Yamagata Aritomo (山縣有朋)

Aritomo YAMAGATA (May 15, 1838 - February 1, 1922) was a Japanese soldier and politician.

He was born in a family of the chugen rank (a rank below that of the common soldier) of the domain of Choshu. Although his original class was as low as that of a footman, participation in Kihei-tai, an unconventional battalion led by Shinsaku TAKASUGI, gave him an opportunity to succeed (It is believed that he wouldn't have been able to succeed if he, as one from a chugen family, had been born in a different domain. Yamagata and Ito were able to work their way up because of TAKASUGI’s brilliant ideas, such as Kihei-tai. In the domain of Satsuma, Saigo, Okubo and other battalion members were given samurai status even though they were from the lower classes). His childhood name was Shinnosuke and his nickname was Kosuke, but later he changed his name to Kyosuke. After the Meiji Restoration, he gave himself the official name Aritomo.
In his later life, he dominated the army and the world of politics behind the scenes and was also known as the 'founder of the Japanese military clique.'
He was the third and ninth Prime Minister.
Genro, an oligarch
The ranks and orders that he earned were Marshal, General of the Army, Juichii (Junior First Rank), Order of the Chrysanthemum, Golden Pheasant decoration, and Prince. He also received the Order of Merit of the British Empire.

The Late Edo Period

He was born in the village of Kawashima in the Abu district, an area neighboring the Hagi Castle (present-day Kawashima, Hagi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture) as the first son of Aritoshi YAMAGATA, a chugen in charge of Kuramoto, the merchant of the daimyo's warehouse, and also a servant of a bushi family (a rank lower than foot soldier but not a bushi rank) and Matsuko YAMAGATA, from the domain of Choshu. Intending to make a career in the art of the spearmanship, he began training in the skills when he was a boy.

Through the network of Genzui KUSAKA, he studied at the Shokason Juku under the tutelage of Shoin YOSHIDA, and took part in the Revere the Emperor and Expel the Barbarians movement. Yamagata, over the course of his life, would proudly call himself 'a disciple of Dr. Shoin YOSHIDA,' but the existing information revealed that he studied at the Juku for an extremely short period of time; therefore, it is not clear how much training he had in fact received from Shoin. Because he was from a family of a lower class (chugen), it is possible that Yamagata wanted it to be known that he had been a disciple of Shoin.

In Shoin’s writing, Yamagata was first mentioned in the letter written to Misono KISHI on November 12, 1857. In this letter, Shoin made inquiries about Yamagata, saying, 'I am not sure who Aritomo is,' suggesting that Yamagata and Shoin had no acquaintance with each other before Yamagata entered the juku.

In 1863, he played an important role as the assistant deputy general of Kihei-tai on behalf of Shinsaku TAKASUGI, who had gone to Shanghai City.

During the Boshin War, he was posted to the staff of the Admiral in charge during the Hokurikudo repression and similarly during the Aizu subjugation.

After the Meiji Restoration

In 1869, he went to Europe to inspect the military systems of various countries. After returning to Japan, he carried out the wish of Masujiro OMURA, who had been assassinated, and implemented the conscription system (the Conscription Ordinance). In 1872, he used official army funds to make illegal loans to Wasuke of Yamashiroya, a merchant who was doing business with the army, and allowed the loans to be unrecoverable. This is what is known as the Yamashiroya Incident. Although he was not held legally responsible (because Wasuke of Yamashiroya had suppressed the evidence), he resigned in order to take responsibility for that incident. In 1873, he became the Minister of the Army and was engaged in the establishment of the General Staff Office and the Imperial Rescript on the Military.

In 1883, he became the Lord of Internal Affairs to successive ministers of Internal Affairs and established the system of cities, towns, villages and counties.

He became the Prime Minister in 1889. Following the doctrine of superiority, he pursued the expansion of armaments. At the first meeting of the Imperial Diet, he made an administrative policy speech and claimed that it was necessary to increase the military budget in order to keep both the 'sovereign line' (the border) and the 'interest line' (Korean peninsula). In 1891, he resigned to become a genro (an oligarch).
Although he commanded the prosecution of the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, his leadership was often misguided, and during the Sino-Japanese War he was once withdrawn from the front line under the pretense of 'the obligation to have the military status report to the Emperor.'

In 1898, the second Yamagata Cabinet was launched.

In 1899, the Ordinance on Appointment of Civil Servants was revised. The Ordinance on the Reprimand of Civil Servants and the Ordinance on the Status of Civil Servants were issued.

On March 10, 1900, he strengthened the suppression of political activities and labor campaigns by establishing the Security Police Law, which stipulated the political organization and meeting reporting system; the right to break up political organizations or meetings; the prohibition of political activities by military, police, religionists, educators, females, those who were under age and those who were deprived of public rights; the limitation on soliciting for labor unions; and the prohibition of strikes.

Subsequently, on March 29 he revised the Election Law of the Member of the House of Representatives and eased the price of the right to vote from 15 yen land or national tax or whichever was higher to 10 yen land or national tax or whichever was higher (furthermore, the price was reduced from three years' worth of national tax to two years' worth, while the land-tax-based price remained the same, which was one year's worth). Concurrently, he changed the constituency system from a single-member constituency system (a medium constituency system partially of plurality bloc voting) to a large constituency system (partially a single-member constituency system). Local towns that were given city status were defined as individual constituencies, and each county in an individual prefecture was defined as a constituency. This led to a situation where the majority of cities other than major ones such as Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya became single-member constituencies due to their small populations. Meanwhile, the voting system was changed from signed voting to secret voting and elementary school teachers were deprived of eligibility. Yamagata disliked party politics and continued to oppose national diet political forces (a doctrine of superiority).

Given the fact that a single-member constituency system was likely to result in the formation of a large-and-powerful political party, Yamagata figured that he could conciliate the national diet if the constituency system were changed from a single-member to a large constituency system and small factions were fragmented. Also, because political parties started to develop in villages it was assumed that he let the conventional foundation collapse and facilitated the development of assembly members who incorporated the intentions of the national government or city governments by changing constituencies or easing qualifications for payment of the national tax. However, because single-member constituencies remained and political parties were under development, large political parties dominated legislative seats even in the large constituency system. He resigned in October 1900.

Master of the Army

Eventually, he formed the 'The Yamagata Bureaucratic Faction' across the Army, Ministry of Inner Affairs, Imperial Household Ministry and Privy Council in order to facilitate his involvement in politics by becoming a supporter of Taro KATSURA and Masatake TERAUCHI in the Army as well as of government bureaucrats such as Keigo KIYOURA and Tosuke HIRATA. From the end of the Meiji period to the beginning of the Taisho period, he increasingly became influential since he, as the chief of the General Staff, had led Japan to victory in the Russo-Japanese War (note, however, that Emperor Meiji trusted Katsura more than Yamagata, and he sometimes asked Katsura for advice in disregard of Yamagata) and because Hirofumi ITO had been assassinated.

Gradually, however, Yamagata found himself unable to keep pace with the changes in the times such as when Katsura became independent (refer to Taisho Political Change), the intensification of Taisho democracy and social movements, and World War I; therefore, after Katsura's death Terauchi and Kiyoura also set off on their own paths. The time of party government had begun, and under such circumstances Yamagata's political power started to dwindle due to his poor handling of the certain serious incident of the Imperial Court.

Soon after the certain serious incident of the Imperial Court, Yamagata died in despair.

General Reputation

Yamagata in his lifetime was unpopular because he suppressed democratic rights movements, aggressively fomented high treason and unnecessarily trusted the Imperial Court when the certain serious incident occurred.
Yamagata started taking action in the certain serious incident of the Imperial Court, which later caused his power to drop, when Kinmochi SAIONJI consulted Yamagata, but to the public conflicts among domain cliques were so emphasized that ultimately Yamagata was considered to be the sole 'bad guy.'
However, considering the fact that there were strong forces that tried to bring Yamagata down by taking that incident as an opportunity, and since the public strongly supported that movement, this incident seems to show that overwhelming numbers of people disliked him.

After his death, a state funeral was held for him as a genkun (an elder statesman) of the Imperial Restoration, but most of the people who attended the service were the army and the police; not many ordinary people attended the service. On the other hand, the funeral service of Shigenobu OKUMA, which was held around the same time, was attended by famous people from a variety of fields, and the venue was crowded with the general attendants although his was not a state funeral (it was a 'national funeral' instead), even though Okuma was also a former Prime Minister and a genkun of the Imperial Restoration just as Yamagata had been.
Tanzan ISHIBASHI, who was a newspaper journalist back then (but later became the Prime Minister) commented on Yamagata's passing saying, 'Death can also be public service.'
In a different newspaper, Yamagata's funeral was ridiculed as 'a state funeral without the public.'

It seems that he was also unpopular with the Imperial Family, and Emperor Meiji gave him the nickname 'Grasshopper.'
Emperor Meiji trusted Hiroumi ITO, who was bright, cheerful and calm; Taro KATSURA, who led the Russo-Japanese War; and Kinmochi SAIONJI, who was his childhood friend more than Yamagata, who was disingenuous. Also, Emperor Taisho often asked his aides if 'there was anything that could be given to Yamagata' when he heard that Yamagata had come to the Imperial Palace. Needless to say, Emperor Taisho tried to make him leave quickly by giving him a souvenir for the visit.

Kei HARA scornfully explained why Yamagata was unusually obsessed with power and decoration, saying that 'it was because he was a foot solider (in fact he was from a chugen family, which was ranked lower than a foot solider).'
It should be noted that although Kei HARA was known as a commoner Prime Minister, he was in a family line of the chief vassal of the domain of Morioka and thus disliked the new nobility represented by Yamagata; this led him to continually decline the peerage.

However, Kinmochi SAIONJI, who was from a noble family, did not express his feelings like Kei HARA did, but it is believed that he shared Hara's feelings toward Yamagata.

Roads in the current central Tokyo areas are said to be narrow, but they were unusually wide by the Meiji standard. Yamagata was determined to construct these wide roads over strong opposition for future development of the area. This can be regarded as his achievement.

He was known as a tea master, and he also liked waka poetry. He was known to like Japanese gardens, since he had selected Jihei OGAWA VII and instructed him to create Burin-an in Kyoto and Chinzan-so, Tokyo. He also ordered the construction of Shoto-an in Oiso Town and Koki-an, in Odawara City. Nevertheless, it is said that many people frowned on these creations because they thought they were the taste of the new rich.

His Influence on Internal Army Politics

Yamagata selectively let military personnel from the former Choshu domain take important positions; this behavior was called Chobatsu (the Chochu clique), and a considerable part of the population did not like what he did. He also was involved in the first major corruption scandal in modern Japan (the Yamashiroya Incident), and as a result of it he had resigned.

In the 'issue regarding the addition of two army divisions' that occurred in 1912, Yamagata issued a written opinion requesting that Yusaku UEHARA, who was the Minister of War in the second Saionji Cabinet, submit a letter of resignation.

This problem became controversial within the army, but in the end his letter of resignation was submitted. As Yamagata had planned it, no new Minister of War was nominated, the cabinet resigned and the third Katsura Cabinet was established. This was also the result of pursuing favoritism toward Chochu people together with Masatake TERAUCHI. After Terauchi died, however, the Chobatsu force drastically decreased, and it finally came to an end when Yamagata died.

However, Emperor Showa respected Yamagata as a military man. Refer to the section Emperor Showa's Perspective on Defeat.

Awards and Commendations

November 2, 1877: Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun

July 7, 1884: Count

May 26, 1895: Genkun, an elder statesman

August 5, 1895: Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flower, Order of the Golden Kite, and Marquis

January 20, 1898: Marshal

June 3, 1902: Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum

September 21, 1907: Grand Cordon of the Collar of the Chrysanthemum, First-Class Order of the Golden Kite, and Prince

February 9, 1922: state funeral

Family History

The Yamagata family is said to be from the Tada family of the Seiwa-Genji clan, but this has not been verified. It is believed that the family name came from the fact that their ancestors lived in the Imada Village of the Yamagata district, the Province of AKI, (Hiroshima Prefecture). His father was a chugen in charge of Kuramoto, a merchant of the daimyo's warehouse. His mother was a daughter of Harusuke OKA, a servant of a bushi family. His family crest was three scales within a circle.

Aritomo was heirless and adopted Isaburo YAMAGATA, the second son between his elder sister Toshiko and Kanesuke KATSU. Isaburo worked at the Privy Council, at the Ministry of Communication and as the governor of Tokushima Prefecture. Yukiko, another elder sister of Aritomo, married Hisanojo MORIYAMA. Arimichi YAMAGATA, the son of Isaburo, served at the Imperial Court as a chamberlain (the master of ceremonies). Also, Arimichi adopted the third son Arimitsu YAMAGATA born between Matsuko, Aritomo's daughter, and Mitsunojo FUNAKOSHI, and was baronized as a branch of the House of Yamagata. Arimitsu served as a colonel in the army and a general in the 21st Air Brigade. Arinobu YAMAGATA, the son of Arimichi, served as the Mayor of Yaita City, Tochigi Prefecture.

[Original Japanese]