Empress Shōken and the Politics of Meiji Imperial Images

Key information

5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Virtual Event

About this event

Asst Prof Alison J. Miller (Sewanee: The University Of The South)
Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1895, “Illustration of the Empress Visiting the General Staff Headquarters,” Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Soon after coming to the throne in 1868, Empress Shōken became the first Japanese empress with a visible presence outside of the palace. Through her appearances in woodblock prints, which show her public visits and stylish fashions, Shōken defined the position of empress in modern Japan. These prints served a didactic function, providing the Japanese public with a means to learn about this new royal position, and about the proper comportment and activities of imperial and aristocratic women. As a public persona, Shōken often utilized the optics of European royalty, but as a means of manipulation, not imitation, and balanced with complimentary scenes of historically inspired Japanese palace life and attire. Carefully crafted under the oversight of the Imperial Household Agency, the feminine sovereign image utilized the power of representation to exert domestic political influence. This talk examines elements of visually imagined cultural encounter and exchange in prints featuring Empress Shōken in the 1880s and 1890s in order to analyze the social and political impacts of the messaging envisioned within the disparate settings and sartorial selections featured in the images.

Speaker Biography

Alison J. Miller, Assistant Professor of Art History, specializes in modern and contemporary Japanese art, prints and photography, and the intersections of gender studies and visual culture. Her book manuscript, "Envisioning the Empress: The Feminine Imperial Image in Japan, 1868-1952" addresses how prints, photographs, and paintings of the modern Japanese empresses were used to construct norms of modern femininity and class.


This event is free and open to public. If you would like to attend the event please register. Please register via Zoom .

Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre

Contact email: centres@soas.ac.uk