Okuma Shigenobu is part of the generation of statesmen of the Meiji Restoration.
Contrarily to most other important figures, Okuma was neither a samurai, nor from Satsuma or Choshu. He was born in the province of Hizen (now Saga prefecture) and was more of a scholar than soldier. Okuma served twice as prime minister and is the founder of Waseda university.
In his youth, he learnt Chinese literature and managed to acquire some English and Dutch through foreign missionaries.
Although his father was a soldier and wanted him to start a career in the military, Okuma directed himself into politics and vowed to abolish the feudal system.
In 1869, he became finance minister under Meiji. In 1876, he converted all samurai stipends into a lump sum payment, which brought great financial relief to the young Meiji state.
By 1881, Okuma was the only oligrach capable of opposing Ito Hirobumi, and embarassed his clique by denoucing his fraudulent scheme to sell government assets in Hokkaido.
The same year, Okuma also urged the government to establish a parliament. In 1882, he founded the Kaishintō (a forerunner of the Minseitō). Okuma's popularity and credibilty declined when his connection with the Mitsubishi zaibatsu was revealed.
During his term as foreign minister (1888-89), Okuma tried to revise the unequal treaties between Japan and Western powers, but as he was trying to find a compromise, a terrorist bomb attack cost Okuma one of his leg.
He finally managed to revise the unequal treaties during his second term as foreign minister (1896-97).
He merged his party with that of Itagaku Taisuke in 1898, and briefly served as prime minister. His second term 16 years later saw Japan entering WWI and imposing the Twenty-one Demands to China.
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