Prime Minister in 1898 and from 1914-1916.
Cabinet list Okuma Shigenobu cabinet 1
Cabinet list Okuma Shigenobu cabinet 2
Total Tenure as Prime Minister: 1,040 days.
Born in Saga (Hizen feudal domain)
Okuma Shigenobu (Count), 1838-1922, was born in Saga (feudal domain Hizen).
He was an early supporter of the anti-Tokugawa movement and entered the
Meiji government as one of the few representatives not from the dominating
domains. Okuma's first appointment in government was in 1868, just after
the Meiji Restoration
, as a diplomatic and commercial official in Nagasaki. His financial expertise
and his friendship with the restoration leader Inoue Kaoru
led to his initial appointments in the central government in Tokyo as
san'yo (junior councillor) in 1868 and later as sangi (councillor).
Following his appointment as minister of finance in 1873, Okuma directed
his attention to unifying the currency system, establishing a national
mint, and creating a ministry of industry. He wielded considerable political
power as the head of the finance ministry. However, unlike his rivals from
Satsuma and Choshu, Okuma lacked a domainal base of political support and
had to seek other alliances.
A series of political blunders confirmed Okuma's outsider status in the
Satsuma-Choshu oligarchy. In 1881 he presented a memorial for the speedy
drafting of a constitution on the British model, a plan at variance with
the views of other councillors. Finally Okuma made public the proposal
of a Satsuma councillor that government assets in Hokkaido be sold to a
consortium of businessmen headed by former officials from Satsuma and Choshu.
In August 1881 senior councillors demanded Okuma's removal from office.
He resigned in October and, soon after, a dozen of his followers resigned
or were dismissed. Okuma remained politically active, however, and in 1882
formed Japan's second major political party, the Rikken Kaishinto (Constitutional
Reform Party). He founded Tokyo Semmon Gakko the same year, which is today
known as Waseda University
Okuma returned to political office in 1888 as foreign minister and reopened
negotiations with the Western powers in an attempt to revise the Unequal
Treaties. The treaty he drafted was conciliatory toward the Western powers
and brought a strong negative response from the Japanese public. In 1889
Okuma was seriously injured in an assassination attempt by a member of
the ultranationalist Gen'yosha (Dark Ocean Society), which cost him a leg.
In 1896 Okuma returned to politics, reorganizing the Kaishinto into a new
party, the Shimpoto (Progressive Party). That same year he served again
as foreign minister, and in 1897 he also took the post of minister of agriculture
and commerce. In 1898 he merged the Shimpoto with Itagaki Taisuke
's Jiyuto to form the Kenseito (Constitutional Party). A few days later
Okuma and Itagaki were ordered to form a party cabinet, the first in Japan.
Itagaki was appointed home minister, while Okuma served concurrently as
foreign minister and prime minister. Internal dissension led to the dissolution
of the cabinet within four months.
In 1900 Okuma became head of the Kensei Honto, a splinter group of the
Kenseito. He resigned in 1907 to become president of Waseda University
and withdrew from public affairs. It was called upon him again in 1914,
when he was appointed Prime Minister for a second time. His cabinet was
notable for presenting the infamous Twenty-One Demands to China. In 1916
he resigned as prime minister and retired from politics. During his last
years, he authored the book "The harmony of Eastern and Western Civilizations"
(Tozai bunmei no chowa).
Bronze Statue of Okuma Shigenobu in Waseda University, Tokyo