Cabinet Change in Japan

Dec.28, 1885 (From a correspondent at Tokyo)

  • Some important changes, not wholly unexpected, in the principles and personnel of Government in Japan were proclaimed here by Imperial notifications on the 23rd instant.
  • When, in 1868, the Mikado, then a lad of 15, was restored to the ancient but long dormant rights of sole monarch, the new structure of government underwent for two or three years sundry tentative changes.
  • But by 1871 it had settled down to a more durable system, little varied since, and containing as its chief feature a Supreme Council of State, or Daijo Daijin, as Chancellor of the Empire, who was assisted by two colleagues, the U-Daijin, or Minister of the Right, and Sa-Daijin, or Minister of the Left.
  • This form of Council was introduced into Japan nearly 12 centuries ago, the original having been derived from an example in China, under the Tang dynasty, at a time when the Sovereign was a minor and when the functions of the Chancellor merged into those of a Regent.
  • In view of the age of the Mikado at the date of his restoration, it will be understood that a revival of the old form of Council was not altogether ill suited to the occasion, at least as a temporary measure.
  • It had also the advantage of providing convenient and conspicuous posts of dignity for those of the old Court nobles who had most prominently assisted in the great reform which overthrew the Shogunate, re-unified the Empire, and fairly started Japan on the highway of modern progress.
  • But that its life would be of very long duration was hardly to be expected, and doubtless was not expected or intended by the real leaders of the restoration.
  • Under it, the chief functions of government developed theoretically upon the Daijo Daijin.
  • He stood between the Throne and the Ministers of the 10 or 11 executive departments, whose individuality was merged in his own, notwithstanding that they had seats at the Council.
  • He alone was responsible to the Mikado, and without his assent no administrative enactments could become law.
  • Plainly, the concentration of so wide a range of power, duties, and obligations in a single individual was little likely to work really well, unless the Daijo Daijin and his two auxiliaries should happen to be men of such extraordinary intellect, capacity and magnetic influence that they would be able to control effectively the whole machinery of government and keep its various chief agents in active sympathy with their own policy.

  • Seeing also that Japan was at this time moving forward with astonishing speed, and that its rulers had perpetually to face the task of dealing with new problems and rapidly changing conditions, nothing short of almost miraculous leadership under a single head could warrant the hope of prolonged success.
  • It is to be observed, further, that, on the Mikado attaining his majority, the chief justification of the system would come to an end; for the power and function of the Daijo Daijin, if fully exercised, would then overthrow the Crown itself and encroach upon the cardinal principle of personal government by the Emperor.
  • Experience during the last 14 years has fully established the necessity of a change.
  • In 1882, an effort was made to bring the operations of the Daijo Kan into fuller harmony with the general motives and zealous progressive policy of the Ministry, by creating, under the name of Sanji-n, a new department closely resembling the French Council d'Etat, with deliberative functions designed to counteract the graver shortcomings of the system.
  • But it has for some time been apparent not only that the inordinate tasks and cares assigned to the Chancellor and his colleagues had come to be discharged, as was in the nature of things inevitable, in a perfunctory and unreal fashion, which fell far short of the theory of the subject and hindered the smooth and effective working of the State machine, but also that the whole fabric of government was out of joint with the times, and, for the sake of the country's welfare and credit, needed extensive remodelling.
  • Hence the changes now announced, which are the most important and radical that have been effected since the restoration, and which at the same time furnish satisfactory proof of the reality and earnestness of Japanese progress.
  • The following are the chief details of the Imperial notifications.
  • The Council of State is abolished, and with it the offices of Daijo Daijin, U-Daijin, and Sa-Daijin.
  • A new Cabinet is formed consisting of the Ministers at the head of the several State Departments and the President of the State.
  • There is also created a Court Council, with a president and six members, the former being Prince Sanjo, late Chancellor of the Empire, and now made Keeper of the Seals.
  • This body will have no political functions, and will simply direct Court ceremonies and etiquette.
  • H.I.H. Prince Arisugawa is appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army; a Department of Communications has been substituted for that of Public Works; and there are a few changes of portfolios and two or three new names in the Ministry.
  • But the really important feature of this measure of reform is that, along with the abolitions above named, the position, duties, and responsibilities of the Ministers of State are placed on a much clearer and more practical as well as higher basis than before.
  • In an Imperial rescript accompanying the notifications, the strictly responsible relations in which each Minister is henceforth to stand towards the Crown and the concentration of power in their collective body as a Cabinet are dwelt upon with marked prominence.
  • The substitution of this direct and well-defined plan, according so closely with the principles of European polity, for the clumsy and invertebrate system which preceded it must certainly be regarded as a very happy change for the better.
  • It is also a timely preparation for the yet freer political system which will come into being with the birth of the first Japanese Parliament, in 1890.
  • Another satisfactory feature of the programme is that the highest posts in the Cabinet have been bestowed on the two eminent statesmen; Counts Ito and Inouye - long recognized as the life and soul of the Ministry - whose names have so many years stood together as those of leaders in nearly every sagacious and wise act of government that has been carried out in Japan.
  • Count Ito now becomes President of the Cabinet, in other words, Premier; while Count Inouye, who happily retains the Foreign Office portfolio, stands next on the list.
  • There could be no better guarantee of the future sound conduct of Japan's public affairs than that which is afforded by these appointments.
  • In the lists of the Cabinet and Court Council are also to be seen the familiar names of many of that little band of resolute and influential men who have been so conspicuous in Japan's modern annals - first, as leaders in the great movement for the restoration of the Mikado and since then as connected with the government of the country on the lines of Western civilization.
  • To each of these is due some share of the merit of having steered Japan for 17 years, with credit and success, and with scarcely interuppted tranquility, through a rapid succession of changes, reforms, and perplexities to which perhaps no parallel exists in history.

  • The Times - 1886/2/3
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