Ancient Lineage: The Yamato Dynasty

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  • Topic: History of Japan, Shogun, Emperor of Japan
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  • Published : April 23, 2006
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Charles Wells

Professor Rothschild

Japanese Civilization

November 27, 2005

The ancient lineage of Japanese Yamato Emperors have ruled with diverse layers of power for centuries. Cultural and social changes affected the political influence and power of the "Sun Line" dynasty. But, because of the religious aspects of the divine authority of the emperor, the dynasty was manipulated for political legitimacy instead of being totally annihilated. Thus, the dynasty has survived from the legendary Jimmu in 660 to the present day 125th Emperor Akihito.

Shinto, the native religion of Japan, defines the emperor's authority in Japan. The fundamental document of Shinto is the Kojiki, (Record of Ancient Matters). The Kojiki consists of an account of Japan from its creation to approximately the year A.D. 500, plus additional genealogical data about the imperial family for the next century.# Written in 712 and considered one of Japan's earliest remaining works, the Kojiki establishes the Yamato imperial kami as the dominant kami of Japan, which, correspondingly substantiates the royal authority. The kami is a polytheistic host that, on the one hand animistically inhabits nature and, on the other hand, is intimately associated with people and their most basic units of social organization.#

Amaterasu-Opo-Mi-Kami is the Sun Goddess, the dominant kami of the Yamato
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royal clan, or uji. Amaterasu founded the imperial line when she sent her grandson down from the heaven to rule the ‘land of luxuriant rice fields'.# An earlier tale in Kojiki tells how Amaterasu was so frightened by the behaviour of her brother Susano-o that she hid in a cave. The world was therefore plunged into darkness and her fellow kami tried desperately to entice her out. As a trick, Amaterasu was told that a rival kami even more powerful than she had arrived. Then a female kami danced a ribald dance outside the cave, and so loud was the merriment that Amaterasu's curiosity got the better of her. She peeped cautiously out of the cave. The first things she saw were a precious jewel hanging from a tree, and next to it the face of her new rival. This made her start, and she was grabbed before she had time to realize that what she was actually looking at was her own reflection in a bronze mirror. The mirror and the jewel that had restored light to the world became the first two items in the imperial regalia. The three items in the imperial regalia are objects that were, and still are, the legitimates of kingship: the symbol and guarantee of the eternity of the imperial throne.

The third item in the imperial regalia, the sword, is named Kusa-nagi, ‘grass-mower' or ‘grass-pacifier' in the Kojiki. # In the province of Izumo lived a fierce serpent with eight heads and tails. The kami Susano-o resolved to destroy the serpent. He began by getting it drunk on sake and then hewed of its heads and tails. But as he reached the tail portion his blade was turned, and Susano-o discovered a sword hidden there. As it

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was a very fine sword, he presented it to his sister Amaterasu, and she handed the sacred sword, the mirror and the jewel to her grandson Ninigi when he took possession of the earth. He eventually passed the throne items on to his grandson Jimmu, identified as the first emperor of Japan, to whom traditionally are given the dates of 660 - 585 BC. The three items were handed down as the symbols of sovereignty from one emperor to the next.

The imperial regalia was repeatedly taken into battle to establish royal legitimacy. During the Gempei war (1180-85), the sacred link between the emperor and the crown jewels was of vital importance in determining the righteousness of the causes and interests espoused by the rival sides. A decisive battle between the Taira and Minamoto rival clans took place in the narrow straits of Shimonoseki that divide Honshu from Kyushu at a place called Dan no Ura. The Taira...
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