Ito Hirobumi, 1841-1909


First Prime Minister of modern Japan, Prime Minister four times: 1885-1888, 1892-1896, 1898, 1900-1901
Cabinet List, cabinet Ito Hirobumi I
Cabinet List, cabinet Ito Hirobumi II
Cabinet List, cabinet Ito Hirobumi III
Cabinet List, cabinet Ito Hirobumi IV
Total Tenure as Prime Minister: 2,720 days
Born in Yamaguchi (Choshu)

Ito was born in 1841 in the feudal domain of Choshu (present Yamaguchi prefecture) and adopted to a samurai family. He gained gained samurai status for himself in 1863. A visit to England in the same year convinced him of the necessity of modernising Japan. Following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Ito served as a junior councillor in a number of different ministries.
He was a member of the mission sent abroad (1871) under Prince Iwakura Tomomi to revise the unequal treaties with the Western powers and study Western technology. In 1873, Ito became a member of the ruling council and worked to modernize Japan and solidify the power of the oligarchs from Choshu and Satsuma domains. The death of Kido Takayoshi in 1877 and the assassination of Okubo Toshimichi in 1878 signaled a change in Japanese political leadership. Ito, now home minister, and Finance Minister Okuma Shigenobu emerged as the most powerful figures in government. After the forced resignation of Okuma Shigenobu Ito became one of the most powerful personalities in Japanese politics.
In 1883, having returned from nearly one and a half years of study in Europe (notably in Germany) under leading constitutional scholars, Ito and others set to work in drafting the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. After the cabinet system was introduced in 1885, replacing the Dajokan as the decision-making state organisation, Ito became the first Prime Minister. In 1885 he negotiated the Convention of Tientsin with Li Hung-chang of China. He remained head of the Privy council while Kuroda Kiyotaka and Yamagata Aritomo were Prime Ministers.
Ito was prime minister again from 1892 to 1896, during which time Japan defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. He represented Japan in negotiating the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which formally concluded the war. The victory signaled Japan's emergence as the dominant East Asian power, but it also marked the point at which Japanese foreign policy began to emphasize Western-style territorial expansion. In 1901, he became the first leader of the Seiyukai party. He remained a power in the government as the premiership alternated between Saionji Kimmochi and Katsura Taro.
In November 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War, Korea was occupied by Japanese forces and the Korean government was made to sign a Protectorate Treaty, Ito became the first Resident General (kankoku tokan韓国統監) in 1907. He forced the Korean ruler, King Kojong, to abdicate and he established a full Japanese protectorate over Korea, thus paving the way for annexation. Ito resigned as resident general in 1909. However, during a tour of Manchuria later that year he was assassinated in Harbin by An Chung-gun, a Korean nationalist, which provoked the annexation of Korea in 1910.
After his death and throughout the prewar period, Ito Hirobumi was on the 1,000 Yen note. In Hagi, Yamaguchi, his birthplace is now a tourist attraction.

Bronze statue of Ito Hirobumi in front of the Japanese Diet
Postwar 1000 Yen bill with portrait of Ito Hirobumi