Privy Council (Japan)

Privy Council (Japan)

was an advisory council to the Emperor of Japan that operated from 1888 to 1947.Modeled in part upon the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, this body advised the throne on matters of grave importance including: (1) proposed amendments to the 1889 Imperial Household Law and the Constitution of the Empire of Japan; (2) matters of constitutional interpretation, proposed laws, and ordinances; (3) proclamations of martial law and declaration of war; (4) treaties and other international agreements; (5) matters concerning the succession to the throne and declarations of a regency under the Imperial Household Law; and (6) other matters submitted by the emperor (generally on the advice of the cabinet). Thus, the Privy Council had both judicial functions and certain executive functions. However, the council had no power to initiate legislation.

The Privy Council of Japan was established by an imperial ordinance of Emperor Meiji dated 28 April 1888, under the presidency of Ito Hirobumi, to deliberate on the draft constitution. [Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan. pp. 68 ] The new constitution, which the emperor promulgated on 11 February 1889, briefly mentioned the Privy Council in Chapter 5, Article 46: "The Privy Councilors shall, in accordance with the provisions for the organization of the Privy Council, deliberate upon important matters of State when they have been consulted by the Emperor." The Privy Council consisted of a chairman, a vice chairman (non-voting), twelve (later expanded to twenty-four) councilors, a chief secretary, and three additional secretaries. All privy councilors including the president and the vice president were appointed by the emperor for life, on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet. In addition to the twenty-four voting privy counselors, the prime minister and the other ministers of state were ex-officio members of the council. The princes of the imperial household (both the "shinnōke" and the "ōke" ) over the age of majority were permitted to attend meetings of the Privy Council and could participate in its proceedings. The president had extraordinary power, as it was he who called and controlled the meetings of the Council. The Council always met in secret at the Tokyo Imperial Palace, with the emperor in attendance on important occasions. The Council was empowered to deliberate on any matters upon which the emperor desired an opinion. Assessments on the importance of the Privy Council vary from claims that it was the single most powerful agency in the Meiji government (probably true legally and theoretically), to allegations that it was completely insignificant in terms of national politics (probably also true in terms of actual practice). During its early years, many members of the Privy Council were simultaneously members of the elected government; however in its later years, the Privy Council essentially replaced the "genrō" and the "Genrōin" as a very conservative “old boys” club, often at odds with the party-dominated elected government. [Gordon, A History of Modern Japan, pp.92] After the Privy Council challenged the government by attempting to reject several government decisions, and by attempting to assert itself on certain foreign policy issues, it became clear that the balance of power was with the elected government. The Privy Council was thenceforth largely ignored, and it was not even consulted when Japan decided to declare war on the United States in 1941.

The Privy Council was abolished with the enforcement of the current postwar Constitution of Japan on 3 May 1947.

Presidents of the Privy Council


*cite book
last = Beasley
first = W.G.
year = 2000
title = The Rise of Modern Japan
publisher = Palgrave Macmillan
location =
id = ISBN 0312233736

*cite book
last = Colgrove
first = Kenneth W.
year = 1931
title = The Japanese Privy Council
publisher =
location =
id = ASIN: B00086SR24

*cite book
last = Gordon
first = Andrew
year = 2003
title = A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present
publisher = Oxford University Press
location =
id = ISBN 0195110617

*cite book
last = Jansen
first = Marius B.
year = 2000
title = The Making of Modern Japan
publisher = Belknap Press
location =
id = ISBN 0674009916


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