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Naruhito, standing on a dais, inherits the imperial regalia.[Pool/Kyodo via AP]
Japanese Emperor Naruhito formally took up his post on Wednesday a day after the abdication of his father, pledging to work as a symbol of the nation and the unity of its people.
The ceremony that formalised Naruhito’s ascension involved the new emperor taking possession of Japan’s imperial regalia: three Sanshu no Jingi or Sacred Treasures shrouded in secrecy.
The Kusanagi sword and the Yasakani no Magatama jewel were presented to Naruhito, encased in wooden boxes, by the imperial household’s most senior chamberlains. The third treasure, the Yata no Kagami mirror, remains at the Ise Grand Shrine, the most important sanctuary of the Shinto religion, in Mie Prefecture.
Together, these three items represent the valour, wisdom and benevolence that the emperor displays towards his people. No one other than the emperor and the most senior priests of the Shinto religion have ever seen them.
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According to myth, the regalia has been part of the enthronement ceremony for a new emperor since the year 690 but previously belonged to Amaterasu, the legendary sun goddess. Amaterasu was forced to hide in a cave from her brother, Susanoo, the powerful god of storms, extinguishing the light.
Amaterasu was only lured from her hiding place when another god, Ame-no-Uzume, hung the mirror and jewel outside the cave and Amaterasu was attracted by her own reflection.
A repentant Susanoo later gave his sister the Kusanagi sword – which had been used to kill an eight-headed serpent – as a sign of his remorse.
The three items were later brought to Earth by Ninigi-no-Mikito, the grandson of Amaterasu, who was sent to pacify Japan.
While the origins may remain largely obscure, the locations of the sword, mirror and jewel are easier to trace with a greater degree of historical certainty in the past 1,000 years or so.
The regalia were in the hands of the powerful Taira clan at the conclusion of the Genpei War in 1185 but were reportedly thrown into the ocean when the Taira clashed with the Minamoto clan in a naval battle in the Kanmon Straits.
The mirror was recovered – although legend has it the soldier who discovered it was less fortunate: he was struck blind by the contents. The jewel was recovered a short while later but the sword was lost.
Accounts suggest a replica sword was quickly forged as a replacement, while other tales suggested supernatural forces returned the weapon to land.
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The regalia has been closely guarded and used in enthronements ever since, with Emperor Hirohito underlining their importance to the imperial family and the nation as the second world war drew to a bitter close for Japan.
In late July 1945, just days before the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Emperor Hirohito ordered the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal of Japan to protect the regalia “at all costs”.
By Julian RyallSource: South China Morning Post