Prince Kuni Asahiko
Prince Kuni Asahiko (久邇宮 朝彦親王 Kuni-no-miya Asahiko shinnō?, 27 February 1824 – 25 October 1891), was a member of a collateral line of the Japanese imperial family who played a key role in the Meiji Restoration. Prince Asahiko was an adopted son of Emperor Ninkō and later a close advisor to Emperor Kōmei and Emperor Meiji. He was the great-grandfather of the present Emperor of Japan, Akihito.
Prince Asahiko was born in Kyoto, the fourth son of Prince Fushimi Kuniye, the twentieth head of the Fushimi-no-miya, the oldest of the four branches of the imperial dynasty allowed to provide a successor to the Chrysanthemum throne should the main imperial house fail to produce an heir.
The future Prince Asahiko had several childhood appellations and acquired several more titles and names over the years. He was often known as Prince Asahiko (Asahiko Shinnō) and Prince Nakagawa (Nakagawa-no-miya).
From an early age, Prince Asahiko was groomed to pursue a career as a Buddhist priest, the traditional career path for non-heir sons in the sesshu shinnōke during the Edo period. He was sent as an acolyte to Honnō-ji in 1831, but was transferred to Ichijō-in, an abbacy of Kōfuku-ji in Nara in 1836. In 1838, he was adopted by Emperor Ninkō. That same year, he succeeded an uncle as the abbot of Kōfuku-ji and formally entered the priesthood under the title Sonya Hoshinnō. In 1852, Emperor Kōmei transferred him to Shōren-in, a major monzeki temple of the Tendai sect in Kyoto and he assumed the title Shōren no miya Son'yu. He was also known as Awata no miya or Awataguchi no miya after the location of that temple. During this period, the prince became an outspoken advocate of jōi , the expulsion of all foreigners from Japan. His popularity among the Ishin Shishi (the pro-imperial court nationalist patriots) attracted the attention of Ii Naosuke, daimyō of Hikone and the Tairō during the final illness of Shogun, Tokugawa Iesada. When Ii launched the Ansei Purge, the prince was condemned to perpetual confinement at Shōkoku-ji. He spent more than two years living in a tiny, dilapidated hut. This disrespectful treatment of the prince enraged the shishi, who made his release one of their principal objectives.
Meiji Restoration and afterwards
In 1862, the prince was allowed to return to secular status and received the title Nakagawa no miya. This was part of the amnesty declared in honor of the marriage of Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi, to Kazu-no-miya, the Emperor Kōmei's half-sister. He returned to Kyoto, became a close advisor of the emperor, and became known by yet another title, Kaya-no-miya at this time. In September 1863, Kōmei bestowed on him the name "Asahiko" and the status of a prince of the blood (shinnō), and named him Danjō no in, a high ranking court position open only to princes of the blood. Prince Asahiko continued in this post following the death of Kōmei and the ascension of the Meiji emperor.
After the Meiji Restoration, Prince Asahiko's political enemies did not relent. In 1868, he was deprived of his status as a prince of the blood and exiled to Hiroshima on trumped-up charges of plotting to overthrow the new government. Emperor Meiji pardoned him in February 1872, restoring his princely status and allowing him to start a new collateral branch of the imperial dynasty, the Kuni-no-miya. He spent the last two decades of his life as the lord custodian priest (saishu) of the Shinto Grand Shrine of Ise. Prince Kuni Asahiko died in Tokyo in 1891.
Three of Prince Asahiko's sons, Prince Kaya Kuninori, Prince Kuni Taka, and Prince Nashimoto Morimasa, successively served as lord custodian priests of the Ise Shrine between 1891 and 1947. Prince Asahiko's son Prince Kuni Kuniyoshi was the father of Princess Nagako of Kuni, who married the future Emperor Shōwa and became the mother of the present Japanese emperor.
Progenitor of new imperial families
Prince Kuni Asahiko was the father of at least eighteen children (nine sons and nine daughters) by at least five different court ladies: (1) Izumitei Shizue, second daughter of Izumitei Shun'eki, a priest at Kamo Shrine, Kyoto, (2) Izumi Makiko, (3) Harada Mitsue, (4) Tarao Utako, and (5) Tsunoda Sugako.
Emperor Meiji directed Prince Asahiko's second, eighth, and ninth sons to found new collateral branches of the imperial family with the hereditary rank of a minor prince of the blood (ōke): Kaya-no-miya, Asaka-no-miya, and Higashikuni-no-miya. Prince Asakiko's seventh son succeeded to the head of the existing Nashimoto-no-miya house. His fourth born son succeeded him as the second head of the Kuni-no-miya.
References and further reading