Government

Emperor

The emperor’s palace or castle, surrounded by a moat and three walls, stands on the high ground in the western part of the city. Within the two outer walls are the low, unsightly houses of the princes. Here we see kugis and daimios riding on gayly-caparisoned horses, and occasionally a retainer (Samurai) running by their side, calling out loudly for all to make way as the master rides.

Inside the third wall lives the Emperor, or Mikado, surrounded by his high officers. The house is built in the general style of all the houses, but is much larger and more elegantly finished. But to foreign eyes it is almost invisible. Sentinels keep watch at some distance, and none are allowed to approach the sacred threshold but the favored princes and great dignitaries of the empire.

The Sunrise Kingdom (1879)

Those Japanese who best know their countrymen before the revolution, will tell you that there has always been a want of respect, other than enforced respect, among the people. Their attitude towards the Mikado seems to be the only exception to their general want of veneration.

English Influence in Japan (1876)

The Mikado is so anxious to break down all old customs, he has begun to take every opportunity of showing his hitherto sacred person in public. About a fortnight ago he opened the railway from this [Yokohama] to Yedo, and on the approaching visit of the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, intends to show himself again, so no doubt we shall have the pleasure of seeing him.

Letters from China & Japan (1875)

Many detachments of soldiers are met [on the road to Nikko], all in European uniform, and engaged apparently in superintending preparations for a journey of the Mikado next month. Labourers were clearing up the paths, removing weeds and grass from the roadside up to a certain line. The people, like those of other nations, are greatly attracted by the appearance of bright uniforms and implements of war. In one cottage I counted thirteen persons, more or less undressed, all in eager expectation, waiting to see the soldiers pass. At Nakata a bridge of boats had been thrown across the river by an engineer corps for use by the Mikado; but of course, though quite complete, we were not allowed to go over it. ...

In village after village preparations for the welcome of the Mikado are in progress. Here and there at temples, which it may be hoped he will honour with a visit, new sentry-boxes are being set up for the imperial guards. Sometimes rich and quaint old carvings from inner shrines are taken down and affixed to flag-staffs on either side of the path; the Son of Heaven may at least honour them with a glance.

Rambles Through Japan Without a Guide (1892)

By the time the Mikado appeared, it was raining in torrents; so he very wisely made up his mind to go quietly back to Yedo, and postpone the naval review to a more favourable day.

We all went on the platform to see him as he returned to the railway carriage, and admired his brave efforts to adopt the gracious manner of European potentates, and bow to each side as he passed along.

Just at the moment however, at which he approached our little feminine group, and we were preparing to receive him with our most graceful curtsies, his Majesty’s courage failed, and he turned to the opposite side.

He is quite young, not above one-and-twenty, tall, but not handsome. I know not how better to describe his dress, than to tell you that he wore two articles of apparel resembling somewhat a cassock and chasuble—the former scarlet, the latter white, surmounted by what I think was a plume of black horse-hair: at all events it had the same effect, and stood straight on end from his head. On his feet, I need hardly mention, were the inevitable boots with elastic sides, which seem so fascinating to people of all ranks and ages in this country.

Letters from China & Japan (1875)

The Emperor Mutsuhỉto is about thirty years of age. In height he is above the average of his subjects, being probably not less than five feet, eight or nine inches. His countenance is, however, disappointing, at least at first sight; the expression has a good deal of the stolidity which seems to be characteristic of Eastern monarchs, and this is intensified by the thick protruding lips, which mar what is in other respects not an unintellectual face. The forehead and nose are good, and the dark eyes have a liquid depth which goes far to redeem the coarseness of the lower features. The hair, as in the case of most Japanese who have adopted the new style after the old, is thick and upright, curving considerably over the forehead, and the face is further adorned by a slight moustache and imperial. The complexion is pale. It must be confessed that His Majesty has not the highest type of face, even from a Japanese point of view; but it improves as one studies it, and is far from uninteresting when its gravity is lit up with a look of interest such as often appeared during His Majesty’s visit to the college. The critical events of his reign, as well as his severe domestic bereavements, his children having all died soon after birth, must have united to impress upon His Majesty that look of gravity which he seems usually to wear. ...

The Empress was dressed in embroidered white silk, the Princess Arisugawa in embroidered purple, and the Princess Higashi-Fushimi in embroidered green; the prevailing colour among the others was scarlet. All wore European boots; but no other foreign modification was visible. The Kôgô (‘Empress’) is a neat little lady with a gentle and intelligent cast of countenance, and a complexion of almost English fairness. The Princess Arisugawa is taller, her features are more regular, and sparkling black eyes give the finishing touch to a face of remarkable beauty. Homelier, but almost equally attractive, is the full round face of the Princess Higashi-Fushimi. As to the looks of the attendants, however, the less said the better.

The Land of the Morning (1882)

Nikko in the summer is full of foreign ladies and children; the Emperor, too, has a country-house there, where some of his large family spend the hot months. I saw the arrival of two little princesses, with a crowd of nurses, tutors, and officials. They were funny little things, about three or four years old, not as pretty as most Japanese children, but dressed in the most gorgeous colors. The red lacquer bridge was opened for them, decorated with “gohei”—the strips of white paper which are used so largely in the Shinto religion—and in the middle of the bridge there was a little table with offerings of food on it, where the children stopped and made their obeisances to the manes of their ancestors as they passed over. All the priests of Nikko turned out in gauze vestments of many colors, Buddhist and Shinto equally anxious to do honor to the descendants of the gods.

Notes in Japan (1896)

A mere youth of fifteen, the emperor came upon the scene, in the highest place, amidst that sudden outburst of European lights and systems which had just broken upon Japan through the long twilight of its insulated life. Within less than a year from his ascension he abolished the Shogunate. He then proceeded to put down the rebellion of the ex-Shogun, and many another rebellion in various parts of the country; shifted the seat of government to the maritime city of Yedo, and modified the immemorial and exclusive despotism of the Mikados’ rule by commencing to govern with the advice and assistance of a cabinet. ... I had the honour of presentation to his majesty very soon after our arrival in Tokio, and have no hesitation in acknowledging the interest with which I looked forward to it. A special reception by such a ruler of such a country, at such a period of its history as this, would have been a privilege conferred upon any one, and was the greater when conferred upon myself, whose only personal claim to it was the faithful execution of certain business engagements.

The palace in which the emperor now resides is in many respects a makeshift, although situated in beautiful gardens, and possibly sufficient for the requirements of a court so simple in its ceremonies and its functions of state as that which his majesty has been content to establish. It was, in the days of the Tycoons, the Yashiki of the lords of Kiushiu, and is situated just outside one of the gates of the grounds of the former castle of Yedo. It is a purely Japanese residence, with the exception that in some of its walls glass panes are substituted for paper, the ante-room is furnished in European style, and the audience-chamber is supplied with a chair or throne, also of European style. I was accompanied to the palace by his excellency Admiral Kawamura and by Flag-Lieutenant Hattori, of the imperial navy, who has served in several of our ships, speaks English like an Englishman, and on this occasion as on many others during my visit kindly officiated as interpreter. It is needless to detail the incidents of the visit beyond saying that his majesty wore a uniform of European fashion, and was attended by the two imperial princes Arisugawa-no-Miya and Higashi-Fushimi-no-Miya, the former of whom, as we know, was the commander-in-chief in Satsuma during the suppression of the rebellion. The prime minister, Sanjo Saneyoshi, and two or three other ministers, were likewise present. His majesty did me the honour of addressing to me the following observations, which, as being his, the reader will excuse me for publishing, although, if modesty alone had to be regarded, I would gladly withhold them.

The emperor said: “It gives me great pleasure to see you visit my country from such a distant land. The three men-of-war, which by my particular desire were constructed under your special care, have duly arrived, and are very successful. I do not doubt that the success of these ships is entirely due to your able and skilful management. I wish you future prosperity and good health.”

I need hardly say that my reply was the briefest possible expression of grateful thanks for the honour done me, and of the pleasure I had enjoyed in working for his majesty. On leaving the presence, tea and confections were served in the ante-room, and, in accordance with a pleasing Japanese custom, the confections were afterwards sent to our residence, in trays bearing the imperial crest. The impression made upon my mind by this presentation to the emperor was that Japan is now ruled by a monarch who possesses in a remarkable degree the qualities which command the respect and loyalty of mankind. Young as he is (being but twenty-seven years old at the date referred to), the anxieties and labours of his arduous reign have told seriously upon him. Many are the troubles he has had to bear, affliction after affliction descending upon him. In addition to great griefs of state—revolts and rebellions coming in swift succession in the early years of his reign, followed in later days by the defection of one trusted minister, the murder of another, and the attempted assassination of a third,—in addition to these, he has had to bow to the sorest of all imperial and domestic woes, the loss of the children of his love, and the consequent failure (for the time at least) of the succession to his heirs. The countenance of the emperor is, as it must be, sad, grievously so for one so young; but with its sadness is mixed an earnestness and proof of purpose which show that trouble has not lessened in him the sense of his great responsibilities, as the head of a nation numbering nearly thirty-three millions of souls, and undergoing in a few years the changes and transformations of many centuries.

Japan: Its History, Traditions, and Religions (1880)