Yamagata, Aritomo, 1838-1922, Japanese soldier and statesman, chief founder of the modern Japanese army. A samurai of Choshu, he took part in the Meiji restoration. He studied military science in Europe and returned in 1870 to head the war ministry. Strongly influenced by Prussian military and political ideas and favoring military expansion abroad and authoritarian government at home, he supported Japanese military control of Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria. As home minister (1883-87) he dissolved the new political parties and repressed the agrarian movement. In 1900, while premier, he ruled that only an active military officer could serve as war or navy minister, a rule that gave the military control over any cabinet. From 1900 to 1910 he opposed Hirobumi Ito, leader of the civilian party, and exercised influence through his protégé, Taro Katsura. As president of the privy council from 1909 to 1922, he was the power behind the throne and the leading advocate for higher military appropriations.

See R. F. Hackett, Yamagata Aritomo in the Rise of Modern Japan, 1838-1922 (1971).

Field Marshal was a field marshal in the Imperial Japanese Army and twice Prime Minister of Japan. He is considered one of the architects of the military and political foundations of early modern Japan. Yamagata Aritomo can be seen as the father of Japanese militarism. His support for many autocratic and aggressive policies directly undermined the development of an open society, and contributed to the coming of the Second World War.

Early career

Yamagata was born in a lower-ranked samurai family from Hagi, the capital of the feudal domain of Chōshū (present-day Yamaguchi prefecture). He went to Shokasonjuku, a private school run by Yoshida Shōin, where he devoted his energies to the growing underground movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. He was a commander in the Kiheitai, a paramilitary organization created on semi-western lines by the Chōshū domain. During the Boshin War, the revolution of 1867 and 1868 often called the Meiji Restoration, he was a staff officer.

After the defeat of the Tokugawa, Yamagata together with Saigō Tsugumichi was selected by the leaders of the new government to go to Europe in 1869 to research European military systems. Yamagata like many Japanese was strongly influenced by the recent striking success of Prussia in transforming itself from an agricultural state to a leading modern industrial and military power. He accepted Prussian political ideas, which favored military expansion abroad and authoritarian government at home. On returning he was asked to organize a national army for Japan, and he became War Minister in 1873. Yamagata energetically modernized the fledgling Imperial Japanese Army, and modeled it after the Prussian army. He began a system of military conscription in 1873.

Military career

As War Minister, Yamagata pushed through the foundation of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff, which was the main source of Yamagata's political power and that of other military officers through the end of World War II. He was Commander of the General Staff in 1874-76, 1878-82, and 1884-85.

Yamagata in 1877 led the newly modernized Imperial Army against the Satsuma Rebellion led by his former comrade in revolution, Saigō Takamori of Satsuma. At the end of the war, when Saigo's severed head was brought to Yamagata, he ordered it washed, and held the head in his arms as he pronounced a meditation on the fallen hero.

He also had Emperor Meiji write the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors, in 1882. This document was considered the moral core of the Japanese army and naval forces until their dissolution in 1945.

Yamagata was awarded the rank of field marshal in 1898. He showed his leadership on military issues as acting War Minister and Commanding General during the First Sino-Japanese War; as the Commanding General of the IJA 1st Army during the Russo-Japanese War; and as the Chief of the General Staff Office in Tokyo.

He is considered political and military ideological ancestor of the Hokushin-ron as he traced the first lines of a national defensive strategy against Russia after Russo-Japanese War.

Political career

Yamagata was one of the group of seven political leaders, later called the genrō, who came to dominate the government of Japan. The word can be translated principal elders or senior statesmen. The genrō were a subset of the revolutionary leaders who shared common objectives and who by about 1880 had forced out or isolated the other original leaders. These seven men (plus two who were chosen later after some of the first seven had died) led Japan for many years, through its great transformation from an agricultural country into a modern military and industrial state. All the genrō served at various times as cabinet ministers, and most were at times prime minister. As a body, the genrō had no official status, they were simply trusted advisers to the Emperor. Yet the genrō made collectively the most important decisions, such as peace and war and foreign policy, and when a cabinet resigned they chose the new prime minister. In the twentieth century their power diminished because of deaths and quarrels among themselves, and the growing political power of the army and navy. But the genrō clung to the power of naming prime ministers up to the death of the last genrō Prince Saionji in 1940.

Yamagata and Itō Hirobumi were long the most prominent of the seven, and after the assassination of Itō in 1909, Yamagata dominated the genrō. But Yamagata also held a large and devoted power base in the officers of the army and the militarists. He became the towering leader of Japanese conservatives. He profoundly distrusted all democratic institutions, and he devoted the later part of his life to building and defending the power, especially the political power, of the army.

During his long and versatile career, Yamagata held numerous important governmental posts. In 1882, he became president of the Board of Legislation (Sanjiin) and as Home Minister (1883–87) he worked vigorously to suppress political parties and repress agitation in the labor and agrarian movements. He also organized a system of local administration, based on a prefecture-county-city structure which is still in use in Japan today. In 1883 Yamagata was appointed to the post of Lord Chancellor, the highest bureaucratic position in the government system before the Meiji Constitution of 1889.

Yamagata became the third Prime Minister of Japan after the opening of the Imperial Diet under the Meiji Constitution from 24 December 1889 to 6 May 1891. During his first term, the Imperial Rescript on Education was issued.

Yamagata became Prime Minister for a second term from 8 November 1898 to 19 October 1900. In 1900, while in his second term as Prime Minister, he ruled that only an active military officer could serve as War Minister or Navy Minister, a rule that gave the military control over the formation of any future cabinet. He also enacted laws preventing political party members from holding any key posts in the bureaucracy.

He was President of the Privy Council from 1893-94 and 1905-22.

In 1896, Yamagata led a diplomatic mission to Moscow, which produced the Yamagata-Lobanov Agreement confirming Japanese and Russian rights in Korea.

Yamagata was elevated to the peerage, and received the title of koshaku (prince) under the kazoku system in 1907.

From 1900 to 1909, Yamagata opposed Itō Hirobumi, leader of the civilian party, and exercised influence through his protégé, Katsura Tarō. After the death of Itō Hirobumi in 1909, Yamagata became the most influential politician in Japan and remained so until his death in 1922, although he retired from active participation in politics after the Russo-Japanese War. However, as president of the Privy Council from 1909 to 1922, Yamagata remained the power behind the government and dictated the selection of future Prime Ministers until his death.

In 1912 Yamagata set the precedent that the army could dismiss a cabinet. A dispute with prime minister Marquis Saionji Kinmochi over the military budget became a constitutional crisis, known as the Taisho Crisis after the newly enthroned Emperor. The army minister, General Uehara, resigned when the cabinet would not grant him the budget he wanted. Saionji sought to replace him. Japanese law required that the ministers of the army and navy must be high-ranking generals and admirals on active duty (not retired). In this instance all the eligible generals at Yamagata's instigation refused to serve in the Saionji cabinet, and the cabinet was compelled to resign.

Personal life and hobbies

Yamagata was a talented garden designer, and today the gardens he designed are considered masterpieces of Japanese gardens. A noted example is the garden of the villa Murin-an in Kyoto.

Awards and commendations

In 1906, Yamagata received the Order of Merit by King Edward VII. His Japanese decorations included the Order of the Golden Kite (1st class), Order of the Rising Sun (1st class with Paulownia Blossoms, Grand Cordon) and the Order of the Chrysanthemum.


  • Craig, Albert M. (1961). Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0739101935.
  • Dupuy, Trevor N. (1992). Encyclopedia of Military Biography. I B Tauris & Co Ltd. ISBN 1-85043-569-3.
  • Hackett, Roger F. (1971). Yamagata Aritomo in the Rise of Modern Japan 1838 - 1922. Harvard University Press. SBN 674-96301-6.
  • Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan. Belknap Press. ISBN 0674009916.

External links


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