genro gĕn´rō´ [key] [ Jap.,=elder statesmen], a group that exercised collective leadership in Japan from the end of the Meiji period until c.1932. After the Meiji restoration (1868), Westernizers from the former Choshu and Satsuma domains came to power, abolishing feudalism and modernizing society. Weakened in number by death and political disagreement, surviving members of this oligarchy (among them Hirobumi Ito, Aritomo Yamagata, Kaoru Inouye, and Masayoshi Matsukata) consolidated power (1881) and established a cabinet form of government (1885). They drafted the Constitution of 1889, creating a diet (1890) to check the cabinet, but making selection of the prime ministers an imperial prerogative. In practice, the oligarchs selected the prime ministers and made many decisions that were constitutionally reserved for the emperor. The term genro, or elder statesmen, came into use in this period. For two decades this small group provided stable leadership, ruling actively as premiers and cabinet ministers until 1901, when they relinquished the premiership to protégés. The political crisis of 1912 over the selection of Taro Katsura as premier was a severe challenge to their authority. Retiring further into the background, the remaining genro in 1918 asked Takashi Hara, the Seiyukai party leader, to form the first party cabinet. Kimmochi Saionji, who survived as the last genro from 1924 until his death in 1940, continued to select premiers until 1932 when this power passed to a new group consisting of former prime ministers and court officials.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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