FEATURE: New Emperor, New Era - Seeking truth, learning lessons through history
TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - This is the fifth installment in this series. In January, the new Emperor held a lecture at Gakushuin Women’s College in Tokyo in the capacity of a researcher.
This is the fifth installment in this series.
In January, the new Emperor held a lecture at Gakushuin Women’s College in Tokyo in the capacity of a researcher.
During his lecture, the Emperor explained how he had developed an interest in history, explaining, “When I was an elementary school student, I learned that at the Akasaka Imperial Estate, where I was living, there used to be a road built in the Kamakura period (the late 12th century to 1333). I found that interesting.”
The Emperor’s interest in “roads” grew stronger after reading “Oku no Hosomichi” (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) by Matsuo Basho, a haiku poet from the early part of the Edo period (1603-1867), together with his mother, the Empress Emerita.
The Emperor later wrote, “My position did not allow me to freely venture outside, and going down roads made it possible for me to journey into a world unknown to me.”
After enrolling at Gakushuin University, the Emperor studied at the Department of History. In his graduation thesis, he analyzed transportation around the Seto Inland Sea during the medieval era among other topics. While studying at the University of Oxford, he also researched the history of water transportation on the Thames.
In 1992, he took up the post of visiting researcher at the Gakushuin University Museum of History, four years after becoming crown prince. He has since thoroughly researched “Saionjike Kuruma-no-zu,” a drawing depicting a gissha, or ox-drawn carriage used by aristocracy during the medieval period.
The drawing has been handed down from generation to generation among the Saionjis, one of the kuge class of aristocratic families. However, the date for the drawing’s production and its hisory had previously been unknown.
The Emperor intensively went through old documents and analyzed differences in the compositions of more than 30 different types of handwritten copies. This enabled him to conclude that the drawing’s final form was completed during the Muromachi period (1336-1573), and that it was repeatedly copied after the early stages of the Edo period.
Takeshi Yuzawa, a professor emeritus at Gakushuin University, is among those familiar with the Emperor’s scholarly characteristics. Yuzawa said the Emperor seemed startled when he was asked how it feels to ride a gissha, a sensation one cannot understand simply by looking at a drawing.
“I have no idea,” the Emperor replied, according to Yuzawa.
Several months later, the Emperor told Yuzawa, “Riding a gissha is uncomfortable as you directly feel the swaying movement of the carriage.” He arrived at this conclusion after riding a gissha used at the Aoi Matsuri festival in Kyoto. “[The Emperor] is a scholarly individual who likes to confirm things in person,” Yuzawa said.
The Emperor also invested considerable effort seeking to understand what previous emperors were like by reading Shinkan, or calligraphic works by emperors.
On Aug. 7, 2016, the Emperor visited Iwase Bunko Library in Nishio, Aichi Prefecture, the day before the Emperor Emeritus suggested he wanted to abdicate.
The Emperor visited the library to examine Buddhist scriptures copied by Emperor Gonara, who reigned during the Sengoku warring states period (1493-1573) from 1526 to 1557. Gonara dedicated the scriptures to a shrine in hopes of providing relief to people suffering from the numerous difficulties of the turbulent period.
In October 2017, when the Diet enacted the special measures law on the Imperial House Law, the Emperor visited Daigoji temple in Kyoto, where he examined copies of Buddhist scriptures produced by Gonara. He also looked at the emperor’s Shinkan, in which he expressed his feelings for those suffering from famine or plague. The Shinkan noted, “I’m saddened by the fact that I’m unable to spread virtue throughout the land.”
The Emperor was accompanied by Makoto Nagamura, a professor emeritus at Japan Women’s University, who explained the scriptures and the Shinkan. According to Nagamura, the Emperor’s serious expression showed that “ahead of his enthronement, the Emperor solidified his impression of the emperor as always thinking about people living in difficult times.”
The Imperial family had placed an importance on research during the Showa and Heisei periods. Emperor Showa was enthusiastic about the research of marine life and plants throughout his life.
Speaking about the meaning of research activities, the Emperor Emeritus, a researcher of goby, said: “Research activities give me a sense of inner fulfillment. It also helps me improve myself.”
“The researchers closest to me when I was a child were my father and my grandfather, Emperor Showa,” the Emperor noted during his lecture at Gakushuin Women’s College. Regarding his own research of history, the Emperor emphasized he is “very much attracted to the pursuit of truth.”