|Emperor of Japan|
|Reign||February 3, 1867 –
July 30, 1912
|Enthronement||September 12, 1868|
November 3, 1852|
Kyoto, Feudal Japan
|Died||July 30, 1912
Tokyo, Empire of Japan
|Burial||September 13, 1912
Fushimi Momoyama no Misasagi (伏見桃山陵), Kyoto
|Yoshihito, Emperor Taishō
Masako, Princess Takeda
Fusako, Princess Kitashirakawa
Nobuko, Princess Asaka
Toshiko, Princess Higashikuni
|House||Imperial House of Japan|
Emperor Meiji (明治天皇 Meiji-tennō, November 3, 1852 – July 30, 1912), or Meiji the Great (明治大帝 Meiji-taitei), was the 122nd Emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from February 3, 1867 until his death on July 30, 1912. He presided over a time of rapid change in the Empire of Japan, as the nation quickly changed from a feudal state to a capitalist and imperial world power, characterized by the Japanese industrial revolution.
At the time of Meiji's birth in 1852, Japan was an isolated, pre-industrial, feudal country dominated by the Tokugawa shogunate and the daimyo, who ruled over the country's more than 250 decentralized domains. By the time of his death in 1912, Japan had undergone a political, social, and industrial revolution at home (See Meiji Restoration) and emerged as one of the great powers on the world stage. The New York Times summed up this transformation at his funeral in 1912, with the words: "the contrast between that which preceded the funeral car and that which followed it was striking indeed. Before it went old Japan; after it came new Japan."
In Japan, the reigning Emperor is always referred to as "The Emperor"; since the modern era, a deceased Emperor is referred to by a posthumous name, which is the name of the era coinciding with the Emperor's reign. Having ruled during the Meiji period, the Emperor is thus posthumously known as "the Meiji Emperor" or simply "Emperor Meiji". His personal name, which is not used in any formal or official context, except for his signature, was Mutsuhito (睦仁).
The Tokugawa shogunate had established itself in the early 17th century. Under its rule, the shogun governed Japan. About 180 lords, known as daimyō, ruled autonomous realms under the shogun, who occasionally called upon the daimyō for gifts, but did not tax them. The shogun controlled the daimyō in other ways; only the shogun could approve their marriages, and the shogun could divest a daimyō of his lands.
In 1615, the first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had officially retired from his position, and his son Tokugawa Hidetada, the titular shogun, issued a code of behavior for the nobility. Under it, the Emperor was required to devote his time to scholarship and the arts. The Emperors under the shogunate appear to have closely adhered to this code, studying Confucian classics and devoting time to poetry and calligraphy. They were only taught the rudiments of Japanese and Chinese history and geography. The shogun did not seek the consent or advice of the Emperor for his actions.
Emperors almost never left their palace compound, or Gosho in Kyoto, except after an Emperor retired or to take shelter in a temple if the palace caught on fire. Few Emperors lived long enough to retire; of the Meiji Emperor's five predecessors, only his grandfather lived into his forties, dying aged forty-six. The Imperial Family suffered very high rates of infant mortality; all five of the Emperor's brothers and sisters died as infants, and only five of his own fifteen children reached adulthood.
Soon after taking control in the early seventeenth century, shogunate officials (known generically as bakufu) ended much Western trade with Japan, and barred missionaries from the islands. In addition to the substantial Chinese trade, only the Dutch continued trade with Japan, maintaining a post on the island of Dejima by Nagasaki. However, by the early 19th century, European and American vessels appeared in the waters around Japan with increasing frequency.
Prince Mutsuhito was born on November 3, 1852 in a small house on his maternal grandfather's property at the north end of the Gosho. At the time, a birth was believed to be polluting, so imperial princes were not born in the Palace, but usually in a structure, often temporary, near the pregnant woman's father's house. The boy's mother, Nakayama Yoshiko, was a concubine (gon no tenji) to his father Emperor Kōmei, and was the daughter of the acting major counselor, Nakayama Tadayasu. The young prince was given the name Sachinomiya, or Prince Sachi.
The young prince was born at a time of change for Japan. This change was symbolized dramatically when Commodore Matthew Perry and his squadron of what the Japanese dubbed "the Black Ships", sailed into the harbor at Edo (known since 1868 as Tokyo) in July 1853. Perry sought to open Japan to trade, and warned the Japanese of military consequences if they did not agree. During the crisis brought on by Perry's arrival, the Shogunate took, for the first time in at least 250 years, the highly unusual step of consulting with the Imperial Court, and Emperor Kōmei's officials advised that they felt the Americans should be allowed to trade and asked that they be informed in advance of any steps to be taken upon Perry's return. Feeling that it could not win a war, the Japanese government allowed trade and submitted to what it dubbed the "Unequal Treaties", giving up tariff authority and the right to try foreigners in its own courts. The Shogunate's willingness to consult with the Court was short-lived: in 1858, word of a treaty arrived with a letter stating that due to shortness of time, it had not been possible to consult. Emperor Kōmei was so incensed that he threatened to abdicate—though even this action would have required the consent of the shogun.
Much of the emperor's boyhood is known only through later accounts, which his biographer Donald Keene points out are often contradictory. One contemporary described Mutsuhito as healthy and strong, somewhat of a bully, and exceptionally talented at sumo. Another states that the prince was delicate and often ill. Some biographers state that he fainted when he first heard gunfire, while others deny this account. On August 16, 1860, Sachinomiya was proclaimed prince of the blood and heir to the throne, and was formally adopted by his father's consort. Later that year on November 11, he was proclaimed as the crown prince and given an adult name, Mutsuhito. The prince began his education at the age of seven. He proved an indifferent student, and later in life wrote poems regretting that he had not applied himself more in writing practice.
By the early 1860s, the shogunate was under several threats. Representatives of foreign powers sought to increase their influence in Japan. Many daimyo were increasingly dissatisfied with bakufu handling foreign affairs. Large numbers of young samurai, known as shishi or "men of high purpose", began to meet and speak against the shogunate. The shishi revered the Emperor Kōmei and favored direct violent action to cure societal ills. While they initially desired the death or expulsion of all foreigners, the shishi would later begin to advocate the modernization of the country. The bakufu enacted several measures to appease the various groups, and hoped to drive a wedge between the shishi and daimyo.
Kyoto was a major center for the shishi, who had influence over the Emperor Kōmei. In 1863, they persuaded him to issue an "Order to expel barbarians". The Order placed the shogunate in a difficult position, since it knew it lacked the power to carry it out. Several attacks were made on foreigners or their ships, and foreign forces retaliated. Bakufu forces were able to drive most of the shishi out of Kyoto, and an attempt by them to return in 1864 was driven back. Nevertheless, unrest continued throughout Japan.
The prince's awareness of the political turmoil is uncertain. During this time, he studied waka poetry, first with his father, then with the court poets. As the prince continued his classical education in 1866, a new shogun took office: Tokugawa Yoshinobu, a reformer who desired to transform Japan into a Western-style state. Yoshinobu, who would prove to be the final shogun, met with resistance from among the bakufu, even as unrest and military actions continued. In mid-1866, a bakufu army set forth to punish rebels in southern Japan. The army was defeated.
The Emperor Kōmei had always enjoyed excellent health, and was only 36 years old in January 1867. In that month, however, he fell seriously ill. Though he appeared to make some recovery, he suddenly worsened and died on January 30. British diplomat Sir Ernest Satow wrote, "it is impossible to deny that [the Emperor Kōmei's] disappearance from the political scene, leaving as his successor a boy of fifteen or sixteen [actually fourteen], was most opportune".
The crown prince formally ascended to the throne on February 3, 1867, in a brief ceremony in Kyoto. The new Emperor continued his classical education, which did not include matters of politics. In the meantime, the shogun, Yoshinobu, struggled to maintain power. He repeatedly asked for the Emperor's confirmation of his actions, which he eventually received, but there is no indication that the young Emperor was himself involved in the decisions. The shishi and other rebels continued to shape their vision of the new Japan, and while they revered the Emperor, they had no thought of having him play an active part in the political process.
The political struggle reached its climax in late 1867. An agreement was reached by which Yoshinobu would maintain his title and some of his power, but the lawmaking power would be vested in a bicameral legislature based on the British model. However, the agreement fell apart and on November 9, 1867, Yoshinobu officially tendered his resignation to the Emperor, formally stepping down ten days later. The following month, the rebels marched on Kyoto, taking control of the Imperial Palace. On January 4, 1868, the Emperor ceremoniously read out a document before the court proclaiming the "restoration" of Imperial rule, and the following month, documents were sent to foreign powers:
The Emperor of Japan announces to the sovereigns of all foreign countries and to their subjects that permission has been granted to the Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu to return the governing power in accordance with his own request. We shall henceforward exercise supreme authority in all the internal and external affairs of the country. Consequently, the title of Emperor must be substituted for that of Tycoon, in which the treaties have been made. Officers are being appointed by us to the conduct of foreign affairs. It is desirable that the representatives of the treaty powers recognize this announcement.
Yoshinobu resisted only briefly, but it was not until late 1869 that the final bakufu holdouts were finally defeated. In the ninth month of the following year, the era was changed to Meiji, or "enlightened rule", which was later used for the emperor's posthumous name. This marked the beginning of the custom of an era coinciding with an emperor's reign, and posthumously naming the emperor after the era during which he ruled.
Soon after his accession, the Emperor's officials presented Ichijō Haruko to him as a possible bride. The future Empress was the daughter of an Imperial official, and was three years older than the groom, who would have to wait to wed until after his gembuku (manhood ceremony). The two married on January 11, 1869. Known posthumously as Empress Shōken, she was the first Imperial Consort to receive the title of kōgō (literally, the Emperor's wife, translated as Empress Consort), in several hundred years. Although she was the first Japanese Empress Consort to play a public role, she bore no children. However, the Meiji Emperor had fifteen children by five official ladies-in-waiting. Only five of his children, a prince born to Lady Naruko (1855–1943), the daughter of Yanagiwara Mitsunaru, and four princesses born to Lady Sachiko (1867–1947), the eldest daughter of Count Sono Motosachi, lived to adulthood. They were:
Despite the ouster of the bakufu, no effective central government had been put in place by the rebels. On March 23, foreign envoys were first permitted to visit Kyoto and pay formal calls on the Emperor. On April 7, 1868, the Emperor was presented with the Charter Oath, a five-point statement of the nature of the new government, designed to win over those who had not yet committed themselves to the new regime. This document, which the Emperor then formally promulgated, abolished feudalism and proclaimed a modern democratic government for Japan. The Charter Oath would later be cited by Emperor Hirohito in the Humanity Declaration as support for the imposed changes in Japanese government following World War II. In mid-May, he left the Imperial precincts in Kyoto for the first time since early childhood to take command of the forces pursuing the remnants of the bakufu armies. Traveling in slow stages, he took three days to travel from Kyoto to Osaka, through roads lined with crowds. There was no conflict in Osaka; the new leaders wanted the Emperor to be more visible to his people and to foreign envoys. At the end of May, after two weeks in Osaka (in a much less formal atmosphere than in Kyoto), the Emperor returned to his home. Shortly after his return, it was announced that the Emperor would begin to preside over all state business, reserving further literary study for his leisure time. Only from 1871 did the Emperor's studies include materials on contemporary affairs.
On September 19, 1868, the Emperor announced that the name of the city of Edo was being changed to Tokyo, or "eastern capital". He was formally crowned in Kyoto on October 15 (a ceremony which had been postponed from the previous year due to the unrest). Shortly before the coronation, he announced that the new era, or nengō, would be called Meiji or "enlightened rule". Heretofore the nengō had often been changed multiple times in an emperor's reign; from now on, it was announced, there would only be one nengō per reign.
Soon after his coronation, the Emperor journeyed to Tokyo by road, visiting it for the first time. He arrived in late November, and began an extended stay by distributing sake among the population. The population of Tokyo was eager for an Imperial visit; it had been the site of the Shogun's court and the population feared that with the abolition of the shogunate, the city might fall into decline. It would not be until 1889 that a final decision was made to move the capital to Tokyo. While in Tokyo, the Emperor boarded a Japanese naval vessel for the first time, and the following day gave instructions for studies to see how Japan's navy could be strengthened. Soon after his return to Kyoto, a rescript was issued in the Emperor's name (but most likely written by court officials). It indicated his intent to be involved in government affairs, and indeed he attended cabinet meetings and innumerable other government functions, though rarely speaking, almost until the day of his death.
The successful revolutionaries organized themselves into a Council of State, and subsequently into a system where three main ministers led the government. This structure would last until the establishment of a prime minister, who would lead a cabinet in the western fashion, in 1885. Initially, not even the retention of the Emperor was certain; revolutionary leader Gotō Shōjirō later stated that some officials "were afraid the extremists might go further and abolish the Mikado".
Japan's new leaders sought to reform the patchwork system of domains governed by the daimyo. In 1869, several of the daimyo who had supported the revolution gave their lands to the Emperor and were reappointed as governors, with considerable salaries. By the following year, all other daimyo had followed suit.
In 1871, the Emperor announced that domains were entirely abolished, as Japan was organized into 72 prefectures. The daimyo were compensated with annual salaries equal to ten percent of their former revenues (from which they did not now have to deduct the cost of governing), but were required to move to the new capital, Tokyo. Most retired from politics.
The new administration gradually abolished most privileges of the samurai, including their right to a stipend from the government. However, unlike the daimyo, many samurai suffered financially from this change. Most other class-based distinctions were abolished. Legalized discrimination against the burakumin ended. However, these classes continue to suffer discrimination in Japan to the present time.
Although a parliament was formed, it had no real power, and neither did the emperor. Power had passed from the Tokugawa into the hands of those Daimyo and other samurai who had led the Restoration. Japan was thus controlled by the Genro, an oligarchy, which comprised the most powerful men of the military, political, and economic spheres. The emperor, if nothing else, showed greater political longevity than his recent predecessors, as he was the first Japanese monarch to remain on the throne past the age of 50 since the abdication of Emperor Ōgimachi in 1586.
The Japanese take pride in the Meiji Restoration, as it and the accompanying industrialization allowed Japan to become the preeminent power in the Pacific and a major player in the world within a generation. Yet, Emperor Meiji's role in the Restoration remains debatable. He certainly did not control Japan, but how much influence he wielded is unknown. It is unlikely it will ever be clear whether he supported the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) or the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). One of the few windows we have into the Emperor's own feelings is his poetry, which seems to indicate a pacifist streak, or at least a man who wished war could be avoided. He composed the following pacifist poem in waka form:
This poem was later recited by his grandson, Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito), in an Imperial Conference in September 1941, indirectly showing his own anti-war sentiment.
Near the end of his life several anarchists, including Kotoku Shusui, were executed (1911) on charges of having conspired to murder the sovereign. This conspiracy was known as the High Treason Incident (1910).
Emperor Meiji, suffering from diabetes, nephritis, and gastroenteritis, died of uremia. Although the official announcement said he died at 00:42 on July 30, 1912, the actual death was at 22:40 on July 29. After the emperor's death in 1912, the Japanese Diet passed a resolution to commemorate his role in the Meiji Restoration. An iris garden in an area of Tokyo where Emperor Meiji and the Empress had been known to visit was chosen as the building's location for the Shinto shrine Meiji jingu. The shrine does not contain the Emperor's grave, which is located at Fushimi-momoyama south of Kyoto.
|Wakamitsuteru-hiko no Mikoto
稚瑞照彦尊 (stillborn son)
|September 18, 1873||September 18, 1873||Lady Mitsuko
|Wakatakayori-hime no Mikoto
稚高依姫尊 (stillborn daughter)
|November 13, 1873||November 13, 1873||Lady Natsuko
|Shigeko, Princess Ume
|January 25, 1875||June 8, 1876||Lady Naruko
|Yukihito, Prince Take
|September 23, 1877||July 26, 1878||Lady Naruko
|Yoshihito, Prince Haru (Emperor Taishō)
|August 31, 1879||December 25, 1926(aged 47)||Lady Naruko
May 25, 1900
|Hirohito, Emperor Shōwa
Yasuhito, Prince Chichibu
Nobuhito, Prince Takamatsu
Takahito, Prince Mikasa
|Akiko, Princess Shige
|August 3, 1881||September 6, 1883||Lady Kotoko
|Fumiko, Princess Masu
|January 26, 1883||September 8, 1883||Lady Kotoko
|Shizuko, Princess Hisa
|February 10, 1886||April 4, 1887||Lady Sachiko|
|Michihito, Prince Aki
|August 22, 1887||November 12, 1888||Lady Sachiko|
|Masako, Princess Tsune (Princess Masako Takeda)
|September 30, 1888||March 8, 1940(aged 51)||Lady Sachiko||Tsunehisa, Prince Takeda
April 30, 1908
|Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda
Princess Ayako Takeda
|Fusako, Princess Kane (Fusako Kitashirakawa)
|January 28, 1890||August 11, 1974(aged 84)||Lady Sachiko||Naruhisa, Prince Kitashirakawa
April 29, 1909
|Prince Nagahisa Kitashirakawa
Princess Mineko Kitashirakawa
Princess Sawako Kitashirakawa
Princess Taeko Kitashirakawa
|Nobuko, Princess Fumi (Princess Nobuko Asaka)
|August 7, 1891||November 3, 1933(aged 42)||Lady Sachiko||Yasuhiko, Prince Asaka
May 6, 1909
|Princess Kikuko Asaka
Princess Takahiko Asaka
Prince Tadahito Asaka
Princess Kiyoko Asaka
|Teruhito, Prince Mitsu
|November 30, 1893||August 17, 1894||Lady Sachiko|
|Toshiko, Princess Yasu (Toshiko Higashikuni)
|May 11, 1896||March 5, 1978(aged 81)||Lady Sachiko||Naruhiko, Prince Higashikuni
May 18, 1915
|Prince Morihiro Higashikuni
Prince Moromasa Higashikuni
Prince Akitsune Higashikuni
Prince Toshihiko Higashikuni
|Takiko, Princess Sada
|September 24, 1897||January 11, 1899||Lady Sachiko|
|Reference style||His Imperial Majesty|
|Spoken style||Your Imperial Majesty|
The Meiji era ushered in many far-reaching changes to the ancient feudal society of Japan. A timeline of major events might include:
Emperor Meiji is portrayed by Toshirō Mifune in the 1980 Japanese war drama film The Battle of Port Arthur (sometimes referred as 203 Kochi). Directed by Toshio Masuda the film depicted the Siege of Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War and starred Tatsuya Nakadai (as General Nogi Maresuke), Tetsurō Tamba (as General Kodama Gentarō) and Toshirō Mifune (as Emperor Meiji).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Emperor Meiji.|
Emperor MeijiBorn: 3 November 1852 Died: 30 July 1912
|Emperor of Japan
February 3, 1867 – July 30, 1912
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