Saionji Kimmochi was born in the illustrious Fujiwara family and raised in Kyōto as a court noble. That didn't prevent him from fighting against the Tokugawa forces during the Bakumatsu.
After the Meiji Restoration, Saionji founded the Ritsumeikan University (1871), then spent the following 10 years in France (1871-1880) to learn about Western political systems. Returning to Japan, he join the Privy Council.
He was sent on various diplomatic mission to Europe and served as ambassador to the austro-Hungarian Empire, then Germany. He was appointed minister of education after coming back to Japan in 1896.
As Ito Hirobumi's protege, he served twice as prime minister, in alternance with Yamagata Aritomo's protege, Katsura Taro . Saionji opposed military expenses so dear to Yamagata and Katsura.
He was president of the Privy Council from 1900 to 1903, then succeeded Ito at the head of the Seiyukai party. He subsequently served twice as prime minister, before retiring from politics - even refusing to form a cabinet in 1918. He nevertheless headed the Japanese delegation at the Peace Conference in Paris in 1919.
Prince Saionji became one of the last genro (elderly statesmen), along with Matsukata Masayoshi, and continued to influence Japanese politics until his death in 1940.
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