Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Personal Effects of Nashimoto Itsuko

The Tobacco and Salt Museum is holding a special exhibition of the personal effects of Princess Itsuko of Nashimoto.

Who was Princess Itsuko?

Born in Italy in 1882, she was the daughter of Nabeshima Naohiro, the 11th of the Nabeshima line of Saga daimyos. Her mother, the formidable Marchioness Nabeshima, was one of the belles of the Rokumeikan (one of her ballroom gowns is on display) and later the president of the Japan Red Cross.

At 19 Itsuko, one of the most beautiful women of her time, married the watsoneseque Imperial Prince Morimasa of the Nashimoto line.

The marriage united two of Shibuya's wealthiest families (The Tobacco and Salt Museum is located in Shibuya, perhaps the sole reason why the museum is hosting the exhibition. Nothing in Princess Itsuko life is in any way related to tobacco or salt). Prince Morimasa was an Imperial Army man. He was later to be imprisoned in Sugamo as a war criminal (a copy of the 1945 Asahi Shimbun announcing his arrest is on display).

The Nashimotos had two daughters. In 1920, the elder daughter, Princess Masako, was selected to become the wife of the pathetic Yi Eun, the last crown prince of the Yi dynasty of Korean kings--purportedly because Masako (Yi Bang-ja) was assumed to be barren. As photos in the exhibition show, she was not--though her first born was to die--poisoned--at age of two during a family visit to Korea. One of the photos is a an almost parodically stuffy photo of the Nashimotos with Yi Eun and Masako flanking her parents.

The Nashimotos lost almost everything in the incendiary bombings of 1945 (the Nabeshimas, for their part, lost most of their personal effects in the 1923 earthquake) so the exhibition is a charming mishmash of odd bits of things that survived. Among the more interesting objects is a silver bonbonniere in the shape of a torpedo, with the imperial crest upon it in gold. One can also hear the Columbia Records recording of a song Itsuko wrote about Manchuria.

I learned things I should have already known. For example, the Annex of the Akasaka Prince Hotel is the former official residence of Yi Eun and Masako.

Stripped of their nobility in 1947, Morimasa and Itsuko lived on in Shibuya as commoners. Morimasa died in 1951. Itsuko lived on a further quarter century, passing away in 1976 at the age of 95. The exhibition has a photo of Itsuko participating in the 1975 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Shibuya #1 Elementary School. A piano that Morimasa and Itsuko had donated to the school is also on display.

For information on the exhibition, click:

In English:

The exhibition runs until January 15. Admission to the Museum is 100 yen. There is no additional charge for the special exposition.

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