Ōkuma Shigenobu

Ōkuma Shigenobu
Ōkuma Shigenobu
大隈 重信
5th Prime Minister of Japan
In office
16 April 1914 – 9 October 1916
Monarch Taishō
Preceded by Yamamoto Gonnohyōe
Succeeded by Terauchi Masatake
In office
30 June 1898 – 8 November 1898
Monarch Meiji
Preceded by Itō Hirobumi
Succeeded by Yamagata Aritomo
Personal details
Born 11 March 1838(1838-03-11)
Saga, Hizen Province, Japan
Died 10 January 1922(1922-01-10) (aged 83)
Tokyo, Japan
Resting place Gokoku-ji, Tokyo, Japan
Political party Rikken Dōshikai (1914–1922)
Other political
Rikken Kaishintō (1882–1896)
Shimpotō (1896–1898)
Spouse(s) Ōkuma Ayako

Marquis Ōkuma Shigenobu (大隈 重信?, 11 March 1838 – 10 January 1922); was a statesman in the Empire of Japan and the 8th (30 June 1898 – 8 November 1898) and 17th (16 April 1914 – 9 October 1916) Prime Minister of Japan. Ōkuma was also an early advocate of Western science and culture in Japan, and founder of Waseda University.


Early life

Ōkuma was born Hachitarō, the first son of an artillery officer, in Saga, Hizen Province (modern day Saga Prefecture) in 1838. During his early years, his education consisted mainly of the study of Confucian literature and derivative works such as Hagakure[citation needed]. However, he left school in 1853 to move to a Dutch studies institution.[1]

The Dutch school was merged with the provincial school in 1861, and Ōkuma took up a lecturing position there shortly afterward. Ōkuma sympathized with the sonnō jōi movement, which aimed at expelling the Europeans who had started to arrive in Japan. However, he also advocated mediation between the rebels in Chōshū and the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo.[citation needed]

During a trip to Nagasaki, Ōkuma met a Dutch missionary named Guido Verbeck, who taught him the English language and provided him with copies of the New Testament and the American Declaration of Independence.[2] These works are often said[who?] to have affected his political thinking profoundly,[citation needed] and encouraged him to support efforts to abolish the existing feudal system and work toward the establishment of a constitutional government.

Ōkuma frequently traveled between Nagasaki and Kyoto in the following years and became active in the Meiji Restoration. In 1867, together with Soejima Taneomi, he planned to recommend resignation to the Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu.[1] Leaving Saga Domain without permission, they went to Kyoto, where the Shogun then resided.[3] However, Ōkuma and his companions were arrested and sent back to Saga. They were subsequently sentenced to one month imprisonment.

Meiji period political life

Okuma Shigenobu Full Length.jpg

Following the Boshin War of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Okuma was placed in charge of foreign affairs for the new Meiji government. At this time, he negotiated with British diplomat, Sir Harry Smith Parkes on the ban of Christianity and insisted on maintaining the government's persecution on Catholics in Nagasaki.[citation needed]

In 1873, the Japanese government removed the ban on Christianity.

He was soon given an additional post as head of Japan's monetary reform program. He made use of his close contacts with Inoue Kaoru to secure a positions in the central government in Tokyo. He was elected to the first Diet of Japan in 1870 and soon became Minister of Finance, in which capacity he instituted property and taxation reforms that aided Japan's early industrial development.[4]

He also unified the nation’s currency, created the national mint, and a separate Minister of Industry; however, he was dismissed in 1881 after a long series of disagreements with members of the Satsuma and Chōshū clique in the Meiji oligarchy, most notably Itō Hirobumi, over his efforts to secure foreign loans, to establish a constitution, and especially over his exposure of illicit property dealings involving Prime Minister Kuroda Kiyotaka and others from Satsuma.

In 1882, Ōkuma co-founded the Constitutional Progressive Party (Rikken Kaishintō) which soon attracted a number of other leaders, including Ozaki Yukio and Inukai Tsuyoshi. That same year, Ōkuma founded the Tokyo Semmon Gakkō in the Waseda district of Tokyo. The school later became Waseda University, one of the country's most prominent institutions of higher education.[5]

Despite their continuing animosity, Itō again appointed Ōkuma to the post of Foreign Minister in February 1888 to deal with the difficult issue of negotiation revisions to the "unequal treaties" with the Western powers. The treaty he negotiated was perceived by the public as too conciliatory to the Western powers, and created considerable controversy. Ōkuma was attacked by a member of the Gen'yōsha in 1889, and his right leg was blown off by a bomb.[6] He retired from politics at that time.

However, he returned to politics in 1896 by reorganizing the Rikken Kaishintō into the Shimpotō (Progressive Party). In 1897, Matsukata Masayoshi convinced Ōkuma to participate in his second administration as Foreign Minister and Agriculture and Commerce Minister, but again, he remained in office for only one year before resigning.

In June 1898, Ōkuma co-founded the Kenseitō (Constitutional Government Party), by merging his Shimpotō with Itagaki Taisuke's Jiyūtō, and was appointed by the Emperor to form the first partisan cabinet in Japanese history. The new cabinet survived for only four months before it fell apart due to internal dissention. Ōkuma remained in charge of the party until 1908, when he retired from politics.

After his political retirement, Ōkuma became president of Waseda University and chairman of the Japan Civilization Society, from which scholars' many translations of European and American texts were published. He also gathered support for Japan's first expedition to Antarctica.

Taishō period political life

Ōkuma returned to politics during the constitutional crisis of 1914, when the government of Yamamoto Gonnohyōe was forced to resign in the wake of the Siemens scandal. Ōkuma organized his supporters, together with the Rikken Dōshikai and Chūseikai organizations, into a coalition cabinet. The 2nd Ōkuma administration was noted for its active foreign policy. Later that year, Japan declared war on the Empire of Germany, thus entering World War I on the Allied side. In 1915, Ōkuma and Katō Takaaki drafted the Twenty-One Demands on China.

However, Ōkuma’s second administration was also short-lived. Following the Ōura scandal, Ōkuma's cabinet lost popular support, and its members held mass resignation in October 1915. In 1916, after a long argument with the Genrō, Ōkuma resigned as well, and retired from politics permanently, although he remained a member of the Upper House of the Diet of Japan until 1922. He was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum in 1916, and was elevated to the title of koushaku (侯爵) (marquis) in the kazoku peerage system the same year.

Ōkuma returned to Waseda, and died there in 1922.[7] An estimated 300,000 people attended his funeral in Tokyo's Hibiya Park. He was buried at the temple of Gokoku-ji in Tokyo.


  1. ^ a b Borton, p. 91.
  2. ^ Brownas, heading "A Wider Window on the West"
  3. ^ Tokugawa, p. 161. Unlike all 14 previous Tokugawa Shoguns, Yoshinobu never set foot in Edo during his tenure.
  4. ^ Borton, p. 78.
  5. ^ Beasley, p. 105.
  6. ^ Beasley, p. 159.
  7. ^ Beasley, p. 220.


  • Beasley, W.G. (1963). The Making of Modern Japan. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Borton, Hugh (1955). Japan's Modern Century. New York: The Ronald Press Company.
  • Idditti, Smimasa. Life of Marquis Shigenobu Okuma: A Maker of New Japan. Kegan Paul International Ltd. (2006). ISBN 0-7103-1186-9
  • Idditti, Junesay. Marquis Shigenobu Okuma - A Biographical Study in the Rise of Democratic Japan. Hokuseido Press (1956). ASIN: B000IPQ4VQ
  • Lebra-Chapman, Joyce. Okuma Shigenobu: statesman of Meiji Japan. Australian National University Press (1973). ISBN 0-7081-0400-2
  • Oka Yoshitake, et al. Five Political Leaders of Modern Japan: Ito Hirobumi, Okuma Shigenobu, Hara Takashi, Inukai Tsuyoshi, and Saionji Kimmochi. University of Tokyo Press (1984). ISBN 0-86008-379-9
  • Tokugawa Munefusa (2005). Tokugawa yonhyakunen no naisho-banashi: raibaru bushō-hen Tokyo: Bungei-shunju
  • Brownas, Sidney DeVere. Nagasaki in the Meiji Restoration: Choshu Loyalists and British Arms Merchants. http://www.uwosh.edu/home_pages/faculty_staff/earns/meiji.html Retrieved on August 7, 2008.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Itō Hirobumi
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Feb 1888 – Dec 1889
Succeeded by
Aoki Shūzō
Preceded by
Saionji Kinmochi
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Sept 1896 – Nov 1897
Succeeded by
Nishi Tokujirō
Preceded by
Nishi Tokujirō
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Jun 1898 - Nov 1898
Succeeded by
Aoki Shūzō
Preceded by
Katō Takaaki
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Aug 1915 - Oct 1915
Succeeded by
Ishii Kikujirō
Preceded by
Hara Takashi
Home Minister
Apr 1914 - Jan 1915
Succeeded by
Ōura Kanetaka
Preceded by
Ōura Kanetaka
Home Minister
Jul 1915 - Aug 1915
Succeeded by
Ichiki Kitokuro
Preceded by
Enomoto Takeaki
Minister of Agriculture & Cmmerce
Mar 1897 - Nov 1897
Succeeded by
Yamada Nobumichi
Preceded by
Itō Hirobumi
Prime Minister of Japan
Jun 1898 - Nov 1898
Succeeded by
Yamagata Aritomo
Preceded by
Yamamoto Gonnohyōe
Prime Minister of Japan
Apr 1914 – Oct 1916
Succeeded by
Terauchi Masatake
Educational offices
Preceded by
President, Waseda University
Succeeded by
Masasada Shiozawa

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