Shigeru Yoshida

Shigeru Yoshida (1878-1967), Japanese diplomat and prime minister, led his country through a difficult period of postwar recovery.

Shigeru Yoshida was born on Sept. 22, 1878, in Tokyo, the fifth son of Tsuna Takenouchi, a prominent politician from Tosa on the island of Shikoku. He was subsequently adopted by a family acquaintance, Kenso Yoshida, who wanted a son to carry on his family name and prosperous silk business.

Early Career

Following his graduation from Tokyo Imperial University in 1906, Yoshida embarked upon a distinguished diplomatic career that was greatly favored by his marriage to the eldest daughter of Count Nobuaki Makino, who became lord privy seal and a close adviser of the Emperor. After appointment to various consular posts in China and Manchuria, Yoshida served in London and Washington, and in 1919 he was a member of the Japanese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference. He was named vice-minister of foreign affairs in the Giichi Tanaka Cabinet and served successively as ambassador to Italy and to Great Britain.

Yoshida was recalled from his post in London and retired from the Foreign Service in March 1939. Reportedly, he had been considered for the position of foreign minister in the Koki Hirota Cabinet in 1936 but was vetoed by the military because of its dislike for his father-in-law. In any case, it proved fortunate for Yoshida that he was in private life during the war years.

Service as Prime Minister

Untainted by association with the military leadership and possessing the added advantage of having been arrested during the war by the military police and briefly jailed, Yoshida was one of the comparatively few prominent prewar political figures who were not purged by the Occupation. In September 1945 he was appointed foreign minister in the first postwar Cabinet.

In the 1946 House of Representatives election, the Liberal party won a plurality, and the party president, Ichiro Hatoyama, seemed assured the premiership. But the Occupation found him unacceptable, and Yoshida was persuaded to take his place as party president and prime minister of Japan, a position he held (except for a 16-month interval in 1947-1948) until the end of 1954. Yoshida's tough, pragmatic, anti-Communist attitudes suited the Occupation authorities. On the whole, he worked harmoniously with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and together they presided over an era of revolutionary changes in Japanese society.

Yoshida built up a strong personal following, composed mostly of former bureaucrats, in the Diet, and he ruled in an autocratic fashion rare in Japanese politics. With the end of the Occupation in 1952, purged party leaders began to return to politics, undermining Liberal party unity and eroding Yoshida's strength. Conservative opposition to him gradually coalesced about Hatoyama, who unseated Yoshida in 1954.

Yoshida continued after his resignation to be an influential elder statesman and adviser. He died on Oct. 20, 1967, in his seaside estate at Oiso. Representatives of 74 countries attended his funeral, the first state funeral in Japan since the war.

Further Reading on Shigeru Yoshida

Yoshida's recollections of his postwar leadership are in his The Yoshida Memoirs (1962). A general account of the Occupation is Kazuo Kawai, Japan's American Interlude (1960). For a close analysis of the workings of Japanese politics in the Yoshida era see Donald C. Hellmann, Japanese Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics (1969).

Additional Biography Sources

Dower, John W., Empire and aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese experience, 1878-1954, Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1988.

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