Hirata Tosuke (平田東助)

Tosuke HIRATA (March 26, 1849 - April 14, 1925) was a government official and politician who lived in the Meiji through Taisho periods. His positions were the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, the Minister of Home Affairs, and then the Minister of the Center. He is also famous as the close advisor of Aritomo YAMAGATA.

He was born in Yonezawa City, Yamagata Prefecture. His was a hakushaku (count). His older brother, Yorisuke ITO, was a doctor. His son, Eiji HIRATA, was a Japanese-style painter, and the second son of Eiji, Masaharu MATSUSHITA, became the adopted son-in-law of Konosuke MATSUSHITA and became the chairman of Panasonic. Tosuke's second son, Noboru HIRATA, became a vice admiral.

Educational History

Tosuke was born in 1849 as a son of Shoteki ITO, who was a clinician in Yonezawa Domain. Since his older brother, Yorisuke, took over the family headship, in 1856, Tosuke became an adopted son of Akinori HIRATA who was a doctor living in the same domain. He studied at a hanko (domain school) called Kojokan, and then he went to Edo to study under Kinichiro KOGA.

In the Boshin Civil War, the Yonezawa Domain fought as a leader of the Ouetsu-reppan alliance that was hostile to the government force, but was defeated. After the war, he was ordered by the Domain to go to Tokyo and entered the Daigaku Nanko (predecessor of the University of Tokyo).

In 1871, he joined the Iwakura Mission and visited Europe. His original plan was to study in the Russian Empire. However, he changed his plan and studied in the newly united German Empire because he was well-respected and persuaded to do so by Shuzo AOKI and Yajiro SHINAGAWA in Berlin. He learned political science at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, international law at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, and commercial law at Universität Leipzig. At Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg he became the first Japanese PhD (Doktor der Philosophie).

Life as a Cabinet Legislation Bureau officer

He returned to Japan in January, 1876. He was first appointed to Goyo-gakari (a general affairs official) of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and then was transferred to the Ministry of the Treasury. Owing to Shinagawa and Aoki from Choshu Domain, Tosuke was highly recognized and treated well by the members of the Choshu faction such as Takayoshi KIDO, Aritomo YAMAGATA, and Hirobumi ITO. Therefore, even though he was from Yonezawa Domain that was hostile to the government, he gained credibility as a Choshu government official.

As an expert of German law, he worked as the Chief of the Translation Section at the Ministry of the Treasury, Assistant Secretary, and then the Senior Managing Director of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. In 1882, he joined the Hirobumi ITO Commission to help with preparation for the establishment of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. After he returned to Japan due to an illness, he contributed with development of legislation regarding introduction of the cabinet system.

Coalition with the Yamagata Faction

When the Imperial Diet was established in 1890, he was selected as a member of the House of Peers and also was appointed to the Secretery of the Sumitsu-in or Privy Council. Hirata attempted to form Sawakai, a party consisting of selected members within the House of Peers, and established the stronghold of the bureaucrat faction of the House of Peers that was under direct control of Yamagata. In 1898, Tosuke was appointed to the Director General of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau when the second Yamagata administration started. He engaged himself in establishment of many pieces of legislation such as the Industrial Union Act. In this administration, he came to terms with the Kensei (Constitutional) Party led by Toru HOSHI, smoothened assembly meetings, and established the Land Tax Increase Law. However, he then switched sides, amended the Civil Servant Appointment Ordinance, and hindered the spoils system of powerful parties. Tosuke was criticized by the Kensei Party because he, the Director General of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau at that time, took an active part in amendment of the ordinance.

After the first Katsura administration started, he became the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce as requested by Taro KATSURA. In the second Katsura administration, he was appointed to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Concerned about the precariousness of society and the rise of the post-Russo-Japanese war liberalism and socialism, Tosuke in 1908 attempted to issue laws to control the people's thinking and also promoted local improvements as regional measures. Yamagata-affiliated advisors that served the Army and Home Affairs government officials established a large Yamagata Faction. Close Army advisors were Taro KATSURA, Gentaro KODAMA, and Masatake TERAUCHI. Tosuke established personal connections as a Yamagata-affiliated government official advisor who was as powerful as Keigo KIYOURA, Kenjiro DEN, and Kanetake OURA.

When an instance of high treason occurred in 1910, Tosuke, the Minister of Home Affairs at the time, directed arrestment of the criminals. Next year, after execution of Shunsui KOTOKU, he and Prime Minister Katsura submitted a letter of resignation to assume responsibility for the occurrence of the incident. However, Emperor Meiji dissuaded Tosuke from resigning, and Tosuke remained in the same position. In the same year, he became a viscount and was raised to the peerage.

Second Highest Position after Genro (Elder Statesman)

When the second Saionji administration resigned entirely in December 1912, the Genro Council offered Tosuke the position of the next prime minister, but Tosuke declined the offer. After this event, he stopped playing an overtly powerful role such as a cabinet member, but as the leader of the Yamagata Faction in the House of Peers and the Imperial Household Ministry, he continued to have the second strongest political influence after the Genro.

When the first Yamamoto administration with the Rikken Seiyukai Party as the ruling party was involved in the Siemens scandal, the Sawakai and the Kenkyukai (within the House of Peers) led by Keigo KIYOURA decreased the navy budget by 70 million yen and entered a conflict with the House of Representatives that had suggested a budget decrease of only 30 million yen. The confrontation was never resolved in both Houses, the budget was never finalized, and as a result, the entire Yamamoto administration resigned. Immediately after this event, Kiyoura was ordered to form a Cabinet but failed to do so due to the retaliation by the navy that did not select the Minister of Navy for the Cabinet (Manko administration). The Kenkyukai then suspected that the failure to make a Cabinet was caused by Hirata who was jealous of Kiyoura and also by string-pulling by the Sawakai, causing frictions between the parties. This accusation was however a complete surprise to Hirata.

He was again requested to become the Minister of Home Affairs when the Terauchi administration started, but he again declined the request. In this administration, he was a member of the extraordinary Foreign Diplomacy Investigation Committee and the chairman of the extraordinary Congress on Education. In 1922, he was appointed to Naidaijin and had his rank raised up to Count. He then dedicated himself to formation of the Kiyoura administration. In March 1925, he resigned due to an illness. In April, he died in his summer house in Zushi.

The statue of Tosuke HIRATA, built in Kudanzaka Ushigafuchi in 1921 while he was still alive, was created by the sculptor Taketaro SHINKAI, and the base of the statue was designed by the architect Chuta ITO, who was Tosuke Hirata's nephew (a child of his older brother Yorisuke). When construction of the National Showa Memorial Museum began, the statue was relocated to Chuo Kyodo Kumiai School in Aiharamachi, Machida City, Tokyo Prefecture.

[Original Japanese]