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Jewels, Mirror, Sword
The three Imperial Regalia are one of the oldest stories of Japan: they are a myth, a legend and a reality at once. They are the three treasures of Japan, consisting of the sword Kusanagi, the yatakagami mirror and the yasaka jewels.
The regalia are closely tied to the Japanese Shinto belief in kami. While the word kami is often translated into English as god or spirit, perhaps it is closer to a localized spiritual force, of either natural or human origin. Kami were generally thought to have limited powers within their specific realm, where physical (a region) or spiritual (for example, a human activity such as war). Certain kami would serve as the protectors for family groups or lineages, other as protectors for a village or region, while some (like the Inari rice kami) were worshipped nationwide. The kami manifested themselves in shintai (literally, kami body), which could be natural objects such as rocks, trees, mountains or waterfalls, or manmade items like mirrors or jewels.
The necklace is the most obvious shintai of the three regalia, and is passed directly from Amaterasu to each successive head of the Imperial line. The jewels within it (tama) represented the soul or Amaterasu herself, and enabled her to enter the body of the possessor and make him a "living god" in full communion with her. While the mirror was enshrined at the Grand Shrine in Ise, and the sword in Atsuta Shrine, the necklace was kept in the direct possession of the Emperor.
According to legend, their origins are quite different.
The sword was discovered by Susanowo, the impetuous Storm God and younger brother of Amaterasu. The story goes that once Susanowo was traveling near the headwaters of the River Hi, in Izumo province. He heard weeping, and when he went to discover the cause he found an old couple weeping over a beautiful girl, their daughter. He inquired the cause, and they said that they had once had eight beautiful daughters, and each year an eight-headed serpent came and ate one of them. The last daughter was finally to be eaten, and they grieved. Susanowo asked if he might marry the girl if he saved here, and they agreed. He directed them to brew strong sake (rice wine), and make eight large wooden tubs, each filled with sake. When the serpent appeared, with eight heads and eight tails, and large enough that it had trees growing on its back, it found the sake, and drank it all, one tub per head. After it fell asleep, Susanowo drew his 10-hand long sword and chopped it into pieces. As he was cutting the tail, his own sword was notched, so he split open the tail and found kusanagi-no-tsurugi (grass-cutter).
Note on grass-cutter: In a bronze-age culture, metal tools and cutting edges are still relatively soft. While a sword cuts better than a wooden implement, certainly, it is still not as sharp or as durable as iron or steel. For a sword to be able to cut through grass easily, slicing through the stalks cleanly instead of merely toppling them, it would have to be unusually sharp - hence the name, "grass-cutter."
The other two treasures, the jewels and the mirror, were created slightly later by the gods.
Susanowo was quite a trouble-maker, and seemed to be especially talented at infuriating Amaterasu. After one remarkably bad sequence of trouble-making, including flaying a colt and flinging it into her hall, she became so infuriated that she left the palace, fleeing to the Rock-cave of heaven, and shutting the door behind her. The other gods, naturally, were grieved, and decided at once to entice her out with merrymaking and beautiful things. Along with food and drink, and sacred plants in her honor, they also had an eight-hand bronze mirror made, and a string of beautiful Yasaka curved jewels. They sang in her honor, and when she opened the door to see why, she was delighted by all the beautiful things, and stepped out. The other gods pulled her out of the cave, bringing the light of the sun back once again to the earth. The mirror and the jewels have remained sacred treasures of the Imperial family ever since, joining the sword to form the Imperial Regalia.
Note on jewels: These are the curved, teardrop-shaped jewels often called "magatama" in Japanese. Large numbers have been found in mounds and elsewhere, made of materials including chalcedony, jasper, nephrite, chrysophrase, serpentine, steatite, and crystal, a number of which are not found in Japan. Again, photos or at least drawings are essential.
The Imperial Regalia remained the property of the Imperial line ever since, although in different ways. The mirror and jewels are worshipped even today. The sword Kusanagi, however, was carried into the ocean at the Battle of Shimonoseki by the Emperor Antoku, the last emperor of the Taira, at the end of the Gempei War. The new emperor, supported by the victorious Minamoto, was forced to make do with only the mirror and jewels.
Note: Eight-hand could also mean it acts as a portal between eight planes of existence (Wakeworld, DL, JapanDL, anything else?)
Mirror [Nihongi, Aston, Tuttle; p83]
The mirror is known as an "8-handed mirror" which may mean the size (8 hands across), or merely that it is octagonal as opposed to being circular, like most bronze mirrors of the period. But the Nihongi also states [p83] "Amaterasu took in her hand the precious mirror, and gave it to her child, saying 'My child, when though lookest upon this mirror, let it be as if thou wert looking on me. Let it be with thee on thy couch and in thy hall, and let it be to thee a holy mirror' "
In other words, it seems to be a window for Amaterasu to see what is happening in Wakeworld from Dreamlands, if not an actual portal to transfer through. And since the Emperors even today spend a night locked away for communion with Amaterasu, to assume the "godhood", it seems pretty clear that she can reach through it into their heads somehow.
So maybe it isn't a shield as I first suggested. If it is only a gateway (mental, physical or both), then is it needed for her Grand Magic? Or is it merely a tool to be used along the way?
This is essentially a direct quote from "Japan: Prehistory to Modern Times" by John Whitney Hall, Dell paperback, page 33:
The regalia are closely tied to the Japanese Shinto belief in kami. While the word kami is often translated into English as god or spirit, perhaps it is closer to a localized spiritual force, of either natural or human origin. Kami were generally thought to have limited powers within their specific realm, where physical (a region) or spiritual (for example, a human activity such as war). Certain kami would serve as the protectors for family groups or lineages, other as protectors for a village or region, while some (like the Inari rice kami) were worshipped nationwide. The kami manifested themselves in shintai (literally, kami body), which could be natural objects such as rocks, trees, mountains or waterfalls, or manmade items like mirrors or jewels. The necklace is the most obvious shintai of the three regalia, and is passed directly from Amaterasu to each successive head of the Imperial line. The jewels within it (tama) represented the soul or Amaterasu herself, and enabled her to enter the body of the possessor and make him a "living god" in full communion with her. While the mirror was enshrined at the Grand Shrine in Ise, and the sword in Atsuta Shrine, the necklace was kept in the direct possession of the Emperor.
Additional information from Holtom's "Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies"
The Imperial Regalia, generally called the "sanshu no shinki" and more properly the "mikusa no kandakara," consist of the Yata Mirror, the Yasakani Curved Jewels and the Kusanagi Sword. They are said to have been first used in the Enthronement Ceremonies for the Emperor Jimmu, in 660 BC, according to the ancient Japanese histories.
Originally, they are said to have been presented to the grandson of Amaterasu, named Ninigi-ni-Mikoto, with instructions to conquer and rule the "Reed Plains" (Japan), which was promised to him and his descendents.
The mirror is made of "hakudo" (literally, white copper), which is actually an alloy of copper and tin with traces of lead. The name "yata" means eight-sided, and it is about ten sun (or one foot) in diameter, according to Japanese expert Kenji Takahashi, in his book "Kagami to Tsurugi to Tama" (The Mirror, The Sword and The Jewels."
Amaterasu was able to project her soul out of her body and make it available to her descendents as a protecting genius, according to Holtom. The Take of the Heike states that the mirror was given to the Imperial family "so that the reflection of Amaterasu's features might be preserved therein, and when her descendents look upon them they might see as it were herself." At Ise Shrine in modern-day Japan, Amaterasu is believed to enter the Yata Mirror when summoned by the proper rites. The Mirror is not merely the symbol of the sun, but in fact a vehicle to carry the soul of the sun.
This also ties in with a belief common to many cultures, that the mirror is capable of revealing the true nature of any man or demon, regardless of outward appearance.
Replicas of the Imperial Regalia were made at the command of the Emperor Sujin (97 to 30 BC, according to Japanese chronicles), and henceforth functioned in the same way as the real items. At a later point in history, when the Mirror is buried in the ground by the Imperial Princess Takuhata, the Virgin Priestess of Ise Shrine, it revealed its presence by a bright rainbow that appeared above its place of concealment. At the battle of Dan-no-Ura, when the Taira fell to the Minamoto forces at the end of the Gempei War, Minamoto soldiers attempted to peep into the chest holding the replica mirror, and "were overpowered by a dazzling light and driven made" (Tale of Heike).
The mirror has been enshrined in the Holy of Holies of the Dai Jungu of Ise as the most sacred material object in all Japan, since 29 BC. The replica, kept in the "kenji no ma" (room of mirror and sword) in the Imperial Palace together with the replica of the sword, was slightly damaged in fires in 960 AD and 1005 AD, and almost entirely destroyed in another in 1040 AD. In spite of only a portion of it being left, it has never been replaced or repaired, being too sacred to manipulate.
The Jewels are crescent-shaped, and represent the phases of the moon. They played an important part in luring Amaterasu back out of her cave in the ancient myths. The moon jewels are also an important myth in the form of the jewels of the ebbing and flowing tide, mentioned elsewhere. All these jewels are the same shape, and are called "magatama" (literally, bent jewels). The proper name Yasakani would translate as something like "Ever-bright multitudinous curved jewels."
At Dannoura the young Emperor Antoku leapt into the sea with both the jewels and the sword, but the jewels, in a wooden casket, floated back to the surface and were recovered. The sword was lost forever, and the replica is used today.
In 1443, under the leadership of Kusunoki Masahide, the southern branch of the court stole the sword and the jewels, and narrowly missed stealing the mirror. The sword was recovered promptly, but Kusunoki fled to the Mt. Hiei along with Imperial Prince Takahide. Both were pursued and killed, and the jewels passed to members of the Kusunoki family at Yoshino, which served as guardians for two other Imperial princes. These two princes, Kitayama-no-Miya and Tadayoshi-o, were regarded as being in de jure possession of the jewels. They were later handed over to Imperial Prince Takamasa at Yoshino, and when Takamasa was assassinated in 1458 finally returned to the legitimate Emperor Gohanazono. They never left the possession of the Imperial family again.