Study notes: Yamato Takeru, Sacred Swords and Atsuta Shrine

According to traditional sources, Yamato Takeru died in the 43rd year of Emperor Keiko’s reign (景行天皇43年).[Ponsonby-Fane, Richard Arthur Brabazon. (1962). Studies in Shinto and Shrines. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. OCLC 3994492] The possessions of the dead prince were gathered together along with the sword Kusanagi; and his widow venerated his memory in a shrine at her home. Sometime later, these relics and the sacred sword were moved to the current location of the Atsuta Shrine.[4] Nihonshoki explains that this move occurred in the 51st year of Keiko’s reign, but shrine tradition also dates this event in the 1st year of Emperor Chūai’s reign


Shrine history according to Atsuta Shrine
“Atsuta Jingu was originally founded about 1900 years ago, when the sacred sword Kusanagi-no-tsurugi, one of the Imperial symbols, was enshrined. Atsuta was chosen as the site for the shrine by Miyasuhime-no-Mikoto, daughter of Owari-no-kuni-no-miyatsuko and wife of the then Prince Yamatotakeru-no-Mikoto, who had died leaving the sword in Hikami.

Ever since Atsuta Jingu has been specially revered by people, ranking second only to the Great Shrine of Ise. The shrine has not only enjoyed special privileges of the high official ranks of Myojintaisha and Chokusaisha, but it has also won popularity among people, who call the shrine by the familiar name of Miya (the Shrine). Moreover, the geographical character of the fertile Owari Plain has fostered a faith in Atsuta Jingu as protector of agriculture. This can be testified by the fact that many of the festivals and divine services show close connection with popular life centering around agricultural industry. Here lies the characteristic feature of this shrine.

Treasure house of Atsuta Shrine:

A large number of swords and daggers were contributed to the shrine, thanks to the legend that the sword named Kusanagi-no-tsurugi, one of the three sacred treasures of the Imperial House has been kept, in it. For that reason, the shrine is called the house of noted swords.

Atsuta Jingu Museum houses about 4,000 articles donated by the people ranging widely in class from the Imperial Family, shoguns (generalissimo) and feudal lords to common persons. Among these materials, especially important are the koshinpoh (sacred garments, furniture and utensils for use of the enshrined deities), the swords, the hang mirrors, the Bugaku (ancient court dance) masks, the ancient documents and the household articles, 174 items of which have been designated or Aichi Prefecture important cultural assets. — Source: Atsuta Shrine website

These treasures are exhibited by turns in the Hall for showing to the public. The articles on display are exchanged every month



An ancient history book comprising 30 scrolls, 15 of which are dedicated to Atsuta-no-Ookami. The postscript says that it was offered in the third year of the Eiwa era (1377). It is well-known as the Atsuta-bon-Nihon-Shoki (Atsuta Copying Book). It was written by hand by many people.

The copy is stored at the Treasure House of Atsuta Shrine at this page URL:


See the Encyclopedia of Shinto entry on Kojiki and Nihon shoki explains the chronology of the various works and the arrangement of mythological cycles and genealogies of the Kojiki, Nihon shoki, Shoku Nihongi, and their relationships with Teiki (Teiō no hitsugi) and Kuji (Honji and Sendai kuji) oral traditions, and the Tennōki and Kokkishaku compiled by Shōtoku Taishi and Soga no Umako, as well as other works of kokugaku.


Atsuta Shrine (source: Japan Guide) is one of Shinto’s most important shrines. It enshrines the Sun Goddess Amaterasu and stores the sacred sword Kusanagi, which is one of the three imperial regalia. Note, however, that the sword is never displayed to the public.

Atsuta Shrine stands in a pleasant, wooded park in southern Nagoya. During the Meiji Period, the shrine was remodeled after the Ise Shrines in the purely Japanese Shinmei-zukuri architecture style.

According to legend, Susanoo presented the sword Kusanagi that he had obtained it from the body of the Orochi eight-headed serpent, to Amaterasu by way of apology. 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. 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, thus plunging the world in darkness, the goddess Ame-no-Uzume 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.

Two of the three treasures that were part of the imperial regalia (the jewel and sword, as well as the emperor’s seal and the state seal) were last seen during the accession and enthronement of Emperor Akihito in 1989 and 1993, but were shrouded in packages.

The sword (or at least an early replica of it) may have remained intact given the importance attached to the imperial regalia evident from the declarations made by Emperor Showa to Koichi 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”(source: Kido Koichi nikii, Tokyo, Daigaku Shuppankai, 1966), pp.1120–21

However, it is commonly believed that the sword is located at Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya which is recorded in the Kojiki “Record of Ancient Matters”  as having been originally founded to house the Kusanagi no Tsurugi. Atsuta Shrine is considered the traditional repository of Kusanagi no Tsurugi, the ancient sword that is considered one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan. Central to the Shinto significance of Atsuta Shrine is the sacred sword which is understood to be a gift from Amaterasu Ōmikami. This unique object has represented the authority and stature of Japan’s emperors since time immemorial. Kusanagi is said to be imbued with Amaterasu’s spirit.

Atsuta Shrine enshrines the Sun Goddess Amaterasu and stores the sacred sword Kusanagi, which is one of the three imperial regalia. Note, however, that the sword is never displayed to the public.


Nihon shoki from the Encyclopedia of Shinto‘s entry:
Nihon shoki was presented to the court in 720 in the reign of Emperor Genshō. The oldest surviving manuscript is the Shitennōji copy, which dates from the end of the Nara period to the beginning of the Heian period. As a public project from the ritsuryo government, Nihon shoki is Japan’s first official history, completed during a thirty-nine year period, starting in 681, compiled by Tenmu’s third son, Prince Toneri, and many bureaucrats and historians. The work is written in classical Chinese, and includes many quotes from Chinese classics and chronicles. Chinese source materials include Wei shi, Shi ji, Han shu, Hou Han shu, and Wen xuan. It appears that Yiwen leiju, an encyclopedia in one hundred books compiled by Ou Yangxun and others of the Tang period, has also been effectively used by the Nihon shoki compilers. In the entry from 720 in Shoku Nihongi, the second official record after Nihon shoki, it says, “Prince Toneri of the first princely rank presented to the court the Nihongi which he was ordered to compile.” Because of this the work is believed to have originally been called Nihongi. During the Heian era Murasaki Shikibu was known as Nihongi no Tsubone. The title Nihongi and the structure of the text in thirty books both are based on a Chinese model. In the case of China, shu (書) refers to a record (ji) dealing with dynastic affairs, the biographies (liezhuan) of ministers in the court, and other historiographic formats. Ji (紀) on the other hand means a chronological history. Nihon shoki consists of a record put in a chronological format, and that is why the character ki (Ch., ji 紀) is used. Also, Chinese chronological records like Han ji and Hou Han ji both consist of thirty books, so Nihon shoki appears to have been modeled on this, and comprises thirty books. But the title includes nihon, which means ‘origin of the sun’. The court refused to use the Chinese usage of wa (倭 ‘dwarf’), and instead used nihon in the title, claiming that the country was independent of China.

Of the thirty books, the first two consist of the ‘age of the kami’ sections, and the remaining books record the events of the rulers down to the forty-first Emperor, Jitō. The last section, books 28 to 30, deal with the newest events of the final twenty years, with Book 28 consisting almost entirely of the Jinshin Disturbance, which resulted in Tenmu ascending the throne. The final book, Book 30, ends with the abdication of Jitō in the eleventh year of her reign (697), dealing with recent history that continues up to just twenty years before the completion of the compilation project. The strategy of putting emphasis on this newest segment of history is fitting for a chronological project that purports to have recorded historical fact for each era. In that respect Nihon shoki is an unfinished project, demonstrating that it is an ‘open’ entity looking toward the future, showing an attitude that the court expects additions to this history to be compiled. In fact other official histories were compiled, starting with Shoku Nihongi. However, there are difficulties in the beginning sections of Nihon shoki because of the chronological nature of the history. Chinese histories did not feel the need to record the beginning of the world, but in the case of Japan, the court realized that recording the divine lineage of the royal family was indispensable, and this obligated the compilers to meld history with myth. But the chronology of the mythical period could not be delineated, and it was difficult to decide on the chronology of the earliest rulers. Therefore the compilers set aside the first two books for the ‘age of the kami’, and then grafted Jinmu into this fabric. The ascension of Jinmu was placed in a Shinyū year (660 BCE), which in China was designated as a year of great revolution. The Nihon shoki compilers set the present as their starting point, and projected a chronological lineage into the past, even as they left the future chronology open. At the same time that they modeled the record after Chinese annals, they spliced in mythology, and were able to emphasize the peculiar trait that the imperial lineage was of divine blood.



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