The Procession of the Emperor Going to Tokyo 東京府御東幸行烈図

Utagawa Yoshitora 歌川芳虎/画

In the seventh month of 1868, an imperial edict was issued renaming the city of Edo as Tokyo (“the eastern capital”). In the ninth month, the era name was changed to Meiji; it was also stipulated that an era would correspond to the reign of an emperor and not be changed during that reign. Then the emperor, known as the Meiji Emperor in accordance with the era name, made his procession to the east, from Kyoto to the west to Tokyo, the former Edo, in the east. The emperor and some 3,300 attendants entered Tokyo, and Edo Castle, which had been the center of the Tokugawa shogunate, was renamed Tokyo Castle. In the twelfth month of 1868, the Meiji Emperor and two thousand attendants made a return procession from Tokyo to Kyoto. In the third month of 1869, the emperor again traveled to the east; this time, the Great Council of State, the imperial government’s senior administrative organ, also moved to Tokyo. In addition, Tokyo Castle was renamed the Imperial Castle, signifying that it was the residence of the emperor. The polychrome print triptych shown here depicts that second procession to Tokyo. We can readily imagine that the emperor was riding in the larger palanquin with a phoenix on its roof. The artist also depicts the crowds of Tokyo citizens lining the roads, hoping for a glimpse of the emperor. After this return to Tokyo, the emperor made it his residence and did not go back to Kyoto again. The second return is thus regarded as the defacto relocation of the imperial capital to Tokyo. But why “defacto”? Actually, no imperial edict, proclamation, or notification of the relocation of the capital was publicly issued. Nor did the Meiji government issue an official statement to that effect. Instead of the term “relocation,” i.e., moving the capital to another location, the government used the term “establishing the capital.” It is thought that “relocation,” with its implication that Kyoto had ceased to be the capital, was deliberately avoided out of consideration for the conservative faction in the new government as well as the residents of Kyoto.
Collection of
Edo-Tokyo Museum
The Procession of the Emperor Going to Tokyo
Collection ID
Utagawa Yoshitora
Creation Date
1869 19世紀 
Edo-Tokyo Museum Digital Archives

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