Emperor Ninkō (1800-1846) was the 120th emperor of Japan, at least according to the traditional chronology, reigning from 1817 to 1846.
Born Prince Ayahito, Ninkō was the fourth son of Emperor Kōkaku. Ascending to the throne at the age of 17, upon his father's abdication, Ninkō reigned for almost 30 years. Like his father, Ninkō took a strong interest in reviving ancient court rituals and traditions. Ninkō's reign came at the end of the Edo Period, when actual rule over Japan was in the hands of the Tokugawa shoguns and the power and prestige of the Japanese emperor was at an all-time low.
Ninkō died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1846, when he was just 46 years old and seemingly in prime health. One day, at a time when he seemed to have a slight cold, he got up to go to the privy and suddenly collapsed. He tried to crawl to the restroom, but he died before he got there.
At this time, it had long been a tradition that emperors abdicate the throne to a male heir before dying, so the Imperial court tried to cover up Ninkō's death. Saying he was incapacitated due to ill health and therefore wished to abdicate, they sent a fast messenger to the capital at Edo to request permission to abdicate from the Shogun. However, word of Ninkō's death leaked out long before the messenger could make the lengthy round-trip journey, and Ninkō's passing was therefore announced and the throne passed to his fourth son, Emperor Kōmei.
This turn of events ended the 800-year tradition of emperors purposely abdicating the throne and reigning from behind the scenes as "Retired Emperor," known as the "insei" system. Beginning with Emperor Ninkō, all emperors thereafter have reigned until death.
At the time of his death, Ninkō had been working to establish a new school for Japanese nobles aged 15 to 40, called the Gakushūjo. The school opened to students the following year (1847) and would later be moved to Tokyo and eventually become what is now Gakushuin University. To this day, this elite university continues to educate Japanese emperors and other members of the Imperial family, as well as regular citizens, with notable alumni including Yoko Ono, Yukio Mishima, and Hayao Miyazaki.
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