Goken Undo (Constitution protection movement) (護憲運動)

Goken Undo refers to movement initiated during the Taisho Period by Kokumin (the people) and political parties to protect constitutional government. It is also called Kensei Yogo Undo (campaign for defending constitutionalism).

For the first Kensei Yogo Undo, see also the Taisho Coup.

The background of the first Kensei Yogo Undo and the prologue to it

Through the Meiji Period to the Taisho Period, the Japanese government was dominated by nine influential figures called Genro (elder statesmen).
These nine - Aritomo YAMAGATA, Kaoru INOUE, Masayoshi MATSUKATA, Tsugumichi SAIGO, Iwao OYAMA, Kinmochi SAIONJI, Taro KATSURA, Kiyotaka KURODA and Hirobumi ITO - were the people who made a major contribution in the anti-shogunate movement at the end of the Edo Period
Out of these nine, eight hailed from the domains of Satsuma and Choshu. Although there was no legal provisions to stipulate it, these nine people had the authority to name a Prime Minister in accordance with the Constitution of the Empire of Japan and they had developed the so-called Han-batsu Seiji (government dominated by cliques from the major han).

As the Meiji Period came to a close and the new Taisho Period began, the Japanese people came to have a strong desire for a more democratic government based on the constitutionalism and became critical of the Han-batsu Seiji. Amid this, in December 1912, Yusaku UEHARA, Minister of Army in the second cabinet of Kinmochi SAIONJI proposed to increase two divisions of army. SAIONJI, however, refused to agree to this on the grounds that the nation was in serious financial straits because of the Japanese-Russo War that just ended. Following this, UEHARA unilaterally resigned as Ministry of Army. Because of the rule that the Minister of Army must be served by military men on active duty, the SAIONJI Cabinet, unable to appoint an eligible successor, had no choice but to resign en block.

The succeeding cabinet was formed by Army General, Taro KATSURA and it was his third cabinet.
The people, however, considered that KATSURA's intention was to expand armaments, following the advice of Aritomo YAMAGATA, and this provoked an angry response towards the Hanbatsu Seiji from the people who wished for constitutional government, which led to the first campaign for defending constitutionalism under the slogan 'Down with cliques from the major hans and protect constitutional government.'

The first Kensei Yogo Undo

Opposing the movement by KATSURA's cabinet, Yukio OZAKI of the Rikken Seiyukai Party (Friends of Constitutional Government Party) and Tsuyoshi INUKAI of the Rikken Kokumin-to Party (Constitutional Nationalist Party) cooperated with each other to form the Kensei Yogokai

On February 5, 1913, during the session of the Diet, the Seiyukai Party and the Kokumin-to Party jointly moved a vote of non-confidence against the KATSURA cabinet
Yukio OZAKI explained the reason why they submitted a non-confidence motion as follows:

To avoid confronting the vote of non-confidence, KATSURA resorted to a desperate measure of suspending the Diet for five days. The news of the suspension of the Diet angered the people and some angry citizens went so far as to assault Diet members who had supported KATSURA. KATSURA, however, counterattacked. Using an imperial edict as an excuse, he pressured Yukio OZAKI and his allies to withdraw the vote of non-confidence. OZAKI had no choice but to accept this.

February 10
The Diet was supposed to reconvene on the day. Radical factions of the Kensei Yogo Group, however, held rallies in the Ueno Onshi Koen Park and on the streets in Kanda to bluntly criticize the KATSURA cabinet, and this event caused some of the citizens excited by the speeches at the rallies to throng to the Diet building. Under the circumstances, KATSURA, with an attempt to undermine the capability of the Seiyukai Party and the Kokumin-to Party, tried to respond to the incident by dissolving the Diet and calling a general election with the government's interference. However, being met with strong opposition from Ikuzo OOKA, the chairman of the House of Representatives, KATSURA was not able to dissolve the Diet and all he was able to do was to order the suspension of the Diet for another three days.

On the other hand, the people, outraged by KATSURA's indecisive attitude, raided the Kokumin Newspaper company building and police stations. The Kensei Yogo Undo expanded from Tokyo to other parts of the nation including the Kansai area, where newspaper companies and houses of progovernment members of the Diet were also attacked, and developed into a series of anti-KATSURA cabinet riots all over the country. With the wake of these riots, on February 11, the KATSURA cabinet had no choice but to resign en bloc.

The significance of the first Kensei Yogo Undo

During the period governed by the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, this was the only time that a cabinet was brought down by a popular movement. It is why the incident is called the Taisho Coup and the coup demonstrated the stalemate of the Han-batsu seiji as well as the swell of the popular movement calling for more democratic politics.

The KATSURA cabinet was succeeded by the cabinet of Gombei YAMAMOTO, a full Admiral from Satsuma domain (the first YAMAMOTO cabinet). With an attempt to avoid repeating KATSURA's folly, YAMAMOTO made concessions to political parties by easing the Military ministers to be officers on active-duty rule (the rule stipulated that only generals and lieutenant generals on the active could serve as ministers of the army and navy, however, in order to increase the political parties' influence over the military, Yamamoto opened these ministerial posts to military men on reserve duty and those on the second reserve duty as well. By adopting a policy of reconciliation towards the people in this way, YAMAMOTO intended to stabilize the political situation). Judging from this attitude of the succeeding cabinet, it is clear that the first Kensei Yogo Undo played a significant role.

The background of the second Kensei Yogo Undo and the prologue to it

The government based on political parties led by Takashi HARA and Korekiyo TAKAHASHI had a very short life of less than four years. By the time, the people's movement calling for universal suffrage gained momentum day by day.

Against such background, on December 27, 1923, an attempted assassination occurred where Prince Hirohito (who later became Emperor Showa) was sniped by a young man, Daisuke NANBA, a self-proclaimed communist, when the Prince was on his way to open the new Imperial Diet session, but fortunately he was unhurt (the Toranomon Incident). This incident, however, forced the second cabinet of Gonbei YAMAMOTO to take the responsibility and resign en bloc, and subsequently Keigo KIYOURA, Chairman of the Privy Council received an Imperial command to form a new cabinet. In fact, the ministerial positions in the KIYOURA cabinet, except for Prime Minister and Army, Navy and Foreign Minister, were dominated by members of Kizokuin (the House of Peers) and therefore the cabinet was a Chozen Naikaku (transcendental cabinet) that remained aloof from party politics.

By that time, the voices of the people calling for the revival of party politics and universal suffrage were growing bigger and bigger with each passing day, which again generated Kensei Yogo Undo among the people. This is the so-called second Kensei Yogo Undo. Unlike the first Kensei Yogo Undo, the second campaign was lacking in enthusiasm, involving no riots. Some say that this was because in the first place, the KIYOURA cabinet had a role as a caretaker cabinet to administer the general election planned on May 10 next year and to serve for a limited period of time, so people thought it was only natural that such a short-term cabinet was dominated by members of House of Peers who were less political in order to keep the cabinet neutral. In fact the second Kensei Yogo Undo was mainly spearheaded by Takaaki KATO of the Kenseikai Political Party and Tsuyoshi INUKAI of the Kakushin Kurabu Party who jointed forces to bring down the KIYOURA cabinet by openly criticizing it, which was overly low-profile campaign compared to the first Kensei Yogo Undo.

The second Kensei Yogo Undo (the second campaign for defending constitutionalism)

On January 15, 1924, in responding to a call from KATO and INUKAI, Korekiyo TAKAHASHI, the president of the Rikken Seiyukai Party determined to join them in their efforts to overthrow the KIYOURA cabinet. In those days Seiyukai Party was the leading party in the House of Representatives, holding 278 seats, and TAKAHASHI was among supporters of the KIYOURA cabinet at first. However, TAKAHASHI rather supported the cabinet because he thought the KIYOURA cabinet was believed to be in power for only a limited period of time and feared that if the incumbent cabinet lost support in the House of Representatives, it might increase risks of radicalists including socialists gaining momentum. The fact was that TAKAHASHI was not supportive of the KIYOURA cabinet at heart.

However, Takejiro TOKONAMI who opposed the idea of bringing down the KIYOURA cabinet in collusion with Tsuyoshi INUKAI and his allies left the Seiyukai Party together with 148 other anti-Seiyukai members and formed the Seiyu Honto Party. Since the member of the Seiyu Honto Party (148 people) outnumbered 130 members who remained with the Seiyukai Party, the Seiyu Honto Party became the dominant party in the House of Representatives and continued to support the KIYOURA cabinet. Thereby the Seiyukai Party lost its leadership in the campaign to oust the KIYOURA cabinet.

On January 18, in the same year, with the assistance of Goro MIURA, Takaaki KATO, Korekiyo TAKAHASHI and Tsuyoshi INUKAI gathered at the house of MIURA and, through discussion, agreed to jointly form the Goken Sanpa (three groups supporting the constitution) and to work together towards the common goal of bringing down the KIYOURA cabinet and establishing a cabinet based on political parties, adhering to the basic principle of constitutionalism.

The members of the Goken Sanpa led by KATO and others organized a vigorous campaign to gather popular support by addressing to the public at rallies they held in the Kansai Region to call for a constitutional government. In addition, the fact that KIYOURA gave 3 out of 10 ministerial positions to the members of the House of Peers who belonged to the same faction as KIYOURA used to belong to, namely the Kenkyukai (Study Association) also triggered mounting criticism from among other political groups too. Due to these series of anti-cabinet movement, on January 31, the KIYOURA cabinet without waiting till the end of its term, dissolved the Diet and attempted to bring about a solution by calling a general election. This movement of the KIYOURA cabinet was seen by the people as going beyond its original role of the caretaker government and demonstrating its true intention of extending its own life with the support of the Kenkyukai and Kenseikai Party, and hardened the people's heart against the cabinet. This is why the dissolution of the Diet came to be called 'the Disciplinary Dissolution' or 'the KIYOURA Coup'. In addition, the Great Kanto Earthquake in the previous year had damaged the electoral register and therefore the election was postponed till May 10, which was the original date of the expiration of the cabinet's term. During the period leading up to the election the KIYOURA cabinet occasionally attempted to disrupt the election campaign of the Goken Sanpa, which enraged the people of all social classes.

As a result of the 15th general election of the House of Representatives on May 10, 286 candidates were elected to the House from the Goken Sanpa (151 from the Kenseikai Party, 105 from the Seiyukai Party and 30 from the Kakusin Kurabu.)
On the other hand, the Seiyu Honto Party that supported the KIYOURA cabinet only won 109 seats, which meant a landslide victory of the Goken Sanpa
In June, the KIYOURA cabinet was brought down at last and Takaaki Kato, the leader of the leading party received a mandate to form a new cabinet. KATO formed a coalition cabinet of the Goken Sanpa, inviting two members from the Seiyukai Party and one member from the Kakusin Kurabu to participate in the cabinet. A party cabinet revived for the first time after the three non-party cabinets.

The significance of the second Kensei Yogo Undo

The second Kensei Yogo Undo was not a popular movement but was rather spearheaded by political parties and the scale of the campaign was far too modest compared to that of the first Kensei Yogo Undo.
Tatsukichi MINOBE, an advocate of the emperor-as-organ theory, however, valued the second Kensei Yogo Undo highly, and commented 'you feel as though you were finally beginning to see a shaft of sunlight after the long rainy season.'

The KATO cabinet embarked on a wide range of reforms that included; the elimination of four army divisions and thereby the cut in the military budget by 100 million yen, the House of Peers reform involving the reduction of the count, viscount and baron members, among titled members, to 150, the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union based on the so-called Shidehara diplomacy by Kijuro SHIDEHARA, the enactment of the Universal Manhood Suffrage Law. In this way, it was true that the KATO cabinet implemented many policies that were truly beneficial to the Japanese people.

However, the Peace Preservation Law, which was enacted at the same time, was criticized as a 'bad law.'
Although Yukio OZAKI, Yoshichika TOKUGAWA (a son of Yoshinaga TOKUGAWA) opposed the enactment of the Peace Preservation Law to the end, finally, the law was enacted. The Peace Preservation Law later became known to be one of bad laws enacted in the prewar period, however, it is rather ironic that such a bad law was made during the term of a cabinet established through campaign for protecting constitutionalism.