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Mutsuhito (睦仁), the Meiji Emperor (明治天皇, literally 'Enlightened Rule Emperor') (3 November 1852–30 July 1912) was the 122nd Emperor of Japan. At the time of his 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 Emperor Meiji was the surviving son of the Emperor Kōmei by the lady-in-waiting Nakayama Yoshiko (1834–1907), the daughter of Lord Nakayama Tadayasu, sometime minister of the left (sadaijin) and a scion of the Fujiwara. He was born eight months before the arrival of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry and the United States squadron of "black ships" in Edo Bay and two years before the first of the so-called unequal treaties which the Tokugawa shogunate signed with Perry. Originally titled Sachi no miya (Prince Sachi), the future emperor spent most of his childhood at the Nakayama household in Kyoto, as it was customary to entrust the upbring of imperial children to prominent court families.
He was formally adopted by Asako Nyōgō (later Empress Dowager Eishō), the principal consort of Emperor Kōmei, on 11 July 1860. He also received the personal name Mutsuhito, the rank of shinnō (imperial prince, and thus a potential successor to the throne) and the title of Kōtaishi (Crown Prince) on the same day. Crown Prince Mutsuhito ascended to the throne on 3 February, 1867 at the age of fourteen, taking the title of Meiji, or “enlightened rule”.
On 2 September 1867, the Emperor Meiji married Lady Haruko (28 May 1849–19 April 1914), the third daughter of Lord Ichijō Tadaka, sometime minister of the left (sadaijin). Known posthumously as Empress Shoken, she was the first imperial consort to receive the title of kogo (literally, the emperor's wife, translated as Empress consort), in several hundred years. Although she was the first Japanese empress to play a public role, she bore no children. Emperor Meiji 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:
- Crown Prince Yoshihito (Haru no miya Yoshihito Shinnō), 3rd son, (31 August 1879–25 December 1926) (see Emperor Taishō).
- Princess Masako (Tsune no miya Masako Naishinnō), 6th daughter, (30 September 1888–8 March 1940), titled Tsune no miya (Princess Tsune) until marriage; m. at Imperial Palace, Tokyo, 30 April 1908 Prince Takeda Tsunehisa (Takeda no miya Tsunehisa ō, 22 September 1882–23 April 1919), and had issue.
- Princess Fusako (Kane no miya Fusako Naishinnō), 7th daughter, (28 January 1890–11 August 1974), titled Kane no miya (Princess Kane) until marriage; m. at Imperial Palace, Tokyo 29 April 1909 Prince Kitashirakawa Naruhisa (Kitashirakawa no miya Naruhisa ō, 1 April 1887–2 April 1923), and had issue.
- Princess Nobuko (Fami no miya Nobuko Naishinnō), 8th daughter, (7 August 1891–3 November 1933); titled Princess Fami (Fami no miya) until marriage; m. at Imperial Palace, Tokyo 6 May 1909 Prince Asaka Yasuhiko (Asaka no miya Yasuhiko ō, 2 October 1887–13 April 1981), and had issue.
- Princess Toshiko (Yasu no miya Toshiko Naishinnō), 9th daughter, (11 May 1896–5 March 1978); titled Yasu no miya (Princess Yasu) until marriage; m. at Imperial Palace, Tokyo 18 May, 1915 Prince Higashikuni Naruhiko (Higashikuni no miya Naruhiko ô, 3 December 1887–20 January 1990), and had issue.
The Meiji Emperor was the symbolic leader of the Meiji Restoration, in which the Tokugawa shogunate was abolished by Imperial forces following the Boshin War. The Charter Oath, a five-point statement of the nature of the new government abolished feudalism and proclaimed a modern democratic government for Japan. Although a parliament was formed, it had no real power, and neither did Meiji. Power had passed from the Tokugawa into the hands of the daimyo who had led the Restoration. Japan was thus controlled by an oligarchy, which comprised the most powerful men of the military, political, and economic spheres. Meiji, 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 Ogimachi in 1586.
The Meiji Restoration is a source of pride for the Japanese, as it and the accompanying industrialization allowed Japan to become the preeminent power in the Pacific Ocean and a major player in the world within a generation. On the other hand, it is a source of shame, as it was the beginning of Japan's imperialism in the Pacific and prepared the nation to join the Rome-Berlin Axis in the 1930s.
Meiji's role in the Restoration is 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) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). One of the few windows we have into Meiji's own feelings is his poetry, which seems to indicate a pacifist streak, or at least a man that wished war could be avoided.
- Meiji Shrine (English page)
- Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912 by Donald Keene, Columbia University Press, 2002. ISBN 023112340X
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