TAKI AKIRA WAS DEEP in effortless slumber, dreaming of golden glittering dragons swimming lithely in the Koi pond, when the phone rang. The room was pitch-black as the good doctor's wife awakened next to him. She turned away from the brightness while he flicked on the light and answered the phone. For a man in his mid-eighties, he was remarkably nimble and alert; smooth, delicate skin, clean-shaven, with short, brush-cut white hair.
'Hai, yes... What is it?' He asked, listening blearily to the caller, trying to force himself awake. Then a muted sigh came from his lips, and his wife sat up next to him, sensing his unease.
'I will be there as fast as I can. Domo arigato, thank you.'
Akira looked at his watch, got up from bed and put on his clothes.
His wife glanced up from the pillow, 'What is it, my dear?' she asked, groggily, hair in curlers.
'The Emperor, he requests me to be by his side.'
He leaned in and kissed her cheek tenderly, then quickly left, sliding open the rice-paper screens and out of the front door. * * * * *
AT THE IMPERIAL PALACE in Tokyo, Dr. Akira rushed hurriedly down the Grand Hall, past a long line of Imperial Guards. He paused as two more Sentries allowed him access through two enormous, black-dragon carved, doors. Walking the long passage way in silence with flashes of memories in his head, he finally reached the Emperor's room, painted entirely in white. Two nurses were busy attending the Emperor while a plump, pleasant Doctor in a white coat came and bowed to greet him. In the elaborate four-poster bed before them, lay the dying, eighty-eight year old Hirohito, his eyes half-closed. Dr. Akira went to his side to check his pulse, and the Emperor's weary eyes opened. There was a faint sign of recognition, followed by joy at realizing it was Taki's face.
The Emperor motioned slightly with his hand and the nurses and other doctor left them in privacy. Taki noticed something in Hirohito's clenched fist, a small scrap of paper.
'It is finished,' whispered the frail Emperor. 'I shall travel to meet my great ancestors soon.'
'Don't say such things, Highness.'
'We've come a long way together, old friend.'
'Yes, it has been a long journey,' said Taki, gazing out of the window at the light falling snow.
'Why do you hesitate to speak the truth? If I am to die, then so be it. Do you remember what Monk Ju taught us?'
'Hai, I remember. It was snowing that day,' said Taki, smiling to himself, reflecting. 'They were wonderful times...'
He thought back to the Winter Palace in Kyoto in March of 1912 when it was snowing lightly outside. There was a Buddhist Temple in the main grounds of the royal courtyard where an elderly Buddhist, Monk Ju, in his late sixties, with a long, pointed, white-beard, and wearing an orange robe, stood teaching a class of five young Japanese boys.
The elderly Monk was a kindly, benevolent soul with a clear, unassuming face and shaved head. He spoke to the twelve year old boys in their dark-green silk robes, (except for Prince Hirohito who wore a golden silk embroidered kimono), as if they were adults.
Monk Ju addressed them in a gentle, unassuming voice, 'People speak about changes in their lives as if this were a problem. But, you see, this is the essence of life and the very foundation of Buddhism.'
Monk Ju noticed two of the boys looking out a crack in the window, fascinated by the falling snow, and watching six saffron-robed monks pulling the gong for a large black bell at a pagoda shrine.
Ju interrupted the boy's reverie, 'Yes, my young Prince, like the falling snow, everything is subject to change.'
He opened the window, let the freshly fallen snow fall to his open palm, 'The snowflake falls from the heavens, turns to water, only to return again to heaven. This interminable process repeats itself much like our souls in reincarnation.'
The Prince peered up at him curiously, 'Why do I need to know such things?'
'Because one day you will be the Great Emperor! You, Prince Hirohito, will also be the spiritual leader of our people, and it is for this reason you must learn.'
The little Prince rose to his feet in his golden robes, pulling Taki up with him, while the rest of the boys stayed seated in the lotus position.
'I am tired of this now,' sighed the Prince. 'I'm taking Taki outside to play.'
Monk Ju could say nothing, only bowed in acceptance, for no-one, not even a monk, could challenge royalty. The Prince and Taki left holding hands, skipping merrily down the vast halls.
Two charming Geishas in their early twenties with thick, white-face paint and red lipstick, pink and black accents around the eyes, and in wooden geta sandals, shuffled by Taki and the Prince with eyes cast down, bowing. When they had passed, one of the Geishas whispered to the other, 'Who is the new boy?'
'Ah...He's the one Emperor Meiji found in the palace gardens.'
'Hai, the Emperor was strolling when he came across the baby. He and the Empress decided to adopt the child.'
'The Emperor has a tender heart,' the other nodded, and the ladies continued down the long grey hall, headed towards the sacred Emerald Temple.
In a courtyard of the Winter Palace, Taki and the Prince were walking through an open garden path to the Central Hall. Rows of Samurai guards bowed their heads in reverence, their black enamel armour and bodies gleaming like fierce deities in the morning sun while, in the background, dozens of gardeners attended to the lush palace grounds filled with roses, chrysanthemums, and lilies.
An elderly gardener glanced around from behind a wood trellis, trying to sneak a peek at the Prince as he strolled by. It was a mistake on his part, for he knew all too well the royal family was never to be looked upon by commoners. In the next second, the swift sound of a Samurai's blade swooshed through the air and the curious gardener's head rolled off his shoulders and fell amongst the chrysanthemum bushes he had been tending, his eyes staring out with a frightened look of terror on his face. It was Taki's first encounter with such stark violence and he was horrified.
'Did you see..?' he asked the Prince, who seemed unfazed and aloof.
'The people know the rules. Forget these peasants.'
'Yes, my Prince.'
Nothing more was said between them as they strolled down the footpath leading to the imposing stone edifice that housed the official residence and apartments of the Emperor and his extended family.
Once they reached the Grand Hall of the Winter Palace, Taki and Hirohito made their way through the massive, richly decorated halls, with rows of ceramic dragon sculptures and tall potted ferns. Servants and Samurai soldiers bowed, closing their eyes respectfully as they passed.
Moving through the huge gates, a grey-haired gentleman in his late sixties greeted them with a smile. He was none other than the American diplomat, Wilfred M. Dawson from the U.S. Consulate mission. He had a small brush moustache and glasses, and was dressed in formal western attire, black suit and tails, with white shirt and button down collar and tie. He came toward the boys as they entered the hall, in animated conversation with Kato Tagado, the Japanese Foreign Minister, a tidy, short white-haired gentleman in his sixties.
Minister Tagado turned and bowed to the Prince as he approached.
'How are you today, your Highness?' the Minister inquired smiling.
'Quite well, thank you.'
Minister Tagado turned to Taki. 'I have something for you.' He then reached into his pocket and produced a small silver coin on a chain, placing it gently around Taki's neck. 'This was amongst your possessions when we found you. The Emperor wanted you to have it back.' He bowed and took a step back. 'Well, Taki, what do you want to be when you grow up?'
Taki fondled the ancient coin curiously, but his attention quickly shifted to a toy world war one bi-plane in Mr. Dawson's hand. Dawson saw the boy's interest and gave him the model. Taki took the plane and sailed it in the air above him to and fro. 'I want to fly an airplane!' cried Taki, excitedly.
'A pilot?' replied Dawson. 'That's an exciting occupation, perhaps a little dangerous, but I'm sure you will be one, if that is your desire.' Dawson turned to the Prince, 'Now, for the bad news. Your grandfather is gravely ill.'
Minister Tagado took on a grave look, 'He is asking to see you.'
'Is grandfather going to die?'
'It is for the Gods to decide. Come, let us go visit him now.'
They bowed to one another, and Mr. Dawson and Tagado led the Prince and Taki down the corridor to Emperor Meiji's chamber.
Emperor Meiji, formerly known as Prince "Mutsuhito", was born on November 3rd, 1852 to Emperor Komei and Nakayama Yoshiko, a lady-in-waiting, as the 122nd emperor of Japan. Once he had taken the title of Emperor, Mutsuhito took the new name "Meiji" meaning "Enlightened Government"; a group of radical nationalists united under his rule and took on the Tokugawa shogunate, curbing their powers, and bringing rise to a new era. Shortly after his ascent to the throne, Meiji married Lady Haruko, who became known as Empress Shoken, the first woman from the Imperial consort to be given the title kogo, or Emperor's wife. Empress Shoken, however, bore him no children, but Meiji produced fifteen other children though five different ladies-in-waiting.
It was during this period that Meiji moved the capital of Japan to Tokyo from Kyoto which, for decades, prior had been the location of the Imperial capital. It was also during this period the "Meiji Revolution" restoration flourished, and Imperial forces under Meiji's rule defeated the fierce Tokugawa. However, power passed not to Meiji, but to "Daimyo" warriors and leaders of the revolution. Though Meiji remained Emperor, parliament, now called "The Diet", was ruled by an oligarchy composed of the prevailing military, political, and economical elite of the time.
When Taki and the Prince entered Emperor Meiji's bedroom, the room was darkly lit with candles placed around his bedside. Mr. Dawson and Tagado left the Prince to his private audience with the Emperor, while Taki stopped at the door, eyes facing down in humble reverence.
The small Prince approached his aged grandfather in the spacious, incense, smoke-filled room, moving forward to the Emperor's side.
The old man was in his mid-eighties, and appeared weak and frail, lying stretched out on a large golden bed with a black silk covered canopy. Four ladies-in-waiting attended to him, propping his pillows, placing hot towels on his forehead and arms. Another woman, helped by a nurse, lifted his head to drink tea, while two male nurses in white entered the room with fresh towels; all the time keeping their gaze to the floor to avoid direct eye contact with the Emperor.
When the Emperor saw the young prince by his bedside, the old sovereign managed a faint smile. 'Hirohito, my lovely grandson. So glad you have come. We must talk...'
'Are you very sick, Grandfather?' asked the Prince, laying a comforting hand on the tired old man's arm.'
'I think so, my boy. There's not much time.'
The Emperor clicked his fingers at the servants and all left them in private. Taki stood quietly at the door, listening intently as they spoke.
'There is much we must discuss before I journey to our ancestors. Your father's mind is tormented by devils. His reign will be short-lived, so it is you who will be the new hope of Japan.'
'Please, Grandfather, you must not talk of your passing. You are greatest of all Emperors,' said the Prince, succumbing to tears, and placing his hands lovingly on the Emperor's chest.
'You must be strong and gain admiration through your deeds. You must achieve respect and know the everyday problems of the lowest peasant--for only then will you become one with the people.'
'Yes, Grandfather, I understand.'
Taki felt as if he were invading their privacy. He knew the conversation was intimate and he should not be listening, so gently stepped outside, closed the door and left down the halls, deep in thought.