Haruko (1850–1914)

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Haruko (1850–1914)

Empress of Japan. Name variations: Princess Haru; Princess Haruko; Shōken Kōtaigō; Empress Dowager Shōken; Meiji empress. Born Ichijō Haruko on May 28, 1850; died of Bright's disease at the Numadzu Palace on April 9, 1914; third daughter of Prince Ichijō Tadaka (a Kuge or noble attached to the imperial court and a member of the house of Fujiwara); married Mutsuhito (1852–1912, son of Emperor Komei), emperor of Japan (r. 1867–1912), on February 9, 1869 (died, July 29, 1912); children: none, but she adopted the son of a secondary wife of Mutsuhito, Yoshihito Haru-no-miya (1879–1926, who, as Emperor Taisho, reigned as emperor of Japan, r. 1912–1926), and also adopted four daughters.

Princess Haruko was the third daughter of Prince Ichijō Tadaka, a noble attached to the imperial court and a member of the house of Fujiwara. At the time of her birth in 1850, the Japanese were forbidden to leave their country, and foreigners were not allowed to enter. In 1869, Haruko married Mutsuhito, two years after he had succeeded his father as emperor of Japan, and four months after his coronation. Mutsuhito encouraged, and became the symbol for, the dramatic transformation of Japan from a feudal closed society into one of the great powers of the modern world. Empress Haruko, a beautiful and elegant woman, was as "advanced and intuitive in meeting the new order of things as Mutsuhito himself," writes Japanese historian Douglas Sladen. She did not have shaven eyebrows and blackened teeth like her predecessors and often wore Western dress at court occasions. Haruko appeared in public, loved art and literature, wrote poetry, and was a generous patron of female education, the Red Cross Society, and other philanthropic enterprises. By her example, she raised the status of women in Japan. Soon after her husband's death on July 29, 1912, Haruko became ill. She died 20 months later.


Sladen, Douglas. Queer Things about Japan. London: Kegan Paul, 1913.