Matsukata Masayoshi was the fourth prime minister of Japan
(1891-92, 1896-97), and was later named Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal
(1917-22). He was born in Satsuma
on February 25, 1835
Following the Meiji Restoration, Matsukata went to work in the Ministry of Finance. He traveled to London and Brussels to examine the workings of the Bank of England and Belgian National Bank, deciding that Belgium's model would work better in Japan. In October 1881, he was named Minister of Finance, and moved quickly to establish the first Bank of Japan.
At the time, the paper yen was still a new concept, and the currency was being printed so rapidly that it was hardly worth a Continental. Matsukata moved to deflate the currency, and in 1885 had the BOJ issue bank notes that were readily convertible to silver. This stopped the yen's slide, at the cost of many bank and business failures, but presented a new problem in the late 1880's: most industrial nations, including the United States and United Kingdom, were operating on a gold standard, and countries still tied to the silver standard were losing ground as the value of silver fell in relation to gold. The other flip side of the deal was that filthy rich families were able to purchase large industries before the deflation, and used the monetary change to make tons of money and become zaibatsu.
In 1891, he was elected prime minister for the first time, but quickly became unpopular with the Diet and moved to dissolve parliament, losing to his predecessor Ito Hirobumi in elections the following year. He returned to the premier's office in 1896, serving for another year before again being ousted in favor of the more popular Ito.
Thus humiliated politically, Matsukata returned to the Imperial Palace, where he advised Emperors Meiji and Taisho until his death in 1922.
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