Picture of the Japanese Imperial Line (1879)
This triptych, created eleven years into Meiji's reign, provides a stark visual representation of the continuity of Japan's Imperial legacy. Meiji is seen in the center print, wearing what was at the time a modern military uniform patterned on European designs. Around him in all three prints are a number of past emperors and empresses. As a whole, the triptych conveys a sense of the unbroken link between the traditional and the modern that the Imperial link represents in Japan.
While the origins of the Imperial line are difficult to pin down definitively, the line is traditionally seen as going back unbroken to the legendary Jimmu in 660 BCE. Jimmu's existence is not documented, but the legend says he descended from Amaterasu, the Shinto goddess of the sun. This divine descent places the Imperial House firmly in the center of Japanese tradition. According to this tradition, Meiji was the 122nd Emperor.
As we have learned, the actual power of the Emperor has been debatable throughout Japanese history. The end of the Tokugawa Shogunate was portrayed as a return to Imperial rule after centuries of control by military leaders, in which the Emperor was a revered figurehead with little to no real authority. The degree to which this changed with what became known as the Meiji Restoration remains an open question, but nonetheless, the Restoration dramatically reshaped Japan's power and class structure.