Thursday, March 17, 2016

Japanese Imperial Court Etiquette

Prince Arisugawa Takehito, (1862 – 1913) was the 10th head of a cadet branch of the Japanese imperial family and a career officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy.  Prince Arisugawa was assigned to the escort of Russian Crown Prince Nikolai (who later became Tsar Nicholas II) during his tour of Japan in 1891. While he was in the Prince's charge, Nikolai was wounded in an assassination attempt, called the "Otsu Scandal," which led to a considerable worsening of diplomatic relations between Japan and Russia.

Everyday life of the Japanese court is practically unknown to the public in spite of the increasing enterprise of Japanese journalism, which has made repeated efforts to break down the barrier of excluslveness and mystery that has hitherto guarded all approach to the inner apartments of the Chiyoda palace. 

Invariably these attempts to violate the sanctity of the imperial precincts have ended in failure, and until a short time ago no consecutive and intelligent account of just what actually goes on at court had ever been published. The death of the Emperor Mutauhito, who has now joined the ranks of the Sacred Ancestors with the posthumous title of Meiji Tenno, and the retirement of the lord chamberlain, Prince Tokudaiji, have removed the two greatest obstacles In the way of a more intimate knowledge of palace happenings. 

The new emperor and his consort, the Empress Sadeko, are much more modern in their ideas and thoughts than the late ruler and it has not taken long for several expressions of their liberal tendencies to become evident. 

The three essentials of palace life would appear to be cleanliness, ceremony and tradition, or rather superstition. The maids who attend on the court ladles during their toilet perform their duties on their knees and on no account must they touch their own lower limbs. Should that accidentally happen, the offending maid must instantly withdraw and undergo a course of purification before she can again appear before her mistress. 

If the rules with regard to the maids of the ladies-in-waiting are so strict, it may be imagined that those with regard to the personal attendants of the sovereigns are even more so. It is, of course, well known that all service before their majesties has to be performed on the knees, and it is not etiquette to approach them except on the knees. Even the physicians who attended on the late emperor during his last illness were not exempted from this rule. 

It is also common knowledge that no one may touch the Imperial person with ungloved hands Last July Drs. Imura and Aoyama obtained permission for the first time to take the Imperial pulse without interposition of a piece of silk between their fingers and the patient's wrist, while for the first time on record medical instruments were applied to the Imperial body. This rule is equally strict for the ladies-in-waiting, and especially so when in attendance on their majesties when bathing or at their toilet. —The Mariposa Gazette, 1913

Etiquette Enthusiast Maura J Graber is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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