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In this Japanese name, the family name is Hara.
Hara Takashi

In office
29 September 1918 – 4 November 1921
Monarch Taishō
Preceded by Masatake Terauchi
Succeeded by Kosai Uchida (Acting)

Born 9 February 1856(1856-02-09)
Morioka, Tokugawa
Died 4 November 1921 (aged 65)
Tokyo, Japan
Political party Friends of Constitutional Government
Alma mater Imperial University (Incomplete)
Religion Roman Catholicism

Hara Takashi (原敬 ?) (9 February 1856–4 November 1921) was a Japanese politician and the 19th Prime Minister of Japan from 29 September 1918 to 4 November 1921. He was also called Hara Kei (or Hara Satoshi) informally. He was the first commoner appointed to the office of prime minister of Japan. His catch phrase as a politician was "commoner and prime minister" (平民宰相 heimin saishō ?).


Early life

Hara was born in a village of the feudal Morioka domain in Mutsu province, (present-day Iwate Prefecture). He was the son of a samurai-class family which had resisted the Meiji Restoration and the establishment of the very government which Hara himself would one day lead. Due to his association with a former enemy clan of the new Imperial Government, which was dominated by the feudal clans of Chōshū and Satsuma, Hara for long remained an outsider in the world of politics.

He left home at the age of 15 and went to Tokyo by boat. He failed the entrance examination of the prestigious Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, and instead joined the Marin Seminary, a French-established, free religious school. It was here that he learned to speak French fluently. Soon after that he joined the law school of the Ministry of Justice(later University of Tokyo), but left without graduating to take responsibility for a student protest against the school’s room and board policy.

At the age of 17 he was baptized as a Roman Catholic, taking the name of ‘David’, and even though was speculated that he became Christian for personal gain at the time, he remained a Christian in public life until the day he died. At the age of 19, Hara broke away from his family's samurai class (士族 shizoku ?) and chose instead the classification of commoner (平民 heimin ?). At various times later in his political career, offers were made to raise his rank, but Hara refused them every time on the basis that it would alienate himself from the common men and limit his ability to gain entrance to the House of Representatives.

In 1879, Hara worked as a newspaper reporter for three years. He quit his job in protest over efforts of his editors to make the newspaper a mouthpiece for the conservative Rikken Kaishinto political party of Okuma Shigenobu.

Government bureaucrat

In 1882, Hara took a position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the request of Foreign Minister Inoue Kaoru. Based on discussions Hara had with him on his views for the future of Japanese politics during a trip both men took to Korea in 1884, Inoue appointed Hara to become consul-general in Tianjin, and the first secretary to the embassy of Japan in Paris. Under Mutsu Munemitsu (1844–1897), Hara served as Vice-minister of Foreign Affairs and as ambassador to Korea. He then left the Foreign Ministry to work as a journalist for several years, and became the manager of a newspaper company, the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun.

Political career

In 1900, Hara returned to politics and joined the new-founded party Rikken Seiyukai that was founded by Ito Hirobumi. Hara became the first secretary-general of the party.

He ran successfully for the lower house as a representative from Iwate Prefecture, and was appointed Minister of Communications in the Fourth Ito Administration. He later served as Home Minister in several cabinets between 1906 and 1913. Hara was also able to effect many reforms from the powerful position of Home Minister. Hara realized that a fundamental political issue in Japan was the tension between the elected government and the appointed bureaucracy, and his career was dedicated to weakening the power of the non-elected bureaucrats. As Home Minister, he systematically dismissed local bureaucrats in local governments in every capacity from Governor down to high school principal. Any public employee who fell under his power, would be replaced by someone in whom he saw real ability instead of a mere useful recipient of a favor. Thus, he created a system in which people with talent could rise to the top of the bureaucracy, regardless of their background or rank. Hara also understood that maintenance of the supremacy of the elected leaders depended on the government’s ability to develop the Japanese national infrastructure and on a long-term economic plan that would address regional as well as national interests.

In 1914, after heated debate, he was appointed the president of the Rikken Seiyukai to replace the outgoing and aging leader Saionji Kinmochi. This period is often called Taishō democracy, which represented the move away from Japan's traditional system of government and toward something that could be called a real parliamentary democracy. Under Hara's leadership, the Rikken Seiyukai gained supporters steadily and in 1917, it became the largest party in the Diet.

Hara held strong views about his opponents, the military powers and politicians who originated from the Kagoshima and Yamaguchi Prefectures, i.e. the former Satsuma and Chōshū clans.

Prime minister

Hara in formal palace coat

In 1918, Terauchi Masatake fell from office due to the Rice Riots of 1918. Hara was appointed as his successor on 28 September 1918. It was the first party administration in Japan and the first cabinet headed by a commoner. More important, this marked the only time in pre-1945 Japan that the post of prime minister was held by an elected member of the legislature who was the leader of the largest party therein, not a grandee, a bureaucrat, or a soldier. Also, Hara was the first civilian in Japanese history to become the administrative chief of any of the armed services, when he temporarily took charge of the Navy Ministry, in absence of the Navy Minister, Admiral Katō Tomosaburō, who was serving as the Japanese representative at the Washington Naval Conference.

As prime minister, Hara suffered in terms of popularity, because he refused to use his majority in the lower house to force through universal suffrage legislation. Hara's cautious approach disappointed liberals and socialists, who accused him of delaying universal suffrage as it would endanger his position in power. As a party politician, Hara had never been the favorite of the conservatives, bureaucrats and military, and he was widely despised by the ultranationalists.

During his term of office, Japan participated in the Paris Peace Conference, and joined the League of Nations as a founding member. In Korea, Japan used military force to suppress the Samil Rebellion, but later began more lenient policies aimed at reducing opposition to Japanese rule.

Particularly following the Samil Uprising, Hara pursued a conciliatory policy towards colonies, particularly Korea. He arranged for his political ally, Makoto Saito, a political moderate, to take over as governor-general of Korea; he instituted a colonial administration consisting mainly of civilians rather than military; and he permitted a degree of cultural freedom, including (for the first time) a school curriculum that featured Korean language and history. He also sought to encourage a limited amount of self-rule in the country - provided that, ultimately, Koreans remained under Japanese imperial control. His overtures, however, won few supporters either among Koreans or Japanese; the former considered them inadequate, the latter considered them excessive.

In 1921, Hara was assassinated (stabbed) by a right-wing railroad switchman Kon'ichi Nakaoka at Tokyo Station. Nakaoka was released only 13 years after committing the murder.

Plaque in Tokyo Station commemorating Hara's assassination

As opposed to many of his contemporaries, Hara lived a relatively simple lifestyle in a rented home near Shiba Park in downtown Tokyo. In his will, he left very few assets behind but among these was his diary. He wrote "After a period of some years my diary must be made public. It is the most valuable of all my possessions, so it must be protected." According to the will it was made public and what came to be called the Hara Diary (原日記 hara nikki ?) turned out to be one of the most valuable first hand accounts of the political scene in that era. Most of his daily activities are written along with opinions and thoughts regarding the political figures of the time. The diary itself is thousands of pages long but reveals, in depth, a broad range of information previously unknown to historians.


  • Najita, Tetsuo: Hara Kei in the Politics of Compromise 1905-1915. Harvard Univ. Press, 1967.
  • Olson, L. A.: Hara Kei – A Political Biography. Ph.D.diss. Harvard University, 1954.
  • Duus, Peter: Party Rivalry and Political Change in Taisho Japan. Cambridge/Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Masatake Terauchi
Prime Minister of Japan
Succeeded by
Kosai Uchida
Preceded by
Tomosaburō Katō
Minister of the Navy

Succeeded by
Kosai Uchida

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