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Empress Dowager Eishō’s Imperial Funeral

Harada Kōkyo (1863-1925)

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Empress Dowager Eishō’s Imperial Funeral

by Harada Kōkyo , 1897

Harada Kōkyo (1863-1925)

IHL Cat. #1809

About This Print

Source: Impressions of the Front: Woodcuts of the Sino-Japanese WarOkamoto, Shumpei, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1983, p.31.
The Empress Dowager Eishō (consort of Emperor Kōmei, 1831-1867), who was suffering with catarrhal pneumonia, died at on the evening of January 11, 1897 after a visit earlier in the day from Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken.  Her funeral was held on February 7.  This print published on February 5, two days before the funeral, is an announcement of that event.  The illustration was likely created from details provided by the Imperial Household Ministry.  The black bordered inscription on the top of the center sheet starts with the words "Imperial Funeral Bulletin" 御大葬彙報, if I am translating it correctly.

The funeral arrangements for the Empress Dowager were to be the model for those of Emperor Meiji when he died in 1912.  See IHL Cat. #1683, Illustration of the Main Gate at Aoyama During the Imperial Funeral Ceremony, 1912.       

Mourning the Empress Dowager's Death and the Funeral
Source: The following is excerpted from Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912, Donald Keene, Columbia University Press, 2002, p. 530-532.

For five days after the empress dowager’s death, court business was halted, and a period of mourning of a year was decreed, beginning on the day she died.  Mourning clothes would be worn at court, and other Japanese were to desist for thirty days from song, dance, and music.  Flags would be flown with black streamers.  For the next fifteen days and on the days of the departure of the coffin and of the burial, criminals were not to be executed.

The emperor and empress were unable to attend the funeral in Kyōto because they both were ill, and it was feared that the exposure to winter weather might aggravate their illness. 

The emperor commanded that henceforth the empress dowager would be known as Dowager Empress Eishō.  This was a most unusual distinction, no doubt reflecting his devotion.  There were scarcely any previous instances of an empress dowager or empress being given a posthumous name. 

On February 2 Eishō coffin left the Aoyama Palace for the Ōmiya Gosho in Kyoto.

The funeral in Kyōto took place on February 7.  The procession from the Ōmiya Gosho to the Tsukinowayama Funeral Hall was long and impressive.  The hearse was drawn by four oxen, and nobles and great men of state, all dressed in formal robes, walked behind it.  Shintō priests carrying sakaki branches, brocade pennants, and halberds, or flaming torches walked to the left and right of the procession.  A guard of honor from the Household Guards and Forth Division, along with naval personnel, accompanied the hearse.  Field artillery of the Fourth Division fired salutes of minute guns, and a military band played “Kanashimi no kiwami” (Extremity of Grief), the dirge played a funerals of senior members of the imperial family.

When the funeral procession reached the Yume no Ukihashi (Floating Bridge of Dreams), just before reaching the Sennyū-ji, the road became so narrow that the coffin was transferred to a handcart.  At ten that night the procession arrived at Tsukinowayama, and at eleven a service was performed. The ceremony ended at twelve minutes after midnight on the eighth of February.

Perhaps the funeral’s most surprising feature was the absence of Buddhist elements – no priests, no chanting of sutras, no incense.  In the past, Shintō priests had been unwilling to conduct funerals for fear of being infected the pollution of death, but ever since the Restoration, when Buddhism had fallen from favor, Shintō funeral rites had been performed.

The night time procession

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description  Empress Dowager Eishō’s Imperial Funeral [this is an abbreviated translation of the title shown below, which talks about the Empress' coffin being transported from the Kyoto Ōmiya Palace to the Imperial Tomb]
京都大宮御所ヨリ陵月縄新御陵ヘ御送柩心圖 [as printed across the top of the center sheet]
 Artist  Harada Kōkyo (1863-1925)
耕挙 Kōkyo
 Seal  耕舉 Kōkyo (see above)
 Publication Date
February 5, 1897 
松木平吉 Matsuki Heikichi
firm name: Daikokuya Heiikichi [Marks ref. pub. 029; seal similar to 25-287]
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  good - backed with heavy paper resulting in some wrinkling of the center and left sheets
 Genre  ukiyo-e
 Format  vertical ōban triptych
 H x W Paper 
 left sheet: 14 7/16 x 9 5/8 in. (36.7 x 24.4 cm)
 center and right sheets: 14 7/16 x 9 3/4 in. (36.7 x 24.8 cm)

 Collections This Print
 National Diet Library Digital Collections Call Number 寄別7-2-2-6