One of the greatest statesmen of the Meiji era and chief founder of the modern Japanese army, he also served twice as prime minister.
Yamagata Aritomo was one of the Choshu samurai supporing the Meiji Restoration.
He was originally one of those samurai whose slogan was "Sonno joi" (尊皇攘夷 or "Revere the emperor, expel the barbarians"). However, he realised that Japan needed to adopt Western technlogies after Western ships bombarded Choshu in 1864.
After the Meiji Restoration, He went to study military science in Europe, and was strongly impressed by the Prussian model (no wonder as it was just as Prussia defeated France and created the 2nd Reich).
He returned to Japan in 1870 and served as War Minister and commanding 10,000 troops. He introduced conscription, bringing the samurai priviledge to bear weapons to an end. His forces defeated Saigo Takamori's rebellion in 1877.
Yamagata was politically conservative and favoured an authoritarian government at home and military expansions in Asia. He played a major role in the military control of Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria, and sent the largest of all foreign forces to China to quell the 1900-01 Boxer Rebellion.
In 1900, Yamagata used his power as prime minister to rule that only an active military officer could serve as war or navy minister, giving de facto control to the army over the cabinet, which later led to militarism and ultimately WWII.
Yamagata Aritomo opposed Ito Hirobumi at the government from 1900 to Ito's death 1909. Yamagata's protege, Katsura Taro, served three times as prime minister for a total of almost 12 years, making him the longest serving PM in Japan's history.
Yamagata remained a strong influence behind the government in his position of genro (元老 or "elderly statesman") until his death at 84 years old.
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