Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Imperial Regalia: Sanshu no Jingi 三種の神器

(This post comes to us from Jessica. Check out the art below. Thank you Jessica!)

The Japanese “Three Imperial Regalia” are objects symbolic of the Japanese Imperial line’s descent from Amaterasu and the first emperor who came down from Heaven, thereby giving the emperor his justification. The three objects are thought to be housed separately in the three Imperial jingu or Shinto shrines, but they are kept out of the view of the public as they are arguably the most important objects of the Shinto tradition and are seen only by the Imperial family. These three shrines are “Ise Jingu in Mie prefecture, Atsuta Jingu in Nagoya, and Meiji Jingu in Tokyo.” ( In the twentieth century, the term sanshu no jingi is comically used to refer to the three most important comforts of modern life as they apply “such as the refrigerator, washing machine and vacuum cleaner in the 1950's, or the color televsion, car and cooler (three "C's") in the 1970's” ( The three sacred objects are considered symbolic of the Imperial line’s knowledge, courage, and mercy ( Without these three virtues, symbolized by the actual possession of the objects by each Imperial heir, the emperor is not considered worthy.

The "yasakani no magatama" is a necklace of jade beads which was given to Amaterasu by her father, Izanagi after she is born of his self-purification after his visit to Yomi. The term
magatama means “curved jewel or soul,” indicating that Izanagi gave to Amaterasu all of himself. Since the Imperial family is descendent from Amaterasu and the magatama beads are transmitted through the lineage, the Emperor holds in his possession the soul of Izanagi, the creator, giving him the right to rule. Eventually, the beads are also used by the gods in luring Amaterasu out of her hiding. “Amaterasu finally gave the sacred jewel together with the mirror and sword to her grandson Ningi no Mikoto, when she sent him down to earth. He again handed the three regalia to his grandson Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan” (

Amaterasu, the Sun goddess, hid herself away from the world in a cave, depriving the world of its light because she was afraid of death at the hands of her brother, also a noble child of Izanagi, Susa-no-wo. In order to lure her out of her cave and to reintroduce her life-giving light to the world, the other gods pretended to have a celebration of sorts outside her cave. When she heard the noise outside, Amaterasu was curious and asked what was going on. The gods replied that they had found a goddess greater than herself and that celebrations were being prepared. In shock and curiosity, Amaterasu opened the door of her cave a crack and looked out, whereupon the other gods held up the "yata no kagami" mirror to her and showed her her own reflected image, drawing her out of the cave and tricking her so that she couldn’t re-enter; thus the mirror holds the promise of light in the world.

The "kusanagi no tsurugi" sword was discovered by Susa-no-wo in the tail of the eight-headed dragon he had slain. An old couple was frightened of the dragon who had eaten all but one of their daughters and was coming back for her. Susa-no-wo, on a mission of redemption after his terrible behavior toward his sister, Amaterasu, and his punishment by the other gods, tricks the dragon by getting each of its heads drunk and then slaying it in its slumber. Subsequently, Susa-no-wo finds in its tail a magnificent sword which he gifts to his sister and reconciles with her.


~guest blogger, Jessica Tatlow