Okuma Shigenobu (大隈重信)

Shigenobu OKUMA (March 11, 1838-January 10, 1922) was a feudal retainer of the Saga clan who was a Japanese warrior, a statesman, and an educator. He was the 8th and the 17th Prime Minister. The ranks and orders that he was conferred was Junior First Rank, Supreme Order. He was a Marquis. He was the founder of Tokyo Senmon Gakko (current Waseda University). His height was 180 centimeters tall.


He was born the oldest son of Nobuyasu OKUMA, a feudal retainer of the Saga clan, and Miiko, in the Saga castle town Kaisho-koji alley (current Mizugae, Saga City). His childhood name was Yataro. The family lineage of Okuma was that of Joshi (superior warrior) who got a fiefdom of 300 koku and worked as Ishibiya-tonin (captain of gunnery).

Shigenobu entered the hanko (domain school) Kodokan school when he was seven years old, and was educated in Confucianism based on "Hagakure" (the book of Bushido) which was characteristic of Saga Prefecture, but he objected to it and appealed to reform the hanko with his comrades in 1854. The North-South commotion was the impetus for his leaving the Kodokan school in 1855; he was allowed to return thereafter but he rejected the offer, studying Japanese literature and culture afterwards under Shinyo EDAYOSHI instead. He transferred to the Rangakuryo school (school to learn Western studies in Dutch) in the Saga Domain in 1856. He lectured Naomasa NABESHIMA on the Dutch constitution in 1861, and he worked as the instructor teaching Western studies in Dutch at the Kodokan school which merged with the Rangakuryo school.

Okuma appealed for cooperation in the Choshu Domain and mediation between the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and Choshu Domain, but he could not influence Saga Domain politics. He moved to 'Chienkan school' (the principal was a missionary named Guido Herman Fridolin VERBEEK), which was a Saga Domain school to learn Western studies in English, remodelled the residence of the feudal retainer of the Isahaya clan Yamamoto family in Goto Town, Nagasaki, and served along with Taneomi SOEJIMA with the same rank of vice-principal. He also learned English from Verbeek. He also studied the New Testament and the Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America at that time, which influenced him greatly. He frequently went to Kyoto and Nagasaki as an active Imperialist. He made a plan with Soejima to advise Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA, Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") in the Taisei Hokan (transfer of power back to the Emperor), then fled from Saga Domain and went to Kyoto, however, he was arrested and repatriated to Saga and ordered not to leave his house for a month.

The Meiji restoration

At the time of the Meiji restoration in 1868, he was appointed to judge of foreign affairs, which was a position of Choshi sanyo (a councilor of the feudal retainer of the domain at government post). He showed his abilities in negotiation with English minister Harry PARKS on the prohibition of Christianity, also, he concurrently held the post of vice governor of accounts from 1869, engaged in the handling of the Takanawa negotiation and financial administration such as the establishment of the New Currency Regulation. He was appointed the Councilor in 1870, then became the president of affairs at the Ministry of Finance in May 1873, holding the posts of the Councilor and the Director General of the Ministry of Finance concurrently from October. Young bureaucrats such as Hirobumi ITO and Kaoru INOUE gathered around Okuma, and in cooperation with Takayoshi KIDO, they appealed for the construction of a modern state in an earlier period in order to check the activities of Toshimichi OKUBO and others.
Okuma's private residence where Ito, Inoue and other young bureaucrats got together, absorbed in the discussion of politics, was called 'Tsukiji Ryozanpaku.'
Okuma, who changed the Ministry of Finance to an important government office by merging with the Ministry of the Treasury, was a fundamental contributor to reforms such as the Reformed systems of land and tax, and promoted the policy for local production industry. He opposed the Seikanron (debate on subjugation of Korea), and submitted a written proposal to the Dajokan (cabinet) jointly with Toshimichi OKUBO on the promotion of local production industry and financial reform in October 1875. He also submitted a written proposal on financial matters by himself. Moreover, he was engaged in raising expenses due to the Seinan War and in the financial administration afterwards. Sympathizing with the Democratic-rights movement, he submitted a written proposal for the establishment of the National Diet and appealed for the issuance of the Constitution in an earlier period and the immediate establishment of the National Diet. On the other hand, he had conflicts with his old friend Ito and the Satcho (Satsuma and Choshu) forces in relation to national property disposal by the Hokkaido Development Commissioner. And the misgovernment of financial affairs done by Okuma himself led to the discharge of the Councilor in October 12, 1881. This is the so-called Meiji juyonen no seihen (the failed Meiji-14 coup of 1881). Okuma submitted his resignation on October 15. He submitted a proposal for the foundation of the Kaikeikensain (Board of Audit) in 1880.

After going into the opposition party

Okuma, who went into the opposition party, formed the Constitutional Progressive Party with Azusa ONO in March 1882 for the establishment of the National Diet 10 years later, and Yukio OZAKI, Tsuyoshi INUKAI, Ryukei YANO and others hastened to join. And in October, he established Tokyo Senmon Gakko (current Waseda University) with Azusa ONO, Sanae TAKATA and others in the suburbs of Tokyo, Waseda.

He was made a Count in 1887.

From Minister for Foreign Affairs to Prime Minister

Appreciative of Okuma's ability for diplomacy, Ito chose his political enemy Okuma as the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Japan) for the revision of an unequal treaty, and he assumed the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs (Japan) in February 1888. When Kiyotaka KURODA formed a cabinet in the same year, Okuma continued in office, but the treaty plan which included the introduction of foreign judges was resisted by opposing factions, and Okuma was attacked with a bomb by Tsuneki KURUSIMA, a member of the Nationalist organization Genyosha in 1889, lost his right leg and resigned. He assumed the post of Minister for Foreign Affairs again in 1896 during the second Matsukata Cabinet (called the 'SHOWAI [Matsukata and Okuma] Cabinet'), but he opposed the Satsuma clan force and resigned in 1897.

He formed the Constitutional Political Party with Taisuke ITAGAKI and others in June 1898, received an official appointment as the first Prime Minister from an out-of-domain faction, then formed the first political party Cabinet in Japan.
It was commonly called the 'WAIHAN (Okuma and Itagaki) Cabinet.'
However, the old Liberal Party (Japan) and the old Progressive Party (Japan) formed an opposition, and the Minister of Education, Yukio OZAKI, resigned due to the Kyowa Speech Affair, and antagonism concerning the succession of personnel became much more severe. As Tsuyoshi INUKAI of the old Progressive Party assumed the post of the next Minister of Education, Toru HOSHI of the old Liberal Party, who was dissatisfied with the result, declared one-sidedly the dissolution of the Constitutional Political Party, and formed a new Constitutional Political Party. All in all, on November 8, just four months after the formation of the cabinet, the Ministry ended in resignation, and Okuma had to lead the New Constitutional Political Party in organizing the old Progressive Party. He withdrew from the political world temporarily in 1907 and put his energies into the development of cultural affairs, such as assuming the post of the President of Waseda University, contributing to the translation project of European literatures as the President of the Great Japan Civilization Association, and assuming the post of campaign club leader of the Antarctic exploration.

He returned to the political world when the first Constitution protection movement broke out. He formed his second Cabinet in 1914, succeeding Gonbei YAMAMOTO, who resigned due to the Siemens Affair. The ruling parties were Comrades for Constitution, while the support groups were for the Count Okuma, and Chuseikai. In July, when the First World War broke out, he declared war against Germany on August 23, seeking to preserve Japan's interests in the Chinese continent. In 1915, the next year he submitted Twenty-one Demands with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Takaaki KATO. However, when the scandal of the Interior Minister, Kanetake OURA (the Oura Affair) arose, Okuma, who held the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs in August, reshuffled the Cabinet, but the cabinet began to lose public support. Furthermore, Genro (elder statesman) put more and more pressure on the Cabinet, and when the Ministry resigned finally in October 1916, Okuma fully retired for once and for all from the political world. He was 78 years and 6 months old when he retired, which is the oldest age on record among the successive Prime Ministers in Japan as of the year 2009.

He was made a Marquis in July 1916. He died in January 10, 1922 in Waseda, with a funeral service held at his residence on January 17, and then an unprecedented 'National Funeral' held at Hibiya Park. As the word "National" implies, about 300,000 general citizens attended the funeral, and many citizens not only at the site but also on the streets stood and regretted parting with Okuma.
The State Funeral of Aritomo YAMAGATA was held at the same site, Hibiya Park, three weeks later, which reflected his relative unpopularity, as there were few people apart from those who were affiliated with the government, so it was said to be 'like a bureaucrat or military funeral,' and as reported by the Tokyo Nichinichi journal the next day, 'it was a state funeral without the people, so the empty tents brought lonesome feelings.'
His graveyards are in Ryutai-ji Temple in Saga City and in Gokoku-ji Temple in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

OKUMA's personality

It is widely known that Okuma regarded Hirobumi ITO as his rival, and so certain related episodes have been passed down.

Okuma settled into a second residence in Oiso Town in 1897; at that time Ito had his own residence just 60 meters west of it. As Ito, who was often in conflict with him on political matters, lived near Okuma's second residence in Oiso, Okuma rarely used the house, and so he settled into another second residence in Kozu, vacating his residence in Oiso just 10 years later.

According to the essay "Law and People" (Shunjusha Publishing Company educational library, 1943) written by Yorozu ODA, a scholar of administrative law, who was from the same province as Okuma and favored by him, he was satisfied with the speech Ito gave at the opening ceremony of Waseda University in which he said, 'although I have been in conflict with Okuma over various matters, the fact that he built this educational institute by himself is beyond reproach.'
When Ito was murdered in Harbin, Okuma was sorrowed but also envious, saying 'he was able to die so gloriously.'

Okuma brought tomatos and melons and visited Jinzo NARUSE in his sickbed to encourage him in 1919.

He had the habit of repeating his concluding words. Sometimes he repeated the conclusion three times.

He was popular and invited everywhere to speak, so it is said that he visited both the temperance group and the sake brewing industry in the same day. This happened due to the fact that Okuma, as a statesman, had to ask for support from all kind of fields. Yoshimaru SATO, a part-time teacher at Waseda University, pointed out that this was an underlying cause of why Okuma's library had not been published until the present day.

He was quite rational, so he changed the calendar in Japan to the Gregorian calendar that we currently use. He did not recognize people as heroes, and thus he did not recognize Takamori SAIGO as a hero whatsoever. It is said that Saigo also hated Okuma as a 'snobbish public servant,' and in 'The Written Opinions of Kuranosuke SAIGO,' which he wrote before coming to Tokyo in 1871, although he did not directly mention him by name, he criticized Okuma's policy as one which was 'not the policy of warriors,' and then Yasukazu YASUBA, who entered the Ministry of Finance the same year with the recommendation of Saigo, submitted a written proposal for the impeachment of Okuma (which was rejected because both Saigo and Okubo opposed it.), making Okuma's antipathy towards Saigo much stronger.
However, Okuma described Saigo by saying 'he had a lot of heart.'

"Shigenobu OKUMA Library" in five volumes edited by Ki KIMURA, including 'Okuma Haku Sekijitsutan' (The Count of Okuma's old memorial story) was published by Waseda University Publishing from 1969 to 1970.

His natural voice, heard at a general election campaign speech and recorded with an early-type gramophone in 1915, was made public by by Tokyo University's advanced technology center in 2007. He was also the first Prime Minister who campaigned in local areas.


He was conferred the Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum on July 14, 1916.

He was conferred the Collar of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum on January 10, 1922, after his death.


Family name, Okuma

There is no clear evidence, but Ieyasu, who said he was the descendant of SUGAWARA no Michizane, lived in Oguma Village in Chikugo Province (current Fukuoka Prefecture) for a long time, and then changed the family name to Okuma. His grandchild Takaie settled in Nakatsue Village in Bungo Province (current Oita Prefecture), then served the Nabeshima family. The design of the family crest is Maru ni Kenkikyo (a Chinese bellflower with five swords between five petals in a circle).

The childhood name of Okuma's oldest daughter Kumako was Inuchiyo.


Shigenobu OKUMA had two faces, one as a statesman and one as an educator, and his statues are divided into those with full-dress uniform and those in academic gowns.

The statue of Shigenobu OKUMA at Waseda University

There are two statues of Okuma on the Waseda campus of Waseda University, and on October 17, 1932 the famous standing statue with a gown was made on the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Waseda University and the 10th anniversary of his death. As the statue shows his figure after he lost his right leg, standing with a cane is its characteristic. The creator of the statues was Fumio ASAKURA, a sculptor who made three statues of Okuma, with this standing statue being the second one. The height of the statue is 298 centimeters; it stands facing Okuma Hall. It is not unusual for examinees to throw in a coin during entrance examination season.

The statue with a full-dress uniform which is not as widely known and stands inside Okuma Hall was also made by Fumio ASAKURA and was his first statue of Okuma. Originally this statue was at the same place where the statue with a gown stands today, but it was moved inside Okuma Hall.

Besides these statues, there are also busts of Okuma placed on other campuses.

The statue of Shigenobu OKUMA at the Diet Building

The statue of Okuma in the Diet Building was put on display along with those of Taisuke ITAGAKI and Hirobumi ITO in the central hall on the first floor in praise of the establishment of the first political party Cabinet in Japan. These were made in February 1938 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the issuance of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan.

The statue of Shigenobu OKUMA in the Okuma Memorial Hall

The statue of Okuma in the Okuma Memorial Hall in Saga City, Saga Prefecture was established at the site of his birthplace in April 1988. It is a standing statue in full-dress uniform, standing at a height of 180 centimeters which is as tall as Shigenobu OKUMA himself. This standing statue shows his figure before he lost his right leg.

[Original Japanese]