Genro (an elder statesman) (元老)

Genro indicates a senior top-level statesman in the Japanese government in the era from the latter half of the Mejia period to the early Showa period.

The persons who contributed to the Meiji restoration significantly were called genkun, and it is said that this term was an abbreviation created mainly by mass media, because they virtually led the politics in the new Meiji government for a long period (Choro-genkun (senior Genkun) -> Genkun-ro (old Genkun) -> Genro, or an abbreviation of Genkun-shoro (senior Genkun persons).

Although no specification existed legislatively, they were appointed by an Imperial order or an Imperial rescript, and were involved in making the highest-level decisions in the nation, responding to inquiries from the emperor, including the recommendation of a new prime minister when a cabinet was reshuffled. In particular, handling the Imperial court-related problems became the source of Genro's authority. This is apparent from the fact that Aritomo YAMAGATA lost his political power because he was defeated in a serious incident in the Imperial court.


The persons to whom Shochoku (an Imperial edict) was issued were Hirobumi ITO and Kiyotaka KURODA. Initially, Emperor Meiji intended to issue Shochoku to Hirobumi ITO who was going to retire chairman of Sumitsu-in (Privy Council). However, this was considered unfair for the Satsuma Domain side in the domain clique of Saccho (the Satsuma domain and the Choshu domain), and Kiyotaka KURODA was appointed Genro at the same time.

Over time, the number of Genro decreased. After Matsukata died, only Saionji remained as the Genro. However, in the Imperial court, there was a move to regenerate Genro. In addition, Matsukata also considered before he died that a new Genro should be appointed. However, Saionji, the only remaining Genro, was reluctant to appoint such powerful candidates as Gombei YAMAMOTO and Keigo KIYOURA to Genro. In addition, as the council of senior statesmen was established as well, no new Genro was appointed and Genro disappeared when Saionji died in 1940.

In Article 29, Chapter 4 of Koshitsu Giseirei (Act that sets the ceremonies of the Imperial Court, crests of Imperial family, banners, seating arrangement in Imperial ceremonies, etc) (Taisho 15 nen Koshitsurei Dai 7 go [No. 7 of the Imperial family's Act in 1926]), it was specified that Genro should occupy the fourth seat in the first rank (next to that of chairman of the privy council), handled 'in the same way as for ministers because Genkun should be treated favorably' (favorable treatment of Genkun).

A list of Genro

All of the Genro, except Saionji, were from the Satsuma domain or the Choshu domain.

By the way, after the first Yamagata cabinet resigned en masse, Akiyoshi YAMADA (from Choshu) recommended the next prime minister together with Genkun that was equivalent to Genro in the rank. About this, Takashi Sasaki (a historian) pointed out that Yamada might have been practically a Genre, although he could not be appointed to Genro officially because he died young (at the age of 49 in 1892). Sasaki positioned eight persons including Yamada and seven persons of genro except Katsura and Saionji, both of whom were appointed to Genro later, as 'Saccho-genkun' (literally, Genkun from the Satsuma domain or the Choshu domain).

Genro' as terms appearing in translation

The term of 'Genro' is sometimes used for indicating a privileged post for a small number of persons who are engaged in assisting a monarch, in appointment and approval in the core of an administrative organization, such as a cabinet. Furthermore, in the bicameral system in particular, this term is also sometimes used for indicating the members of the Upper House, who legislate in the privileged posts that are hereditary or whose terms are long (Genro-in giin (members of Genro-in [the Chamber of Elders]). However, this rather oldish-sounding term has not been used except for the members of Genro-in in Rome that often appear in the descriptions of European history.

[Original Japanese]