Emperor Kōmei was the 121st Emperor of Japan. He reigned (or perhaps, more accurately he “served as a titular figurehead”) from 1846 through 1867, when he died from smallpox at the age of 35. Western powers forcibly pried open Japan during the reign of Kōmei: Commodore Perry’s fleet of black ships made their famous trade visit in 1853. The shock of this transformation allowed Kōmei to begin to wrest political power back from the shogun (a hereditary military dictator, who was the true ruler of Japan). Kōmei’s reign thus directly paved the way for the Meiji restoration and the rapid industrialization of Japan.
The Crown of Emperor Kōmei (photo by
I mention all of this as an introduction to his amazing hat. Kōmei’s crown has survived. It is an exquisite beaded square surmounted by a glorious sun–an unsubtle reminder that the emperor of Japan is the direct descendant of the sun-goddess Amaterasu. The regal headdress has been sitting on a fancy shelf somewhere gathering fancy dust since 1867.
It should be noted that, in Japanese imperial tradition, crowns are not invested with the same importance as they are in European monarchies. Ironically, the real crown jewels of the Crysanthemum throne are not crowns at all. In fact they seemingly don’t exist at all. The imperial regalia consist of a sword, a mirror, and a jewel which have been handed down since the time of Amaterasu, who used these items in the struggles which formed the world. Yet the sword, mirror, and jewel are themselves shrouded in mystery. Not only are they reputedly of ancient supernatural construction, they have also been thrown into the sea and lost. Most fortunately they were recovered by natural and unnatural means, however, ordinary mortals are forbidden to look at them, so nobody has seen them except some sinister aristocrat priests, who assert that they really truly almost certainly probably exist in secret locations.
So, if you are keeping score, the emperor was not really an emperor (but instead a golden mask for a squalid strongman); his ancient supernatural treasures likewise do not really exist. This digital picture of a wacky beaded hat is just about the most real thing about the world’s most ancient monarchy.