Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi (天叢雲剣)
The 'Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi' (also called 'Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi', translated literally as, "Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven) is one of the 'Sanshu no Jingi' (the Three Imperial Regalia) and a 'shintai' (an object of worship housed in a Shinto shrine and believed to contain the spirit of a deity) of the Atsuta-jingu Shrine.
The sword is also called 'Kusanagi no Tsurugi,' 'Kusanagi no Ken,' 'Tsumugari no Tachi' and 'Yaegaki no Tsurugi.'
Among the 'Sanshu no Jingi' (the Three Imperial Regalia), it is considered to be the symbol of the Emperor's military power
Description in Japanese Mythology
Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi' (the Sacred Sword of Ama no Murakumo) is a sword that came from the tail of 'Yamata no Orochi' (the Eight-Forked Serpent) when it was slain by Susanoo in 'Izumo no Kuni' (Izumo Province). It was given the name 'Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi' due to the fact that clouds were always gathering over the head of the Eight-Forked Serpent. Susanoo presented the sword to Amaterasu Omikami (the Sun Goddess) who then handed it to her grandson Ninigi when he descended from heaven to rule over the country.
The sword was then enshrined in the Imperial Palace as a 'shintai' (an object of worship housed in a Shinto shrine and believed to contain the spirit of a deity) of Amaterasu Omikami along with the 'Yata no Kagami' (the eight-span mirror), but during the age of Emperor Sujin (148 B.C. to 30 B.C.) it was enshrined outside of the Imperial Palace with the 'Yata no Kagami' by order of Princess 'Toyosukiiribime no mikoto.'
It took nearly sixty years before the sword was handed down to princess Yamatohime no mikoto, a daughter of Emperor Suinin (reportedly between 69 to 70 B.C.), and was finally enshrined in the current Kotai-jingu Shrine of Ise Jingu Shrine. This description is from the "Kogo Shui " (a historical record of the Inbe clan).
(Detailed story: former Ise)
Later on, Princess Yamatohime gave the sword to Yamato Takeru, who set off for 'Togoku' (eastern Japan) to suppress barbarian tribes. After the expedition to 'Togoku,' Takeru left the sword with his wife Miyazu hime, whom he married in Owari Province, and went to defeat the evil god of Ibuki-yama mountain. However, Takeru became sick from a trap set by the mountain god and died on the way to the mountain. In order to enshrine the sword, Miyazu hime built Atsuta-jingu Shrine.
Origin of the sword's name
Although there are various stories regarding the origin of the sword, the real story remains unknown.
It is presumed that there is a connection between the origin of the sword and what is mentioned as the 'Ame no murakumo no mikoto' in the 'Owari Clan genealogy' and 'Tsumori Clan genealogy' in the "Sendai Kuji Hongi" (a historical Japanese text), as well as in the 'Amabe Clan genealogy.'
Furthermore, the name 'Ame no murakumo no mikoto' is also seen in the ancestry of the Watarai clan, which was a family of Shinto priests recorded in "Toyouke-daijingu negi honin shidai" (an old historical Japanese record).
Theory of the sword derived from the story of 'Yamata no Orochi'
The following story is from a section in the "Nihon Shoki" (Chronicles of Japan). The sword was named 'Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi' due to the fact that there were always clouds above the head of Yamata no Orochi (the Eight-Forked Serpent). In reality, there are many cloudy days in the San-in region (an area in the southwest of Honshu, the main island of Japan). Even today, people visiting the Izumo Aki region are often told, "Even if you forget to bring a lunch, do not forget to bring an umbrella." Deep in the mountains of the Aki region, at the top of Sentsu-zan (Torikami) mountain in the town of Okuizimo, there is a stone monument bearing the inscription: "This is the location where the Ama no murakumo no Tsurugi was discovered." Every year on July 28th, the 'Commemoration of the Sentsu-zan mountain monument - Senyo-sai Festival' is held at this location. However, a number of questions have been raised. Included in these questions is the point about the sacred sword being carelessly handed to Yamato Takeru and how likely it is that he used the sword to cut grass. In response to this question, there have been debates over whether the two swords, the 'Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi' and the 'Kusanagi no Tsurugi,' might have historically been two different swords. However, in taking records such as the 'Kojiki' (Records of Ancient Matters) into account, this is the most widely accepted theory.
The names of 'Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi' and 'Murakumo' were written only as annotations in the "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan). These names were not written at all in the "Kojiki" (Records of Ancient Matters).
The original name of the sword is therefore considered to be 'Kusanagi no Tsurugi.'
Furthermore, the expression, 'Clouds gathering above a monstrous serpent' as the origin of the name 'Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi' is thought to be a quotation from the "Shisho" (history book) and the "Kanjo" (Historical Records of the Han Dynasty). Therefore, it is often argued that the sword is related to 'Zanda no Tsurugi' (the sword used for killing snakes) that was possessed by Emperor Gaozu of the Han.
The sword used for cutting grass'
Yamato Takeru received the sacred sword at the Ise Jingu Shrine and used it to fight off a grass fire, warding off a calamity and gave it the name 'Kusanagi no Tsurugi.'
This is a widely known theory behind the sword.
Hebi no Tsurugi' (the sword of the serpent)
This theory suggests that the original meaning the sword came from 'Hebi no Tsurugi' ('hebi' for 'serpent' and 'tsurugi' for 'sword), with 'kusa' (grass) referring to 'smell' and 'nagi' referring to 'snake' (see names of 'unagi' (eels)). According to Japanese mythology as well, the sword came from the tail of Yamata no Orochi, a monstrous serpent.
Likewise, this means that within the oral tradition as well, the sword can be considered a "Hebi no Tsurugi.'
In other words, the original meaning of 'Kusanagi no Tsurugi' bears a sinister connotation of 'Jada no Tsurugi' (the sword of an evil serpent), coming from the tail of a monstrous serpent.
In his book, "Shinken-ko" (A Consideration of the Sacred Swords), Masahide TAKASAKI mentions in the chapter 'Kusanagi no Tsurugi' that 'kusa' has the meaning of 'kushi' (串) and 'ki' (奇) which refer to 'holy power' (霊威), and 'nagi' has the meaning of 'nada' which refers to 'serpent.'
He concludes that the name of the sword refers to the sword of a serpent with holy power. The name also relates to 'Kushinada hime' who was nearly sacrificed to Yamata no Orochi. While Kushinada hime was originally the person who enshrined 'Yamata no Orochi', she was considered to be a female who ruled over the Izumo Province.
Various theories on the current location of the sword
Due to the fact that the sword is so extremely valuable to Japanese mythology, its various journeys of being imitated, copied, stolen, lost and sunk in water have all been traced. Consequently, there are various views on where the sword is now kept.
Theory of the sword being kept in Atsuta-jingu Shrine
This theory suggests that the sword has been kept in the most secluded room of Atsuta-jingu Shrine as a 'shintai' (object of worship housed in a Shinto shrine and believed to contain the spirit of a deity). The following description is given in Japanese mythology.
In 668, a monk named Dogyo from Silla (one of the three kingdoms of Korea) attempted to steal the sacred sword kept in Atsuta-jingu Shrine and bring it back to Silla. He failed in the attempt, however, due to a shipwreck, after which the sword was kept in the Imperial Court (see the case on the theft of the 'Kusanagi no Tsurugi'). When Emperor Tenmu fell sick in 688, a rumor was circulated that it was due the curse of the sword. The sword was therefore placed back in the Atsuta-jingu Shrine.
There is a record that a Shinto priest of the Edo period stole a glance at the sword. According to the record, the sword was about eighty-five centimeters in length, similar to the leaf of an iris, white in color and gathered no rust. There is also an anecdote which tells how the priest who stole the glance died due to the curse of the sword. The present-day Japan Broadcasting Corporation attempted to collect information about the controversial sword in Atsuta-jingu Shrine but were not allowed to see it.
(This description came from the program called "Kodai-shi no Nazo ni idomu" (Unveiling mysteries of ancient history))
There is a theory that suggests that although the sacred sword enshrined in Atsuta-jingu Shrine and the Imperial Household (the Yamato Dynasty) were originally unrelated, a mythical description was created in order to tie them together. On the contrary, there are other theories, such as one describing how the Yamato Dynasty gave the sword to the Owari clan in order to win them over and that was how it became the sacred sword.
The theory that the sword was sunk in the Battle of Dan-no-ura
This theory states that Tira no Tokiko drowned herself in the sea while wearing the sacred sword at her side during the Battle of Dan-no-ura and it was never found again.
According to an article on March 24th of the second year of the Genryaku era (May 2, 1185) in the 'Azuma Kagami' (a Japanese medieval history book), "Taira no Tokiko (her Buddhist name was 'Nii no Ama'), who held the sacred sword (Amakumo no Tsurugi), and Azechi, a lady-in-waiting who held boy-Emperor Antoku in her arms, drowned themselves together in the sea." In an article from after the battle dated April 11th of the same year (May 19, 1185), after a report on the number of Heishi soldiers killed and number of prisoners taken, it is recorded, "The 'naishidokoro' ('Yata no Kagami' - the eight-span mirror; one of the three Imperial regalia) and the 'shinji' ('Yasakani no magatama' - the grand jewel; one of the three Imperial regalia) were found, but the sacred sword (Amakumo no Tsurugi) was lost." This is one theory that has been passed on through the ages.
There is a theory that the sword held by Taira no Tokiko at the time she drowned was a replica that was originally used in the Imperial Court. This theory was also adopted in 'Heike Monogatari - Tsurugi no maki' (Tales of the Heike Family - Volume on the sword).
The theory that the sword is kept in the Imperial Court
This theory argues that the sword used in the ceremony of the Imperial Court is the actual sword.
Another theory is that the name of the sword came from the name of present-day 'Murakumo Town' in Showa Ward, Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture.