Nishimiya Hide

Nishimiya Hide was a lady-in-waiting to Yoshiko, wife of Tokugawa Nariaki, lord of Mito han, prior to the Meiji Restoration. Like many others from elite backgrounds, she struggled to support herself and her family following the fall of the old social order.


Nishimiya was born in 1834 inside the Mito han mansion in the Koishikawa neighborhood of Edo[1]. Her father Nishino Nobuaki was a low-ranking retainer in service to the domain, who had been granted a position in the personal retinue of the lord of Mito han, Tokugawa Nariaki, in recognition of his work as a Mito school scholar & researcher in Japanese history. His stipend was a mere 10 koku, plus an allotment of four men (servants).

Her upbringing within the Mito domain's Edo mansion, perhaps indicative of that of other samurai women of similar circumstances, included training in reading and writing, tea ceremony, naginata (halberd), and a variety of aspects of formal etiquette. She began these lessons formally at age six. Records relating to her childhood also mention fine clothing given her as a gift by an aunt, and being required to wear only plainer clothes in public due to calls for austerity in the wake of serious famines. Her family, for a time, as an act of charity (similarly in the wake of these famines), hired three or four additional maids, providing these three or four women with housing and meals, though there was little extra work for them to do. Hide is also known as a child to have spent considerable time visiting temples and shrines and sightseeing and traveling otherwise within the city of Edo.

At age 14, she fell seriously ill with the flu, of which her mother then died. For a few years following her recovery, despite her young age, Hide had to suddenly take on much of the responsibilities of the woman of the house, caring for her younger brother and sister, entertaining guests, and so forth. She wrote in her memoirs, "what I did not do did not get done."[2] Before long, however, her father remarried, and his new wife took over much of these responsibilities, freeing Hide to apply to enter the service of Lord Nariaki's wife Yoshiko. The application included assessments of her skills at poetry and tea ceremony, and of her physical beauty.

She entered Lady Yoshiko's service in 1850, at the age of 16, being given her own maid, and her own room in a wing designated for the female attendants, at the clan's mansion in Komagome, where they had all relocated in 1844, after Nariaki fell out of favor with the shogun & his chief advisors. Hide would remain in Lady Yoshiko's service for nineteen years. At this Komagome mansion, Nariaki, having been ordered to refrain from manly pursuits, spent much of his time in the women's quarters, where Hide interacted with him on numerous occasions, exchanging poetry, playing incense games, and the like.

Nariaki began spending more time at the Koishikawa mansion again in 1853, having come back into favor with the shogunal authorities. For a time, he left Yoshiko (and therefore Hide and the other female attendants) at Komagome, but when Yoshiko's mother-in-law fell ill, she returned to Koishikawa, leaving Hide and a number of the other women behind to care for the house, and for the animals. Nariaki finally received permission in 1855 to return his whole family, and their attendants and so forth, to the Koishikawa mansion.

A major earthquake struck Edo later that year, on 1855/10/2, destroying much of the city, including the Mito Tokugawa mansion.[3] Over one hundred thousand people are believed to have died citywide. Hide escaped, as did her father, brother, and stepmother, as well as Lord Nariaki, but Hide's sister and one of Nariaki's chief advisors were among those killed.


Three years later, following the death of Shogun Tokugawa Iesada, Nariaki attempted to have his seventh son, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, named shogun. Defeated by the opposing faction, he retired briefly to Komagome; fears that he might be ordered to commit suicide led to considerable tensions between Mito and the now-dominant ruling faction within the shogunate, but these tensions were defused as the shogunate ordered Nariaki to instead retire to Mito. Hide and a number of other attendants and retainers thus accompanied Nariaki, Yoshiko, and their family to Mito; this was Hide's first time to go there.

Nariaki died in 1860, and two years later, Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi married Kazu-no-Miya, a younger sister of Emperor Kômei, something "everyone in Mito disapproved" of, as there had previously been plans in place for Iemochi to marry one of Lady Yoshiko's Imperial princely relatives.[4] When Nariaki's successor as lord of Mito, Tokugawa Yoshiatsu, accompanied the shogun to Kyoto the following year, Hide's father served in the retinue.

Hide remained closely in Lady Yoshiko's service, remaining within Mito castle almost exclusively until her lady's official mourning period for Nariaki was over (with the key exception of accompanying her lady on visits to Nariaki's grave). After that, she accompanied Yoshiko in seeing something of the domain.

Meanwhile, Hide's brother was arrested and imprisoned as a member of anti-Imperial forces, dying in prison in 1868/3 and leaving behind three young children. Hide's father was bedridden with grief, and called for Hide to come to him. on the road, she ran into Tokugawa Yoshiatsu, Nariaki's successor as lord of Mito, for the last time; he died soon afterward, and Yoshiko became the de facto interim political leader in Mito, immediately calling Hide back to her side.


In 1869, Lady Yoshiko dramatically reduced the size of her staff, and Hide returned briefly to her father's residence at the Koishikawa mansion in Tokyo. Before long, they had to move again, and find a property of their own to rent, as the Mito Tokugawa clan could no longer afford to maintain their Tokyo mansion. Her father, though seventy years old at this time, was able to find work in the new Meiji government, his expertise as a scholar of Japanese imperial history helping him obtain a position as assistant in charge of managing imperial tombs. In 1872, he retired from that position. He and Hide were summoned to Mito, and were obliged to re-settle there in order to maintain their family's shizoku (former samurai) status. Her father's stipend had been increased dramatically to 150 koku in 1867, and in order to maintain their status, and income, they agreed to relocate to Mito; unfortunately, shizoku stipends were cut severely by the Tokyo government shortly afterward. At some point around this time, her father changed the family name from Nishino to Nishimiya.

Hide, meanwhile, had she been able to remain in Yoshiko's service, might have been able to retire with a comfortable pension. Since she was not able to do that, she, her father, and her stepmother had to figure out some way to support the family, and to secure an heir. Her father adopted a man for her to marry, and after their son Nobutaka was born in 1873, the couple were divorced. After that, the family tried a number of things to make money to support themselves. They rented out futons for a brief time, then gave that up and tried raising chickens, but a fox destroyed their flock. For a few years after that, she found considerable, though brief, success establishing and running a geisha house. She recruited several geisha from Tokyo, and brought them to Mito, finding enough success that she was able to recruit several more shortly afterward. However, in 1882 after the geisha house burned down for the third time, she gave up on this endeavor as well, in part because of concerns of the negative impact of the geisha house upon her son's moral education. Her father died later that year.

Nobutaka had not done well in school, but around this time, when he was around nine years old, he expressed interest in learning how to make shoes, and so Hide managed to apprentice him to a shoemaker in Tokyo, returning herself to Mito. She worked briefly at a clothing store, and briefly helping a geisha to start her career, while simultaneously doing a little moneylending here and there.

In 1887, she returned to Tokyo, apprenticing Nobutaka to a new shoemaker, and rented rooms from a former shogunal retainer, which she then rented out in turn, taking on boarders and looking after them. She attempted to teach tea ceremony, but found no interested students. The following year, her nephew Kumeo who had been staying with her, stole her savings and disappeared. She gave up on the boardinghouse soon afterward. For a brief time in 1889, she then stayed with her niece's husband, following her niece's death, and was treated warmly by the husband's new wife. In the wake of an assassination attempt upon the foreign minister that year, however, the government cracked down on cohabitation, and the police forced her to move.

Hide then worked briefly as a live-in cook for some teachers, and then as a personal attendant to a member of the military. When her employer died in 1892, his family helped her find a new position. Borrowing money from Yoshiko, she opened a shoe repair shop with Nobutaka, who had by now finished his apprenticeship. Yoshiko fell severely ill shortly afterwards, and Hide was there with her at Yoshiko's Tokyo residence when she died; Hide attended the funeral, and saw off the funeral train which carried Yoshiko's coffin up to Mito.

She then found a wife for Nobutaka, who was then 29, in a woman named Ogawa Teru. The three lived together for about five months, supporting themselves through the struggling shoe store, until Nobutaka was conscripted into the army, where he was put to work making boots. Hide and Teru continued to run the store, and before long, Teru gave birth to a son. Men they hired to help run the shop caused problems. During the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, Hide and Teru were provided rations by the army to help them get by. Eventually, Nobutaka was able to return to civilian life, and worked long shifts at a clothing store to help provide for the family. They paid off their loans, and bought sewing machines to expand/improve the shoe store, and even with Teru giving birth to a second child, a daughter, they soon were financially stable enough that Nobutaka felt he could afford to do something to repay his mother for all the difficulties; he financed her to go on a number of trips, the first of which was to pay a visit to the family graves, and old family friends, in Mito. This was to be Hide's last trip there, however. Two years later, she traveled by train for the first time, on a day trip to Nikkô alongside Teru's mother and a third woman. Some time later, she visited Kyoto, Osaka, and Ise along with Nobutaka and his former master; another trip was to Fujisawa, Enoshima, and Kamakura with her grandson.

When the Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1904, Nobutaka was drafted into the army again, being let go two months later, but recalled once again in 1905. He missed the birth of his second daughter.

Nishimiya Hide died in 1912 at the age of 78, seven years after her memoirs end.


  • Anne Walthall, "Nishimiya Hide: Turning Palace Arts into Marketable Skills," in Walthall (ed.), The Human Tradition in Modern Japan, Scholarly Resources, Inc. (2002), 45-60.
  1. Today, the site of the Tokyo Dome, and of the Koishikawa Kôrakuen.
  2. Walthall, 47.
  3. Presumably it was the Koishikawa mansion that Nariaki, Hide, and their families were at when this happened, but it is unclear from Walthall's account.
  4. Walthall, 49.