The Sacred Sword of the Ise Grand Shrines to be renewed

The hilt of the sword Sugarino-Ontachi features ibis tail feathers  Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun

The hilt of the sword Sugarino-Ontachi features ibis tail feathers Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun

New ibis feathers to be used on sacred sword hilt 

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 24, 2013)

Tail feathers of Japanese crested ibises at Ishikawa Zoo in Nomi, Ishikawa Prefecture, will be used in a votive sword, one of the sacred treasures to be renewed along with the renovation of the Ise Grand Shrines this autumn.

Although the shrines in Ise, Mie Prefecture, are traditionally rebuilt every 20 years, securing the feathers was a great concern when the shrines were rebuilt in 1973 and 1993 due to the sharp decline in the number of ibises.

According to the shrines, Engishiki, a detailed rule book for ceremonies and institutions in the Heian period (794-1192), stipulates the hilt of the sword Sugarino-Ontachi should be wrapped in ibis feathers. It is believed the hilt has been covered with two tail feathers and wound by a red braid for more than 1,000 years.

To preserve the tradition, Yoshio Muramoto, the honorary president of a Japan-China ibis protection association, has provided feathers from his collection, which dates back to 1959, for the past two renovations. He also donated feathers for this year’s renewal of the sword.

However, the number of ibises in Japan has recently topped 100 thanks in part to a breeding project involving Chinese ibises. Some of the birds were transferred to other facilities nationwide from Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, where ibis preservation activities are based.

Given the current situation and the fact that the color of Muramoto’s feathers have faded, this year, the shrines decided to look for new feathers. Out of respect for Muramoto, who lives in Ishikawa Prefecture, the shrines decided to use feathers from ibises kept at Ishikawa Zoo. The zoo has already provided six tail feathers, which fell naturally from the birds.

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