The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the Three Sacred Treasures, also known as the Imperial Regalia of Japan, which are handed down with the enthronement of a new emperor.
Question: What exactly are the Three Sacred Treasures?
Answer: They are the sacred mirror Yata no Kagami, the sacred sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi and the sacred jewel Yasakani no Magatama. They have been passed down from generation to generation upon succession of the throne. In Japanese mythology, the sun goddess Amaterasu is said to have bestowed them on her grandson Ninigi-no-Mikoto.
Q: So the treasures are important then?
A: They are regarded as proof of the status of the Emperor. There have been battles over the treasures in the past. When the Taira clan was pursued by the Minamoto clan in the late Heian Period (794-1185), members fled from the capital Kyoto along with the Emperor Antoku and the Imperial Regalia. In the Nanboku-cho Period (1336-1392) when there were two Imperial lines, there were repeated battles to capture the regalia.
Q: How are the treasures passed on?
A: When Emperor Akihito was enthroned in January 1989, the sword and jewel were handed down to him by placing them on a platform in front of him in the Matsu-no-Ma (State Room), in a ceremony called "Kenji to Shokei no Gi." The mirror remained in the Kashiko Dokoro, one of the three Palace Sanctuaries at the Imperial Palace, when it was passed on. Because the Three Sacred Treasures have mythological roots, there has been opposition in the Diet to holding the rite as an act of the emperor in matters of state as defined by the Constitution, in light of the principle of separation of religion and state. The government, however, maintained that the ceremony is an asset of a public nature and that it is closely related to the Chrysanthemum Throne, and has thus defined it as an "act in matters of state." It will be held, as before, upon the enthronement of Crown Prince Naruhito as the new emperor.
Q: Are the sword and the jewel normally kept at the Imperial Palace?
A: There is a sword and a jewel in the Kenji-no-Ma (Treasure Room) of the palace where Emperor Akihito lives. However, the mirror and sword in the Imperial Palace are said to be replicas. It is said that the real mirror is kept at Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture, while the original sword is kept at Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya. Both of these are personal assets of the Emperor, but under Article 7 of the Imperial Household Finance Act, they are defined as "time-honored" assets that should be passed on along with the throne, and do not incur inheritance or gift taxes. (Answers by Hiroyuki Takashima, City News Department)