Imperial Regalia of Japan

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Conjectural images of the Imperial Regalia of Japan.

The Imperial Regalia of Japan (三種の神器, Sanshu no Jingi/Mikusa no Kamudakara), also known as the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, consist of the sword Kusanagi (草薙劍), the mirror Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡), and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊勾玉). The regalia represent the three primary virtues: valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror), and benevolence (the jewel).[1]

Due to the legendary status of these items, their locations are not confirmed, but it is commonly thought that the sword is located at the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, the jewel is located at the Three Palace Sanctuaries in Kōkyo (the Imperial Palace in Tokyo), and the mirror is located at the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture.[2]


Since 690, the presentation of these items to the Emperor by the priests at the shrine has been a central element of the enthronement ceremony. This ceremony is not public, and these items are by tradition seen only by the Emperor and certain priests. Because of this, no known photographs or drawings exist. Two of the three treasures (the jewel and the sword, as well as the Privy Seal and State Seal) were last seen during the accession and enthronement of Emperor Akihito in 1989 and 1993, but were shrouded in packages.

According to legend, these treasures were brought to earth by Ninigi-no-Mikoto, legendary ancestor of the Japanese imperial line, when his grandmother, the sun goddess Amaterasu, sent him to pacify Japan. These treasures were eventually said to be passed down to Emperor Jimmu, who was the first Emperor of Japan and was also Ninigi's great-grandson. Traditionally, they were a symbol of the emperor's divinity as a descendant of Amaterasu, confirming his legitimacy as paramount ruler of Japan. When Amaterasu hid in a cave from her brother Susanoo-no-Mikoto, thus plunging the world in darkness, the goddess Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto hung the mirror and jewels outside the cave and lured her out of the cave, at which point she saw her own reflection and was startled enough that the gods could pull her out of the cave. Susanoo later presented the sword Kusanagi to Amaterasu as a token of apology; he had obtained it from the body of an eight-headed serpent, Yamata no Orochi.

At the conclusion of the Genpei War in 1185, the eight year-old Emperor Antoku and the Regalia were under the control of the Taira clan. They were present when the Taira were defeated by the rival Minamoto clan at the Battle of Dan-no-ura, which was fought on boats in the shallow Kanmon Straits. The child-emperor's grandmother threw herself, the boy, the sword and the jewel into the sea to avoid capture. The mirror was recovered, but according to the main account of the battle, a Minamato soldier who tried to force open the box containing it was struck blind. The jewel was recovered shortly afterwards by divers, but the sword was lost.[3] There are a number of medieval texts relating to the loss of the sword, which variously contended that a replica was forged afterwards, or that the lost sword itself was a replica or the sword was returned to land by supernatural forces.[4]

The possession by the Southern Dynasty of the Imperial Regalia during the Nanboku-chō period in the 14th century has led modern chroniclers to define it as the legitimate dynasty for purposes of regnal names and genealogy.

The importance of the Imperial Regalia to Japan is also evident from the declarations made by Emperor Hirohito to Kōichi Kido on 25 and 31 July 1945 at the end of World War II, when he ordered the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal of Japan to protect them "at all costs".[5]

Other interpretations[edit]

The Regalia can also be interpreted as the mirror representing the sun; the jewel, the moon; and the sword, the stars.[6]

Cultural references[edit]

The phrase Three Sacred Treasures (三種の神器) has been used to describe the durable goods that define the modern culture of Japan.

During a policy address in 2003, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that during the mid-1950s and mid-1960s, the Three Sacred Treasures for durable goods were the washing machine, refrigerator, and the black and white television. From the mid-1960s to the mid 1970s, the Three Sacred Treasures were the automobile, air conditioner, and color television set.[7]

In 2017, a news article by Jiji Press named the new Three Sacred Treasures as robotic vacuum cleaner, washing machine, and dishwasher.[8]

Alvin and Heidi Toffler's Powershift use them to symbolize the three kinds of power they distinguish: force (sword), wealth (jewel) and knowledge (mirror).[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ミニ講話 宮司のいい話 (in Japanese).
  2. ^ Sansom, George (1961). A History of Japan 1334–1615. Stanford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 0804705259.
  3. ^ Turnbull, Stephen (2006) Samurai: The World of the Warrior, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978-1841769516 (pp. 33-38)
  4. ^ Selinger, Vyjayanthi R. (2013) Authorizing the Shogunate: Ritual and Material Symbolism in the Literary Construction of Warrior Order, Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 978-9004248106 (pp. 114-118)
  5. ^ Kido Koichi nikii, Tokyo, Daigaku Shuppankai, 1966, pp.1120–21.
  6. ^ Sources of Japanese tradition: From earliest times to 1600, Introduction to Asian civilizations, volume 1, page 362, William Theodore De Bary, Yoshiko Kurata Dykstra, Columbia University Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-231-12139-2.
  7. ^ "General Policy Speech by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the 156th Session of the Diet". Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet. 31 January 2003. Retrieved 5 September 2017. (Structural Reform in Lifestyle) From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, washing machines, refrigerators and black and white televisions were called the "three sacred treasures" that symbolized the new lifestyle; from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s they were automobiles, air conditioners and color televisions.
  8. ^ "働きに「時短家電」=ロボ掃除機が三種の神器". Yahoo Japan (in Japanese). Jiji Press. 27 August 2017. Archived from the original on 28 August 2017. Retrieved 27 August 2017. ロボット掃除機、全自動洗濯乾燥機、食器洗い機が共働き家庭などで「新三種の神器」と呼ばれている。(Robotic vacuum cleaners, fully automatic washing and drying machines, and dishwashers are working together and are called the 'new three sacred treasures' at home.)
  9. ^ Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century (1990), Bantam Books, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, ISBN 0-553-29215-3.