Saionji Kinmochi
Prince is a general term for a ruler, monarch or member of a monarch's or former monarch's family, and is a hereditary title in the nobility of some European states. The feminine equivalent is a princess...

  was a Japanese politician, statesman and twice Prime Minister of Japan
Prime Minister of Japan
The is the head of government of Japan. He is appointed by the Emperor of Japan after being designated by the Diet from among its members, and must enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives to remain in office...

. His title does not signify the son of an emperor, but the highest rank of Japanese hereditary nobility; he was elevated from marquis
Marquis is a French and Scottish title of nobility. The English equivalent is Marquess, while in German, it is Markgraf.It may also refer to:Persons:...

 to prince
Prince is a general term for a ruler, monarch or member of a monarch's or former monarch's family, and is a hereditary title in the nobility of some European states. The feminine equivalent is a princess...

 in 1920. As the last surviving genrō
was an unofficial designation given to certain retired elder Japanese statesmen, considered the "founding fathers" of modern Japan, who served as informal extraconstitutional advisors to the emperor, during the Meiji, Taishō and early Shōwa periods in Japanese history.The institution of genrō...

he was Japan's most honored statesman of the 1920s and 1930s.

Early life

Kinmochi was born in Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

 as the son of Udaijin
Udaijin , most commonly translated as the "Minister of the Right", was a government position in Japan in the late Nara and Heian periods. The position was consolidated in the Taihō Code of 702. The Asuka Kiyomihara Code of 689 marks the initial appearance of the Udaijin in the context of a central...

 Tokudaiji Kin'ito (1821-1883), head of a kuge
The was a Japanese aristocratic class that dominated the Japanese imperial court in Kyoto until the rise of the Shogunate in the 12th century at which point it was eclipsed by the daimyo...

family of court nobility. He was adopted by another kuge family, the Saionji, in 1851. However, he grew up near his biological parents, since both the Tokudaiji and Saionji lived very near the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The young Saionji Kinmochi was frequently ordered to visit the palace as a playmate of the young prince who later became Emperor Meiji. Over time they became close friends. Kinmochi's biological brother Tokudaiji Sanetsune later became the Grand Chamberlain of Japan. Another younger brother was adopted into the very wealthy Sumitomo family and as Sumitomo Kichizaemon became the head of the Sumitomo zaibatsu
is a Japanese term referring to industrial and financial business conglomerates in the Empire of Japan, whose influence and size allowed for control over significant parts of the Japanese economy from the Meiji period until the end of World War II.-Terminology:...

. Sumitomo money largely financed Saionji's political career. His close relationship to the Imperial Court opened all doors to him. In his later political life, he was an influence on both the Taishō
Emperor Taishō
The was the 123rd emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from 30 July 1912, until his death in 1926.The Emperor’s personal name was . According to Japanese customs, the emperor has no name during his reign and is only called the Emperor...

 and Shōwa emperors.

Meiji Restoration

As the heir of a noble family, Saionji participated in politics from an early age and was known for his brilliant talent. He took part in the climactic event of his time, the Boshin War
Boshin War
The was a civil war in Japan, fought from 1868 to 1869 between forces of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and those seeking to return political power to the imperial court....

, the revolution in Japan of 1867 and 1868, which overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate
Tokugawa shogunate
The Tokugawa shogunate, also known as the and the , was a feudal regime of Japan established by Tokugawa Ieyasu and ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family. This period is known as the Edo period and gets its name from the capital city, Edo, which is now called Tokyo, after the name was...

 and installed the young Emperor Meiji as the (nominal) head of the government. Some noblemen at the Imperial Court considered the war to be a private dispute of the samurai
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau...

 of Satsuma and Choshu against those of the Tokugawa
Tokugawa clan
The was a powerful daimyo family of Japan. They nominally descended from Emperor Seiwa and were a branch of the Minamoto clan by the Nitta clan. However, the early history of this clan remains a mystery.-History:...

. Saionji held the strong opinion that the nobles of the Imperial Court should seize the initiative and take part in the war. He participated in various battles as an imperial representative.

One of his first encounters involved taking Kameoka Castle
Kameoka, Kyoto
is a city located in Kyoto, Japan.As of 2008, the city has an estimated population of 93,323 and a density of 415 persons per km². The total area is 224.90 km². It is known as one of Japan's foggiest cities....

 without a fight. The next encounter was at Sasayama Castle
Sasayama Castle
is a Japanese castle in Sasayama, Hyōgo, Japan.-History:Construction of this castle was begun by the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1608 and it was completed in six months. Ikeda Terumasa was in charge of the construction and the plan of the castle was done by Tōdō Takatora. It is said that twenty...

. Several hundred Samurai from both sides met on the road nearby, but the defenders immediately surrendered. Then Fukuchiyama surrendered without a fight. By this time he had acquired an Imperial banner made by Iwakura Tomomi
Iwakura Tomomi
was a Japanese statesman in the Meiji period. The former 500 Yen banknote issued by the Bank of Japan carried his portrait.-Early life:Iwakura was born in Kyoto as the second son of a low-ranking courtier and nobleman . In 1836 he was adopted by another nobleman, , from whom he received his family...

, featuring a sun and moon on a red field. Other Samurai did not want to attack the army with the imperial banner, and readily deserted the Shogun
A was one of the hereditary military dictators of Japan from 1192 to 1867. In this period, the shoguns, or their shikken regents , were the de facto rulers of Japan though they were nominally appointed by the emperor...

. After two weeks Saionji reached Kizuki
Kitsuki Domain
The ' was a Japanese domain of the Edo period, located in modern-day Ōita Prefecture, Kyūshū.-History:At the start of the Edo period, the territory which became Kitsuki was part of the Nakatsu domain , the 399,000 koku territory ruled by Hosokawa Tadaoki...

, and following another bloodless encounter, Saionji returned to by ship to Osaka
is a city in the Kansai region of Japan's main island of Honshu, a designated city under the Local Autonomy Law, the capital city of Osaka Prefecture and also the biggest part of Keihanshin area, which is represented by three major cities of Japan, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe...

. Matters did eventually come to an end at Nagaoka Castle
Nagaoka, Niigata
is a city located in the central part of Niigata Prefecture, Japan. It is the second largest city in the prefecture, behind the capital city of Niigata...

. However, Saionji was relieved from command in the actual battle and appointed governor of Echigo.

Saionji's first sojourn overseas career

After the Meiji Restoration
Meiji Restoration
The , also known as the Meiji Ishin, Revolution, Reform or Renewal, was a chain of events that restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868...

, Saionji resigned. With the support of Ōmura Masujirō
Omura Masujiro
-External links:* * *

 he studied French in Tokyo
, ; officially , is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the largest metropolitan area of Japan. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family...

. He left Japan on SS Costa Rica with a group of thirty other Japanese students sailing to San Francisco. He travelled on to Washington
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 where he met Ulysses Grant, President of the United States of America. He then crossed the Atlantic spending 13 days in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 sightseeing, before finally arriving in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 on 27 May 1871. Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 was in the turmoil of the Commune
Paris Commune
The Paris Commune was a government that briefly ruled Paris from March 18 to May 28, 1871. It existed before the split between anarchists and Marxists had taken place, and it is hailed by both groups as the first assumption of power by the working class during the Industrial Revolution...

, and Paris was not safe for Saionji - indeed his tutor was shot when they stumbled upon a street battle. Saionji went to Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 and Nice, before settling in Marseilles where he learnt French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 with the accent of that city. He made his way to Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 following the suppression of the Commune. He studied law at the Sorbonne
The Sorbonne is an edifice of the Latin Quarter, in Paris, France, which has been the historical house of the former University of Paris...

 and became involved with Emile Acollas
Emile Acollas
Emile Acollas was a French professor of Jurisprudence born in La Châtre, Indre.He was one of the founders of the League of Peace and Freedom set up in 1867. His call for the conference gained 10,000 adherents including Victor Hugo, John Stuart Mill, Elisée Reclus, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Louis Blanc...

, who had set up the Acollas Law School for foreign students studying law in Paris. These were the early years of the Third Republic
French Third Republic
The French Third Republic was the republican government of France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed due to the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, to 1940, when France was overrun by Nazi Germany during World War II, resulting in the German and Italian occupations of France...

, a time of high idealism in France. Saionji arrived in France with highly reactionary views but he was influenced by Acollas (a former member of the League of Peace and Freedom
League of Peace and Freedom
The Inaugural Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom was originally planned for September 5, 1867 in Geneva. Emile Acollas set up the League’s Organising Committee which enlisted the support of John Stuart Mill, Elisée Reclus and his brother Élie Reclus....

) and became the most liberal of Japanese major political figures of his generation. When the Iwakura Mission
Iwakura mission
The Iwakura Mission or Iwakura Embassy was a Japanese diplomatic journey around the world, initiated in 1871 by the oligarchs of the Meiji period. Although it was not the only such "mission", it is the most well-known and possibly most important for the modernization of Japan after a long period...

 visited Paris in 1872, Iwakura was quite worried about the radicalism of Saionji and other Japanese students. He made many acquaintances in France, including Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

, the Goncourt brothers
Goncourt brothers
The Goncourt brothers were Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt , both French naturalist writers. They formed a partnership that "is possibly unique in literary history...

, and fellow Sorbonne student Georges Clemenceau
Georges Clemenceau
Georges Benjamin Clemenceau was a French statesman, physician and journalist. He served as the Prime Minister of France from 1906 to 1909, and again from 1917 to 1920. For nearly the final year of World War I he led France, and was one of the major voices behind the Treaty of Versailles at the...


On his return to Japan, he founded the Ritsumeikan University
Ritsumeikan University
Ritsumeikan University has a growing reputation as one of the main private universities of Japan. It is part of a group of prestigious private universities in the Kansai area, called "Kan -Kan -Dou -Ritsu "...

 in 1869 and Meiji Law School, which later evolved into Meiji University
Meiji University
is a private university in Tokyo and Kawasaki, founded in 1881 by three lawyers of the Meiji era, Kishimoto Tatsuo, Miyagi Kōzō, and Yashiro Misao. It is one of the largest and most prestigious Japanese universities in Tokyo, Japan....

 in 1880.

In 1882, Itō Hirobumi
Ito Hirobumi
Prince was a samurai of Chōshū domain, Japanese statesman, four time Prime Minister of Japan , genrō and Resident-General of Korea. Itō was assassinated by An Jung-geun, a Korean nationalist who was against the annexation of Korea by the Japanese Empire...

 visited Europe in order to research the constitutional systems of each major European country, and he asked Saionji to accompany him, as they knew each other very well. After the trip, he was appointed ambassador to Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

, and later to Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...


Political career

Returning to Japan, Saionji joined the Privy Council
Privy Council (Japan)
was an advisory council to the Emperor of Japan that operated from 1888 to 1947.-Functions:Modeled in part upon the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, this body advised the throne on matters of grave importance including:...

, and served as president of the House of Peers. He also served as Minister of Education in the 2nd and 3rd Itō administrations (1892-1893, 1898) and 2nd Matsukata
Matsukata Masayoshi
Prince was a Japanese politician and the 4th and 6th Prime Minister of Japan.-Early life:...

 administration. During his tenure, he strove to improve the quality of the educational curriculum towards an international (i.e. western) standard.

In 1900, Itō founded the Rikken Seiyūkai
Rikken Seiyukai
The was one of the main political parties in the pre-war Empire of Japan. It was also known simply as the ‘Seiyūkai'Founded on September 15, 1900 by Itō Hirobumi , the Seiyūkai was a pro-government alliance of bureaucrats and former members of the Kenseitō. The Seiyūkai was the most powerful...

political party, and Saionji joined as one of the first members. Due to his experiences in Europe, Saionji had a liberal
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

 political point of view and supported parliamentary government. He was one of the few early politicians who claimed that the majority party in parliament had to be the basis for forming a cabinet.

Saionji replaced Itō as president of the Privy Council in 1900, and as president of the Rikken Seiyūkai in 1903.

Prime minister

From 7 January 1906 – 14 July 1908, and again from 30 August 1911 – 21 December 1912, Saionji served as Prime Minister of Japan
Prime Minister of Japan
The is the head of government of Japan. He is appointed by the Emperor of Japan after being designated by the Diet from among its members, and must enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives to remain in office...


Both his ministries were marked by continuing tension between Saionji and the powerful arch-conservative genrō
was an unofficial designation given to certain retired elder Japanese statesmen, considered the "founding fathers" of modern Japan, who served as informal extraconstitutional advisors to the emperor, during the Meiji, Taishō and early Shōwa periods in Japanese history.The institution of genrō...

, Field Marshal Yamagata Aritomo
Yamagata Aritomo
Field Marshal Prince , also known as Yamagata Kyōsuke, was a field marshal in the Imperial Japanese Army and twice Prime Minister of Japan. He is considered one of the architects of the military and political foundations of early modern Japan. Yamagata Aritomo can be seen as the father of Japanese...

. Saionji and Itō saw political parties as a useful part of the machinery of government; Yamagata looked on political parties and all democratic institutions as quarrelsome, corrupt, and irrational. Saionji had to struggle with the national budget with many demands and finite resources, Yamagata sought ceaselessly the greatest expansion of the army. Saionji's first cabinet was brought down in 1908 by conservatives led by Yamagata who were alarmed at the growth of socialism, who felt the government's suppression of socialists (after a parade and riots) had been insufficiently forceful.

The fall of Saionji's second cabinet was a major reverse to constitutional government. The Taishō Crisis
Taisho Political Crisis
The ' was a period of political upheaval in Japan that occurred after the death of the Meiji Emperor in 1912. During the twelve-month period following the emperor's death, the Japanese government was led by three different prime ministers as the government attempted to restore the balance between...

 (so named for the newly enthroned emperor) erupted in late November 1912, out of the continuing bitter dispute over the military budget. The army minister, General Uehara, unable to get the cabinet to agree on the army's demands, resigned. Saionji sought to replace Uehara. A Japanese law (intended to give added power to the army and navy) required that the army minister must be a lieutenant general or general on active duty. All of the eligible generals, on Yamagata's instruction, refused to serve in Saionji's cabinet. The cabinet was forced to resign. The precedent had been established, that the army could force the resignation of a cabinet.

Saionji's political philosophy was heavily influenced by his background; he believed the Imperial Court
Imperial Court
An Imperial Court is the noble court of an empire .For example:*The noble court of an Emperor of China, Emperor of Japan, Emperor of Ethiopia, Emperor of Austria, Emperor of India, Emperor of Persia, etc....

 should be guarded and that it should not participate directly in politics - the same strategy employed by noblemen and the Court in Kyoto for hundreds of years. This was another point in which he was opposed by nationalists in the Army, who wished for the Emperor to participate in Japanese politics directly and thus weaken both parliament and the cabinet. Nationalists also accused him of being a 'globalist'.

Elder statesman

Saionji was appointed a genrō
was an unofficial designation given to certain retired elder Japanese statesmen, considered the "founding fathers" of modern Japan, who served as informal extraconstitutional advisors to the emperor, during the Meiji, Taishō and early Shōwa periods in Japanese history.The institution of genrō...

in 1913. The role of the genrō at this time was diminishing; their main function was to choose the prime ministers - formally, to nominate candidates for Prime Minister to the Emperor for approval, but no Emperor ever rejected their advice. From the death of Matsukata Masayoshi
Matsukata Masayoshi
Prince was a Japanese politician and the 4th and 6th Prime Minister of Japan.-Early life:...

 in 1924 Saionji was the sole surviving genrō. He exercised his prerogative of naming the prime ministers very nearly until his death in 1940 at the age of 91. Saionji, when he could, chose as prime minister the president of the majority party in the Diet
Diet of Japan
The is Japan's bicameral legislature. It is composed of a lower house, called the House of Representatives, and an upper house, called the House of Councillors. Both houses of the Diet are directly elected under a parallel voting system. In addition to passing laws, the Diet is formally...

, but his power was always constrained by the necessity of at least the tacit consent of the army and navy. He could chose political leaders only when they might be strong enough to form an effective government. He nominated military men and non-party politicians when he felt necessary.

In 1919 Saionji led the Japanese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference
Paris Peace Conference, 1919
The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following the armistices of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities...

, though his role was largely symbolic due to ill health. Nevertheless, he courageously proposed that racial equality should have been legally enshrined as one of the basic tenets of the newly formed League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

, but both the USA and Great Britain opposed his proposal and prompted its rejection from the delegates, very likely because of the destabilizing effects it would have wreaked upon their respective racially segregated societies. Saionji, a never-married man of 70, was accompanied to Paris by his son, his favorite daughter, and his current mistress. In 1920 he was given the title kōshaku (公爵, Prince) as an honor for a life in public service.

He was detested by the militarists and was on the list of those to be assassinated in the attempted coup of February 26, 1936
February 26 Incident
The was an attempted coup d'état in Japan, from February 26 to 29, 1936 carried out by 1,483 troops of the Imperial Japanese Army. Several leading politicians were killed and the center of Tokyo was briefly occupied by the rebelling troops...

. Saionji, on receiving news of the mutiny, fled from his home for his life in his car, pursued for a great distance by a strange car that he and his companions supposed held soldiers bent on his murder. It held newspaper reporters.

In much of his career, Saionji tried to diminish the influence of the Imperial Japanese Army
Imperial Japanese Army
-Foundation:During the Meiji Restoration, the military forces loyal to the Emperor were samurai drawn primarily from the loyalist feudal domains of Satsuma and Chōshū...

 in political issues. He was one of the most liberal of Emperor Hirohito's advisors, and favored friendly relations with Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. However, he was careful to pick his battles, and often accepted defeat by the militarists when placed into a position from which he could not easily win, thus was unable to prevent the Tripartite Pact
Tripartite Pact
The Tripartite Pact, also the Three-Power Pact, Axis Pact, Three-way Pact or Tripartite Treaty was a pact signed in Berlin, Germany on September 27, 1940, which established the Axis Powers of World War II...


External links

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