Empress Dowager Shoken (昭憲皇太后)

Empress Dowager Shoken (May 9, 1849 – April 9, 1914) was a member of the Japanese Imperial family. She was the empress of Emperor Meiji. Her name was Haruko ICHIJO. Her oshirushi (signature mark used by members of the Imperial family to mark their belongings) was a young leaf (Wakaba). Empress Dowager Shoken was sickly and did not have a biological child, but as a lawful wife she adopted the child (Emperor Taisho) between her husband and his concubine.


Empress Dowager Shoken was born on April 17, 1849. She was the third daughter of Juichii-sadaijin Tadaka ICHIJO, and her real mother was Tamiko NIIHATA, a concubine (Tadaka's lawful wife was Princess Fushimi no miya Junko). She was the younger sister of the Minister of the Right, Saneyoshi ICHIJO (1835 - 1868). Chiyogimi (Teruhime), Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA's fiancée, was Empress Dowager Shoken's older sister, and Mikako ICHIJO (adopted daughter of Tadaka, biological daughter of Kinhisa IMADEGAWA), who married Yoshinobu instead of Chiyogimi, was her step-sister.

Her first imina (personal name) was Masako. Her common names were Fukigimi, Fumigimi, and such. She changed her name to Suegimi in June 1858.

On July 29, 1867, she was authorized as the new Emperor Meiji's consort. Through connections of the Fushimi-no-Miya family, Nioko WAKAE, a female scholar of Chinese classics and an imperialist (1835-1881), was involved in the nurturing of Tadaka's daughters as a tutor, but in the face of choosing a consort from the ICHIJO family, Nioko is said to have recommended the younger sister Suegimi over the older sister.

On Febuary 7, 1869, she changed her name to Haruko. On Feburary 9, 1869, Shoken entered the court and obtained imperial proclamation to become a consort, and on the same day she became an empress. On this occasion, to avoid the fact that Shoken was three years older than the Emperor, her birth year was officially announced as1850. In the beginning, she was placed in the Chugushiki (Office of the Consort's Household) and was called Chugu following the tradition from the Medieval Period, but in the following year, the Chugushiki was changed to Kogogushiki (Queen-consort's Household Agency) and her title also changed to Kisai no Miya (empress). The Chugushiki has been abolished since then, and the Chugu title also ceased.

Empress Dowager Shoken died on April 9, 1914 at 2:10 AM, at the Numazu Imperial Villa. Officially, her date of death is April 11 at the same time. This official date was put off by two days from the real date as a measure to quickly replace Minister of the Imperial Households Chiaki WATANABE, who was almost in the reach of the law for his usage of bribery during his time as the Chief of Kuraryo of the Imperial Household Ministry. This measure is thought to be taken due to the belief that if WATANABE, who was the chief officer of the Imperial mourning, was arrested during the time of the Imperial mourning which lasts for about three months, the Imperial Household Ministry's dignity would be lost. On May 9 of the same year, by the Imperial Household Ministry notification no. 9, Shoken was given the posthumous title "Empress Dowager Shoken," and on May 1 of the following year, she was enshrined along with Emperor Meiji in the Meiji-jingu Shrine. Empress Dowager Shoken's imperial mausoleum is in Fushimi Momoyama Higashi no Misaki.


As an empress after the Restoration, Shoken took the lead in social work promotion and greatly contributed to the establishment of Kazoku Jogakko (present day Gakushuin School Corporation Girl's Division) and Tokyo Joshi Shikan Gakko (present day Ochanomizu University), along with the development of the Japanese Red Cross Society and others (it is said that the official crest for the Red Cross Society, the "Red Cross Kiritake Phoenix," was decided on from the crown, made by a combination of paulownia wood and bamboo, which Shoken happened to be wearing on the occasion she was consulted for the decision of the crest. It is said that Shoken was also greatly involved in the dispatch of female study abroad students, such as Umeko TSUDA. She was strongly aware of her position as an empress to lead the policy of Europeanization, and after 1886, she changed all her clothes she wore, except nightclothes, to western clothing. As another reason for taking the lead in wearing western clothes, the empress herself was quoted as saying"Kimono that is not separated into upper and lower parts limits a girl's movements and is inconvenient." The reason why the present Imperial family wears Japanese traditional clothes surprisingly less often than expected is because they are following this policy.

Furthermore, Shoken composed more than thirty thousands Japanese poems, and some of them are handed down as "Empress Dowager Shoken's Gyoshu"
As one of Empress Dowager Shoken's poems, a school song given to Tokyo Joshi Shihan Gakko 'when not polished, jewels and mirrors are worthless, the way of studying is much the same way' (If you don't polish a jewel or mirror they won't do much good. Studying is the same way) is famous, and, "Kongouseki" and "Mizu no Utsuwa"and others, which read about education guidelines of Kazoku Jogakko, are also widely sang as songs of Jinjo Elementary School.

At the time of her death, "Times of London" ran an article highly evaluating her great achievements. (Aki IZUMOI "Empress Dowager Shoken Through Episodes" referenced).

When Hirobumi ITO, who was having a strained relationship with Emperor Meiji over the reform of the Imperial Court, was taken with illness, Empress Dowager Shoken sent an envoy on behalf of the Emperor to ITO and made an opportunity for the two to reconcile. Also in the same year, when Empress Dowager Shoken attended the opening ceremony of Nippon Railway Ueno Station – Takasaki Station, which Tomozane YOSHII who was the Kunai-taifu (post of Imperial Household Ministry) used to be president of, the empress handled the event with a smile throughout the whole time even though Emperor Meiji did not show much enthusiasm to attend and it was raining all day; YOSHII was greatly touched because of this (a letter written by YOSHII to Seiichi MIYAJIMA).

Due to the return of political power to the court during Meiji Period, there was a possibility that the empress along with advisers close to the empress could take part in the national government, like the O-oku in the Edo Bakufu or the Imperial Court in Western countries, but the Empress disciplined herself and prohibited themselves from taking part in the national government. Furthermore, Empress Dowager Shoken was blessed with close advisers around her, such as Keizou KAGAWA and Utako SHIMODA, and was able to establish her role as an empress in modern Japan.

In Feburary 1904, on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, when the Empress was staying in the Imperial palace in Hayama, she said that a samurai about 37 or 38 years old wearing a white frock came into her dreams and swore the protection of the Japanese Navy at war. When the Empress inquired a courtier, they realized this was the spirit of Ryoma SAKAMOTO. This ran in the newspapers arousing the morale of the nation, which lead to the establishment of a monument for loyal souls in front of Ryoma SAKAMOTO's grave in Reizan Gokoku Shrine.

Empress Dowager Shoken had a sharp nose, which was rare for a Japanese female during her time, so her husband, Emperor Meiji, is said to have teasingly nicknamed her 'Mrs. Tengu.'

About the Empress's posthumous title
Due to the Kouzokushinirei, the Hanretsu (ministers without official announcement) of the three ranks: Empress, Empress Dowager, and Grand Empress Dowager, are ordered as 1. Empress 2. Grand Empress Dowager 3. Empress Dowager, and for a posthumous title, the highest rank she took during her lifetime is chosen. Her rightful posthumous title should have been 'Empress Shoken' since she was an empress.
The reason she became 'Empress Dowager' instead is said to be due to a mistake from following the posthumous title of Emperor Komei's legal wife and Emperor Meiji's 'real mother' (biological mother), Empress Dowager Eisho, who was an 'Empress Dowager.'

The fact that the establishment of the Kozokushinirei happened in 1910 so it's contents were not firmly established enough, along with the fact that the regulation of the Taiho Code was different from this and the order was set as 1. Grand Empress Dowager 2. Empress Dowager 3. Empress, also possibly influenced her posthumous title. In life, Empress Dowager Eisho stayed as a consort and was never installed as an empress, and she was titled Empress Dowager to accompany Emperor Meiji's enthronement, so this posthumous title is correct, but this does not hold true for Empress Dowager Shoken. A posthumous title is an imperial decision, so even when a mistake is discovered, due to the old belief that what an Emperor says once cannot be taken back, the mistake could not be fixed, and this is why this mistake still exists today. Meiji-Jingu Shrine, which enshrines the Empress, requested the Kunaisho (Imperial Household Ministry) and Imperial Household Regency for her posthumous title to be changed to 'Empress Shoken' two times, in 1920 and 1963, but was denied both times.

The following two empresses, Empress Teimei and Empress Kojun were given a posthumous title which accurately reflected that they were empresses during their lifetime.

[Original Japanese]