Hara Takashi

From Academic Kids

Hara Takashi (原敬 February 9, 1856November 4, 1921) was a Japanese politician and the 19th Prime Minister of Japan from September 29, 1918 to November 4, 1921. He was also called Hara Kei informally. He was the first commoner appointed to the office of prime minister of Japan. His catch phrase as a politician was the commoner-and-minister (平民宰相 Heimin Saisho).

He was born in a village of Iwate Prefecture, which is a now part of Morioka. He was the son of a samurai class family which had fought indirectly against the Meiji Restoration, and the establishment of the very government which Hara himself would one day lead. This background became a noose around Hara's neck and an inpediment to his career for almost his entire life. He left home at the age of 15 and went to Tokyo by boat. He failed the entrance examination of the prestigious Naval Academy (海軍兵学校), and instead joined the Marin Seminary, a French-established, free religious school. It was here that he learned to speak French fluently.

At the age of 17 he was baptized, and even though it is often speculated that he became Christian for personal gain at the time, he remained a Christian in public life until the day he died. At the age of 19, Hara broke away from his family's samurai (士族 shizoku) class and chose instead the classification of commoner (平民 heimin). At various times later in his political career, offers were made to raise his rank, but Hara denied them every time on the basis that it would alienate himself from the common men and limit his ability to gain entrance to the Japanese National Diet (衆議院 shugin).

In his early career, he worked as a journalist and later as a diplomat. He became the manager of a newspaper company, the Osaka Mainichi Simbun. He joined and soon became an influential member of Ito Hirobumi's political party, Rikkenseiyukai (立憲政友会 ), or Seiyukai (政友会) for short, founded in 1900. Through these connections he was appointed the minister of the Postal Service and many times later as the minister of Internal Affairs. Hara is best known for his later service as Prime Minister, but he was also able to effect many reforms from his cabinet positions. He would systematically fire existing heads of local governments in every capacity from Governor down to High School Principal. Any public employee fell under his power, and he would always replace them with people in whom he saw real ablity instead of as favors as was often done. He also made a point of developing the Japanese national infrastructure and created systems in which people with talent could rise to the top regardless of their background or rank. Many of these systems still exist in some form today.

In 1914, after heated debate, he was appointed the president of Rikkenseiyukai to replace the outgoing and aging leader Saionji Kinmochi (西園寺 公望). This period is often called Taisho democracy, which represented the move away from Japan's traditional system of government and toward something that could be called a real democracy. Under Hara's leadership, Rikkenseiyukai got supporters steadily and in 1917, it became the largest party in the Diet. In 1918, Terauchi Masatake (寺内 正毅) fell from popularity because of a rice panic and resigned. Hara was appointed by the prime minister as his successor on September 28, 1918. It was the first party government in Japan.

Hara held strong views about his opponents, the military powers and politicians who originated from the Kagoshima and Yamaguchi Prefectures. In 1921, he was assassinated (stabbed) at Tokyo Station.

As opposed to many of his contemporaries, Hara lived a relatively simple lifestyle in a rented home near Shiba Park in downtown Tokyo. In his will, he left very few assets behind but among these was his diary. He wrote "After a period of some years my diary must be made public. It is the most valuable of all my possessions, so it must be protected." According to the will it was made public and what came to be called the Hara Diary (原日記) turned out to be one of the most valuable first hand accounts of the political scene in that era. Most of his daily activities are written along with opinions and thoughts regarding the political figures of the time. The diary itself is thousands of pages long, but it reveals in depth, a broad range of information previously unknown to historians.

Preceded by:
Terauchi Masatake
Prime Minister of Japan
Succeeded by:
Takahashi Korekiyo



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