At this stage the skepticism of foreign observers as to the final success of representative institutions in Japan appeared to reach its height.
Continuing The New Japan,
with a selection from New Japan and Her Constitution (in Contempory Review, Vol. LXXIV) by Tokiwo Yokio published in 1898. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in 3 installments for 5 minute daily reading each.
Previously in The New Japan.
Time: November, 1890
The history of the Japanese Parliament, briefly told, is as follows: The first Diet was opened in November, 1890, and the twelfth session in May, 1898. In this brief space of time there were four dissolutions and five Parliaments. From the very first the collision between the Government and the Diet was short and violent. In the case of the first dissolution, in December, 1891, the question turned on the budget estimate, the Diet insisting on a bold curtailment of items of expenditure. On the second dissolution, in December, 1893, the question turned on the memorial to be presented to the Throne, the Opposition insisting in very strong terms on the necessity of enforcing strictly the terms of treaties with Western Powers, the Diet regarding the Cabinet as too weak-handed in foreign politics. The third dissolution, in June, 1894, was also on the same question. The Cabinet, in these two latter cases, was under the presidency of Marquis Ito (then Count), and was vigorously pushing forward negotiations for treaty revision, through the brilliant diplomacy of Count Mutsu, the Foreign Minister. This strict enforcement agitation was looked upon by the Government as a piece of anti- foreign agitation — a Jingo movement — and as endangering the success of the treaty-revision negotiations. In fact, the revised treaty with Great Britain was on the latter date wellnigh completed, it being signed in July following by Lord Kimberley and Viscount Aoki.
At this stage the skepticism of foreign observers as to the final success of representative institutions in Japan appeared to reach its height, leading many of them to the belief that the constitution would have to be suspended sooner or later, if Japan was to enjoy a wise and peaceful administration. When the first violent collision took place, they said it was perhaps to be expected since the Government was then under the Premiership of Count Matsukata and in the hands of second-rate politicians. Marquis Ito and some of the most tried statesmen of the time were out of office, forming a sort of reserve force, to be called out in any grave emergency. But great was the disappointment when it was seen that after Marquis Ito, with some of the most trusted statesmen as his colleagues, had been in office but little more than a year, dissolution followed dissolution, and it seemed that even the Father of the Constitution was unable to manage its working successfully.
But when the war with China broke out, the situation was completely changed. In the August following the whole nation spoke and acted as if it were one man and had but one mind. In the two sessions of the Diet held during the war, the Government was most ably supported by the Diet, and everybody hoped that after the war was over the same good feeling would continue to rule the Diet. On the other hand, it was well known that the Opposition members in the Diet had intimated clearly that their support of the Government was merely temporary, and that after the emergency was over they might be expected to continue their opposition policy. And, in fact, many months before the opening of the ninth session, mutterings of deep discontent, especially with reference to the retrocession of the Liao-Tung Peninsula, began to be widely heard. However, as the session approached (December, 1896), rumors were heard of a certain entente between the Government and the Liberal party, at that time the largest and the best organized in the country. And in the coming session the Government secured a majority, through the support of the Liberals, for most of its important bills.
This entente between Marquis Ito and the Liberals was a great step in advance, and a very bold departure in a new direction on the part of the Marquis. He was known to be an admirer of the German system, and a chief upholder of the policy of Chozen Naikaku, or the Transcendental Cabinet policy, which meant a ministry responsible to the Emperor alone. The entente was strengthened in May following by the entrance of Count Itagaki into the Cabinet as the Home Minister. On the other hand, this entente led to the formation of the Progressist party by the union of the six opposition parties, as well as to the union of Count Okuma, the Progressist leader, and Count Matsugata, leader of the Kagoshima statesmen. Their united opposition was now quite effective in harassing the Administration.
At this stage certain neutral men, particularly Count Inouye, suggested compromise, offering a scheme of a coalition cabinet. There were men, too, in the Cabinet who favored such a course, and the scheme almost approached realization. But Count Itagaki was firm in opposing such a compromise, saying it was tantamount to the ignoring of party distinction, and as such was a retrogression instead of being a forward step in the constitutional history of the country. He finally tendered his resignation. “When Marquis Ito saw that the Count was firm in his determination, he too resigned.
The new Cabinet, formed in September, 1896, had Count Matsukata for Premier and Treasury Minister; Count Okuma for Foreign Minister; and Admiral Kabayama, the hero of the Yaloo Battle, for Home Minister. At this time there were three things that the nation desired. It wished to see Japanese Jiauvinism installed at the Foreign Office, and the shame of the retrocession of the Liao-Tung Peninsula wiped off. It hoped, lastly, to see a parliamentary government inaugurated and all the evils of irresponsible bureaucracy removed. The statesmen now in stalled in office aspired to satisfy all three desires, and they were expected to work wonders. But, unfortunately, the Cabinet lacked unity. The Satsuma elements and the Okuma elements no more mixed than oil and water. In their counsels there were always two wills, sometimes three, contending for mastery. The question of the balance of power between these elements cropped up in connection with all questions of state policy. Early in the autumn Count Okuma resigned office, saying that he felt like a European physician in consultation with Chinese doctors over a case. Henceforth the ship of state, now in troubled waters, was in the hands of the Kagoshima statesmen and their friends. Some heroic and extraordinary efforts were made to revive the fallen credit of the Administration, but all in vain. Count Okuma led away the majority of the Progressist party, and the Government was left with an insignificant number of supporters. As soon as the Diet met, the spirit of opposition manifested was so strong that the Ministers asked the Emperor to issue an edict for dissolution. But to the astonishment of everybody the Ministry resigned the very next day.
Marquis Ito was unanimously hailed as the only man to bring order into the political situation. In January following the new Cabinet was announced, with Ito for Premier, Count Inouye for the Treasury, and Marquis Saionji, one of the best cultured, most progressive, and perhaps the most daring of the younger statesmen, for Education Minister. The general election took place in March, and the twelfth session of the Diet was opened on May 19, 1897.
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