Sanshu no Jingi or Mikusa no Kamudakara (The Three Sacred Treasures of the Imperial Family) (三種の神器)
The Three Sacred Treasures of the Imperial Family refer to a mirror, a sword and a jewel that are believed to have been granted by Amaterasu Omikami (also known as Tensho daijin or the 'Sun Goddess') to her grandson Ninigi during 'Tensonkorin' when he descended from heaven to rule over the country. These three treasures have been handed down by the emperors of Japan.
The term Jingi (sacred treasures) means "yorishiro of the gods" (objects representative of a divine spirit).
Possession of the mirror, the sword replica and the jewel is a recognized symbol, demonstrating authentic succession to the imperial throne by the emperor. However, A number of emperors, such as Emperor Gotoba ascended the throne without the three sacred treasures. Thus, they are not necessarily essential for enthronement.
The Three Treasures refer to the 'Yata no Kagami' (the eight-span mirror), the 'Yasakani no magatama' (a comma-shaped jewel), and the 'Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi' ('Kusanagi no tsurugi') (the sacred sword). It is said that the term 'Jingi' became common around the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan).
According to the "Kojiki" (Records of Ancient Matters), Amaterasu Omikami (the Sun Goddess) granted the Yasaka no Magatama (the sacred jewel), the mirror and the Kusanagi no Tsurugi (another name for the Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi) to Hikoho no Ninigi no mikoto. In the main text of "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), there is no article describing this grant of the Three Sacred Treasures. In the first "alternate writing" of the Nihonshoki, it describes that the Mikusa no Takara (the Three Treasures)--the Yasakani no magatama (the sacred jewel), the Yata no Kagami (the eight-span mirror) and the Kusanagi no Tsurugi--were granted by Amaterasu Omikami, namely Amatsuhiko hikoho no ninigi no mikoto.
A combination of the three items--a mirror, a sword, and a jewel--was not unique only to the Imperial family but regarded as symbols common to all rulers. When Emperor Chuai made an expedition to conquer the Kumaso (a tribe living in the ancient Kyushu district) led by the Oka no Agatanushi (ruler of the Tsukushi area) and Itote led by the Ito no Agatanushi (ruler of the Ito area), these leaders showed their allegiance by offering their Maso kagami (bronze mirror), Yasakani no magatama (comma-shaped jewel) and Totsuka no Tsurugi Sword. Princess Kamunatsuso of the Suo Province's saba (land under direct control of the emperor) that showed allegiance to Emperor Keiko, also offered a Yatsuka no Tsurugi (Yatsuka Sword), Yata no Kagami (mirror) and Yasakani (jewel). In the Harunotsuji Ruins in Iki City, a combination of the oldest mirror, sword and jewel were excavated.
Today, the Yata no Kagami (mirror) is dedicated to the Kotai-jingu Shrine of Ise Jingu Shrine, and the Murakumo no Tsurugi Sword is dedicated to the Atsuta-jingu Shrine as a shintai (object of worship housed in a Shinto shrine and believed to contain the spirit of a deity). The Yasakani no magatama (jewel) is stored in the residence of the Imperial Palace.
In addition, it is believed that replicas of the Yata no Kagami (mirror) and the Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi (sword) are in the Imperial Palace. The replica of the Yata no Kagami (mirror) is believed to be in the Kashikodokoro (a palace sanctuary) of the Three Shrines of the Imperial Court, and the replica of the Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi (sword) is in the Kenji no Ma (hall of the sacred sword and jewels) along with the Yasakani no magatama (jewel).
After the introduction of Confucianism to Japan, some have interpreted the Three Sacred Treasures as representations of santoku (the three primary virtues): the mirror representing "wisdom," the jewel representing "benevolence," and the sword representing "valor."
The way of referring to these three items as "Sanshu no Jingi" (Three Sacred Treasures of the Imperial Family) is found in books such as "The Tale of the Heike" and "Jinno Shotoki" (A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns). The "Jinno Shotoki" also names these items "Sanshuno Shinbo" and "Mikusa no Kamudakara."
The legend behind each of the Jingi (the Three Sacred Treasures)
The legends described in the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki say that Amaterasu Omikami (the Sun Goddess) granted the 'Sanshu no Jingi' (three sacred objects) to her grandson Ninigi as yorishiro (objects representative of a divine spirit) during 'Tensonkorin' where he descended to earth in order to rule over the country.
Yata no Kagami (mirror)
Refer to the section on Yata no Kagami for details.
According to Japanese mythology, the mirror was created by the god named Ishikoridome during the event of Iwato-gakure (literally "hiding in Iwato) in which Amaterasu Omikami hid herself in the Ama no Iwato (literally "the cave of the sun god" or "heavenly rock cave"). When Amaterasu made a small opening in the rock, the mirror reflected her face, drawing her attention and successfully making her come out of the cave, thus bringing light back to the world. It is said that Amaterasu Omikami later granted the mirror to her grandson Ninigi-no-mikoto. Currently the mirror is an offering at the Kotai Jingu Shrine of Ise Jingu Shrine.
Yasakani no magatama (jewel)
Refer to the section on Yasakani no magatama for details.
Yasakani no magatama '八尺瓊勾玉' is also sometimes written as '八坂瓊曲玉.'
The magatama was made in the shape of a large bead. It has been suggested that the magatama is connected to a strap with a length of eight saka ('saka' is a unit of measurement that was used in ancient times; eight aka is about 1.4 meters long). The jewel was created by the god Tama-no-oya-no-Mikoto and hung on a sakaki tree (a species of evergreen sacred to Shinto) along with the Yata no Kagami (mirror) when Amaterasu hid in the Ama no Iwato (cave of the sun god).
Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi (sword)
Refer to the section on Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi Sword for details.
The sword is also called Kusanagi no Tsurugi. According to the 'Kojiki,' the 'Nihonshoki' and Japanese mythology ('Kiki-shinwa' for short), it is said that the sword came out of the tail of a giant, eight-headed snake (Yamata-no-Orochi) that was killed by the god Susanoo and it was then that it was named Tsumukari no Tachi (Tsumukari Sword) (a sword having great power). According to the Izumo no kuni fudoki (topography of Izumo Province), Orochi (the eight forked great serpent) was vanquished in Mori-go, Ou-gun, Izumo Province (now Yasugi City, Shimane Prefecture). It is believed that the sword was offered by Susanoo no mikoto to Amaterasu Omikami and then handed down to the Imperial family along with the Yata no Kagami (mirror) as shintai (objects of worship housed in a Shinto shrine and believed to contain the spirit of a deity) of Amaterasu. There are some who suggest that the blacksmith god Ame-no-mahitotsu no mikoto made the sword.
Although it was once enshrined in the Imperial Palace as the shintai of Amaterasu Omikami, during the reign of Emperor Sujin (reported 148 B.C.-30 B.C.), the sword was enshrined outside of the Imperial Palace along with the Yata no Kagami (mirror) by order of Princess Toyosukiirihime no mikoto. It took a total of sixty years before it was handed down to Yamatohime no mikoto, a princess of Emperor Suinin (reported 69B.C. to 70B.C.) and finally enshrined in the current Kotai-jingu Shrine (Naiku) of Ise Jingu Shrine. Princess Yamatohime no mikoto later handed it to Yamato Takeru no mikoto, who set off for the east to suppress barbarian tribes. It has been suggested that because Yamato Takeru used the sword at that time to cut down grass in order to escape from an attack of burning fields, the sword was given the name Kusanagi no Tsurugi (literally "grass-mowing sword"). A more convincing theory, however, is that "kusa" stands for "smell" (or "having the aura of"), and "nagi" stands for "snake," therefore the original meaning is "the sword of a snake." After Yamato Takeru no mikoto died of illness, the sword was dedicated to Atsuta-jingu Shrine.
At what point did they start having the ritual of presenting the Three Sacred Treasures (Jingi) to the Emperor during the enthronement ceremony?
No description is found in "Kojiki" regarding sacred treasures (Jingi) or the equivalent hoken (treasured sword) for enthronement. The following can be see in the "Nihon Shoki" ("Chronicles of Japan").
An article from December of the first year of Emperor Ingyo states, 'At this moment, the crowd of retainers felt great happiness, immediately presenting the Emperor's treasures and admiring them.'
An article from December of Emperor Seinei states, 'The Omuraji (the highest administrator of the ancient Japanese Imperial Court) OTOMO no Muroya led the Omi (retainers with one of the two highest hereditary titles), the Muraji (retainers with one of the two highest hereditary titles) etc., and presented the treasures to the Imperial prince.'
An article from December of Emperor Kenzo states, 'The vassals met with the Emperor.'
Imperial Prince Oke took the sacred treasures and placed them on the emperor's throne.'
An article from December of Emperor Senka states, 'The vassals presented the sword and the mirror to Takeohirokuni Oshitate no mikoto which immediately made him an emperor.'
An article from November of Emperor Suiko states, 'Many vassals went out to ask for donations for a temple. 三に至りて乃ち従ひたまふ.'
As such, they are presented the sacred treasures of the emperor.'
An article from January of the first year of Emperor Jomei states, 'Ministers and vassals presented the sacred treasures to Imperial Prince Tamura.'
The following are descriptions that are not on the enthronement ceremony but are related articles.
An article from June of Emperor Kotoku states, 'Princess Ametoyotakaraikashihitarashihime was presented with the sacred treasures and conferred an empress.'
The feudal items are vaguely defined as "emperor's seal" '璽' (read as "ji"), "imperial seal" '璽符' (read as "jifu"), and "imperial seal" '璽印' (read as "inji"). The Keitai section and the Senka section are the only two sections that specifically define the items as a mirror and a sword. This raises the question about whether or not the treasures might be of different origins.
In 690 when Empress Jito ascended the throne, the Inbe clan as retainers presented two forms of treasure: a sword and a mirror.
An article from January of the fourth year of Empress Jito (690) in the "Nihon Shoki" states, 'MONONOBE no Maro Ason held up the large shield; NAKATOMI no Oshima no Ason, who was Jinginokami, read the Shinto prayers; afterwards INBE no Sukune no Shikobuchi presented the sacred treasures of the sword and the mirror to the Imperial princess and she was conferred an empress.'
The magatama was added to the treasures when the Nakatomi clan claimed there were three kinds.
The following is based on the theory that the Jingi were in the Imperial Court. There is no record of any of the Jingi being carried away from Ise Jingu Shrine.
In the naval battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185 between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan, it is said that the Kusanagi no Tsurugi (sword) sank into the sea with Emperor Antoku in Akamagaseki (Kanmon-kaikyo Strait). Also during this time, despite the absence of the Three Sacred Treasures, Emperor Gotoba ascended the throne based on the inzen (imperial decree) of the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa.
In 1336, Takauji ASHIKAGA defected from the Kenmu Restoration of Emperor Godaigo and established the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in Kyoto by putting Emperor Komyo on the throne of the Northern Court (Japan). However, Emperor Godaigo claimed that the Jingi he had given to the Northern Court was a fake, that he had the legitimate right to succeed the Imperial throne and established the Sourthern Court (Japan) in Yoshino (Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture). These events led to the beginning of the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan). After the Shohei Itto (temporary unification of the Northern and Southern Courts), when the Southern Court temporarily recaptured Kyoto and kidnapped three retired emperors of the Northern Court, they also confiscated the Jingi. As a result, Emperors of the Northern Court, including Emperor Kogen, ascended the throne without the Jingi following a precedent of Emperor Gotoba. In "Kitabatake Chikafusa no Jinno Shotoki" (Chikafusa KITABAKAKE's Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns), Chikafusa KITABAKE of the Southern Court emphasized the importance of the blood line, virtue and the Jingi as conditions for a monarch. The Jingi are not necessarily essential for enthronement, however, as there was the precedent of Emperor Gotoba ascending to the throne under the inzen (decree from the retired Emperor) of the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa.
In 1392, the Jingi retained by the Southern Court were handed from Emperor Gokameyama of the Southern Court to the Emperor Gokomatsu of the Northern Court when the Northern and Southern Courts joined through the mediation of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA.
In 1443, the "Conspiracy of Kinketsu" occurred in which surviving retainers of the Southern Court forced their way into the Gosho (Imperial Palace) to steal the Jingi. The magatama was kept under the control of Gonancho (Second Southern Court) but reportedly recovered before 1458.
In the Meiji Period, a dispute called 'Nanbokucho-Seijunron' occurred where both the Northern and Southern dynasties argued over the legitimacy of the imperial line. In the end, Emperor Meiji determined that the Southern Court held legitimacy on the grounds that they owned the three sacred imperial treasures.
On January 7, 1989, Emperor Akihito inherited the Jingi in the "Inheritance Ceremony of Kenji and others" that was held in the Matsu no Ma (State Room) of the Imperial Palace.
Controversy over the existence or disappearance of the treasures
There are various opinions over the existence or disappearance of the Jingi. Whatever happened, the importance of the three sacred imperial treasures may lie in "the belief that the imperial family own them." In other words, what is important is not whether "the Imperial family owns the three sacred imperial treasures," but that the three sacred imperial treasures are "what the Imperial family owns."
In the first place, what are actually used in the ceremony are 'katashiro' (incarnations or replicas). It is said that even the emperor, the head priest of the Ise Shrine, is not allowed to see the real objects. This means that there is no way of determining whether the real objects are present or not.
It is said that the Yata no Kagami (mirror) dedicated to Ise Jingu Shine as a shintai (object of worship housed in a Shinto shrine and believed to contain the spirit of a deity) is the mirror that has existed since ancient times. The mirror is enshrined in a container called a mihishiro. After a prescribed number of years in a ceremony called 'Shikinen Sengu', at night, a shintai is covered with a white cloth to keep it from being seen and transferred to a new Honden (main shrine) by forming a procession.
(One theory suggests that the Yata no Kagami in Ise is destroyed during every Shikinen Sengu and replaced by a new one, but it is not known where this theory comes from.)
The mirror shintai is enshrined in Kashikodokoro in the Imperial Palace as a katashiro (replica) of the Yata no Kagami, but there is a record that it was once burnt in a fire. In the Kashikodokoro in the Imperial Palace, there are mihishiro (containers) for two pieces of shintai, one of which is a newly made mihishiro that contains the remains of an item burnt in a fire. The other contains a substitute mirror that was prepared after the fire. These were collected after the Battle of Dan-no-ura between the Minamoto and Taira clans.
The Ama no Murakumo no Tsurugi (sword) enshrined in the Atsuta-jingu Shrine is believed to be the sword that has existed since ancient times. However, one theory suggests that among the three sacred treasures, the sword does not exist because it had sunk into the sea with the fall of the Heike family (the Taira clan).
During the Battle of Dan-no-ura, the divine sword sunk in the sea along with Nii no Ama when he committed suicide by drowning while holding Emperor Antoku and wearing the sword on his side. However, this was not the real sword, but a katashiro (replica). Later on another sword as a katashiro was selected among swords stored in the sacred warehouse of the Ise Jingu Shrine and has existed since ancient times.
In the Battle of Dan-no-ura between the Minamoto clan and Taira clan, the magatama (jewel) sunk in the sea with Emperor Antoku when Nii no Ama, who held the emperor and the box containing the magatama, committed suicide by drowning. The magatama rose to the surface in its box and was collected by soldiers of the Minamoto clan who hastily rowed to the spot after watching them sink in the sea. It is believed that this magatama exists and has been stored in the Imperial Palace since ancient times.