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OKUMA (SHIGENOBU), COUNT

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V20, Page 62 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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OKUMA (SHIGENOBU), COUNT (1838- ); Japanese states-man, was born in the province of Hizen in 1838. His father was an officer in the artillery, and during his early years his education consisted mainly of the study of Chinese literature. Happily for him, however, he was able to acquire in his youth a knowledge of English and Dutch, and by the help of some missionaries he succeeded in obtaining books in those languages on both scientific and political subjects. These works effected a complete revolution in his mind. He had been designed by his parents for the military profession, but the new light which now broke in upon him determined him to devote his entire energies to the abolition of the existing feudal system and to the establishment of a constitutional government. With impetuous zeal he urged his views on his countrymen, and though he took no active part in the revolution of 1868, the effect of his opinions exercised no slight weight in the struggle. Already he was a marked man, and no sooner was the government reorganized, with the mikado as the sole wielder of power, than he was appointed chief assistant in the department of foreign affairs. In 1869 he succeeded to the post of secretary of the joint departments of the interior and of finance, and for the next fourteen years he devoted himself wholly to politics. In 187o he was made a councillor of state, and a few months later he accepted the office of president of the commission which represented the Japanese government at the Vienna Exhibition. In 1872 he was again appointed minister of finance, and when the expedition under General Saigo was sent to Formosa (1874) to chastise the natives of that island for the murder of some shipwrecked fishermen, he was nominated president of the commission appointed to supervise the campaign. By one of those waves of popular feeling to which the Japanese people are peculiarly liable, the nation which had supported him up to a certain point suddenly veered round and opposed him with heated violence. So strong was the feeling against him that on one occasion a would-be assassin threw at him a dynamite shell, which blew off one of his legs. During the whole of his public life he recognized the necessity of promoting education. When he resigned office in the early 'eighties he established the Semmon Gako, or school for special studies, at the cost of the 30,000 yen which had been voted him when he received the title of count, and subsequently he was instrumental in founding other schools and colleges. In 1896 he joined the Matsukata cabinet, and resigned in the following year in consequence of intrigues which produced an estrangement between him and the prime minister. On the retirement of Marquis Ito in 1898 he again took office, combining the duties of premier with those of minister of foreign affairs. But dissensions having arisen in the cabinet, he resigned a few months later, and retired into private life, cultivating his beautiful garden at Waseda near Tokyo.
End of Article: OKUMA (SHIGENOBU), COUNT
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