KYOTO IMPERIAL PALACE and GARDENS
Mysterious, elegant, and peaceful would be descriptive words for the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Japan’s history boasts 125 legitimate monarchs since 660 B.C. The present Emperor Akihito would have to know much about his ancestors to recall all the intricate tapestries of rulers.
When Emperor Meiji came to power in 1867, Japan was isolated, a feudal country and dominated by the shogunate. This was pre-industrialization. However, by the time of his death, there had been great industrial and social changes. The Meiji Restoration was also known as the “new Japan”.
His wife was the Empress Shoken or Empress Consort.
She was known to wear western clothes and encouraged women to do so.Up to this time, the junihitoe was worn by women of high position. It is an extremely elegant kimono; sometimes called a “twelve layer robe”. Extremely expensive and are considered priceless today. They are now worn only for high ceremony. Being quite the hostess, she entertained U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and English royalty as guests in the Imperial Palace. She worked to set up the Japanese Red Cross and during the war with China, she visited hospitals to comfort the troops. Great changes were made for women and after Emperor Meiji’s death, she was granted the title of Empress Dowager.
Customs were very different in this culture as the Emperor Meiji fathered 15 children by his five ladies in waiting or concubines because the Empress Shoken could not have children. This was perhaps much more humane considering the English Kings cut off the heads of wives who could not produce an heir. Later I will write about the present-day law in Japan known as the Imperial Household Law of 1947 about who can be emperor.
The Kyoto Imperial Palace is a rectangular enclosure on 22 acres. It is visited only by appointment. How fortunate we were to be in Japan this November when Emperor Akihito opened the palace and gardens to all visitors for only 10 days. The gardens were laid out in 1630 by artist and Tea House designer, Kobori Masakazu. They consist of six bridges over beautiful ponds and picturesque islands. Surrounded by pines, maples, wisteria, mosses, rounded rocks and cherry trees, these gardens are breathtaking. One only guesses how old the carefully trimmed and manicured plants and trees may be.
The longest ruling emperor was Emperor Hirohito, from 1901-1989. He also was the 124th emperor and was in power when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. His prime minister at the time was Hideki Tojo who ordered the attacks. The Japanese launched 353 planes from six aircraft carriers. During this surprise attack, 2, 402 people died and 1,282 were wounded. This occurred without a formal declaration of war, making U.S. President Roosevelt declare “….this day will live in infamy!” As history played out, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Japanese Americans in the United States were placed in internment camps. Finally the Japanese made an unconditional surrender. The people of Japan had never heard the Emperor’s voice until he went on the radio to address the people. He told them , “The country must accept the unacceptable.” In 1946, he also gave the Humanitarian Doctrine, which denounced that he had descended from a god or had any such powers. Reconstruction began with the help of many Americans. Known as an “occupied Japan“, this occupation ended in 1951 with the San Francisco Peace Treaty. Japan once again became an independent country. A footnote to this brief writing on history is the prime minister, Hideki Tojo, who ordered the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was hanged.
Present Day Emperor Akihito
The Emperor of Japan today is Emperor Akihito. He has been in power since 1989 and is the only monarch in the world to be called “Emperor”.
- Empress Consort Michiko
His wife is a commoner who attended Harvard and Oxford. She has had her share of stresses in being the Empress. She lost her voice for some time. Their son, Crown Prince Naruhito, is in line to be emperor. He is married also to a commoner, who is highly educated, and has found being a part of the royal family with ancient traditions and the pressures of the Imperial Household Law of 1947 a bit much to handle. The law, in effect, states that the emperor should have a male heir. The couple has had a daughter, Aiko, Princess Toshi. Nevertheless, Princess Masako may be having it a bit easier from the pressure to produce a son since recently the Crown Prince’s brother has just had a male baby. The former Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, brought before the government (DIET) a bill to allow a female to be a successor to the Imperial title of Emperor. This was put on the back burner after the male child was born into the family. Only one exception was made to the rule of male succession. Empress Gencho (715-724 ) ascended to the Chrysanthemum throne, which is the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world. She was to hold the throne until the son of her deceased younger brother would be mature enough to be emperor. She abdicated to her daughter after reigning nine years. We will see how Japanese history may change in the future.
In an earlier writing, I said that Japan had risen from the ashes. Their history is very old. They are not a new nation as is the United States. They have found their way into a democratic way of living and have become leaders in the world of technology. Rich in history…..a modern Japan.
BOYER WRITES by N. Boyer 3rd in a series on JAPAN See Slide presentation below