The Legendary Kusanagi Sword

Kusanagi-no-TsurugiThe Kusanagi sword is the most legendary sword in the history of Japan, which in a culture that is famous for swords is saying something. A gift from the gods this sword along with a mirror and a jewel became one of the three pieces of regalia that are symbolic of the divinity of the emperor.
Print of Susano-o killing the dragon Orochi
by Utagawa Kuniteru (1808-1876)Gift from the GodsLegend tells us that Susano-o, the god of storms and the sea, who had been exiled to Izumo, discovered the sword after rescuing a damsel in distress from a dragon. Susano-o saw a maiden who was about to be sacrificed to appease an angry eight-headed dragon named Yamato-no-Orochi. Susano-o gathered eight vats of rice wine, one for each of the dragons heads. The gluttonous dragon drank until he passed out at which point Susano-o hacked the beast to pieces with his own sword called variously Ama-no-Haye-Kiri (Fly-Cutter,) Worochi-no-Kara-sabi or Worochi-no-Ara-masa. As he was cutting through the tail he heard a clank and upon closer inspection discovered a sword hidden inside. Recognizing this as a sacred weapon he gave it to his sister Amaterasu, the sun goddess, who would later send it to earth and pass it on to her great grandson Jimmu-Tenno the first emperor of Japan as a symbol of his divinity.Replicas MadeThe sword which was called Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi “The Sword of Billowing Clouds”, was kept in the Imperial palace until 92 B.C. when the 10th Emperor Sujin (97-30 B.C.) had the Kusanui Shrine built to house it and installed his daughter to care for the sword and the Mirror. Emperor Sujin was known to have had copies made of the three pieces of imperial regalia, a mirror, a jewel, and the sword, to remain in the shrine to hold the spirit of these treasures while the originals traveled with the emperor. In 5 B.C. the Kusanui Shrine was moved to Ise.
Shinto Relics the Japanese Imperial Regalia, Kusanagi Sword, a Mirror and a Jewel
A Name ChangeGenerations later Prince Yamatotakero-no-Mikoto, the son of the 12th Emperor Keiko (71-130 A.D.) stopped at the shrine to pray on his way to fight the Ainu (Ebisu) people from (Tokaido) the north. The priestess Yamato-Hime, Prince Yamato’s aunt had a premonition that if she lent him the sacred sword that he would be victorious. At one point in his battle Prince Yamato was surrounded in a field and the Ainu set fire to the grass hoping to burn the Prince out. Yamato drew the Billowing Clouds Sword and slashed through the tall grass creating a fire break. Just then a divine wind came and blew the fire back at the Ainu giving Prince Yamato the victory just as his aunt had foreseen. Prince Yamato returned the sacred sword to its shrine and from that day forward it was known as the Kusanagi or “Grass Cutting Sword”.Prince Yamatotakero-no-Mikoto, with sword, escaping the burning grass.Sacred Relic StolenIn 668 A.D. a Korean monk named Dogio stole the Kusanagi and boarded a ship attempting to return home to Silla. As the ship set sail Susano-o, the god of storms, the sea, and self-appointed protector of the sword, whipped up a typhoon which forced the ship to turn back to Japan where the sword was recovered. Another version of the tale is that the monk threw the sword into the ocean to appease Susano-o, who then returned it to the shrine.
In 686 the Kusanagai was moved to the Shrine at Atsuta after a divination revealed that the Emperor Temmu’s illness was the result of a curse associated with the sword.
Main entrance to Atsuta Shrine… Fujiyasu Mashira forging a sword at Atsuta

Three prints depicting the events from the naval Battle of Dan-no-Ura 1185
Top: Death of Antoku
Middle: From a scroll of the Heike Clan
Bottom: by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka 1880Lost at Sea?In 1185 at the Battle of Dan-no-Ura, the Taira clan representing Imperial rule and Minamoto clan representing the Shogunate were fighting for supremacy. The young emperor Antoku and his grandmother were on a ship surrounded by those of the enemy. Rather than allow themselves to be taken alive the grandmother grabbed the boy emperor and the two pieces of imperial regalia and leapt into the ocean to drown them both. An arrow tore her robe and she dropped the Mirror on board, but she took the sword and Antoku with her to the bottom of the straits.The story takes different directions at this point. The Taira clan says that the sword was lost and because of this no subsequent emperor has been properly enthroned.However the Minamoto claim that the young emperor was only carrying the replica and the original was still safe in the Atsuta Daijingu Shrine in Owari.Another version of the tale says that Susano sent water birds to dive for the missing sword and after recovering it they returned it to the shrine at Atsuta for safe keeping.Taboo and CurseThe sacred sword was kept locked inside a wooden box 5 Shaku long, which was kept locked inside a stone box located in the inner sanctum of the shrine. There is supposedly some secret procedeure for opening these locks. It is taboo for anyone but the emperor and the head Shinto priest at the Atsuta shrine to gaze upon the holy relic. According to the records of the Edo period a Cheif Shinto priest and some close associates once opened the casket and reported seeing a sword that was 1 shaku 7- sun (51.5-54.5 cm) in length. Legend has it that the disobedient priest was exiled and the other taboo breakers went insane.
A Shinto ceremony at Atsuta ShrineAnother ReplicaThe swordsmith Hayama Enshin (1846-1920) is reputed to have received an imperial commission to make a replica of the Kusanagi sword. He described it as…”a double -edged sword, with a kissaki (tip) shaped like a shobu leaf, to habaki-moto. It is one piece with tsuba and the grip is flat and hollows. There is something like joints that look like a fishes back-bone. It is white in color.The Korean Connection?I have been unable to confirm whether or not the photo above reputed to be the famous Kusanagi sword is in fact authentic though it does seem to match the description above somewhat. Either way I noticed that the sword in the photo bears a resemblance to the bronze daggers of ancient Korea. Below I have included photos of recently unearthed weapons from the Korean Bronze Dagger Culture so that you can compare for yourself. While these daggers dated 500-300 B.C., at 25-30 cm. (10-12 in.) are only about half the length of the reputed size of the Kusanagi, they are of approximately the same time period that archeaological evidence indicates that Korean Culture spread to Japan.The Chinese Connection?The photo reputed to be the Kusanagi is also quite similar to the illustration below
of a Chinese copper sword dated to the Northern Zhou Dynasty, 557-581 A.D.

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