He was born in 1847 in Choshu. He commenced his career by fighting under the Imperial banner in the civil war of the Restoration, and he displayed such talent that he was twice sent at public expense to Germany (1870-1873 and 1884) to study strategy and tactics. His political rise was assisted by Yamagata Aritomo.
In 1886 he was appointed vice-minister of war, and in 1891 the command of division devolved on him. He led the Japanese army in the campaign of 1894-1895 against China, and made a memorable march in the depth of winter from the north-east shore of the Yellow Sea to Haicheng, finally occupying Niuchwang, and effecting a junction with the second army corps which moved up the Liaotung peninsula. For these services he received the title of viscount.
After holding war minister in 1898, he held the portfolio of war from 1898 to 1901, when he became Prime Minister and retained office for four and a half years, which was a record in Japan in that time. During his four year first term Japan emerged as a major power in Asia, marked by the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 and the defeat of Russia in 1905, the Taft-Katsura agreement of 1905 with Great Britain gave Japan control of Korea. From those diplomatic accomplishments, Katura received from King Edward the grand cross of the order of St Michael and St George, and being raised by the mikado to the rank of marquess.
He was a strictly conservative politician that he distanced himself from the Diet and political parties and saw his sole responsibility to the Emperor. In January 1906, Katsura resigned the premiership to Marquess Saionji Kimmochi over the Treaty of Portsmouth (1905) of peace between Japan and Russia. He was again invited to form a cabinet in 1908. His second term was marked by the full annexation of Korea (1910). His brief reappointment as Prime Minister in December 1912, replacing Saionji Kimmochi over a military crisis, was seen as a plot by the genro group and precipitated a political crisis. Faced with a non-confidence motion Katsura sought imperial intervention. He lost the support of his backers and was forced to resign in February 1913. He was succeeded by Yamamoto Gonnohoe and the Diet was held by the new Rikken Doshikai party.
Katsura might be considered the chief exponent of conservative views in Japan. Adhering strictly to the doctrine that ministries were responsible to the emperor alone and not at all to the diet, he stood wholly aloof from political parties, only his remarkable gift of tact and conciliation enabling him to govern on such principles.
Ito Hirobumi (1)
Saionji Kimmochi (2)
Saionji Kimmochi (3)
|Prime ministers of Japan||Succeeded by:
Saionji Kimmochi (1)
Saionji Kimmochi (2)
Yamamoto Gonnohyoe (3)