Osaka Conference (大阪会議)

The Osaka Conference is a meeting which took place in Osaka Prefecture on February 11, 1875 and where the dignitaries of the Meiji government, Toshimichi OKUBO, Takayoshi KIDO and Taisuke ITAGAKI, got together to discuss the government's prospective policy (the establishment of constitutional government) and the appointment of Sangi (councillors). It can be interpreted to include one-to-one talks that had been held in the previous month as preliminary negotiations.

Background of the Conference
The political upheaval of 1873 caused by the Seikanron (subjugation of Korea) debate brought in a schism between government leaders. As a result the advocates of the Seikanron, including Sangi Takamori SAIGO, Shinpei ETO and Taisuke ITAGAKI, resigned to leave the government. The rest of the leaders established the Naimusho (Japan's Ministry of the Interior) under Okubo's initiative to readjust the makeshift and chaotic political reforms thus far made. Under Okubo's leadership, Okubo, Tomomi IWAKURA, Shigenobu OKUMA and Hirobumi ITO reorganized the government, but immediately after that, they clashed over the issue of the Taiwan expedition; eventually, Takayoshi KIDO, the leader of the Choshu faction, resigned from the office and thus Okubo's despotic regime virtually came into being.

Discontent with the radical reforms made by the Okubo government manifested itself all over the country: the Saga War broke out and warriors rose in revolt across the country; in Kagoshima Prefecture, the Shigakko (school mainly for warriors) party controlled the municipal government as they pleased; and Itagaki and his colleagues formed the Aikokukoto party to initiate the Jiyu Minken Undo (Movement for Liberty and People's Rights). Thus, political unrest engulfed the country. In such a situation Iwakura was attacked by Kumakichi TAKECHI and other discontent warriors from the former regime at Kuichigaizaka, Akasaka (Minato Ward, Tokyo Prefecture) (which is called the Kuichigai Incident). Moreover, Hisamitsu SHIMAZU, who had assumed the office of the Minister of the Left, submitted a petition against the radical reforms led by Okubo. It brought dissension in the government, which caused entanglement of the political situation. The land-tax reform to provide the financial basis for the political reforms had made little progress; hence, Okubo gradually became anxious.

Kaoru INOUE, who had left the government to start a business in Osaka at the time, was concerned about this situation, and with the recognition of the necessity of cooperation between Okubo, Kido and Itagaki to break the political chaos, he attempted to mediate between them with his sworn friend, Hirobumi ITO. Having felt the need to join efforts with Kido, Okubo accepted their mediation. He asked Ito to set up a meeting with Kido and went to Osaka by himself. In December 1874, Inoue invited Kido, who had returned to Yamaguchi Prefecture, to Osaka. Also he asked Nobuo KOMURO and Shigeru FURUSAWA, democratic activists, to invite Itagaki from Tokyo. Thus, Okubo, Kido and Itagaki gathered in Osaka to have a three-way meeting mediated by Inoue and Ito.

One-to-one Negotiations and Expectations of each
Having arrived at Osaka, Kido and Itagaki had their first talk in the presence of Inoue, Komuro and Furusawa on January 22, 1875, where they discussed the establishment of 'Minsen Giin' (an Elected Assembly). On January 29 Kido and Okubo had a meeting where the former's return to the government was determined. As described above, at the beginning Okubo and Itagaki did not meet directly, which suggests that each of the three had his own anticipation. This suggests that each of the three had his own agendas.

Okubo took it as a good opportunity to restore Kido to the government for the purpose to alleviate the criticisms against his political supremacy, and so he agreed to meet Kido; however, he did not consider it necessary to bring Itagaki back to the government, so he did not meet him at the beginning.

Kido was planning to ally himself with Itagaki at the three-way meeting to restrain Okubo's arbitrariness and also intended to regain his voice; therefore he was anxious to return to the government together with Itagaki.

Itagaki was seeking to use Kido to persuade Okubo into implementing parliamentary government at the meeting. His plan was to explain the need to immediately establish a parliament to Kido, who by nature had enlightened ideas and was proactively supportive of the implementation of a parliamentary system, aiming to use Kido to convince Okubo to adopt a constitutional system as the government's policy.

Initially, Okubo was not enthusiastic about the introduction of a parliamentary system (such as constitutional or party government).

For he assumed the following.

First, in order to establish a basic legal system and increase national power to resist the pressures of the Western powers, the existent system was more practical as it would enable them to consolidate the powers of Satsuma and Choshu factions to carry out consistent policies under the authority of the emperor.

Secondly, "the premature implementation of party government would involve a risk of 'political confusion caused by divisions between small parties,'" if Japan's then situation, in which many unemployed warriors took emotional rather than ideological action under the banner of "the Movement for Liberty and People's Rights," were taken into account.

Nevertheless, he was moved by Kido's s persuasion and also thought that "instead of leaving Itagaki outside the government to let him join radical groups, he should keep him inside in order to sever the anti-government movement," and thus he took a softer line.

The Osaka Conference and the Formation of a New System
Itagaki, feeling hopeful at the news of the change of Okubo's attitude, turned cooperative when his requests for the establishment of constitutional government and a bicameral system as well as for separation of powers were all accepted. The expectations of the three finally came into alignment after they reached a compromise over the issue of government appointments, including the matter of Kido's return to the government, which Okubo desired. On February 11, Kido formally invited Okubo and Itagaki (Inoue and Ito who were also present) to 'Kagai,' a Japanese restaurant in Kitahama, to hold the three-way meeting.
This meeting is known as 'the Osaka Conference.'
On this occasion, however, they did not discuss politics but only enjoyed dinner and pleasant talks (according to "Hokobiroi" and other sources). Pleased that they had reached an agreement after all the discussions they had had over a month, Kido suggested that the restaurant's name be renamed 'Kagairo,' and he calligraphed the name on its signboard by himself.

The proposition for political reforms which had been agreed on by the three was immediately submitted to Sanetomi SANJO, the Dajo Daijin (Grand Minister), and the comeback of Kido and Itagaki as Sangi was scheduled in March. Based on the agreement, the Emperor Meiji issued 'an imperial edict on constitutional government' on April 14 to declare that 'Genroin' (a Senate in Japan), 'Daishin-in' (a predecessor of the Supreme Court of Japan) and 'Chihokan Kaigi' (an Assembly of Prefectural Governors) should be established with a view to the gradual formation of constitutional government. On the other hand, Itagaki's assumption of office as Sangi caused the movement of the formation of Aikokusha (literally, the Society of Patriots) to fail, so he was severely criticized by the Jiyu Minken fraction for his betrayal and pressed to offer vindication.

Collapse of the Osaka Conference System
Thus, the new system had been established only after considerable difficulty, but it was not long before Kido and Itagaki clashed over the issue of the power of the Assembly of Prefectural Governors. In the end, they fell into open conflict over the issue of separating the Councillors from the Ministers. Discord over how to handle the Ganghwa Island incident, which had just taken place, worsened the situation, and finally Itagaki resigned from the office of Sangi. It was only six months after its establishment that the Osaka Conference system collapsed. Kido, who had joined the cabinet with Itagaki, inevitably lost his influence, and in addition his chronic illness, which had aggravated around this time, hindered his political activities; thus his position in the government also went down.

The Minister of the Left, Hisamitsu SHIMAZU, who had shown an attitude to cooperate with Itagaki at a time, also resigned; consequently the old regime led by Iwakura and Okubo was restored. The new system determined at the Osaka Conference completely broke down. As a result, Okubo's former despotic system was revived in a more powerful form. However, it can be said that the conference was of some significance in that it helped indicate the future direction of constitutional and parliamentary government.