cicada. I found a really interesting article about cicada in Japan, and I’m including the link in the show notes. From this link, I encountered the man’yōshū – which we’ve briefly talked about before.

But – instead of finding the poem with the semi, I happened to find one about “higurashi” Higurashi are called evening cicadas, and is one of the over 30 species of cicada that can be found in Japan. Their songs can sound early in the morning or later in the evening, but it appears that they are most active in the autumn. An interesting fact, well for us at any rate, is that the kanji can be said to be taken from the miscanthus. This Basho despised plant is one of the habitats for this species of cicada. 
The poet is named Otomo no Yakamochi, who we have spoke of before, in Episode 19 – our culinary episode about curry.  One of the 36 Poet Immortals.


komori  nomi
oreba ibuse mi nagusamu to  
idetachi kikeba  
kinaku higurashi  

Google Sensei had this to say: If you’re in the hiding place, I’m in a hurry, if you’re comforting, you’ll hear me when you stand. I’m including it because… it’s just entertaining.  
Now, I did try to do some translation work myself, but since this poem dates back to around the 700s, my dictionary had some difficulties. I did ask the professor for the parts I had troubles with but… (awaiting reply) 
I’ve got two different translations from two different sources.

Tired of sitting indoors all day long,
I seek the garden for colace, only to hear
The shrill chirps of the cicadas.

Here is the second one from wakapoetry.net:

Shut indoors and
Sunk in misery,
I wonder what would console me;
Going outside, I listen and,
The evening cicadas come calling…

I prefer the chirping poem – because as I am sure Thomas can attest, while the cicada is definitely one of the sounds of summer, it can be amongst the most deafening.  

But we do have a third version for you. One devised by the Professor.

Just being locked and staying in my room depress me,
thus to refresh myself
I went out and listened to a cicadas coming and chirping.


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Heavenly Spear