Atsuta Shrine: The sword in the shrine?

By Iain Maloney

Few tourist attractions can boast as their main draw an item which none have seen for hundreds of years, which none are permitted to see and which may not even exist, or if it does, is possibly a replica. Yet this is the central boast of Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya.

This Shinto shrine, thought to have been founded nearly 2,000 years ago, is said to be the resting place of Kusanagi no Tsurugi, the sword which, along with the Yasakani no Magatama jewel and the Yata no Kagami mirror, constitute the Japanese Imperial Regalia. It is thought that the mirror resides at the Grand Shrine in Ise while the jewel is with the emperor in his palace, though since no one has been known to set eyes on any of these objects for centuries, and the authorities refuse to comment on their storage arrangements, this is more common tradition than hard fact. The shrine’s website merely refers to “the legend that the sword named Kusanagi no Tsurugi … has been kept [here].” The last person to have claimed to see the sword, and to describe it, was a priest during the Edo period. He died of a mysterious curse, or so they say.

The Regalia have reportedly been misplaced a number of times throughout history, most famously in "The Tale of the Heike" written in 1371, which describes the sword as having been lost at sea after a naval battle. As with everything concerning the Regalia, the accuracy of this account is suspect – the "Tale" is a collection of oral stories transcribed 200 years after the events – and serves only to cast more doubt on what little is actually known. When the dynastic line split in the Middle Ages, possession of the Regalia was used to assert claim to the throne, and as such their importance became more than spiritual, leading to various replicas being made, stolen and lost.

When a monarchy loses its power, all it has left are pomp, pageantry and tradition, and the Japanese imperial family are no exception. The Regalia are still used at the coronation of a new emperor – the last time being in 1989 – but they are produced wrapped and though some are technically permitted to see them, no one is known to have taken advantage of this for some time. In Tokyo, unlike London or Madrid say, the royal tradition most vociferously clung to is mystery.

Everyone loves a good mystery, and the semi-legendary status of the sword is an important factor in enticing millions of visitors to the shrine each year. It’s as if a rumor spread that King Arthur’s mythical sword Excalibur was stored in Canterbury Cathedral. Both believers and the curious would flock there hoping some of the ancient magic would rub off on them. Usually this dream of magic bestowed manifests itself as prayer, making Atsuta one of the most visited shrines in Japan, particularly at New Year.

The shrine’s main buildings have, in keeping with Shinto rules, been recently rebuilt and the bright new wood gives the complex a light, fresh air. Covering 200,000 square meters, the area is a peaceful and beautiful break from the concrete and traffic of downtown Nagoya. Pathways wind through tall trees, passing carp-filled ponds and over gently curving bridges. The ubiquitous souvenir stalls and noodle cafes are in attendance but partially secreted behind foliage they don’t impose too much on the reposing mind. In addition to the posited relic, the shrine’s Treasure Museum is packed with over 4,000 items from ancient scrolls and weapons to household objects and clothes.

Atsuta Shrine is reached from Jingu-Mae station on the Meitetsu line, two stops south of Nagoya station, from the JR Atsuta station or from the Jingu-Nishi station on the Meijo subway line. It’s worth a visit as much for the soothing qualities of the locale as for what may or may not lie within.

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Reminds me of the Iriamote cat,has anyone ever seen one? Getting back to the article,legends live on in many countries,whether anyone has seen the sword is not that important, compared to the stories that surround it.

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Who cares about the sword: make it a 2000 year old shrine. That'd timely beat Disneys story and make this one unique.

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There was also that rumor that the coronation of the present emporer was performed with a piece of bamboo.

It'd be very, very hard to authenticate a sword no one has seen.

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Unless well taken care of, a sword that old would rust to bits. You cannot just "hope" its still intact, somebody has to make sure. And if no one is, then its either not their or its dust. Of course it all could just be a closely guarded job to take care of it, passed down with strict confidentiality, but I doubt it.

Anyway, if I can't see it, why go? I can imagine it from here. I am with Marius. The 2000 year old shine is more of the attraction, or would be it had not been refurbished time and time again.

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coy-filled ponds???

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Atsuta Shrine is nice, but I wouldn't plan to visit it and nothing else. I especially wouldn't go around New Years as the entire prefecture is there and one can barely move.

Shriotorien is right near by and well worth the 300 yen to get in.

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I'm not one to carp. Atsuta shrine used to be of Owari-zukuri but in the 1890s they reconstructed it in the style of Ise Shrine. Am I the only person who visited before they did this?

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It is like the mirror in Ise shrine. It is inside a velvet bag, and when the velvet bag begins to show signs of age and starts to fall apart, they put that bag inside another velvet bag. Who knows what is inside all those bags.

I like to believe the relic exists in there somewhere.

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Atsuta shrine used to be of Owari-zukuri but in the 1890s they >reconstructed it in the style of Ise Shrine. Am I the only person who >visited before they did this?

If you don't mind my asking, how old are you?

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Great place to visit. My brother-in-law and his wife used to live in the neighborhood.

Goals0 at 04:16 PM JST - 26th January I'm not one to carp. Atsuta shrine used to be of Owari-zukuri but in the 1890s they reconstructed it in the style of Ise Shrine. Am I the only person who visited before they did this?

Seconding OssanAmerica, how old are you? The place has looked the same at least since 1979 when I first visited. As far as I know, the current shrine dates from the post-war era.

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