The Death and Burial of a Great Japanese Noble
Tokyo, 26th February, 1891
A prominent figure has just been removed from the stage of modern Japanese history.
Prince Sanjo Sanetomi, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, a noble well-beloved of his Sovereign and respected and honoured by all of his countrymen, died in this capital on the 18th instant, after about a fortnight's illness.
Influenza, which had only left Japan at the middle of last summer, returned in a graver form in November.
It has dwelt with us all through the winter, carrying off many thousands of victims.
At the beginning of this month it attacked Prince Sanjo, and it was to inflammation of the lungs, supervening on that attack, that the distinguished noble so quickly succumbed.
Prince Sanjo was an exalted member of the proud and ancient order of Kuge, an order almost comparable in antiquity with the Japanese Throne itself, from which, indeed, its members are directly sprung.
From early times - which means a great deal in Japan - while the sons and grandsons of Emperors bore a title equivalent to that of Prince, the princely applellation went no farther.
The great-grandson became the head of a Kuge, or "noble house", his rank descending to the eldest son, from generation to generation.
Later, in the feudal era, when lands and titles came to be bestowed as rewards for military or other services, the order of Buke, or "military house" grew into existence.
Originally selected, with hardly an exception, from among the Kuge, the representatives of this new order became the feudal barons, more familiarly known to us as Daimyo.
Thus, the two classes, Kuge and Buke (or Daimyo), have been described, respectively, as "Court nobles", and "Territorial nobles" by English translators of Japanese annals.
During the middle ages, the ranks of the Daimyo were from time to time swelled from external sources.
But the ranks of the Kuge have ever been restricted to men of Imperial lineage, from which fact, as well as from the distinction appertaining to their position, as Court nobles, in close proximity to the person of the sacred Sovereign, the order is still, as always, held to be the cream of an aristocracy which, in point of antiquity and unbroken genealogy, surpasses every other similar body in the world.
When the nobility of Japan was reconstituted in 1884, to Sanjo was awarded the modern rank which is rendered as "Prince," and which may be said to correspond in degree with the English "Duke."
But it is as a great Kuge - as an eminent scion of the Fujiwara, perhaps the greatest and noblest of all the noble houses in Japan, whose founder, Kamatari, was born in 626 A.D. - that Prince Sanjo has always figured in the eyes of the Japanese people.
From Kamatari sprang fourteen out of the sixteen leading Kuge families of the present day.
And, while on this subject of Japan's aristocracy, it may be interesting to mention that of the 473 members of the old nobility - namely, 193 Kuge and 280 of Buke rank - who form the bulk of the present peerage, more than 400 are of Imperial kith and kin, with authenticated pedigrees of at least thirteen or fourteen centuries.
From early youth an ardent Imperialist, Sanjo became prominent, while yet in his teens, as one of a half-dozen intrepid leaders of the then growing party of protest against the subtle and overshadowing despotism of the military Shogunate.
All of these leaders worked in the common cause of restoring the lustre and reality of the Imperial throne by the overthrow of the Tokugawa dynasty; and all of them, like Sanjo himself, were destined to become famous in Japanese history.
After fourteen years of struggle, danger, and vicissitude, their task was accomplished, as the world knows, by the restoration of the Emperor at the close of 1867.
From that time Sanjo rose rapidly to power.
In 1871, when only 34 years old, he was appointed to the highest administrative post in the Government, namely, that of Daijo Daijin, or Chancellor of the Empire.
Gifted not so much with genius as with rare tact and sound judgment, he held this post till the close of 1885, when, on the reconstruction of the fabric of the Government, he retired from political life and became Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal.
There are few cases in history of a Prime Minister retaining office uninterruptedly for upwards of 14 years.
And what is yet more remarkable in Sanjo's case is that the period of his long and highly successful tenure was one during which Japan entered upon a completely new phase of existence, and underwent the throes of tremendous political and social changes, beset by tumult, intrigue, and civil war.
The Emperor's confidence in Prince Sanjo was almost unbounded, and was attested in an emphatic and touching manner at his dying servant's bedside.
It is an old and oft-observed custom in Japan to confer steps in rank on those whom the State desires to honour, when they are seized by death - generally after death has taken place, but sometimes as a solace in their last hours.
Learning, on the 18th instant, that the Prince's case was hopeless, the Emperor hastened to his residence, and personally conferred on him the highest rank attainable by a Japanese subject, accompanying the bestowal with the following words, which were uttered in a voice broken by emotion and sorrow:-
"In the early years of my reign, while I was yet a youth, you were my chief aid. It was you who, not shrinking from a post of weighty responsibility, lent me assistance so constant, so steady, and so true that you were to me as a teacher and a parent.
Never, from first to last, did you falter or fail in the discharge of your large trust.
Your services are a model for all subjects of our time.
In recognition of your noble fidelity, I confer on you the First Class of the First Rank."
More than eleven centuries have passed since a Japanese subject was similarly honoured, the last recipient of the rank of Sho-ichi-i having been one of Prince Sanjo's own Fujiwara ancestors, who died in the year 738 - in the days, that is to say of the Saxon Heptarchy.
The State funeral of the lamented noble, which took place yesterday, was conducted, as far as the set ceremony went, in strict accordance with the simple and ancient rites of pure Shintoism.
White is the prevailing colour at Shinto funerals - white wood for coffin and bier, white robes for priests, deacons and bearers, white crape garments for the sorrowing womankind who follow.
Pomp and pageantry are conspicuously absent, no matter how great be the dead man's rank and fame.
But, though the actual burial cortege was, therefore, striking only in its rigid simplicity, a more imposing aspect was given to the procession through the streets by the large bodies of troops in its van and rear, and by the host of carriages following the bier, which were occupied by nearly all the men of note in Tokyo.
These formed a column about two miles long, accompanying the cortege proper over the route from the Prince's death-place to the Gokokuji Temple, where he was to be buried - a route of between five and six miles, passing through some of the best parts of the capital.
The most striking feature of all was the hushed and sorrowful crowd which lined every foot of this long way and filled every spot that looked on to it.
The whole city, in fact, seemed to have turned out to do honour to the dead noble, whose gentle dignity of manner, loyal and blameless life, and meritorious services to the State, had made him beloved and admired by all classes of the people.
There are few spots of greater natural beauty in the immediate vicinity of Tokyo than the grounds of the Gokokuji Temple, whither, yesterday morning, the long funeral procession wound its way.
But for the shrines and other buildings dotted about, the visitor might imagine himself in a Japanese garden of exceptional size and perfectness.
Trees old and young - gaunt pines, comely cedars, and a large variety of lesser growth-with rocks and fountains, crags, ponds, and running water, are disposed in picturesque disarray over a charmingly broken slope of the hills where suburb meets country on the northwest border of the capital.
Yesterday, though wintry tints were still upon the foliage, the place was warmed and gladdened by a bright spring sun, while the fine outlines, and deep, rich colours of the main edifice, its gates, and lesser shrines, lent the scene a charm of their own.
It would be hard to imagine a fitter spot than these lonely and lovely grounds for the resting-place of a nation's honoured dead.
On the arrival of the head of the procession, the troops were halted on either side of the main gate of the temple.
But the rest, passing in on foot, ascended the hill, with its long flights of stone steps, that leads up to the Hondo, or principal chapel, advancing between deep, compact ranks of officials, ecclesiastics, diplomats, and other privileged spectators, who had assembled earlier in the day.
In succession, and to the melancholy strains of Shinto music, came eight white-clad bearers of branches of the sacred Sakaki (Cleyera Japonica), followed by a like number carrying banners of red and white.
Next, a plain white wood chest, containing the offerings to the dead, was borne past, after which came a cohort of white-robed Shinto priests and officials, preceding the High Priest and his deputy clad in purple and white.
Then, a great white banner, inscribed with the Prince's name and titles; and a band of musicians playing the saddest of dirges on old-time Shinto instruments.
To these succeeded more sakaki-bearers, others carrying silver-bladed halberds, others with immense floral emblems, composed of artificial plum-blossoms, pine-branches, peonies, and maple sprays, and others carrying the dead noble's eight Orders on silken cushions - every bearer being robed in simple white.
The chief servants of the deceased came next.
Then the lofty bier, with its fifty white-clad bearers, at the passage of which all heads were uncovered and bowed.
The bier, not unlike a Japanese temple in form, was made of pure milk-white hinoki, or Japanese spruce, adorned with gold-plated mountings, and having its window-like openings closed by pale-hued bamboo blinds.
Within it lay the coffin, consisting of an outer and an inner shell, both of white hinoki.
After the bier followed the young Prince and Princess Sanjo, as chief mourners, and their four young sisters.
The Prince was dressed in flowing white robes and black hakama, his feet shod with common straw sandals, and on his head the black kammuri of old-time official costume.
The Princess, also sandalled, wore a long black cloak over a white robe and brown hakama; while the younger ladies were clad from head to foot in soft white crape, with their hair pendant and tied by a single white binding.
Next came the relatives, among whom were many ladies in Japanese garments of sober hues.
All these mourners passed forward behind the bier, which was now deposited on a stand beneath a spacious temporary porch, draped with curtains of black and white, that had been erected immediately before the entrance of the Hondo.
The dead Prince's Orders were disposed on stands of white hinoki about the bier; and the flowers and banners were planted on either side of a wide aisle of immediate approach which had been formed by two large pavilions erected for the accommodation of all present.
In their appointed places in one of these pavilions the principal mourners seated themselves and were soon followed by the Princes of the Blood, the Cabinet, Nobles, Members of the Diet, and other dignitaries, and finally by the general body of invited spectators, altogether some 2.000 in number.
The two high officiating priests, and six of minor degree, now did homage before the bier, with much bowing, hand-clapping, and recitation.
Other sacerdotal ceremonies followed, with accompaniment of Shinto music.
Then, the Chief Priest, standing reverently before the bier, received the offerings of fish, fruit, rice, and other edibles - passed to him devoutly from hand to hand of the ministering priests - and disposed them on white wood stands, placed to receive them.
This done, he read aloud, facing the bier, two long valedictory orations, the whole assembly standing uncovered the while, except the Imperial Princes.
"May your soul have eternal rest and peace in heaven," were the words with which, after a recital of the dead statesman's deeds and virtues, both of these addresses ended.
The last ceremony of respect was now begun.
Receiving each from the priests a sprig of sakaki, the young Prince, and the Envoys of the Emperor, Empress, Crown Prince, and Dowager Empress, successively advanced to the bier, and bowing lowly, laid before it the sacred boughs.
They were followed in like manner by the young Princess and her sisters, and other chief family mourners.
The Imperial Princes Arisugawa, Komatsu, and Kitashirakawa next made offering.
Up to this point the whole procedure had been remarkably solemn and impressive.
But, as the members of the Cabinet and the Diplomatic body now advanced by groups to perform the similar rite, and were followed, en masse, by the rest of the pavilion occupants, eager to pay their last tribute of respect to the remains of the distinguished Prince, the simple dignity of all that had gone before was abruptly and completely changed.
For most of those present the ceremony was now ended.
Only a few of us remained to see the body carried to its last home.
In the near neighbourhood of the Hondo, a large masonry-lined vault, about fifteen feet deep, had been built, and over it an exquisite canopy of white hinoki, in the purest and simplest Shinto style.
Prepared and adorned as it was yesterday, the wide matted approach to this sepulchre of the great Kuge was in a high degree attractive.
It also well illustrated the rare taste of the Japanese in preferring brightness to gloom for the externals of even death itself.
For some sixty yards on either side, the approach was decked, many ranks deep, with a lovely display of great floral and other tributes from the late Prince's countless friends - among the contributors being the Foreign Representatives - which presented a mass of brilliant colour, in happy contrast to the wooded scene around.
Beyond these was a small white-railed enclosure, containing pavilions for the few who were to be present at the burial ceremony.
And beyond this again were two goodly cryptomeria trees, between which, as a fine natural portal, were seen, immediately behind, the graceful outlines of the canopy above the tomb.
Presently, the sound of music told of the commencement of the last act of the funeral.
The offerings and the piles of sakaki sprigs were removed by the priests; and the bearers, approaching, once more shouldered the great ark-like bier, and bore it, headed by titular banner, the white umbrella and foot-gear, and other emblems, along the bright and beautiul approach to the grave, whither none but the principal mourners and a highly favoured few were allowed to accompany it.
The Times - Mar.30
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