Privy Council of Japan

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Sumitsu-in building from 1922 Imperial Guard Headquarters Government Buildings.jpg
Sūmitsu-in building from 1922

The Privy Council of Japan (枢密院, Sūmitsu-in) was an advisory council to the Emperor of Japan that operated from 1888 to 1947. It was largely used to limit the power of the Imperial Diet.



Modeled in part upon the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, this body advised the Japanese Empire on matters including, but not limited to:

Emperor Meiji meets with his Privy Councilors. Ukiyo-e woodblock prints by Yoshu Chikanobu, 1888 Privy Council Meeting (Chikanobu).png
Emperor Meiji meets with his Privy Councilors. Ukiyo-e woodblock prints by Yōshū Chikanobu, 1888

The Privy Council had both judicial functions and certain executive functions. However, the council had no power to initiate legislation.


To oversee new governmental developments, in 1871, three councils were created - the Council of the Left, Centre, and Right, who would be collectively known as the Council of the Elders (genrō in). The Elders oversaw the writing of the Meiji Constitution, and would become councilors in the Privy Council. [1]

The Privy Council of Japan was established by an imperial ordinance of Emperor Meiji dated 28 April 1888, under the presidency of Itō Hirobumi, to deliberate on the draft constitution. [2] The new constitution, which the emperor promulgated on 11 February 1889, briefly mentioned the Privy Council in Chapter 4, Article 56: "The Privy Councilors shall, in accordance with the provisions for the organization of the Privy Council, deliberate upon important matters of State when they have been consulted by the Emperor."

The Privy Council consisted of a chairman, a vice chairman (non-voting), twelve (later expanded to twenty-four) councilors, a chief secretary, and three additional secretaries. All privy councilors including the president and the vice president were appointed by the Emperor for life, on the advice of the Prime Minister and the cabinet. In addition to the twenty-four voting privy counselors, the Prime Minister and the other ministers of state were ex officio members of the council. The princes of the imperial household (both the shinnōke and the ōke ) over the age of majority were permitted to attend meetings of the Privy Council and could participate in its proceedings. [ citation needed ] The president was the authority as he called and controlled meetings inside of the council.[ citation needed ] The Council met in secret at the Tokyo Imperial Palace, with the Emperor in attendance on important occasions. The Council was empowered to deliberate on any matters upon which the Emperor desired an opinion.[ citation needed ]


Theoretically, the Privy Council's legal power was extensive, but, like many other aspects of Meiji-era politics, the effective power of the Privy Council was largely based upon the genrō and other oligarchs. Masao Maruyama described the Council as an "irrational arrangement prevailed in which decisions depended on fortuitous human relations, psychological coercion by the Elder Statesmen [genro] and other ‘officials close to the Throne,’ shifts in the relative strength of cliques, deals among wire-pullers and bosses, assignation-house politics, and so forth." [3]

Meeting of Privy Council, 1946 Privy Council (Japan).jpg
Meeting of Privy Council, 1946

During its early years, many members of the Privy Council were simultaneously members of the elected government; however in its later years, the Privy Council essentially replaced the genrō and the Genrōin as a very conservative “old boys” club, often at odds with the party-dominated elected government. [4] After the Privy Council unsuccessfully challenged the government by attempting to reject several government decisions, and by attempting to assert itself on certain foreign policy issues, it was demonstrated that in actuality the balance of power was with the elected government. The Privy Council was thenceforth largely ignored, and was not consulted on major policy matters, including the Attack on Pearl Harbor. [ citation needed ]

The Privy Council was abolished with the enforcement of the current postwar Constitution of Japan on 3 May 1947.

List of the presidents of the Privy Council

15 people served as the President of the Privy Council of Japan.

NameDates as Chairman
1 Itō Hirobumi 30 April 1888 – 30 October 1889
2 Ōki Takatō 24 December 1889 – 1 June 1891
(1)Itō Hirobumi1 June 1891 – 8 August 1892
(2)Ōki Takato8 August 1892 – 11 March 1893
3 Yamagata Aritomo 11 March 1893 – 12 December 1893
4 Kuroda Kiyotaka 17 March 1894 – 25 August 1900
5 Saionji Kinmochi 27 August 1900 – 13 July 1903
(1)Itō Hirobumi13 July 1903 – 21 December 1905
(3)Yamagata Aritomo21 December 1905 – 14 June 1909
(1)Itō Hirobumi14 June 1909 – 26 October 1909
(3)Yamagata Aritomo26 October 1909 – 1 February 1922
6 Kiyoura Keigo 8 February 1922 – 7 January 1924
7 Hamao Arata 13 January 1924 – 25 September 1925
8 Hozumi Nobushige 1 October 1925 – 8 April 1926
9 Kuratomi Yuzaburo 12 April 1926 – 3 May 1934
10 Ichiki Kitokurō 3 May 1934 – 13 March 1936
11 Hiranuma Kiichirō 13 March 1936 – 5 January 1939
12 Konoe Fumimaro 5 January 1939 – 24 June 1940
13 Hara Yoshimichi 24 June 1940 – 7 August 1944
14 Kantarō Suzuki 7 August 1944 – 7 June 1945
(11) Hiranuma Kiichirō 9 April 1945 – 3 December 1945
(14) Kantarō Suzuki 15 December 1945 – 13 June 1946
15 Shimizu Tōru 13 June 1946 – 26 September 1946

See also


  1. von Staden, Pete (2008). Business-Government Relations in Prewar Japan. Routledge. p. 35.
  2. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan. pp. 68
  3. Maruyama, Masao (1963). Thought and Behaviour in Modern Japanese Politics. Oxford University Press. p. 232.
  4. Gordon, A History of Modern Japan, pp.92

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