Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912
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When Emperor Meiji began his rule, in 1867, Japan was a splintered empire, dominated by the shogun and the daimyos, who ruled over the country's more than 250 decentralized domains and who were, in the main, cut off from the outside world, staunchly antiforeign, and committed to the traditions of the past. Before long, the shogun surrendered to the emperor, a new constitution was adopted, and Japan emerged as a modern, industrialized state.
Despite the length of his reign, little has been written about the strangely obscured figure of Meiji himself, the first emperor ever to meet a European. Most historians discuss the period that takes his name while barely mentioning the man, assuming that he had no real involvement in affairs of state. Even Japanese who believe Meiji to have been their nation's greatest ruler may have trouble recalling a single personal accomplishment that might account for such a glorious reputation. Renowned Japan scholar Donald Keene sifts the available evidence to present a rich portrait not only of Meiji but also of rapid and sometimes violent change during this pivotal period in Japan's history.
In this vivid and engrossing biography, we move with the emperor through his early, traditional education; join in the formal processions that acquainted the young emperor with his country and its people; observe his behavior in court, his marriage, and his relationships with various consorts; and follow his maturation into a "Confucian" sovereign dedicated to simplicity, frugality, and hard work. Later, during Japan's wars with China and Russia, we witness Meiji's struggle to reconcile his personal commitment to peace and his nation's increasingly militarized experience of modernization. Emperor of Japan conveys in sparkling prose the complexity of the man and offers an unrivaled portrait of Japan in a period of unique interest.
imperial family and palace officials were invited. The emperor, happy and relaxed, called one after another of the guests to his side. With his own hands, he poured saké for the empress dowager, the empress, and Yoshihito. Soon the dining room was filled with happy shouts induced by the liquor. The emperor commanded various people to sing and dance. The chronology of his reign comments that probably so joyful an occasion, shared alike by ruler and ruled, had never before been witnessed.41 There
that the earlier rescript had been dictated by Prince Tuan and that the emperor’s real sentiments were in the later rescript.36 But the second rescript seems to have been ignored: the fighting continued, and the siege of the legations lasted for about two months until Peking was relieved by the allies.37 In the meantime, Boxer forces, admitted to Peking by command of the empress dowager, went on a rampage, burning churches and foreigners’ houses and searching for Christian converts and others
Classics of Confucianism and was acclaimed as a genius. Chung-gun, however, did not become a man of letters (although he was an accomplished calligrapher) but a man of action. Even as a boy he was known as a skillful marksman, and he preferred hunting to books. When he was first interrogated after being arrested, he gave as his profession “hunter.”28 In the account of his life he wrote in a prison cell while awaiting the death sentence, An related what had led to his conversion to Catholicism.
considered to be trifles, decided not to meet him again (Meiji tennō ki, 3, p. 498). Hisamitsu nursed a secret plan for correcting the woes of the time: it was to adopt the policy of Emperor Hsüan Tsung of the T’ang dynasty who, after putting down a rebellion, had strictly forbidden luxury and had commanded that all elegant things be burned (p. 500). When Iwakura heard of this “secret plan,” he merely laughed. 28. For Korean interpretations of the incident and its place in the chain of events
precautions.5 Assassinations—a conspicuous a feature of the period—also contributed to the tension. On December 10, 1867, Sakamoto Ryōma and Nakaoka Shintarō, who had played a major role in arranging the alliance between Satsuma and Chōshū, were assassinated in Kyōto.6 Restoration of imperial rule had yet to be formally proclaimed, but the court in Kyōto was already faced with practical problems now that the shogunate was no longer administering the country. When the regent and other members of