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Okuma Shigenobu

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Okuma Shigenobu (大隈重信 Ōkuma Shigenobu 16 February 183810 January 1922) was a Japanese politician and the 8th (June 30 1898November 8 1898) and 17th (April 16 1914October 9 1916) Prime Minister of Japan. One of the most popular statesmen in Japanese history, Okuma was also an early advocate of Western science and culture in Japan, and founded Waseda University.

Early life

He was born Hachitaro, the first son of an artillery officer, in Saga (then part of Hizen Province) in 1838. During his early years, his education consisted mainly of the study of Chinese Confucian literature and derivative works such as Hagakure. However, he left school in 1853 to move to a Dutch studies institution.

The Dutch school was merged with the provincial school in 1861, and Okuma took up a lecturing position there shortly afterward. Okuma sympathized with the sonno joi movement occurring around that time, and advocated mediation between the rebels in Choshu and the shogunate in Edo.

During a trip to Nagasaki, Okuma met a dutch missionary named Guido Verbeck, who taught Okuma the English language and provided him with copies of the New Testament and Declaration of Independence. These works are often said to have effected a complete revolution in his mind. He had been designed by his parents for the military profession, but he now sought to abolish the existing feudal system and work toward the establishment of a constitutional government.

Okuma frequently traveled between Nagasaki and Kyoto in the following years and became active in the movement to restore the Emperor to power. In 1867, he traveled to Edo with Soejima Taneomi to propose an imperial restoration plan to Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu: the shogun responded by declaring the men ronin and ordered them arrested as they proceeded back to Kyoto. Okuma spent a month under house arrest in Saga.

Meiji period political life

Following the Meiji Restoration, Okuma was initially in charge of foreign affairs, and was soon given an additional post as head of Japan's monetary reform program. He was elected to the 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; however, he was dismissed in 1881 after a long series of disagreements with other rulers, most notably Ito Hirobumi, over the institution of individual rights in Japan.

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

Despite their continuing rivalry, Ito appointed Okuma to the post of foreign minister in February of 1888 to amend the "unequal treaties" with the Western powers. Okuma's clashes with the governing elders continued, and he resigned in 1889 shortly after his right leg was blown off by a bomb. Matsukata Masayoshi managed to re-appoint Okuma in 1896, but again, he remained in office for only one year before resigning.

In June of 1898, Okuma co-founded the Kenseito or Constitutional Government Party, and was appointed by the Emperor to form a cabinet, the first partisan cabinet in Japanese history. The new cabinet met with intense opposition from the Liberal Party and Progressive Party, and only survived for several months before its ministers stepped down in a mass resignation. Okuma remained in charge of the party until 1908, when he retired from politics.

After his political retirement, Okuma became president of Waseda University and chairman of the Japan Civilization Society. He translated a number of European and American texts into Japanese, and gathered support for Japan's first expedition to Antarctica.

Taisho period political life

Okuma returned to politics during the constitutional crisis of 1914, when the government of Yamamoto Gonnohyoe was forced to resign in the wake of the Siemens scandal. Okuma organized his supporters, together with the Rikken Doshikai and Chuseikai organizations, into a cabinet. Later that year, the Okuma government declared war on Germany, thus entering World War I on the Allied side. In 1915, Okuma and Kato Takaaki drafted the Twenty-One Demands and sent them to China.

Following the Oura scandal of 1915, Okuma's cabinet lost popular support, and its members held another mass resignation in October of 1916 after a long argument with the genro (elder statesmen advising the Emperor).

Okuma returned to Waseda, and died there in 1922. 300,000 people attended his state funeral in Tokyo's Hibiya Park. He was buried at the temple of Gokokuji.

Preceded by: (first term)
Ito Hirobumi
Prime Minister of Japan
1898, 1914–1916
Succeeded by: (first term)
Yamagata Aritomo
Preceded by: (second term)
Yamamoto Gonnohyoe
Succeeded by: (second term)
Terauchi Masatake
de:Ōkuma Shigenobu

fr:Okuma Shigenobu ja:大隈重信 zh:大隈重信

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