The Empress Shoken was the dutiful wife of the Emperor Meiji. Born in Kyoto, she was the third daughter of the Minister of the Left, Tadaka Ichijo and given the name Haruko.
She became consort to the Emperor in 1868 and proved invaluable to her husband. The Meiji era was a time of great upheaval in Japan and the Emperor found himself surrounded by many different greedy factions and individuals. Throughout this period of change, when Japan lurched from the feudal Tokugawa bakufu to a more modern Western system of government, the Empress Shoken provided a loyal figure of support for her husband.
Indeed in the past in Japan, men had often looked to their wives for advice when under pressure. Not only did they normally control the household finances, but for for daimyo and samurai they were often one of the few people they could trust. Though some fathers used their daughters to try and control their sons-in-law, this was fairly rare - a woman's priority was to protect her son's inheritance.
The Empress Shoken was one of the first women at the Imperial Court to open up to Western influences and culture, throwing away the age-old but eccentric habit of blacking one's teeth to make them look rotten. This had supposedly been done because "barbarians" like the Mongols had very white teeth, but in reality was because an emperor with very bad teeth had been tired of being mocked.
In addition, she raised the charitable nature of Upper Class women, becoming heavily involved with the Red Cross. She was instrumental in setting up the Japanese Red Cross and was very concerned with the International Red Cross, donating a sum of money to it that is now called The Empress Shoken Fund. Though she did not give birth to her husband's heir, she remained faithful until his death in 1912. She died a mere two years later and is currently buried at his side in Kyoto.
The following is a waka written by her
We gaze into our mirrors
Which are unblemished;
Oh, that we could attain
Such a purity of soul.
ed. G. L. Bernstein, Recreating Japanese women, 1600-1945 (University of California, 1991)