The Imperial Family’s Mysterious Treasure

The Japanese imperial family is the oldest monarchy in the entire world, so it obviously has quite a bit of history and some secrets to boot.

One of the most interesting things about the Imperial Family to me is its Imperial Regalia. The Regalia are a set of priceless, holy artifacts in possession of the Imperial family for over a millennium.

imperial-regalia

What one artists thinks the Imperial Regalia look like.

That’s pretty cool in its own right, but here’s the catch: the Imperial Regalia are so highly guarded that only a handful of people have ever seen them. What’s the big deal?

What Are the Imperial Regalia?

At the most basic level, the Japanese Imperial Regalia aren’t the unusual. Virtually every monarchy in the world has some sort of highly-treasured royal jewel or other valuable regalia.

What sets the Japanese Imperial Regalia aparts is that they’re are steeped in myth. According to legend, the regalia supposedly come from the spiritual mother of Japan, the sun goddess Amaterasu. They include:

  • Sword Known as Kusanagi (草薙), the “grass-cutting sword.” It used to go by the much more awesome name Ame no Murakumo (天叢雲), or “Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven,” but for some reason a lawnmower sounded more appealing.
  • Jewel The “large jewel,” or Yasakani (八尺瓊曲玉), is a distinctly Japanese design. It’s what’s known as a magatama, a comma-shaped bead. It’s also supposedly the only piece of original regalia; the other two are replicas.
  • Mirror The piece of Imperial Regalia with the most boring name, the Yata (八咫), or “Eight Hand Mirror,” makes up for its boring name with a badass backstory. The original mirror is thought to have been destroyed almost 1,000 years ago, but rebuilt from its ashes into the current one.

Each piece of the Imperial Regalia has its own myths attached to them, mostly about people trying to steal them or reveal their secrets dying mysterious deaths.

So where can you go to see the Imperial Regalia? Are they in a museum or something?

The Secrets of the Imperial Family

Here’s where things get interesting. Royal treasures like the regalia aren’t unheard of, but what is strange about the imperial regalia is how closely it’s guarded.

There have never been any drawings made nor photographs taken of the Japanese Imperial Regalia because so few people have seen them. Only a handful of people, including the Emperor and a few high Shinto priests, have ever seen them.

The Imperial Regalia are also almost never in the same place at the same time. The only time they’re ever assembled together is when a new emperor is enthrowned. Otherwise, they’re scattered across the country.

ise-grand-shrine

Photo by o_Ozzzzk

Scattered where? Nobody really knows for sure. Most people speculate that they rest in Shinto holy sites like the Ise Grand and Atsuta shrines, and possibly the Imperial Palace, but it’s impossible to get any sort of confirmation from the select few who have actually seen them.

It’s doubtful that the secrets of the Imperial Regalia will ever be fully unraveled. After all, the Japanese Imperial Family isn’t going away anytime soon, which means that the organization built around the Imperial Regalia is here to stay.

  • Admiral Awesome

    That’s some really cool stuff, I wonder if they’ll ever decide to display the artifacts. I’m sure that would attract a lot of money from the Japanese alone to get a chance to see them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/altgrave Matthew Newman

    cool. coolcoolcool.

  • ルパン三世

    Sounds Like a Lupin the Third TV special in the making.

  • Mescale

    I’ve heard, and this is just something I heard, that The Emperor of Japan is actually a space dinosaur and the royal relics are the star map, power core, and computer of the space ship he used to come to Earth.

    Space dinosaurs live among us! Its true! I won’t be silenced, the truth will be

  • Tora.Silver

    The “Eight Hand Mirror” is a more boring name than “Large Jewel”?

  • http://twitter.com/nelayan_maune Putri ~プテゥリー~

    “…but for some reason a lawnmower sounded more appealing.” <– LOLed hard at that part :D
    Wow, what a timing. I'm playing this game called Miyako, which searching for and collecting the Imperial Regalia are involved in its main plot, and now I'm reading article about those artifacts. I found it interesting that at some point in the game, the imperial family also admitted the 3 regalia currently in their hands were replicas.

  • Tora.Silver

    What’s up with this comment? It’s not like Candlejack is the Japanese em

  • syrup16g

    There is a small shrine in Atsuta that is said to house the sword. However it is alleged that the actual sword (if there ever existed one) was lost at sea during a battle in the Tale of Heike. However this shrine has no security whatsoever, and could be opened by just about anyone if they were determined. There is no way something of such value would be kept in a place that could be opened easily by human hands. They bring the sword out on occasion for an incredibly rare ceremony, however it is completely wrapped in a white cloth for the duration. The priests at the temple will claim that it is actually there. Whether this is the real sword, a replica, or not a sword at all, we will likely never know.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I’m sure that the Imperial Family has more replicas than Saddam Hussein had body doubles

  • DAVIDPD

    The cake is a lie.

  • DAVIDPD

    We Need Professor Layton!!!

  • Mescale

    More cake for me then.

  • Pepper_the_Sgt

    Yeah, the Tale of the Heike is pretty awesome as far as ancient literature goes. I was thinking about that scene, but I couldn’t remember which artifact was lost. The story is based on historical events, but it was pretty embellished for the sake of entertainment, so who knows what happened?

  • syrup16g

    Basically any Monogatari will combine factual with fictional information. There is really no way to know what exactly happened in just about any era of history, but we can get pretty close (at least we think.) Japanese kept excellent records from centuries before this time and much of that information is preserved today. These records, diaries, artifacts and works of art were used to create the monogatari in their time. It’s authorship is unknown and it was written/distributed decades after the actual events. If you are interested in knowing the closest our contemporary history can tell us about this time, you should look up information on the Genpei War as opposed to the Tale of Heike. This is the actual conflict the Tale of Heike was based on. Unfortunately not much of this information is available in English, but there are many diaries and records translated from the classical to contemporary Japanese.

  • Xaromir

    Everyone needs a secret i guess, but i still find it sad that they don’t exhibit them at least occasionally.

  • hinoema

    I wondeer if they don’t display them because pesky historians would be trying to identify them as Paekche- Koguryo.

  • luscher

    wow – this is just like the triforce necklace and talking stones ”… from times long ago …”

  • http://twitter.com/redmaigo Red Maigo

    Ouch!

  • Angela

    Actually, I believe the comma-shaped bead is not a “distinctly Japanese design” but is found in Korea, China and other parts of Asia as well.

  • Meiko

    I’ve had a minor fascination with the Imperial treasures ever since I was a kid when I’d watch Yu Yu Hakusho and play The King of Fighters.

  • http://twitter.com/kima_siksin Kima

    This is so awesome XD Gotta write a story about this!