Yamagata Aritomo

Yamagata Aritomo 山縣有朋

Yamagata Aritomo.

Yamagata Aritomo is considered the architect of the Japanese military during the Meiji Period and the father of Japanese military expansion on the Asian continent.

Early Life

Yamagata was born in Hagi in Choshu (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) and was a student of the influential scholar Yoshida Shoin, who inspired many of the young men who helped to overthrow the Tokugawa regime.

Yamagata served in the brief Boshin War (1868-1869) in the Kiheitai militia which included men from all social classes within its ranks.

Yamagata Aritomo.
Yamagata Aritomo


Greatly impressed with the rise of the Prussian state during a study tour to Europe, Yamagata was appointed War Minister in 1873 and organized the new Imperial Army along Prussian lines and established a system of conscription. This new force saw action during the suppression of Saigo Takamori's Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. Japan's new army swore loyalty to the Emperor, not the civilian authorities, thus taking it out of direct control of civilian hands.

The 1882 Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors, drawn up by Nishi Amane (1829-1897) and presented to Yamagata as Army Minister by the Meiji Emperor is considered to have been the moral core of the Japanese military until the end of World War II, and contains much of Yamagata's authoritarian thinking.

Yamagata was War Minister during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and commanded the First Army in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

Sino-Japanese War.
Japanese troops in action during the Sino-Japanese War 1894-1895

As a member of the genro, a group of political leaders who emerged after the Meiji Restoration, Yamagata was a major influence on the rise of a modern Japanese state along anti-democratic, authoritarian, conservative and militaristic lines.

Yamagata twice served as Prime Minister from 1889-1891 and then again from 1898-1900. In later life, though holding no official positions, Yamagata was the power behind the scenes. In 1912 he was instrumental in the resignation of an entire cabinet, when he pressurized Japan's generals not to take up the position of War Minister, causing the fall of the Prime Minister Saionji Kinmochi and his ministers.

In his private life, Yamagata was a keen garden designer and Murin-an in Kyoto is considered his masterpiece.

Yamagata's grave is in Gokokuji Temple in Tokyo.

Murin-an Villa, Okazaki, Kyoto, Japan.
A view of the Higashiyama Hills in an example of shakkei or borrowed scenery at Murin-an Villa, Kyoto

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