Terauchi Masatake was the 18th Prime Minister of Japan, serving at the height of World War I, from October 9, 1916 to September 29, 1918. Terauchi is also highly notable as the first Governor-General of Korea following Japanese annexation. Among the popular press, Terauchi was nicknamed "Billiken" for his astonishing resemblance (particularly in the egg-like shape of his head) to the mongoloid Billiken dolls invented by American schoolteacher Florence Pretz in 1908.
Terauchi was born in 1852 to a low-ranking samurai family in Choshu domain at the western edge of Japan. Choshu wound up being one of the domains which overthrew the Tokugawa Shogunate and established the modern Japanese nation-state. Terauchi first served as a solider in the Boshin War of 1868, fighting as a samurai for Choshu against the forces of the Shogunate. He then joined the newly formed Imperial Japanese Army as an officer, later fighting in the Satsuma Rebellion where he was wounded and lost his right hand.
The architect of the modern Japanese army (and one of the key architects of the Meiji state as a whole) was Yamagata Aritomo, who was also a Choshu samurai, and he gave unfair preference to his fellow samurai from Choshu, creating the "Choshu clique" within the Japanese army and government that assured rapid advancement for young soldiers like Terauchi.
Terauchi was quickly promoted up through the ranks until he was named the first Inspector General of Military Education in 1898, a powerful position from which he could influence Japanese military doctrines. He then served as Army Minister during the first administration of Katsura Taro, and had the great fortune to be in this post when the Japanese won a great victory over the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War. Terauchi was showered with praise and elevated to the nobility.
At the behest of Yamagata, who wanted a loyal man in charge of Korea, Terauchi was appointed Resident-General of Korea in 1909 following the assassination of Ito Hirobumi. Terauchi then oversaw the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910, and stayed on as the first Governor-General, instituting major educational and land reforms.
Finally, Terauchi was called back to Japan and installed as prime minister in 1916 when the Meiji genro became disillusioned by party government in the wake of the Ōura bribery scandal and the mass resignation of the Okuma Shigenobu cabinet. An avid expansionist, Terauchi pushed an aggressive foreign policy during his administration, seizing German possessions in the South Pacific, deploying the Japanese navy to the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean in support of Japan's British allies, and launching the sizable Japanese invasion of Siberia in 1918, although it is unclear to what extent these policies were Terauchi's own ideas or merely the policies of Yamagata orchestrating decisions from behind the scenes.
Terauchi's administration came to an abrupt end in the fall of 1918 when a bad harvest led to massive Rice Riots across Japan, and he was forced to step down. He died a few months later, but had risen from humble origins to become one of the major political and military figures of his age, just one rank below the genro themselves.
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