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

No. 609

Sir: The prestige of the Japanese political parties and the hopes for an early return to party government have received a setback in the resignation of Mr. Yosuke Matsuoka from the Seiyukai Party and from the Imperial Diet. The severance of Mr. Matsuoka’s ties with his party was emphasized by a statement which he simultaneously issued to the press, in which he proclaimed anti-parliamentary and reactionary views such as are popular with a large section of the Japanese public.

Mr. Matsuoka became a well-known figure abroad as a result of his vigorous defence of the Japanese Manchurian policy before the Assembly of the League of Nations. At the same time his popularity at home reached great heights. His fellow-countrymen looked upon him as a modern Horatius defending his people against the onslaughts of the world. His arrival home was the occasion for a public patriotic demonstration of a size seldom seen in Japan.

After the welcoming ceremonies were over, little was seen or heard of Mr. Matsuoka for many months. It looked as if his star was on the wane. However, as he is generally credited with being ambitious for his own advancement, as well as intelligent, it is more probable that he was waiting for what he considered to be the proper moment to appear before the public again. Having been a reputed liberal for many years in the past, but more recently the staunch defender of the militaristic Manchurian policy, it is believed by some people that he has been uncertain which course would be the more advantageous for him to follow in the future. Apparently he has now decided to make the most of his prestige which he gained with the reactionary elements while he was at Geneva. His resignation from the Seiyukai is taken to mean that he does not expect an early return of party government; that he expects a more reactionary cabinet to follow the present one and hopes to become a member of it. Some say that he is too late; that he has been quiet too long.

At any rate his resignation from his party and from his seat as a Seiyukai member of the Diet made headline news on December 10. [Page 714] He simultaneously issued a statement in which he denounced government by political parties and advocated a “superparty” government. The more important portions of the statement are as follows:

“At this momentous time when the nation stands at a crossroad, and will either rise or fall, it is essential above all things to bring together in unity all the abilities of the people, thereby enabling the nation to act as one man … that the national crisis may be surmounted. I believe it necessary that all political controversies and class strife should be eliminated … parties impair the harmony of the nation and destroy the accord of the people.

“Accordingly it is my earnest hope that the seasoned and skilled men will free themselves from the fixed restraints and return to a purely superparty position. From this viewpoint I urge that the parties be dissolved.… Western style party government does not conform to the conditions of our country nor the character of our people.… To wait for the political parties to improve is like waiting for pigs to fly.…

“Dissolution of the political parties does not mean the end of constitutional government in all its phases. On the contrary I believe that constitutional government adaptable to our country can be effected only through the unification of the nation as one man, without any opposition between the parties or among factions.

“The time has come when the Japanese race must carry out its important mission in the interests of peace.… As a first step I advocate the dissolution of parties.”

There have been extensive press comments on the above statement. The papers have expressed sympathy with Mr. Matsuoka but have demanded further explanation of his objective. His denunciation of the parties and his advocacy of constitutional government are termed inconsistent. Several papers have seized the occasion to defend the much maligned Imperial Diet. They have argued that in a nation of sixty million people there must be differences of opinion; that it is impossible to conceive that the people should be united as one man in expressing their opinions; and that the Diet with its party alignments does reflect public opinion. They point out that the existence of the parties does not prevent cooperation on a non-partizan basis, as is shown by the present cabinet.

The general unpopularity of party government in Japan, of which one has heard so much during the last two years, is due partly to the corruption of so many of the politicians. The views of the military on this matter have received much publicity. The best that can be said for the Army as a governing force is that the mass of its leaders appear so far to be honest and sincere. This makes a strong appeal to the mass of Japanese. However, there are signs that a constantly increasing group of army officers are quite satisfied with [Page 715] their position in the present government. They have great influence over every department but little responsibility, except for the War Department. Therefore their efforts at the present time are aimed at preserving the advantage they have gained.

On the other hand, the younger element of the Army and many of the reactionary groups continue to preach theories of government which are naive and immature. They advocate a return to the “Imperial Way”. This is a term difficult to define but it appears that they envisage a return to direct rule by the Emperor. They fail to recognize the fact that the Emperor would under their proposed system be brought into all the political squabbles that would certainly develop, and eventually lose his prestige in the eyes of the people.

Many students of contemporary history, both Japanese and foreign, believe that the basic trouble is that Japan is not yet ready for Parliamentary government. It is questioned whether the Japanese are psychologically and temperamentally suited for it. For instance, the members of the Diet appear to be incapable of debating public questions as intelligently and calmly as is done in English-speaking countries. Moreover, they find it difficult to be dignified in defeat. Those who [are] beaten in the voting “lose face”, which is hard on any oriental, even a Japanese. Every organization in Japan, commercial or otherwise, has its advisers, who “arrange” matters of great importance for the organization. Their wisdom is recognized by the more active members and their advice is heeded. In the realm of government, a similar situation existed in the past. From the termination of the military dictatorship under the rule of the Shoguns, until recent years, the Japanese had the Genro, or Elder Statesmen. These men had the confidence of the Emperor and of the Cabinet and guided the nation in its development. However, Prince Saionji is the only one left and he does not now exercise the power wielded formerly by his colleagues.

Many of those who are familiar with Japanese history believe that the Government of Japan cannot be carried on effectively without some balance-wheel, such as a Shogun or a group analogous to the Genro. They believe that one of these institutions or something which is a mixture of the two must sooner or later once more find a place in the Government. It is possible that Mr. Matsuoka had some such idea in mind when he made the comments quoted above.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew