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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

And then to inform the Bakufu of the accomplished fact



The Emperor Kokaku ascended the throne in 1780 and abdicated in 1816. He was undoubtedly a wise sovereign and as a classical scholar he won considerable renown. After reigning for thirty-six years, he administered State affairs from the Palace of Retirement during twenty-four, and throughout that long interval of sixty years, the country enjoyed profound peace. The period of Sadanobu's service as prime minister of the Bakufu coincided with the middle of Kokaku's reign, and in those days of happiness and prosperity men were wont to say that with a wise sovereign in the west a wise subject had appeared in the east. Up to that time the relations between Kyoto and Yedo were excellent, but Sadanobu's resignation and the cause that led to it produced between the two Courts a breach which contributed materially, though indirectly, to the ultimate fall of the Tokugawa.


It has already been noted that after the great fire of 1788, the Bakufu, acting, of course, at the instance of their prime minister, ordered Sadanobu to supervise the work of reconstructing the Imperial palace. Since the days of Oda and Toyotomi, the palace had been rebuilt or extensively repaired on several occasions, but always the plans had been too small for the requirements of the orthodox ceremonials. Sadanobu determined to correct

this fault. He called for plans and elevations upon the bases of those of the tenth century, and from the gates to the roofs he took care that everything should be modelled on the old lines. The edifices are said to have been at once chaste and magnificent, the internal decorations being from the brushes of the best artists of the Tosa and Sumiyoshi Academies. Sealed estimates had been required from several leading architects, and Sadanobu surprised his colleagues by awarding the work to the highest bidder, on the ground that cheapness could not consist with true merit in such a case, and that any thought of cost would evince a want of reverence towards the Imperial Court. The buildings were finished in two years, and the two Emperors, the reigning and the retired, took up their residence there. His Majesty Kokaku rewarded the shogun with an autograph letter of thanks as well as a verse of poetry composed by himself, and on Sadanobu he conferred a sword and an album of poems. The shogun Ienari is said to have been profoundly gratified by this mark of Imperial favour. He openly attributed it to Sadanobu's exertions, and he presented to the latter a facsimile of the autograph letter.


In the very year (1791) following the Emperor's entry into the new palace, a most untoward incident occurred. Up to that time the relations between the Courts of Kyoto and Yedo had left nothing to be desired, but now a permanent breach of amity took place. The sovereign was the son of Prince Tsunehito, head of the Kanin family. This prince, in spite of his high title, was required by Court etiquette to sit below the ministers of State on ceremonial occasions in the palace. Such an order of precedence offended the sovereign, and his Majesty proposed that the rank of dajo tenno should be given to his father, thus placing him in the position of a retired Emperor. Of course it was within the prerogative of the Emperor to confer titles. The normal procedure would have been to give the desired rank to Prince Tsunehito, and then to inform the Bakufu of the accomplished fact. But, in consideration of the very friendly relations existing between the two Courts, the sovereign seems to have been unwilling to act on his own initiative in a matter of such importance.

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