The scandal over the sale of the property owned by the Hokkaido Development Agency (開拓使官有物払下げ事件)

The scandal over the sale of the property owned by the Hokkaido Development Agency was the incident that the decision to sell the property owned by the Agency made by Kiyotaka KURODA, the director of the Hokkaido Development Commission, was cancelled due to the heavy criticism from the public. The incident triggered the Meiji juyonen no seihen (the political changes of 1881), in which Hirofumi ITO removed Shigenobu OKUMA from his government post. Also, the Imperial Edict for Establishing a Diet was issued.

The course of events which happened until the decision to sell the property was made.

The Hokkaido Development Agency was the government office placed from July 1869 to February 1882 in order to develop the northern district of Japan.

KURODA submitted a proposal to the government that Japan should put more effort into the development of Hokkaido to enhance the national strength to oppose Russia. Following the proposal, it was decided to carry out the so-called Kaitakushi Junen Keikaku (Ten-year project to develop Hokkaido), the big-budget project for which the total budget of one thousand ryo was prepared for ten years.

Having invited the hired foreigners, such as American Horace CAPRON and others, KURODA gave political advice and taught new techniques. The ample budget allowed the Hokkaido Development Commissioners to promote various development works. However, the budget was still not enough to complete all projects. They quickly cut short the basic development works such as land surveying and roadworks and put priority on the development of the industries.

In 1881 when the expiration date of the ten-year project was close, the policy to abolish the Hokkaido Development Agency was settled. In order to take over the development businesses undertaken by the Hokkaido Development Agency, KURODA decided to make the government officials who worked under him retire to establish a company and sell the facilities and equipments belonging to the government at a low price.

KURODA claimed that those who once had been government officials should be assigned to the development business because they would not work for themselves. Furthermore, he extremely underpriced the facilities and equipments he tried to sell, on the pretext of loss-making operations of the business. Among the properties to be sold, the ships, the storehouses, the plantations, the coal mining, the beer and sugar factories, etc. were included. The plan was to sell the properties, into which approximately 14,000,000 yen had been invested, at a price of 380,000 yen (yearly installment for thirty years at 0 % interest). Hokkaisya, a company established by Sadanori YASUDA, who was the great secretary of the Hokkaido Development Agency, and other members, conducted the development business such as the factory management. However, due to a lack of financial resources, Kansai-boeki-shokai (a company run by Tomoatsu GODAI, who was from Satsuma just as KURODA) agreed to buy the properties.

The criticism of selling the properties

Some people criticized the sale of the properties even within the government, and especially OKUMA, the previous Minister of the Treasury who made a rule for sales of the properties, strongly opposed it. When the plan of the sales was exposed by a newspaper article in July, OKUMA was suspected of having leaked the secret information. Before the event, Yataro IWASAKI, the founder of the Mitsubishi Co., applied for permission to sell the ship owned by the Hokkaido Development Agency but his request was rejected. Because of this, people thought that Mitsubishi joined hands with OKUMA in the opposition against Satsuma. In addition to that, because some bureaucrats of the Ministry of Finance who had been recruited by OKUMA submitted a request to stop the sale of the properties, it was rumored that OKUMA leaked the information to stop the sale.

Having obtained the Emperor's approval forcibly, KURODA decided to sell the properties. The criticism was increasing. Even the Tokyo Nichinichi Newspaper, famous for blindly praising the policies of the government, criticized the government and the speeches to criticize the government were given in various places.

Conclusion

When the Emperor visited the provinces, OKUMA went together. During OKUMA's absence, ITO and other members decided on a plan to solve the problem. When the Emperor returned to Tokyo on October 11, they asked for the permission for the plan. On the next day, October 12th, they announced the banishment of OKUMA, the Imperial Edict for Establishing a Diet, and the cancelation of the sale, etc. It was a kind of coup d'etat (the Meiji juyonen no seihen [the political changes of 1881]). Later, KURODA also retired from director of the Hokkaido Development Agency and moved to a less important position of a Cabinet advisor.

In the following year, 1882, the Hokkaido Development Agency was abolished. Hokkaido was separated into Hakodate Prefecture, Sapporo Prefecture, and Nemuro Prefecture.