Biographies Matsukata Masayoshi

By JREF · Dec 15, 2011 ·
  1. JREF
    Satsuma samurai and Meiji politician

    Matsukata (松方正義, 1835-1924) was born into a samurai family from Satsuma (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture), started to work as a bureaucrat in the domain administration and then studied western science and surveying in Nagasaki. Ōkubo Toshimichi and Saigō Takamori, recognising his talents, employed him to liaison between Satsuma and the imperial court in Kyoto. Matsukata took part in the Boshin War, commanding a ship he had previously acquired against ships under the flag of the Tokugawa shogunate.

    After the Meiji Restoration, he became governor of Hita Prefecture (part of present-day Ōita Prefecture) and was called to Tokyo in 1871, where he began to work on the Land Tax Reform. Under the traditional tax system, taxes were paid in rice, with the amount depending on location and yield. Matsukata’s new tax system required taxpayers to pay money, based on land value with fixed tax rates of 3% of the land value to be paid by the estate holder.

    In 1880, he became Home Minister, and in 1881 Minister of Finance, a position he would keep for the next ten years. During his tenure, he stabilised the economy implementing strict austerity measures later to be called the “Matsukata Deflation”. While this policy eventually succeeded, commodity prices dropped precipitously, leaving small landowners with no choice but to sell their estates to money lenders. In 1882, Matsukata founded the Bank of Japan which introduced paper money. His attempts at introducing protective policies to strengthen the Japanese economy failed due to the unequal treaties but resulted in the build-up of strong export-oriented industries.

    He became Prime Minister in 1891/92, following Yamagata Aritomo and again from 1896 to 1898, succeeding Itō Hirobumi. Between 1881 and 1901, he served 18 years as Finance Minister. Other positions, honours and titles include president of the Japanese Red Cross Society, privy councillor, member of the House of Peers, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal of Japan, kōshaku (公爵, prince) and later genrō.

    Matsukata is said to have been the father of over twenty children. Legend has it that when asked by the emperor, how many children he had fathered, he was unable to provide an accurate number. His third son Matsukata Kōjirō 松方幸次郎 (1865-1950) collected vast amounts of Western art, most of which is now displayed in the National Museum of Western Art (NMWA) in Ueno. Matsukata’s granddaughter, the journalist Haru Matsukata Reischauer (1915-1998), married the American ambassador to Japan and scholar Edwin O. Reischauer.

    References:
    • Jansen, Marius B.; The Making of Modern Japan, Cambridge 2002
    • Jansen, Marius B.; The Emergence of Meiji Japan, Cambridge University Press 1995
    • Reischauer, Haru Matsukata; Samurai and Silk: A Japanese and American Heritage, Belknap Press 1988
    • Packard, George R.; Edwin O. Reischauer and the American Discovery of Japan, Columbia University Press 2010
    • Swale, Alistair; The Meiji Restoration: Monarchism, Mass Communication and Conservative Revolution, Palgrave Macmillan 2009
    Links:
    • Land Tax Reform (provided by the Agriculture and Rural Development Information Center, in Japanese)
    • 松方正義 (provided by the National Diet Library, in Japanese)
    Gallery:

    matsukata-masayoshi01.jpg
    Matsukata Masayoshi (Photo credit)

    1974-reischauer.jpg
    Edwin O. and Haru Reischauer (Photo credit)

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