Kusanagi

From Academic Kids

Kusanagi-no-tsurugi (草薙の剣) is a legendary Japanese sword as important to Japan's history as Excalibur is to Britain's. It is actually called Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi (天叢雲剣, lit. Sword of the heaven of the clustering clouds) but it is more popular to call it as Kusanagi ("Grasscutter" or more probably "sword of snake"). It may also be called Tsumugari no Tachi (都牟刈の太刀). The actual Kusanagi is likely to be a sword in the style of the Bronze Age which is typically double-edged, short and straight; very much different from the more recent Katana sabre style, which features typical curved single-edged blades. It may be wielded one or two handed.

Contents

Legends

The history of this sword extends into legend and it is one of the theory of how the sword came into being. The Japanese god, Susanoo encountered a grieving family headed by Ashi-Na-Zuchi in Izumo province. Upon inquiry, the elder told that his family was ravaged by the fearsome 8-headed serpent of Koshi who consumed seven of the family's eight daughters and the creature was coming for his final daughter, Kushi-Nada-Hime. Susanoo proceeded forward to investigate the creature, and after an abortive encounter he returned with a plan to defeat it. In return, he asked for Kushi-Nada-Hime's hand in marriage which was agreed. Transforming her temporarily into a comb to have her company during the battle, he detailed his plan.

He instructed the preparation of 8 vats of sake (rice wine) to be put on individual platforms positioned behind a fence with 8 gates. The monster took the bait and put each of its heads through each of the gates. With the necessary distraction provided, Susanoo attacked and slew the beast. He decapitated each of the heads and then proceeded to the tails. In the fourth tail, he discovered a great sword inside the body of the dragon which he called Murakumo-No-Tsurugi (lit. Sword of the heaven of the clustering clouds) which he presented to the goddess, Amaterasu to settle an old grievance.

Generations later in the reign of the 12th emperor, Keiko, the sword was given to the great warrior, Yamato-Takeru as part of a pair of gifts given by his aunt, Yamato-Hime the Shrine Maiden of Ise, to protect her nephew in times of peril.

These gifts came in handy when Yamato-Takeru was lured onto an open grassland during a hunting expedition by a treacherous warlord. The lord had fiery arrows fired to ignite the grass to trap Yamato-Takeru in the field and have him burn to death and killed the warrior's horse to prevent his escape. Desperately, Yamato-Takeru used Murakakumo-No-Tsurugi to cut back the grass to remove fuel from the fire, but in doing so, he discovered that the sword enabled him to control the wind around to make it move in the direction he swung. Taking advantage of the magic, Yamato-Takeru used his other gift, fire strikers, to enlarge the fire in the direction of the lord and his men and used the winds controlled by the sword to sweep the blaze toward them to kill them. In triumph, Yamato-Takeru renamed Murakumo-No-Tsurugi as Kusanagi (Grasscutter) to commemorate his narrow escape and victory.

Eventually, Yamato-Takeru married and fell in battle with a monster after ignoring his wife's advice to take Kusanagi with him. While this is the most popular theory of Kusanagi's name, researchers agree that this is most likely false. In the ancient Japanese language, kusa meant sword' and nagi meant snake. Kusanagi therefore meant sword of snake.

Present State of Kusanagi

In historical times, the emperor possessed a real sword with this name but in 688, it was removed from the palace to Atsuta Shrine after the sword was blamed for causing illness to Emperor Temmu. Along with the jewel and the mirror, it is one of the three imperial regalia which is currently placed in Atsuta shrine. Two theories are suggested on its present state.

Atsuta Theory

This theory suggests that as according to various records, it has never been moved from Atsuta Shrine still stored in the secret location. It is recorded that during Edo period, a Shinto priest claims to have seen the sword. According to him, the sword was about 84cm long, shaped like Calamus, in white metalic color, and well maintained. Another record claims that this priest had died from the curse and the power of sword but this is most likely to be a story spread to emphasize its power.

In the 20th century, NHK had conducted a research of ancient history, and as a part of it went to Atsuta Shrine to videotape its image. However, Atsuta Shrine declined to show but did not deny that it had the sword. This theory claims that the sword has decayed over time and is in a poor state.

Replica Theory

This theory suggests that the current Kusanagi is actually a replica of the original. There are several possible reasons for this. In the Battle of Dan-no-ura, a naval battle that ended in the defeat of the Heike clan forces and the child Emperor Antoku at the hands of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the sword was lost at sea. Upon hearing of the Navy's defeat, the Emperor's grandmother led the Emperor and his entourage to commit suicide by drowning in the waters of the strait along with three important artifacts which included Kusanagi. Although the Minamoto troop managed to stop a handful of them and recovered two of the three items of the Emperor, Kusanagi was said to have been never found. According to various historical records, the 10th Emperor, Sujin, is reported to have ordered the fashioning of a replica of Kusanagi. However, this was information was only made public after it was known that the sword was stolen. The Imperial Household claimed that it was the replica which was stolen, but it is just as likely that the replica was made after the fact to cover for the irrecoverable sword. The sword was stolen again, in the 6th century, by a Chinese monk. However, it was reported that his ship sank at sea, and that the sword washed back to the shore by Ise, where it was recovered by Shinto priests. The current sword could be as many as three times removed from the original.

It is recorded that Emperor Jito was handed a mirror and a sword by Inbe clan who headed Ise Shrine and these are two same items of the Imperial regalia. This theory's biggest obstacle is that as the embodiment of kami, not even the emperor could carry the sword at will without a formal ceremony and there is no record at Atsuta Shrine that suggest such ceremony was held. Also, the sword Emperor Jito received is actually Sugari no Ontachi (須賀利御太刀) which is made on every ascension of the emperor and the mirror is a different piece made for the same reason.

Fiction

Much like Excalibur, Kusanagi's high profile has made it popular appearing in various fictions. Its appearance typically signals the nearing of an end of the storyline as it is the most powerful item next to the divine spear, Amenonuhoko which was used to create islands of Japan. But unlike Excalibur, it is rare for characters to actually use one in a combat as it is a ceremonious weapon and instead, its magical properties are stressed. As with myth, it typically lets the user control wind and is one of the most powerful weapons to support performing miracles. It is sometimes misrepresented as a katana because it is a Japanese weapon.

Kusanagi is the subject of a handful of Usagi Yojimbo books.

The sword, Jewel, and Mirror may also be the inspiration for the orb, mirror, and sword in the earlier saga of YuYu Hakusho that Yusuke Urameshi needs to return before Enma (King Yama) realizes they are missing.

In the animated feature Ghost in the Shell, one of the main characters, a female cyborg, is named Major Motoko Kusanagi (草薙素子 Kusanagi Motoko).

Kyo Kusanagi (草薙 京 Kusanagi Kyō) is the main character of SNK Playmore's King of Fighters series.

Naruto character Orochimaru carries the sword of Kusanagi in his mouth.

One of Strider Hiryu's moves in Marvel vs. Capcom is named "Ame no Murakumo", which is part of the full name of the legendary sword.

In the popular anime Sailor Moon, the outer Sailor Senshi (Sailor Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto) own similar items called "talismans" that were more than likely derived from the three regalia. They care as follows: Deep Aqua Mirror (mirror), Space Sword (sword), and Garnet Orb (jewel)ja:天叢雲剣 fr:Kusanagi

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