Home‎ > ‎Articles‎ > ‎

Prints of Emperor Meiji and Empress Haruko

Prints in Collection

Report: The Whole Nation Living in Perfect Contentment (Empress, Empress Dowager and Court Ladies in Waiting Sewing Pledgets)
IHL Cat. #1105


-intentionally left blank- 

-intentionally left blank-

Illustration of the Main Gate at Aoyama During the Imperial Funeral Ceremony
Illustration of the Main Gate at Aoyama
During the Imperial Funeral Ceremony, 1912

Hanpo (active 1904-1912)
IHL Cat. #1683
Illustration of His Imperial Majesty's Funeral Outside Nijūbashi
Illustration of His Imperial Majesty's Funeral
Outside Nijūbashi, 1912

Hanpo (active 1904-1912)
IHL Cat. #2214


Portraying the Emperor and Empress

Empress Haruko, 1886
Emperor Meiji, 1888

While the earliest woodblock portrayals of Emperor Meiji date to 18681 it was not until after the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, with the encouragement of the Meiji government, that woodblock prints began to play "an important role in introducing the emperor and his family to the populace."2  Prints of the late 1870s feature the imperial family enjoying traditional life in the palace (including the depiction of the emperor's consorts) or portraits of the royal couple surrounded by prominent persons or deities (see IHL Cat. #455 above).  By the mid-1880s with the government's emphasis on promoting Western social customs and institutions, woodblock prints were depicting Emperor Meiji, Empress Haruko and Crown Prince Yoshihito as a modern European family (with consorts no longer pictured!)3 thoroughly involved in affairs of state. 

Source: Japan Awakens: Woodblock Prints of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Barry Till, Pomegranate Communications, Inc., 2008, p. 34-36.
In the 1870s, about a decade into the Meiji period (1863-1912), Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) and Empress Haruko (1849-1914) became popular subjects for woodblock artists.  This was a break with tradition, as under shogunate rule, some subjects, including depictions of the imperial couple, were off limits to artists. 

In the woodblock portrayals, the emperor was almost always depicted wearing a Western uniform bedecked with medals and gold braid; sometimes a Western military cap; and, invariably, Western-style whiskers and haircut.  In 1886, the empress began wearing Western dresses with ruffles, cinched waists, and trains and the following year brought a proclamation urging Japanese women to follow her example.

The emperor and empress appear very approachable and personable.  Meiji is often depicted at ceremonies and events, such as the inauguration of the railway and the signing of the constitution; or presiding over parliament, greeting foreign dignitaries, opening various expositions, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of his marriage, or simply strolling in a park.  The emperor was frequently portrayed overseeing military maneuvers as the supreme commander; the empress, visiting wounded soldiers in military hospitals.  Both figures appear in wartime prints, rallying public enthusiasm.  Occasionally the young heir apparent, the crown prince, was portrayed with his parents.

The Emperor and Empress - An Overview

Source: Canadian Heritage Information Network website http://agora.museevirtuel.ca/edu/ViewLoitLo.do;jsessionid=A6D91E974BCBE59D18176D1CA9FF6468?method=preview&lang=EN&id=12984
In 1867, after the death of the Emperor Komei, the throne was passed to his son, Mutsuhito, who became known posthumously as Emperor Meiji, meaning "Enlightened Ruler."  During the Tokugawa period (1603-1868 and also known as the Edo period), the emperor, considered by the Japanese to be a divine ruler, was a ceremonial head of state, divested of political power. All administrative and military functions were governed by the shoguns, who had been appointed by the emperor. However, in 1869 the young emperor’s position changed dramatically when he moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, the new capital, and supported the government’s efforts to centralize power and modernize the nation. Allowing his ministers to govern affairs of state, the emperor concentrated on becoming a symbol of modernization. Through his example, he guided the Japanese to accept the rapid changes in their society. He led the way to modernization in 1872 by cutting his topknot, preferring a Western hairstyle and mustache, and wearing Western clothing for official appearances.

Haru-ko, the wife of the Meiji Emperor, was the daughter of a high noble of the court of Kyoto. Like the emperor, she, too, broke with tradition and became a symbol of modernity. In 1873, she abandoned the traditional custom for married women to shave their eyebrows and blacken their teeth. The empress became involved in the war effort during the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, frequently visiting the military hospitals. Committed to the education of young Japanese women, she encouraged them to keep up with the changes in fashion and manners that were affecting Japanese society. She founded the Red Cross Hospital at Shibuya in Tokyo, and she devoted a great deal of time to a variety of charitable causes. In 1886, it was decided that the empress should wear Western-style dresses for public occasions, and on January 17, 1887 an official proclamation urged all women to follow her example. However, like most Japanese, both the emperor and his wife wore traditional garments when in private.

The Crown Prince (1879-1926)

Source: Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912, Donald Keene, Columbia University Press, 200 2, p. 471.

Although crown prince Yoshihito (the future Emperor Taisho) actually spent little time in his father's presence, from 1887 he was frequently portrayed along with the emperor and empress in nishikie...  Sometimes the prints depict the prince standing between his parents, as if to emphasize the domestic harmony within the imperial family.

1 Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912, Donald Keene, Columbia University Press, 200, p. 211.
Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age – Woodblock Prints from the Meiji Era, Louise E. Virgin, Donald Keene, et. al., MFA Publications, 2001, p. 38.
3 It is reported that in 1882 print publishers received a warning about depicting the emperor in the company of consorts and that for a brief period depictions of "Their Sacred Imperial Majesties" were prohibited.

last revision: