Emperor Meiji

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Statue of Emperor Meiji at Naminoue Shrine in Okinawa, identified as kokka, or, "The State."
The tomb-mound of Emperor Meiji, at the former site of Fushimi castle in Kyoto.
  • Born: 1852
  • Died: 1912
  • Reign: 1867-1912
  • Other Names: 睦仁 (Mutsuhito)
  • Japanese: 明治天皇 (Meiji tennou)

The Meiji Emperor was the great-grandfather of the current Emperor of Japan. Following the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868, he was the first Emperor since Emperor Kemmu in the 1330s to rule the country in the absence of a shogunate; he was also the last Emperor to reign in Kyoto, doing so briefly before the move to Tokyo.

Life & Reign

Emperor Meiji, known by his personal name Mutsuhito during his life, was the son of Emperor Kômei and Nakayama Yoshiko, an imperial concubine. His wife, Ichijô Haruko, came to be known as Empress Dowager Shôken.

Meiji took the throne on 1867/1/9, less than a year before Tokugawa Yoshinobu stepped down as Shogun, marking the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, and the "restoration" of Imperial rule.

His reign, known as the Meiji period (1867-1912), was marked by dramatic, rapid modernization and Westernization, as the country industrialized, militarized, began colonial/imperial expansion, instituted a system of rule based around a constitutional/parliamentary monarchy, nationwide public education, and a myriad of other reforms and developments.

Among the many other significant events of his reign, the emperor received numerous foreign heads of state, royals, and other dignitaries who came to Japan on formal and informal visits, including US President Ulysses S. Grant, King Kalakaua of Hawaii, Tsarevitch Nicholas II of Russia, and a number of British royals, among others. The emperor never learned to speak any English, and is said to have never been able to relax in conversation with foreigners, showing little personality and instead playing the part of Imperial host.[1]

Emperor Meiji died in 1912, and was succeeded by his son, the Taishô Emperor. He was entombed at the former site of Fushimi castle, a short distance from the grave of Emperor Kammu; thus, the first and last emperors to reign in Heian-kyô (Kyoto) are buried nearby one another.

Preceded by
Emperor Kômei
Emperor of Japan
Succeeded by
Emperor Taishô


  • "Chronology of the Japanese Emperors since the Mid-Nineteenth Century." in Handbook of Oriental Studies. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2008. pp335-336.
  1. Sir Hugh Cortazzi, "Royal Visits to Japan in the Meiji Period, 1868-1912," in Collected Writings of Sir Hugh Cortazzi, Edition Synapse (2000), 111.