Senior Statesmens Conference (重臣会議)

Senior statesmen's conferences, which took over the official duties of genro (retired elder Japanese statesmen), were held during the Showa period in the form of responding to the Emperor's request for advice regarding the selection of a succeeding Prime Minister and the nation's important issues. The meeting members consisted of former Prime Ministers and the Chairmen of the Privy Council of Japan. The meetings were held frequently until the end of the Pacific War.

History

Since the Meiji period, a Prime Minister had been selected by genro, but Kinmochi SAIONJI became the only remaining genro at the end of the Taisho period. SAIONJI chose not to give his consent to add a new genro, (even though some, such as Gonbe YAMAMOTO, had been nominated) because he was trying to abolish the old genro system; however, it became an impossible task for him to select a successor on his own, because of the party cabinet's collapse and the military emergence resulting from the May 15th Incident as well as his own aging. It was for this reason that in 1933 the "senior statesmen" system was established to help SAIONJI, and that former prime ministers and the Chairman of the Privy Council, together with genro SAIONJI, started to hold a meeting to plan the selection of a successor (Genro had heard the opinions of former Prime Ministers after the May 15th Incident upon recommending a succeeding prime minister to the Emperor, but that had not been established as an official procedure then.).

However, a conference was not held, when the entire OKADA Cabinet resigned because of the February 26th Incident, and had remained so until the inauguration of the ABE Cabinet. At the inauguration of the YONAI Cabinet, a naidaijin (minister of the center) had collected the opinions of some senior statesmen, and after the resignation of the entire YONAI Cabinet, the senior statesmen's conferences resumed.

In November 1940, after the death of SAIONJI, the form of the conferences was transformed in such a way that a naidaijin convened a meeting and inquired senior statesmen about the selection of a succeeding Prime Minister. This form of the conferences was continued until the inauguration of the Kantaro SUZUKI Cabinet in April 1945. On August 15th of the same year, at the time of the entire SUZUKI Cabinet resignation, a senior statesmen's conference was not held because it was considered an emergency, and it is assumed the occupation by the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers (GHQ) ceased the authority of senior statesmen's conferences.

The List of Attendees for the Senior Statesmen's Conferences for Recommending the Next Prime Ministers to the Emperor

In July 1934, Makoto SAITO, Keigo KIYOURA, Reijiro WAKATSUKI, Korekiyo TAKAHASHI, Kitokuro ICHIKI (Chairman of the Privy Council), Nobuaki MAKINO (naidaijin), and Kinmochi SAIONJI (genro)
- recommended Keisuke OKADA.
In July 1940, WAKATSUKI, OKADA, Koki HIROTA, Senjuro HAYASHI, Kiichiro HIRANUMA, Fumimaro KONOE, Yoshimichi HARA (Chairman of the Privy Council), and Koichi KIDO (naidaijin)
- recommended Fumimaro KONOE.
In July 1941, WAKATSUKI, OKADA, HIROTA, Nobuyuki ABE, Mitsumasa YONAI, HARA (Chairman of the Privy Council), and KIDO (naidaijin)
- recommended Fumimaro KONOE.
In October 1941, KIYOURA, WAKATSUKI, OKADA, HIROTA, HAYASHI, ABE, YONAI, HARA (Chairman of the Privy Council), and KIDO (naidaijin)
- recommended Hideki TOJO.
In July 1944, WAKATSUKI, OKADA, HIROTA, KONOE, ABE, YONAI, HARA (Chairman of the Privy Council), KIDO (naidaijin), and Saburo HYAKUTAKE (Grand Chamberlain)
- recommended Kuniaki KOISO.
In April 1945, WAKATSUKI, OKADA, HIROTA, KONOE, HIRANUMA, TOJO, Kantaro SUZUKI(Chairman of the Privy Council), and KIDO (naidaijin)
- recommended Kantaro SUZUKI.

Additional Facts

When the senior statesmen system was first introduced, a senior statesman was defined as 'persons who had been granted the privileges of his former post as Prime Minister as well as the Chairman of the Privy Council'; however, in1940 the definition was revised to simply 'former Prime Ministers and the Chairman of the Privy Council.'
A Prime Minister was required to hold his post for a certain period of time to be granted the privileges later, and it is assumed that the definition was revised in consideration of the army because the two Prime Ministers, Senjuro HAYASHI and Nobuyuki ABE from the army, had not satisfied the condition (The system that existed in those days in which a person who had for a certain period of time occupied an important post such as a Prime Minister or a Minister of State was granted the same privileges as an incumbent was called "zenkan reigu".).

In addition to the official senior statesmen's conferences, the members were often engaged in political activity as a senior statesmen's group. For example, Keisuke OKADA played a key role in the fall of the TOJO Cabinet.

Also, the senior statesmen had opportunities to give their opinions to the Emperor and the Prime Ministers. It was one of such opportunities when Fumimaro KONOE reported to the Emperor his famous 'KONOE Joso-bun' (KONOE 's address to the throne).

Makoto SAITO in 1934 presents the only case in which a resigning Prime Minister attended a senior statesman conference.
In the cases of Mitsumasa YONAI and Hideki TOJO, it was pointless for them to attend a conference when their own policy lines had been rejected and therefore they were resigning, but at the time of the entire third KONOE Cabinet resignation, when Fumimaro KONOE did not attend a conference because of illness, he drew a lot of criticism that said, 'Is he in a worse condition than 91-year-old Keigo KIYOURA?'