Remembering Meiji: Translations

Keene includes several extended reminiscences of Meiji published immediately after his death. Unfortunately, some are included in the original French (pp. 707 and 709). Many thanks to Nathanael Robinson, who generously and meticulously translated these from the 19c formal French. I’ve appended these to the chapter guide for future reference.

Ito Hirobumi:

Whatever might be the causes which helped Japan in its progress, and whatever part we might have had in its success over the years, all that is insignificant when compared with what the country needs from his majesty, the emperor. The imperial will has always been the light that guides the nation. Whatever could be the contributions of those, like myself, who are trying to help his enlightened government, it would have been impossible to obtain such remarkable results had it not been for his great, wise and progressive support that is always behind every new reform.

Suematsu Kencho:

His Majesty provides the steadiest attention to each area of the affairs of the state. Every day, from the early morning till the late hours, he works with his cabinet on public affairs. He knows what matters concern each department, above all that which affects the army and navy. . . . Sometimes he astonishes [us] with his knowledge of events among his people. He takes a keen interest in everything that happens in the major countries of the world, his only desire being to learn from other nations.

The comment of the French editorialist was astute:

The emperor was able, at certain times, to influence the policy of his ministers, because his ability to act and his intelligence were not in doubt. But his main work, which he achieved with remarkable wisdom, was to be the head of state, the living symbol of national life and the public interest . . . . The great kings are not those who, like Philip II, want to manage the affairs of state by themselves, but those who, having placed their trust in great ministers, support them with all the prestige of the monarchy.

Reporter for The Journal (G. de Banzemont)

Mutsu-hito was not only one of the most celebrated emperors of Japan, but also one of the greatest monarchs of the modern world. One need only recall the anguish that gripped the Japanese nation at the first news of the sovereign’s illness. Over several days, the tearful crowd marched, without concern for the torrid heat, under the windows of the imperial palace. On their knees, their foreheads covered in dust, in a common voice, they pleaded with the gods. And as soon as a dull lamp, illuminating the room of the deceased, announced that the monarch passed away in agony, there came the most violent explosion of sorrow that can be imagined.

Ito’s comment seems somewhat noncommittal — “support” and “guides” aren’t specific — but emphasizes the “progressive” modernizing elements of the regime.1 Suematsu, on the other hand, who served as an ambassador and Home minister, is effusive and clear. The “astute” French editorialist presents what could well be a summary of Keene’s own views.2 de Banzemont’s narrative is echoed, but not quite confirmed, by Japanese sources Keene cites, and seems a bit excessive.3

  1. Keene, in footnotes, says that the date of this statement “is not clear” but doesn’t explicitly remind the reader that Ito’s been dead for three years.  

  2. That’s what “astute” means: agrees with me  

  3. At some point, when I have more time, I want to go back to Japanese newspapers of the time.  


  1. Happy and delighted to help. I would like to know the source of the third quote, given that the editorialists is also giving a critique of French dirigisme.

  2. It’s from the newspaper Le Correspondant (so are the first two), but I don’t have an exact date because Keene cites a Japanese collection: Mochizuki Kotarō, Sekai ni okeru Meiji tennō [Emperor Meiji’s place in the world], Tokyo: Hara shobō, 1973, vol. 2, p. 119 (From the text, this may be a reprint of a book which first appeared in 1913). Meiji died July 30, 1912, so sometime after that, of course, and probably before his mid-September funeral.

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