Baron Shidehara Kijuro was a diplomat who became prime minister of Japan and president of its House of Representatives. On a 1931 cover of Time magazine, he was dubbed "Japan's man of peace and war." His greatest legacy today is (the endangered) Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which commits Japan to a pacifist foreign policy.
Shidehara was born to samurai stock in Osaka in 1872, and attended Japan's most prestigious university, Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo). As a fresh graduate of the law faculty, he entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he climbed up the ladder quickly. He became vice minister in 1915, just in time to watch Japan's empire in Asia expand with the capture of Germany's small colonies in China and the Pacific.
He soon became known as the most outspoken liberal voice in Japanese foreign policy: during the 1920's, conciliatory "Shidehara diplomacy" was contrasted with the more hard-line approach of General Tanaka Giichi. Shidehara was dispatched to represent Japan at the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-22, where Japan agreed to keep a smaller navy than the USA and UK. In 1924, he took charge of the foreign ministry, continuing to press for a stronger relationship with the two nations he saw as important friends to Japan: the USA and China. Shidehara diplomacy was the expression of Japan's brief flirtation with liberal idealism, the Taisho democracy.
However, Tanaka took control of the government in 1927 and used his influence to send Japanese soldiers to Manchuria. Although Shidehara returned to the cabinet in 1929, his idealism was seemingly becoming obsolete. In 1931, the Mukden Incident began the Japanese version of World War II, and Shidehara retired from public life.
Fourteen years passed. Japanese soldiers marched through Hong Kong, Singapore, and Manila, raped Nanjing, and bombed Pearl Harbor. Americans retaliated in spades, hopping through the South Pacific and eventually laying waste to almost every major city in Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of people in Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered for the first time in its history and became occupied.
Shidehara was still alive when Japan surrendered in 1945. Douglas MacArthur's occupation command briefly appointed Prince Higashikuni Naruhiko as prime minister before finding Shidehara and appointing him prime minister a few weeks later. Shidehara rounded up a number of his colleagues from the 1920's to form a new cabinet under the banner of the Progressive Party.
Although Shidehara was officially the head of the Japanese government, he functioned as an arm of MacArthur, who was busy deciding how postwar Japan would be operated. Shidehara and his cabinet put together a draft constitution, but MacArthur rejected it and ultimately used a constitution drafted by American military lawyers. By 1946, Shidehara had made his mark on postwar Japan by convincing MacArthur to add an article to the constitution forbidding Japan from waging offensive war. That year, the new constitution was ratified, new elections were held, and the Progressives lost. Shidehara resigned to make way for Yoshida Shigeru of the Liberal Party.
The following year, a new election replaced Yoshida with Socialist Katayama Tetsu. To fight the Socialists, Shidehara re-enlisted as a Liberal, and was elected president of the House of Representatives. He and Katayama were vocal enemies of each other until 1951, when Shidehara died.
Shidehara was quite the limousine liberal. His wife was the daughter of Iwasaki Yataro, a Mitsubishi bigwig who played a major role in the industrialization of Japan during the late 1800s; his brother Shidehara Hiroshi was sometime president of Taihoku Imperial University, now National Taiwan University.
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