Though this is the name by which the whole outer world knows the sovereign of Japan, it is not that now used in Japan itself, except in poetry and on great occasions. The Japanese have got into the habit of calling their sovereign by such alien Chinese titles as Tenshi, "the Son of Heaven;" Ten-ō, or Tennō, "the Heavenly Emperor;" Shujō, "the Supreme Master." His designation in the official translations of modern public documents into English is "Emperor." It will be a pity if this entirely supersedes, in literary and colloquial European usage, the traditional title of "Mikado," which is at once ancient, sonorous, and distinctively Japanese.
The etymology of the word Mikado is not quite clear. Some -and theirs is the current opinion-trace it to mi, "august," and kado, a "gate," reminding one of the "Sublime Porte" of Turkey. Sir Ernest Satow prefers to derive it from mika, an archaic word for "great," and to, "a place." In either case the word is one indicative of the highest respect, as it is but natural that the name used by the Japanese of old to designate their heaven-descended sovereign should be. The word Mikado is often employed to denote the monarch's Court as well as the monarch himself, Japanese idiom lending itself to such double usage for a single word.
The antiquity of the Imperial family of Japan is unparalleled. The Japanese themselves claim that, after endless ages passed in higher spheres, it began its earthly career with the first human monarch, Jimmu Tennō, in the year 660 before Christ. From this, historical criticism bids us subtract more than a millennium, as Japanese history does not become a record of solid facts till the fifth or sixth century after Christ. It should also be pointed out that the succession has by no means followed those stringent rules which Europe considers necessary for legitimacy. Many Mikados, even down to quite recent times, have been the sons of concubines; others have been merely adopted from some related branch. Still, all deductions made, the family as such stands forth proudly as the oldest in the world. We know positively that it has reigned ever since the dawn of history in this archipelago, and that even then it was considered of immemorial age. The fact is peculiarly striking, if we reflect upon the usually brief life of Oriental dynasties. Little wonder, therefore, all things considered, if a religious reverence for the Imperial line is as axiomatic in Japan, as completely removed beyond all doubt or controversy, as is the doctrine of the equal rights and duties of all men in the democratic societies of the West.
The present Mikado was born on the 3rd November, 1852, and succeeded to the throne in 1867. His name is Mutsuhito; but this name is scarcely ever mentioned, and is probably not even known to the great majority of the nation. In Japan the Emperor is simply the Emperor,-not a personality, an almost familiar individuality, as King Edward, for instance, and Kaiser Wilhelm are to us. Such a question as "Is the Mikado popular?" which we have sometimes been asked in England, shows the questioner to be ten thousand miles from an appreciation of the attitude of men's minds in Japan, or indeed in any Far-Eastern land,-an attitude entirely reverential and distant, as to a god. Future generations of Japanese will probably know the present monarch as Meiji Tennō, the word Tenn¯, as already explained, signifying "Heavenly Emperor," and Meiji being the chronological designation of the years comprised in his reign. The reign itself will doubtless stand out in Japanese history as prominently as those which witnessed Japan's first great revolution,-her conversion to Buddhism and Chinese civilisation.
A point of etiquette which foreigners should bear in mind, is that neither the Emperor himself nor any member of the Imperial Family must ever be looked down on. Should an Imperial procession pass by, do not stand at an upper window or on any commanding height. The occasional infraction of this rule has given great offence, and produced disagreeable results.
Book recommended - Failing something more vivid and "intimate," Am japanischen Hofe, by O. von Mohl, who was entrusted during the eighties of the past century with the delicate task of reorganising the etiquette of the Imperial Japanese Court on European lines, may perhaps interest the general reader.