An Imperial Princess
Princess Seikan'in-no-miya or Seikan'in no Miya, known
as Kazunomiya, was born in 1846, the eighth daughter of Emperor Ninko, the 120th Ruler of Japan. Her mother is not known,
but it was probably a woman named Masako, who as the mother of Kazunomiya's older brother Komei, Ninko's 4th son. Her
father died that same year, 1846, and Komei became the 121st Ruler at the age of 15. Ninko had been born Ayahito in 1800
to Emperor Kokaku and his wife Yasuko. When he was 9 he was named Crown Prince and he became the 120th Ruler upon the death
of his father in 1817.
Kazunomiya grew up in the Imperial Court in Kyoto,
where her brother, Emperor Komei, held court. Kazunomiya was a great lover of the arts. She danced and sang, but most importantly,
she was a poet. Kazunomiya would spend hours composing poems and wakas. Historians today who have analyzed her wakas have
found that she used this pastime to write down her life, told in poetic form, and her history. Kazunomiya also took her appearance
very seriously. She owned countless articles of clothing and was a slave to her hair. As an imperial princess, Kazunomiya
always made sure to give a good presentation of herself. She was an extraordinary child with her artistic talents. As a young
girl, Kazunomiya was betrothed to the prince Arisugawa Taruhito, who also held the titles of governor and general. But all
of that was about to change.
Long before Kazunomiya's birth, the Japanese emperors
ruled Japan in their own right. However, in 1192, the military division of Emperor Go-Toba, the 82nd Ruler, known as the shogunate,
led by the first Kamakura shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, took over the emperor's powers and set up a shogunate government.
The government only lasted from 1185-1333, known as the Kamakura period, and the emperor's powers were restored. However,
3 years later, the shoguns took over the government again from 1336-1573, known as the Muromachi period. During this time,
the Muromachi, also known as the Ashikaga Shogunate, led the government beginning with Ashikaga Takauji in 1338. In 1573,
the imperial powers were restored, and yet once again in 1603 the Edo Period began, the age in which the Tokugawa Shogunate
led by Tokugawa Ieyasu. During these 3 periods, the emperors had powers, but the shoguns led the real government, a dictatorial
In 1867, the end of the Edo period finally came about.
Kazunomiya, 16, was in Kyoto when Commodore M. Perry of the U.S. Navy fired upon the Tokyo Bay, opening Japan to the world.
In 1867, Kazunomiya, already betrothed to be married
to Arisugawa Taruhito, was betrothed to the 14th Tokugawa shogun, Iemochi. The marriage was set to keep the Tokugawa Shogunate,
now overthrown, and the monarchy, now restored to its imperial grandeur, in harmony. However, the betrothal also showed that
the shogunate was weakening and needed imperial ties. The marriage was not the first of the kind in the Edo period. As early
as 1731, Japanese princesses had been married to shoguns of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Just like these princesses, Kazunomiya
also traveled on the Nakasendo, christened the Hime no kaido, Highway of Princesses. The princesses traveled on the Nakasendo
to avoid the Tokaido with its wide rivers and its ominous pass at Satta.
Kazunomiya traveled in style. 15,000 people fetched her from Kyoto and on her journey to Edo, 10,000 people accompanied her,
not including her teamsters and baggage porters. Her train took 3 days to pass the highway.
Wife and Widow
Kazunomiya's train caused much disruption on
the highway. Kazunomiya was a very important person, and had to be treated with respect. The people panicked when they realized
that they had to supply 2,500 people and 200 horses on the days when the procession was nearing and 8,000 people
and 3,000 horses on the days the procession passed through. Towns had to draft men and animals to supple the princess and
her enormous entourage. Towns even had to lend each other utensils and food and fine places for the princess to eat at, for
these towns were not used to a great important princess coming through, save for the few times beforehand that princesses
had made their ways across the highway into marriage. The village of Wada had to call up a labor force of 28, 695 men on November
11 to serve and lodge the party. The procession caused many problems with the villagers also. They were to stay in their houses,
dogs should be tied up, fires were prohibited and woman and children should sit and be quiet were just some of the small items.
Villagers spent days tidying up their villages and the highway, which was only capable to hold a party of 200. Kazunomiya's
party was almost 10 times that number. A delicate girl, fresh water was traveled from Kyoto for the princess to drink from,
although she ate and drank the local food and drink often. The procession moved slowly, hitting only 2-3 post-towns a day.
At this rate, the travel from Kyoto to Edo took 26 days ( October 20-November 15, 1861).
Kazunomiya married Iemochi in 1862, at the age of 16. Kazunomiya settled
down to the life she loved most, at Edo Castle, with her mother-in-law, Jitsusei-in. She began to write more poetry, in all
she wrote over 300 wakas in her stay at Edo Castle. As in her childhood, Kazunomiya expressed her feelings and the stories
of her life into her poetry. Kazunomiya also found an interest in Japanese mizuhikite, dolls, and eventually created
a collection. Those dolls are on display today at the Furukawa Art Museum, along with Kazunomiya's vast art collection that
she added onto over the years with pieces of Japanese art.
Iemochi was more interested in the fate of the
shogunate than his wife. He was an older man and fell into distress when he realized that his marriage to the imperial princess
could not save the authority of the Bakufu, the shogunate. In 1867, when Kazunomiya was 22, he died. Kazunomiya suffered another
loss when her brother, Emperor Komei, died in Kyoto. She and her mother-in-law continued to live at Edo Castle until they
were forced to leave on May 3, 1868 when the Kangun, the revolutionary military regime intending to topple the shogunate
forever, arrived by imperial orders to take the castle and execute the shoguns. Kazunomiya and Jitsusei-in fled, along with
the other women of the castle, and found refuge at the Shimizu house. It seemed that the memorial tablet of Iemochi disappeared
that night. It is believed that Kazunomiya took it with her on the night of her flight.
That same year, Kazunomiya took vows as a nun
and entered a Buddhist convent. The life of a Buddhist nun was not the life that suited Kazunomiya. She was an artistic and
extravegant princess who was not used to the simple life of those less fortunate of her. As a widow, she now experienced
the world of the Japanese people that she had never experienced before. Kazunomiya lived as a Buddhist nun for nine years,
dying childless and abandoned at the age of thirty-one in 1877.
Today Kazunomiya is remembered as the chief
victim of the Meiji Restoration, when the power of the shoguns was shifting to the monarchs of Japan. At the time of her brother's
reign, nobles were expected to be poets. Kazunomiya was no exception. She was a gifted child and today her 300 wakas are celebrated,
one of them carved into a black on the highway she passed on her way to marry Iemochi. A forgotten royal, Kazunomiya possessed
all that was good and bad about being a princess.