Friday, July 11, 2014
Consort Profile: Empress Kojun of Japan
Even then, there were some grumblings about the Crown Prince making a troublesome choice. Princess Nagako had imperial and noble ancestry but it was not of the highest order most expected and she was not from the Fujiwara clan that most imperial consorts had been from. Several prominent and very powerful people objected to the match and demanded that the Imperial Household Agency call it off but Prince Kuni was just as adamant that no such thing happen, threatening to kill his daughter and then himself if this was done. Thankfully, no such drastic measures were necessary as when things became really heated HM the Taisho Emperor stepped in and endorsed Princess Nagako as his future daughter-in-law and that settled it. After that, to have questioned the match would be to question the divine will of the Emperor, which did not happen. Preparations then went ahead with the Princess spending her time until she was of a proper age to marry being given an intensive training course on how to be a Crown Princess and future Empress. The formal engagement was announced in 1921 and the wedding set for 1923. Everything was done to familiarize the princess with her duties, obligations and the ceremony and protocol of the imperial court. She was, for example, one of the last people alive in Japan who could understand the unique style of language used by the Emperor and inner court in the old days which disappeared after World War II.
As the Emperor and Empress had been brought together almost as strangers, it was to be expected that, early on, their relationship seemed rather formal and distant. However, it was all a matter of getting to know each other and as they did, they became a very loving couple, greatly attached to each other. The Empress seemed to view her primary occupation as being to shelter and support her husband, to care for him and ensure that he was able to give his best in his own duties and obligations. This, she did very well and the Emperor had no more attentive guardian and caretaker than his Empress for as long as he lived. The devotion the Emperor had for her was displayed only a few years after the marriage. In 1927, 1929 and 1931 the Empress gave birth to three girls in succession and many began to worry if a son and heir would be forthcoming. In 1932 such talk only increased as the Empress suffered a miscarriage and many began to urge the Emperor to take a concubine to ensure the survival of the dynasty. The Meiji Emperor had had several concubines and it was quite common but the Emperor would not hear of it. He was a ’one woman man’ and the Empress was the only one for him and he would have no other. As if to prove the imperial decision correct, in 1933 the Empress gave birth to HIH Crown Prince Akihito, followed by another prince in 1935. In all, they would have seven children, five girls and two boys.
What finally seems to have been too much was when HIH Crown Prince Akihito decided to get married. The two older daughters had already married and lost their status because of the new post-war laws that downsized the Imperial Family but the Empress seems to have thought that, for the heir to the throne, the traditional way would still be followed. Many of the old aristocracy were upset when the choice of the Crown Prince fell on Michiko Shoda, a commoner with a Catholic education. No one knows what was said behind closed doors but the prevailing sentiment is that the Empress was against such a choice. When it went ahead anyway, all sorts of rumors were spread around of the Empress being cold, distrustful and even spiteful toward Crown Princess Michiko, much of that probably being exaggerated. What is true is that the Crown Princess had one or two nervous breakdowns in the years after her marriage and perhaps the Empress was showing more concern than most people think. Her motives should not be questioned and one could speculate more positively that she had the best of intentions in being reluctant about the Crown Prince marrying a commoner.
To the very end, she was a dutiful and attentive wife and was heartbroken when, on January 7, 1989, His Majesty the Showa Emperor departed this life. Her Majesty was re-titled as Empress-Dowager but her own health had deteriorated so much while she focused all of herself on the Emperor that she was too frail even to attend his funeral and after his death she went into seclusion for the rest of her life. Her Majesty, Empress Dowager Kojun died on June 16, 2000 surrounded by her immediate family, at the age of 97 in the Fukiage Omiya Palace in Tokyo. She was buried near her husband at the Imperial Cemetery on July 25, 2000. Her passing marked the end of an era and a last, living, connection with the old Empire of Japan that had existed since the Meiji Era was lost with her. It was a great sadness but Japan was also fortunate to have had such a remarkable lady for so long. She was a shining example of the best virtues of old Japan and the traditional elite. She lived by an ancient code, was firm and unyielding in her principles and showing no favoritism, was devoted to maintaining what had been handed down. She was a devoted wife and mother, a supportive and dutiful Empress consort, a faithful, strong and tireless daughter of Great Japan.