Little Bits of History

First PM

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 22, 2013
Itō Hirobumi

Itō Hirobumi

December 22, 1885: Itō Hirobumi becomes the first Prime Minister of Japan. Japan had been ruled by Shoguns for centuries, sometimes with nods to the Emperor and sometimes not. The Meiji Restoration was a period of conflict between Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last of the shoguns, and Emperor Kōmei (Emperor Meiji’s father). On November 9, 1867 the 15th Tokugawa Shogun placed “his prerogatives at the Emperor’s disposal.” Ten days later, he resigned as Shogun.

The English-language term for the head of government is Prime Minister. In Japan, the literal translation for the post is “Prime Minister of the Cabinet.” The Emperor of Japan appoints the Prime Minister after the Diet (bicameral legislature of Japan) puts forth one of their members for the post. The Prime Minister must have the support of the House of Representatives. As head of the Cabinet, the Prime Minister controls who becomes and retains the positions of Ministers of State.

Hirobumi was born in 1841 to an adopted son of a lower class samurai. He received samurai status in 1863 and was one of the Chōshū Five, five young men permitted to study in London. He was influenced by Western culture during his year at University College London. He returned to Japan and counseled against foreign wars. After the Meiji Restoration, Hirobumi was appointed governor of Hyōgo Prefecture, junior council for Foreign Affairs, and sent to the US to study Western Currency systems.

Hirobumi was the 1st, 5th, 7th, and 10th Prime Minister of Japan, spending about 8 years in the role overall. The post was created based on Western systems of governance. Hirobumi resigned on April 30, 1888 to head the Privy Council where he could retain power behind the scenes. He again took on the role of Prime Minister with varying degrees of success. Tired of the political games, in-fighting, and back stabbing, he resigned for good in 1901. In 1905 he became Resident-General of Korea and was assassinated by a Korean national on October 26, 1909.

“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” – P.J. O’Rourke

“No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe.  No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.  Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time.” – Winston Churchill

“The worst thing in this world, next to anarchy, is government.” – Henry Ward Beecher

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Japan is an archipelago to the east of continental Asia. There are 6,852 islands making up the nation with the four largest being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Tokyo is the capital and located on Honshu. The greater metropolitan area holds 30 million people making it the largest metropolitan area in the world. There is no official language for the 126 million Japanese citizens, but four languages predominate with several other dialects available. They give the date of February 11, 660 BC as their founding date with the Meiji Constitution coming into effect on November 29, 1890 and their current constitution taking effect May 3, 1947. Emperor Akihito rules with the help of Prime minister Shinzō Abe. Japan has officially denounced the right to declare war, but it still maintains a military presence backed with a budget that make it the fifth largest in the world, just slightly ahead of the France’s.

Also on this day: March to the Sea – In 1864, General Sherman finished his march into Savannah, Georgia.
Fly Ash – In 2008, the TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant’s dike collapsed.
Under Water – In 1937, The Lincoln Tunnel in NYC was opened.

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