Ito, Hirobumi [key], 1841–1909, Japanese statesman, the outstanding figure in the modernization of Japan. As a young Choshu samurai, he was a xenophobe. In 1863 he visited Europe, studied science in England, and became convinced of the necessity of adopting Western ways. After the Meiji restoration, Ito served in the ministries of foreign affairs, finance, and industry. He was a member of the mission sent abroad (1871) under Prince Iwakura to revise the unequal treaties with the Western powers and study Western technology. In 1873, Ito became a member of the ruling council and worked to modernize Japan and solidify the power of the oligarchs. By 1881 he forced Shigenobu Okuma to resign and thus became the foremost political power in Japan. In 1882 he headed the mission sent abroad to study foreign governments. Returning, he established a cabinet and civil service (1885) and a privy council (1888), which he headed. He supervised (1883–89) the drafting of the constitution of 1889 and was intimate adviser to the emperor. In 1885 he negotiated the Li-Ito Convention, which postponed war with China over Korea. As prime minister (1892–96) he supported the Sino-Japanese War and negotiated the Treaty of Shimonoseki. After the war he became a supporter of party government, opposing Prince Yamagata. He was the first president of the Seiyukai party. Again prime minister (1898, 1900–1901), he tried to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Russia, but, failing, was forced to increase military appropriations. From 1901 to 1913 the premiership alternated between his protégé, Kimmochi Saionji, and Taro Katsura, a follower of Yamagata. In 1905, Ito forced an agreement making Korea a virtual protectorate of Japan and became (1906) resident general there. His assassination by a Korean in 1909 served as a pretext for annexation of Korea.
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