The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State

No. 497

Sir: The Embassy has not, for some time, reported on the Japanese Cabinet and the political situation. This has partly been due to the lack of any changes of consequence in recent months, and partly because of the impossibility of making sense out of the constant shiftings and turnings, the hints of resignations and disruption, the demands for “strong government” and the evasive attitude of Japanese political leaders.

Since the establishment of the present Saito Ministry following the assassination of Premier Inukai commonly referred to as the “May 15th incident”,9 there have been frequent rumors of resignation or change. This ministry, composed of various elements drawn from the Seiyukai, the Minseito and private life, and headed by an aged [Page 704] retired admiral, was set up at that critical time to fill the need for a coalition or national government, above the knavery of partisan politics. Thus far it has held together, in spite of obvious friction between its diverse elements, although several times its resignation has been confidently predicted, notably after the passage of the budget bill in March when many believed that its task had been finished.

Fortunately, from the standpoint of Cabinet longevity, close cooperation among the Ministers of State is not essential, except in foreign affairs, because the Ministers are individually and directly responsible only to the Emperor for the conduct of affairs under their own jurisdiction.

The Seiyukai, with its overwhelming parliamentary majority, has long been hungering for the power and the spoils to which in normal times it would be entitled. But public prejudice against the abuse of partisan government in critical times like the present, has kept the Seiyukai at the heel of the Cabinet, afraid to force an issue. The Seiyukai has for more than a year lent grudging support to the Saito Ministry, hoping that dissatisfaction with this regime would develop and that it, having lived down its past evil reputation, would be permitted to take over the reins.

But public feeling is still strongly against a straight party regime. Three months ago the Seiyukai pleaded that the emergency symbolized by the May 15th incident was past and that the time had come for a reversion to parliamentary practices. However, the May 15th trials now going on under wide publicity, in which the defendants have eloquently indicted parliamentary government with the sympathy of the public, have recalled the unpopularity of party government and made it plain to the Seiyukai that the time is unpropitious for an attempt to restore an all-Seiyukai government.

Incidentally the Minseito, with four representatives in the Cabinet, is inclined to let well enough alone, realizing that a return to party government would mean the loss of what representation it now has.

It would appear from these facts that in spite of certain friction, and in spite of jealousy on the part of the Seiyukai, there is no reason for a change or reorganization in the Cabinet. However, there are other factors in the situation which must be considered. Both Admiral Viscount Saito and his most important colleague, Mr. Takahashi Minister of Finance, are old men who would gladly return to the retirement from which they were dragged in the emergency following the May 15th affair. Mr. Takahashi was rumored to be on the point of resigning during the past spring, but was dissuaded, probably by the military. Without Mr. Takahashi and his prestige as state financier, the Saito Ministry would be severely [Page 705] weakened. This, the military would prevent, as they believe the nation requires a strong and non-partisan cabinet in these adventurous times. They are particularly anxious to keep Mr. Takahashi and the Cabinet intact at the present time when the new budget estimates, carrying enormous demands for new armaments, are being framed. They realize that even in the strong patriotic ardor of the nation at present, a firm hand will be needed to force the military demands and the increased taxation down the nation’s throat.

In order to lend all possible support to the Cabinet, a scheme has been proposed to draft Dr. Suzuki, President of the Seiyukai, and Baron Wakatsuki, President of the Minseito, into the Cabinet as Ministers without portfolio. Some observers describe this proposal as “gland grafting” on an elderly organism. By this it is hoped to unite all political power into one all-star aggregation strong enough to carry through any policy.

At the time the present Cabinet was formed, an effort was made, in the interest of political unity, to include the presidents of the two great parties in the Cabinet. Both refused to join, but promised a measure of support on behalf of their parties. A further effort was made three months ago to induce Dr. Suzuki to replace Mr. Takahashi as Minister of Finance. This he flatly refused to do, thereby forcing Mr. Takahashi to carry on to the present, as was described above.

Dr. Suzuki was of course between the horns of a dilemma. Some of his followers protested the submergence of their party’s identity further into the present Government, advocating rather a severance of relations. Others believed in cooperation, and in controlling the government from within. Both factions were of course considering only their party’s advantage. A split in the party may threaten if Dr. Suzuki accepts this latest invitation. Thus far he has appeared to be opposed to the idea, but some observers predict his early acceptance. According to his own statement he could not enter the government unless an “understanding on political policies” is reached. This is the phrase now being actively discussed in the press, which means, baldly, bargaining for advantage.

Baron Wakatsuki of the Minseito has been reticent about the scheme, but observers do not anticipate much objection on his part to a proposal which offers nothing but advantage to his party.

I should add that this scheme has not yet been formally proposed, but is undoubtedly under consideration by Viscount Saito. I believe it will, if proposed, be accepted by the two party leaders, as they well realize that public opinion at present will not tolerate any exhibition of partisan intransigeance.

Some fear has been expressed in certain quarters that these moves [Page 706] toward unification of power are tending toward the creation of a dictatorship. Mr. Takahashi himself is reported as stating in a press interview: “Politicians must understand the prevailing situation in Japan. If affairs continue to move in their present course, it is to be greatly feared that Japan will be dominated by a dictatorship. I fear this greatly”. His implication was that unless the political parties reform their ways and regain the confidence of the people, the latter will turn in disgust to a feudal dictatorship. Although admitting this danger, the Osaka Mainichi states: “We are confident that the day of party government—orthodox parliamentary government in which the opinion of the majority is also respected—will come before many years have passed. In order to hasten that day the political parties must first of all regain their lost prestige by making the needed reforms.”

Many of the reactionary events of the past two years in Japan are directly attributable to public resentment at the corruption of the politicians and the loss of confidence in parliamentary government. The genius of the Japanese people seems to be lacking in the direction of popular government along party lines, but this of course may be due to the comparative newness of democratic ideas in Japan. However, it may well develop that recent events and the present hostile feeling of the people may serve as a warning to the political parties that their continued existence depends on the sacrifice of their selfish interests to the broader welfare of the nation.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Edwin L. Neville

Counselor of Embassy