Konoe Atsumaro (近衛篤麿)

Atsumaro KONOE 1863-1904 was a peer and statesman in the late Meiji Period. He called himself Kasumiyama. The Konoe family was the head of Gosekke and the rank was Prince. The seventh president of the Gakushuin School Corporation. His real surname was FUJIWARA.

Background

In June 26, 1863, he was born in Kyoto as the first son of Tadafusa KONOE, Sadaijin (minister of the left) and Sada-hime (Princess Sada) who was a daughter of Nariakira SHIMAZU (actually, she was an adopted daughter). Because his father, Tadafusa died of illness at the age of 35 years old without taking over as head of the family, Atsumaro took over as the head of the family as an adopted child of his grand father, Tadahiro KONOE (according to some historical sources, Atsumaro was the sixth son of Tadahiro). In 1879 he entered a preparatory school of university, but he had to leave the school because he got a disease. After this, besides Chinese and Japanese classics he learned English on his own. In 1884, due to the Peerage Law he was ordained as Prince. In 1885, he went to Germany and France and studied at Bonn University and Leipzig University. In 1890, he returned to Japan and became Kizokuin (the House of Peers in Japan). In 1895, he became president of the Gakushuin School Corporation and put his effort into education for younger people from Peerage families.

He became aware of noble obligation (Noblesse Oblige).

He was a big-hearted person and deeply aware of responsibility for his social status and rank. Referring to noble society in Europe, he believed the peerage including him should play a role as hanpei (guarding wall of the imperial family), because the peerage were on the high ground in society. Therefore as president of the Gakushuin School Corporation, he devoted himself to adjust the institution of the Gakushuin School Corporation as an educational institution and secure a source of revenue. He considered that the young people from the peerage family should be diplomats or enter the navy after their graduation.

Because he espoused aristocratism and thought nobles should lead society, it is said he had a critical attitude to domain cliques. From 1892 to 1904, he kept a critical attitude to the government dominated by domain cliques as a prince-councilor and President of Kizokuin (the House of Peers), he strongly criticized election interference by the first Matsukata cabinet. On the other hand, he criticized other political parties, because political parties acted on the spoils system and became mere cliques.

Activities as a leader of Asianism

About his diplomatic strategy, Atsumaro KONOE weighed heavily on China (Qing at that time). Especially, he actively got involved in international issues related to China after the Sino-Japanese War. In 1891, he became the vice-president of Tohokyokai (a study group of studies on foreign countries). After the Sino-Japanese War, he felt a sense of danger about the strenuous movement of powerful countries in Western Europe to split up China. In 1898, he formed Dobunkai (an association to study about issues related to China), then Dobunkai and Toakai which was formed by Tsuyoshi INUKAI merged and became Toadobunkai (an association of Pan-Asianism) and Atsumaro KONOE became the president. He aimed to bring private association together and unite for a common purpose under the Nationalism and Asianism. Toadobunkai stood on the ground strongly influenced by Asianism, and closely cooperated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the military to protect China, Korea and interests of Japan, then led cultural and political activities related to China including establishment of Nankindobunshoin (a school in Nanjing, later became Toadobunshoin and then Aichi University). On his own accord he approached provincial governors, Kunyi LIU (Viceroy of Liangjiang) and Zhidong ZHANG (Viceroy of Huguang) who had strong power in the Qing dynasty, to propose cooperation between Japan and Ching.

Under the circumstances, in June 1900, Boxer Uprising (the Righteous Harmony Society Movement) were staged centered in North China and Manchuria (present-day north east China) and the Russian Empire occupied Manchuria. KONOE strongly felt a sense of danger about the incident and proposed to take a hard-line stance against Russia and consulted with Hirobumi ITO, former Genro (elder statesman) and Aritomo YAMAGATA but they didn't accept his opinion. Then KONOE brought INUKAI, Katunan KUGA, Mitsuru TOYAMA and Chomin NAKAE together, formed Kokumin-domeikai (People's Alliance) and stepped up his criticism of the Japanese government. Furthermore he gave letters to Moriyoshi NAGAOKA and proposed to Kunyi LIU and Zhidong ZHANG to open Manchuria to the powerful countries in order to defend territorial integrity. ZHANG was impressed by the idea and he and LIU proposed the idea from KONOE (Hajime NEZU could have been the ghost-writer of this idea) to the central government of the Qing dynasty and asked them to adopt the idea. The proposal was rejected at that time, but later the idea to open Manchuria was adopted by Shikai YUAN and became a hindrance to the Japanese government, which wanted to monopolize interests in Manchuria. In 1903, he formed a Tairo-doshikai (a group which insisted on a hard-line position against Russia). He resigned as president of Kizokuin and was assigned privy councilor.

Although his future success was expected, he died in January 1, 1904. Died at the age of 42 (40 years after his birth). The cause of his death was infectious disease with which he was infected during his trip in China. He was gathered to Daitoku-ji Temple (present-day Kita Ward, Kyoto City), which is the family temple of the Konoe Family.

He left a large amount of borrowed property, so people who frequently came to visit the family changed their attitude after Atsumaro's death, and the first son, Fumimaro KONOE had a deep trust problem for human beings.

Family

His former wife: Sawa (the fifth daughter of Yoshiyasu MAEDA, 1869-1891)

The first son: Fumimaro KONOE (served as a president of Kizokuin, the Prime minister)

His second wife: Moto (the sixth daughter of Yoshiyasu MAEDA, 1871-1945)

The first daughter:Takeko (wife of Kashiwa OYAMA, Prince)

The second son:Hidemaro KONOE (a musician)

The third son:Naomaro KONOE (a researcher of Gagaku (Japanese traditional music and dance)

The fourth son:Tadamaro MIYAGAWA (he succeeded the Mizutanigawa family and became Guji (chief of those who serve a shrine, controls festivals and general affairs) of Kasuga-taisha Shrine.

His literary work

Written by Atsumaro KONOE, edited by association for publication of Atsumaro KONOE's diaries "Atsumaro KONOE Diary" the first to fifth band (published by Kashima publication association, 1968~1969).