Six Great Imperial Tours
The Six Great Imperial Tours were the six largest and longest-term imperial progresses made by the Meiji Emperor in the 1870s-1880s. These served as a key element of the early Meiji government's construction of a new Emperor-centered nationalism, by making the Emperor visible and accessible to the people, and to have him seen traveling and surveying the realm, reinforcing the idea of his connection to and concern for the entire realm. Stated aims of the tours were for the emperor to see places he had not seen, and to see for himself the feelings and desires of the people. While in various locations, the emperor also surveyed local administration; local industrial, agricultural, and commercial products; lists of local individuals of note for their service to the nation; as well as areas of construction and land development; agricultural and livestock operations; and law enforcement operations.
His travels included visits to sites of Imperial importance, including Ise and Atsuta Shrines, imperial mausolea, and the like, as well as visits with honor students, disaster victims, individuals honored for certain forms of service to the nation (such as contributions to local industry and education), and the elderly, showing his concern for the people. On half of these tours, he also stopped in Kyoto to pay respects at the tomb of his father, Emperor Kômei.
The Emperor carried two of the Imperial Regalia - the sword Kusanagi no tsurugi and the jewel Yasakani no magatama - on his person during these tours, and in fact is said to have carried the sword whenever leaving the Palace throughout the pre-war period. His entourage also carried Imperial chrysanthemum flags and other physical symbols on the tours, and were received in many towns by the display of national flags, lanterns and the like bearing the hinomaru "rising sun" emblem or other national or Imperial symbols; in this way, the tours also served to spread and fix popular awareness of national and Imperial symbols.
Some have argued that the Imperial Tours were engineered chiefly as a response to the Freedom and People's Rights Movement, in order to gain popular support for the monarchy, and for the state, and to combat the popularity of the movement. However, as historian Takashi Fujitani points out, the imperial court was considered to be one "in motion" as early as 1868, the first of the greatest of the Imperial Tours took place in 1872, before the Popular Rights Movement had gotten off the ground, and the Tours visited many places where the Movement was quite weak (esp. in Tôhoku), and skipped over some places, such as Shikoku, where the Movement was quite strong.
The Tours included:
- 1872/5/23 to 7/12: A tour of the Chûgoku and Saikoku regions.
- 1876 June 2 to July 21: A tour of the Tôhoku region.
- 1878 August 30 to November 9: A seventy-two day tour of the Hokuriku and Tôkaidô regions, with a retinue of around 700 people, including a visit to Atsuta Shrine. Originally scheduled for 1877, but delayed to 1878 on account of the Satsuma Rebellion.
- 1880 June 16 to July 23: A tour of Yamanashi, Mie and Kyoto prefectures, including visits to Ise Shrine.
- 1881 July 30 to October 11: A seventy-four day tour of Yamagata, Akita, and Hokkaidô, on which the emperor was accompanied by a retinue of some 350 people.
- 1885 July 26 to August 12: A tour of Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, and Okayama prefectures.
- Takashi Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy, UC Press (1998), 47-49.
- Donald Keene, "Meiji tennô: Ryûkyûô taii," Shincho 45 no. 7 (July 1997), 164.
- Fujitani, 56.
- Fujitani, 83.