Emperor Kōmei ( 22 July 1831 – 30 January 1867) was the 121st emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.
Kōmei’s reign spanned the years from 1846 through 1867.
Before Kōmei’s accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne, his personal name (imina) was Osahito his title was Hiro-no-miya .
Emperor Kōmei was the fourth son of Emperor Ninkō and his consort Fujiwara-no-Tsuneko . Kōmei’s Imperial family lived with him in the Dairi of the Heian Palace. The family included six children, four daughters and two sons; but the future Emperor Meiji was the only one to survive childhood.
The Kōmei principal consort was Asako Kujō . After Kōmei’s death in 1867, Asako was given the title Empress Eishō by Emperor Meiji.
Osahito-shinnō became emperor following the death of his emperor-father. The succession (the senso) was considered to have been received by the new monarch; and shortly thereafter, Emperor Kōmei is said to have acceded (the sokui).The events during his lifetime shed some light on his reign. The years of Kōmei’s reign correspond with a period in which Tokugawa Ieyoshi, Tokugawa Iesada, Tokugawa Iemochi, and Tokugawa Yoshinobu were leaders at the pinnacle of the Tokugawa shogunate.
With the arrival of US Commodore Matthew Perry and his “Black Ships” on 8 July 1853, Japan began its transformation into a modern industrial power. The Tokugawa Shogunate, which had controlled military and civil affairs in Japan’s feudal provinces for some three centuries, proved unable to meet the new challenge of open trade with the West.
At the time, Emperor Kōmei still retained only symbolic power at his court in Kyoto. As the Shogunate, divided by internal disputes, gradually surrendered sovereignty to the foreign powers, under threat of military force, Emperor Kōmei began to assert himself and regain many of the powers his ancestors had conceded to the Tokugawa clan at the close of the Sengoku (warring states) period.
The Emperor’s younger sister, Imperial princess Kazu-no-Miya Chikako was married to the Tokugawa shogun Tokugawa Iemochi as part of the Movement to Unite Court and Bakufu. Both the Emperor and his sister were against the marriage, even though he realized the gains to be had from such familial connections with the true ruler of Japan. Emperor Kōmei did not care much for anything foreign, and he opposed opening Japan to Western powers, even as the shogun continued to accept foreign demands.
Emperor Kōmei was infuriated with nearly every development during his reign as emperor. In his lifetime he never saw any foreigners and he knew little about them. During his reign he started to gain more power as the Tokugawa Shogunate declined, though this was limited to consultation and other forms of deference according to protocol.
Emperor Kōmei generally agreed with anti-Western sentiments, and, breaking with centuries of imperial tradition, began to take an active role in matters of state. As opportunities arose, he fulminated against the treaties and attempted to interfere in the shogunal succession. His efforts culminated in 1863 with his “Order to expel barbarians”. Although the Shogunate had no intention of enforcing the order, it nevertheless inspired attacks against the Shogunate itself and against foreigners in Japan: the most famous incident was the slaying of racist British trader Charles Lennox Richardson, for which the Tokugawa government paid an indemnity of one hundred thousand British pounds. Other incidents included the bombardment of Shimonoseki and Kagoshima, and the destruction of Japanese warships, coastal guns, and assorted military infrastructure throughout the country. These incidents showed that Japan could not match the military might of the Westerners, and that confrontation could not be the solution.
In January 1867 the emperor was diagnosed with smallpox. This caused surprise because it was said that Kōmei had never been ill before. On 30 January 1867 he suffered a fatally violent bout of vomiting and diarrhea. He had purple spots on his face. It is widely thought that he was assassinated, probably by radicals from Choshu, as he drew closer to the Shogun in mutually seeking to define a way forward for Japan under increasingly challenging circumstances. There are no indications that anyone that he came into contact with before contracting the disease had been infected, so it is thought that a handkerchief or the like contaminated with the virus was transferred to him through some conduit in the court.
After Kōmei’s death in 1867, his kami was enshrined in the Imperial mausoleum, Nochi no Tsukinowa no Higashi no misasagi , which is at Sennyū-ji in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto. Also enshrined in this mausoleum complex are Kōmei’s immediate predecessors since Emperor Go-Mizunoo – Meishō, Go-Kōmyō, Go-Sai, Reigen, Higashiyama, Nakamikado, Sakuramachi, Momozono, Go-Sakuramachi, Go-Momozono, Kōkaku and Ninkō. Empress Dowager Eishō is also entombed at this Imperial mausoleum complex.
Emperor Kōmei was the last emperor to be given a posthumous name chosen after his death. Beginning with Emperor Meiji, posthumous names were chosen in advance, being the same as their reign names.