Saionji Kimmochi

The following is a college paper I wrote many years ago about Saionji Kimmochi.

7 months after I wrote it I was in Japan and had the opportunity to meet Saionji Fujio.

He is a grandson of Prince Saionji.

He read the paper and was very surprised that there was so much information available at my college library on his grandfather.  He corrected some names and gave me additional information about the family.  He told me how he remembered his grandfather and the home in Okitsu. It was a very special meeting for me.





Daniel Cohen

February 19 1969

(updated April 2005)


The back of the picture is inscribed, "To Mr. Dan Cohen
                                                                          from a grandson of   
                                                                          Kimmochi Saionji
                                                                          Fujio Saionji
                                                                          Sep. 1. 1969.
                                                                          This picture was taken
                                                                           when he was 80 years old."
  I was given this picture while visiting Mr. Saionji at his home.  This is a treasured memory that was made possible by my friend, Mr. Umehara from Sophia University.
Links to information about Prince Saionji:
Reitsumeikan University Saionji Memorial Hall in honor of founder Saionji Kimmochi.





I.                    Introduction


II.                 His Youth


A.     Saionji Kimmochi’s Families

1.      Natural Family

2.   Adopted Family

B.     Govenor of Nigata

C.     Leader of Imperial Samurai


III.               Goes to Europe


A.     University of Paris

B.     Lives in the Quatier Paris

1.      Birth of the “Third Republic”

2.      The French Commune


IV.              Returns to Japan


A.     The Clans Reassert Power

1.      Fight of Words

2.      Repercussions


V.                 Recognized by the Elders


A.     As a member of Ito’s Cabinet

1.      Minister of Education

2.      Minister of Foreign Affairs

3.      Minister of Education

B.     Aided in Forming Political Party

C.     President of Privy Council


1.      Twice Premier Pro. Tem.

2.      Switched Positions with Ito

B.     As Premier



VI.              Appointed Genro


A.     Paris Peace Conference

B.     Moves to Okitsu

C.     Influence on Japanese Politics

D.     Given the Title of Prince

E.      Coup of 1936


VII.            Conclusion












            From 1868 to the 1940’s Japan transversed a rocky path from feudalism to democracy.  It took many men of varying abilities to guide Japan through this development. Only one man, Prince Saionji Kimmochi, saw Japan through the whole process.  A product of feudalism himself, he brought the roots of democracy to Japan.  Saionji was a believer of evolution not revolution as a means of change.  Instead of destroying the powers that be, he gained enough power to control them. Below we will view the life of a man who inderectly ruled Japan for over thirty years and made modern Japan possible.


            The Mori family was the hereditary lords of the Choshu clan.1  On October 23 1849, there was born to this family a male child, Mori Kimmochi.  His birth was not of much importance, since he was not the first son.  Following tradition, Kimmochi was adopted into an heirless family.  He was most fortunate because he was adopted into the Saionji family, members of the Imperial Court.  Saionji’s infancy was spent as companion to Prince Meiji Tenno.


                Due to Saionji’s relations with the Imperial Family, his political career began early.  At the age of eighteen he was the governor of Niigata Province.2  In 1868 the Emperor’s power was restored and the Shogun forced to resign.  The Meiji Isshin (Restoration) was to bring about many changes for Japan and Saionji Kimmochi. Determined to retain his power, the Shogun rallied forces against those of the Emperor.  Saionji Kimmochi was placed in command of the Northern forces dressed in green armor.  The Shogun was defeated and power which had been controlled by the Shogunate returned to the Imperial Court.3  It was fourteen years since Japan had been opened to the Western World.  There was great hatred of this invasion in Japan, but Saionji saw that if Japan was to progress the nation would have to Westernize.  In 1870 Saionji left with a group of students to study in Europe and bring back the Western culture and law to Japan.


            It was at the University of Paris that he received his formal education in law and politics.4  Probably a greater influence on Saionji Kimmochi than his formal schooling was living in the Quatier Paris for ten years.  This is where he received many of his ideas on government.  Working with his friends Clemenceau, Cambon and Delcasse, Saionji went through the streets of France stirring up the French citizens against the government.5  At the birth of the Third Republic Saionji sang along side them in the Place de la Concorde.  When the Commune was set up, Saionji was there as an observer.  He spent a good deal of his time in the French bistros talking with the young activists and philosophers of the time.  Here he earned a reputation as a wit and a heart breaker.  Mary Fraser upon meeting him in Japan said that his reputation was justified.  She described him as being taller than the average and handsome with brilliant eyes and features.  He was “extremely modern and extremely French”.6  During this period he became a devotee of Rousseau’s naturalism.  In 1880, a hot headed young man, Saionji returned to Japan after stopping in the United States.









            Upon his return, Saionji found the clans reasserting their power in the government.  Having just returned to Japan, he used the methods of the French Revolutionaries to combat them.  He bought a newspaper and began printing the “Oriental Liberty”.7  This paper attacked the clans which were regaining control of the government and proclaimed liberal European ideals.8  Ordinarily the publishing of such material would have been answered by a hired assassin (ninja).  It was Saionji’s family rank that saved him. By a marriage in the distant past he was related to the Emperor.  The paper did not last long.  There are several stories explaining its end.  From his official biography it is stated that he was writing “some highly democratic ideas which startled his seniors”.  He discontinued the paper “because of strong objection by senior peers of conservative ideas”.9 


            This would seem to treat the matter in a way which was used to keep others from thinking there were any serious disagreements within the government.  A more likely account involves Count Itagaki, the original petitioner in 1972 for parliamentary government whom Saionji regarded as the Rousseau of Japan.  Count Itagaki sympathized with Saionji but was more concerned with stabilizing the government to secure the nation.  He sent Ito Hirobumi to call off Saionji.  Ito reasoned with Saionji saying that he must “surrender the cause of all mankind for the love of his friends”.10  Because of his family position and his willingness to heed his elders, he was given a political position.  He became a deputy member of the Genroin.  This was an organization to supervise the drafting of a constitution.  In actuality it was an oligarchy that controlled the modernization of Japan and balanced the powerful clans. His earliest note worthy act was convincing the builders of a modern army to change from archery to munitions.


            On march 14, 1881, Marquis Ito and nine men, including Saionji, went to Europe to examine western systems of government.  Saionji and a few others went to Paris, but most went to Prussia and Austria.11  The Oligarchy found Prussia to be a better suited model for Japan’s modernization under Imperial authority.  This was also an attempt to get Saionji out of the wayand under Marquis Ito’s influence.


            When they returned to Japan, Saionji had proven to be more cooperative with his elders and was appointed Vice-Senator and then Senator.  The Elders realized Saionji’s capabilities and saw the makings of a good statesman.  To recognize his ability and encourage him further, Saionji was given the title of Marquis in 1884.12  He was appointed Envoy to Austria and later Germany, both rather inactive positions.


            Marquis Saionji returned to Japan more mature and with a greater understanding of diplomacy.  As a result he accepted into active politics by his elders with the patronage of his mentor Ito Hirobumi.  When Ito formed his first cabinet, Saionji was appointed Minister of Education.  Towards the end of the Sino-Japanese war, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs and later again Minister of Education.  While he held these positions, Saionji was upset by the regulations he had to work under, and the people who worked for him.  He was unhappy with the lack of reform and the mind set of the government bureaucrats.  He began to write editorials again, this time under the pseudonym “Yosaburo Takegoshi”.13  In 1900 Saionji cooperated with Marquis Ito in organizing the Rikken-Seiyu kai (Friends of the Constitution), the first strong political party in Japan.14







            When Marquis Ito formed his third cabinet, Saionji was President of the Privy Council.  A duty of that office was to serve as Premier pro. tem. If the Premier was incapacitated.  Marquis Saionji acted in that capacity twice when Marquis Ito was ill. In 1903 Marquis Ito was forced to give up the leadership of his party by political pressure from the clans.  Through a mutual agreementhe switched positions with his protege, Saionji.  Now Saionji was the President of the Rikken Seiyu Kai15, a position which had great power at the time in Japan.


            While President of the Party Saionji Kimmochi worked hard to promote democracy and limit the powewr of the military.  Theodore Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace prize for his work in negotiating between Russia and Japan to end the Russo-Japanese War.  These negotiations would have failed without the involvement of Marquis Saionji.  In 1905 the Diet assembled to veto the Portsmouth Treaty.  The Japanese people were rioting in Tokyo in protest of the terms of the treaty.  Negotiating was viewed as a loss of face for Japan.  Saionji came before the assembly asking for unanimous approval of the treaty.16  He said that the restoration of peace was in the interest of humanity at large and that acceptance of Theodore Roosevelt’s invitation to negotiate would change the positions of victor and vanquished to nearly equals.  From Japan’s view it would appear Russia had been beaten, but the opinion of the Western Powers did not agree, Japan could not ignore that opinion.  He asked them which policy the world would be better impressed by; that of the Czar, who pressed for continued War, or Japan’s policy “who victor in every fight on sea and shore, had never the less waived her demand rather than cause fresh blood shed.”  He told them that he understood their feelings at being cheated of the gains of victory.  Now that Russia’s aggression had been stopped, it was time to put down the swords and clasp hands in friendship for the purpose of promoting peace.17  The treaty was ratified.  Saionji Kimmochi was maturing into a dignified statesman who earned and commanded respect.


In 1906 Count Katsura Taro resigned as Pemier and Marquis Saionji, who had been continuously nominated each time since 1903 and declined each time, accepted the  position.  Neither Katsura nor Saionji had support of the Diet.  Katsura had been installed by the military.  He was the protege of Yamagata, the organizer of the modern army.  Saionji was the protege of Ito, constructor of the constitution and establisher of the party system.  Marquis Saionji was opposed to the Premier not being selected from the majority, but he recognized that the party would benefit by working within the clan structure for a while.

Saionji was forced by the military to resign in 1908 and was replaced by Katsura.  In 1909 Marquis Ito, then serving as Resident General in Korea, was assassinated.  This was the first sign that the military was intent on removing civilian government.18  His death resulted in the military occupation of Korea, and Katsura passing legislation to favor the army.  In 1911 Katsura was forced to resign because of scandals in his cabinet.19  Again Marquis Saionji took over as Premier but did not remain in office even a year.  The army had demanded appropriations to build their Asian forces.  Saionji vetoed them and the War Minister resigned in 1912.  In 1900 Yamagata, as one of the Genro who framed the constitution, had secured certain powers for the military.  The War Minister, according to the constitution, had to be chosen from among active Generals, Lieutenant Generals,Admirals or Vice Admirals.20  When the War Minister resigned nobody would oppose Yamagata to replace him.  Because he could not complete his cabinet, Saionji resigned.






            Marquis Saionji took a great step towards democracy when in 1914 he resigned as President of the Party in favor of Takashi Hara.  Saionji, long a supporter of democracy had selected Hara, the commoner, as his successor.  Hara was the first commoner in Japan to rise to a high political position.  With Saionji’s support he even became Premier, but was assassinated because of resent of a commoner in the office.21  That year Saionji retired from active politics.


            In 1916 Saionji Kimmochi was made a full member of the Genro, a small group of men who had guided politics during the Meiji period.  All the other Genro were clan leaders and samurai.  Saionji was respected by all parties and political factions because he was the only aristocrat (Imperial Court member) of the group.  The purpose of the Genro was to advise on government affairs.  In actuality they each held great power through factional loyalties). Kimmochi Saionji , survived as the last genro from 1924 until his death in 1940 and actively continued to select premiers until 1932. 


            Saionji made a brief reappearance in active politics in 1919.  He was Japan’s chief delegate to the Paris Peace Conference.  His return to France was quite glamorous. He brought with him his mistress, his daughter, her husband, Konoe Fumimaro (Saionji’s protege and selected Premier later) as well as one of Japan’s finest chefs.  He was criticized for the extravagance but declared that if at age 70 he had to travel half way around the world in the service of his country, he would make up his party as he saw fit.23  Saionji was not very active in the actual negotiations.  His main interest there was to see France and his old friend Clemenceau once more,  They had not seen each other for decades.  They met again not as young men with revolutionary ideas, but as elder statesman representing their countries.


            Saionji was impressed witth Clemenceau’s way of life and ordered a home built in rural Okitsu for his return.  A carpenter was hired from Kyoto to build the home near a bay among fisherman’s houses.  The name of the home was Zagyo-so, which suggests a retreat away from the struggle for power.  The Chinese characters used denote “one who sits quietly while others clamor after the catch.”24  The name he called his home reflected his plans for the future, to retire and relax.  But Japan needed him again and there was to be no relaxing.


            On his return to Japan, Saionji was disillusioned by the state of affairs in Japan.  The military kept gaining greater power, the western culture he admired was scorned by his countrymen.  Ironically he soon became the last Genro, a symbol of the government he was more and more at odds with.  Gradually he had been introducing more democratic processes into the government.  Saionji had outlived most of the feudal leaders, but two clans still retained military power stemming from their support of the Meiji Isshin.  Choshu had consolidated their power in the army and Satsuma had become entrenched in the navy..25  Marquis Saionji was the only man who still had control over the civilian parties and some over the military.  Due to his age, his traditional family position, his stewardship over the transition from feudalism and the fact that he had become a legend among the people he controlled greater respect than the Emperor from conservatives, reformists and the military.  Using his position he was able to push through the right of men to vote in political elections. In honor of the role he had played for Japan he was made a Prince in 1922.







            Once his home was completed in Okitsu, it became custom whenever a decision of national importance was to be made, to send an official to Okitsu for advise from the Genro Prince Saionji.  He stayed in touch through his personal secretary, Baron Harada Kumao, stationed in Tokyo as his eyes, ears and mouth.27 


In 1936 Prince Saionji was the only force still restraining the army.  Saionji was on the list of those to be killed in the military coup of that year.  It was to be the fifth attempt in four years on his life.  There were 1400 soldiers involved in the revolt against the civilian government.  It was a follow up attempt on the one of 1933 when Dr. Suzuki Kisaburo (Presient of the Seiyukai), The Premier, Prince Saionji, The Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, other party leaders and liberal military leaders were targeted.  Many of these men were attacked in the 1936 coup attempt.  The Minister of Finance, The Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, Admiral Saito (Inspector General of Military Training), General Watanabe and Colonel Matsuo, who was mistaken for his brother-in-law the Premier were all assassinated.  Admiral Suzuki Kantaro, the Grand Chamberlain was wounded.  Prince Saionji and Colonel Makino Nobuaki were warned in time and escaped any danger.28  Prince Saionji once again stepped in to ensure stability.  The rebels did not move fast enough.  Saionji at age 87 went to Tokyo and held conferences with the remaining officials. He immediately assigned replacements for those killed, maintaining the civilian government and preventing the need for the military to step in.  His quick and decisive action restrained the military for another four years.


On November 24, 1940 the highest officials in Japan, including Premier Konoye, made a pilgrimage to a small two-story house in Okitsu.  They were paying homage to a man , who at age 91 had died.  His death was more than just the end of a man’s life; it was the end of an era.  Prince Saionji was Japan’s last leader from the feudal period.  He had been intimate friends with Balfour, Clemenceau, Hindenburg, Wilson and a childhood companion of the divine Emperor Meiji.  He had heard Franz Litz play his own music, talked politics with Prince Bismark and had audiences with Queen Victoria and President Grant.  For twenty years it had been this man who appointed the Premiers of Japan.


Prince Saionji received honors from many nations. Japanese medals given him included the Grand Collar of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum with Grand Cordon and the Grand Cordon of the Imperial Treasure.  From other nations he had received the Grand Crosses of the Vatican, Holland, Belgium, France, Norway, Russia, Switzerland and Great Britain.30  The death of Saionji left a great gap in Japanese politics.  He had been born from feudalism but destroyed it, so there could not be another such as he.  The younger politicians were all part of the forces dividing Japan.  Prince Saionji was born in feudalism and died in fascism, but he had planted the seeds of democracy and the rule of law firmly in Japan and they could not be stopped.