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Rare photo of Emperor Taisho as crown prince with commoners found in west Japan city

Part of a photo taken in front of the Matsue Castle keep in 1907 shows Emperor Taisho, then crown prince, with a group including commoners. (Photo courtesy of the Matsue Municipal Government)

MATSUE -- A group photo showing Emperor Taisho (1879-1926) with some 260 people in this west Japan city in 1907, when he was crown prince, has been found, highlighting his interaction with commoners at a time when emperors were divinized and such contact with large groups was rare.

    This group photo taken in 1907 shows, from left in the front row, Imperial Navy Admiral Togo Heihachiro; then Crown Prince Yoshihito, who would later become Emperor Taisho; and then Shimane Gov. Matsunaga Takekichi. (Photo courtesy of the Matsue Municipal Government)

    The photo, measuring 19.7 centimeters by 15.4 cm, was found in Matsue in February this year when a resident was sorting out things in their old family's storehouse. The Matsue Municipal Government's historical sources survey division identified the man in the center of the front row, clad in an Imperial Japanese Navy ceremonial outfit, as Emperor Taisho based on his appearance, decoration and sleeve patch -- though there are no notes about the date or the figure in the picture.

    The then crown prince visited Tottori and Shimane prefectures between May and June 1907, and the photo is believed to have been taken during the trip. A journal about his journey in Shimane Prefecture, compiled by the prefectural government, describes that he stayed at Matsue Castle during that period.

    The picture was taken in front of the Matsue Castle keep. On Emperor Taisho's left is the Imperial Navy's Admiral Togo Heihachiro, and on his right is then Shimane Gov. Matsunaga Takekichi. On both sides in the front row are navy personnel sitting cross-legged on the ground. People who seem to be notable members of the local community, wearing kimonos with traditional family crests and hakama pleated skirts, are lined up in the back row.

    Takeshi Hara, professor of history of Japanese political thought at the Open University of Japan, who authored the book "Emperor Taisho," commented, "Emperor Taisho liked cameras, and there's a photo of him with local people in the Korean Empire during his visit in 1907, but a photo taken with this many people is rare. I think it was taken between official activities. He is said to have often talked to commoners and this casual personality of his is expressed here."

    (Japanese original by Haruno Kosaka, Matsue Bureau)

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