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Fumimaro Konoe
近衞 文麿
Prime Minister of Japan

In office
22 July 1940 – 18 October 1941
Monarch Shōwa
Preceded by Mitsumasa Yonai
Succeeded by Hideki Tōjō

In office
4 June 1937 – 5 January 1939
Monarch Shōwa
Preceded by Senjūrō Hayashi
Succeeded by Kiichirō Hiranuma
Leader of the Taisei Yokusankai

In office
12 October 1940 – 18 October 1941
Succeeded by Hideki Tōjō
Personal details
Born (1891-10-12)12 October 1891
Tokyo, Japan
Died 16 December 1945(1945-12-16) (aged 54)
Tokyo, Japan
Political party Imperial Rule Assistance Association (1940–1945)
Other political
Independent (Before 1940)

Prince [1] Fumimaro Konoe (近衛 文麿 Konoe Fumimaro?, often Konoye, 12 October 1891 – 16 December 1945) was a Japanese politician in the Empire of Japan who served as the 34th, 38th and 39th Prime Minister of Japan and founder/leader of the Taisei Yokusankai. He was Prime Minister in the lead-up to Japan entering World War II.

Early life

Prince Fumimaro Konoe was born into the ancient Fujiwara clan, and was the heir of the Konoe family in Tokyo. Konoe’s father, Atsumaro, had been politically active, having organized the Anti-Russia Society in 1903. Atsumaro's death left Konoe with the title of Prince, plenty of social standing but not much money.

Prince Konoe successfully lobbied to be included in the Japanese delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. In 1918, prior to Versailles, he published an essay titled Reject the Anglo-American-Centered Peace. Following a translation by American journalist Thomas Franklin Fairfax Millard, Japanese political advisor Saionji Kinmochi wrote a rebuttal in his journal, Millard's Review.[2]

In 1925, Konoe gained favorable public attention by supporting a universal manhood suffrage bill. Konoe's title gave him a seat in the Upper Chamber of the Diet of Japan, and in 1933, he was elected President of the House of Peers. He was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1934.

Prime Minister and war with China

In June 1937, Prince Fumimaro Konoe became Prime Minister of Japan. One month after he came into office, Japanese troops clashed with Chinese troops near Peking in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. Konoe dispatched three divisions of troops, admonishing the military to be sure not to escalate the conflict. Within three weeks the army launched a general assault. Konoe and his cabinet feared that Japanese troops would not respect any peace agreement. He was also unsure that Chiang could control his own forces. In August, Chinese sentries returned fire and killed two Japanese marines who crashed gate a Chinese military airfield in Shanghai. Konoe agreed with Army Minister General Hajime Sugiyama to send two divisions to defend Japanese honor. His cabinet then issued a declaration, accusing both nationalist and communist Chinese of "increasingly provocative and insulting" behavior toward Japan.

In December, Imperial General Headquarters, a structure completely autonomous from the elected government, ordered its forces in China to drive toward Nanking, the Chinese capital. Nanking was captured within a few weeks, after which the Army committed the infamous Nanking massacre.

In January 1938, Konoe's government announced that it would no longer deal with Chiang, but would await the development of a new regime. When later asked for clarifications, Konoe said he meant more than just non-recognition of Chiang's regime but "rejected it" and would "eradicate it".[3] Meanwhile, Konoe and the military pushed a National Mobilization Law through the Diet.[citation needed] This allowed the central government to control all manpower and material. Japanese victories continued at Hsuchow, Hankow, Canton, Wuchang, Hanyang – but still the Chinese kept on fighting. Konoe, stating that he was tired of being a "robot" for the military, resigned in January 1939, and was appointed chairman of the Privy Council. Kiichirō Hiranuma succeeded him as Prime Minister. Konoe was awarded the 1st class of the Order of the Rising Sun in 1939.


Konoe's second term, the Matsuoka foreign policy

Due to dissatisfaction with the policies of Prime Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, the Japanese Army demanded Konoe's recall as Prime Minister. On 23 June, Konoe resigned his position as Chairman of the Privy Council,[4] and on 16 July 1940, the Yonai cabinet resigned and Konoe was appointed Prime Minister. One of his first moves was to launch the League of Diet Members Believing the Objectives of the Holy War to counter opposition from politicians such as deputy Saitō Takao who had spoken against the Second Sino-Japanese War in the Diet on 2 February. Against the advice of his political allies and the Emperor,[citation needed] Konoe appointed Yosuke Matsuoka as his foreign minister. Matsuoka was popular with the Army and the Japanese public, having established himself as the man who angrily led Japan out of the League of Nations in 1933. Konoe and Matsuoka based their foreign policy on a document that had been drawn up by the Army. As a result of this policy, it was agreed that Japan would try to secure its position in China, defuse the conflict with the Soviet Union, move troops into Indochina, and prepare for a military response from Britain and possibly the United States.

Konoe with his cabinet ministers, including War Minister Hideki Tōjō, the second row, second from the left (22 July 1940)

Following the fall of the French Government, Japan stationed troops in French Indochina in September 1940. On 27 September 1940, the Tripartite Pact was signed, aligning Japan, Germany and Italy.

Matsuoka attempted to secure Japan's position with a neutrality agreement between Japan and the Soviet Union (through Molotov and Stalin). Japan agreed to relinquish mineral extraction rights in the northern half of Sakhalin, but otherwise made no concessions. For Japan, the pact made it less likely that the United States and the Soviet Union would team up against them. This neutrality agreement was honored by both sides until 1945.

Konoe's final term, attempts to avoid war with the United States

In April, 1941, a triumphant Matsuoka returned to Japan, but Konoe had in hand a peace proposal from the United States. The proposal included American recognition of Manchukuo, the merging of Chiang's government with the Japan-backed Reorganized National Government of China, withdrawal of Japanese troops from China and mutual respect for its independence, and an agreement that Japanese immigration to the United States shall proceed "on the basis of equality with other nationals and free from discrimination". A meeting for negotiation between United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Konoe was proposed for Honolulu, to commence as early as May. Each side believed that it represented the starting position of the other side, however it had actually been drawn up by two American Maryknoll priests and two mid-level Japanese officials. Konoe, believing the document was an agreed starting point for negotiation, began to line up support for the idea of a summit conference in Hawaii. However, Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Roosevelt had no intention of bargaining from this draft.

Back in Japan, Matsuoka was furious that Konoe had offered concessions behind his back. Konoe was unable to wear him down, and was afraid of the Army's reaction if he overrode the Foreign Minister. In the end, Matsuoka replaced the draft with Japan's "co-prosperity" policy. This document was conveyed to the Americans on 12 May, and found to be unacceptable.

On 22 June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and once again Japan was caught completely by surprise. Hurried conferences took place at the highest levels. The question was whether this represented an opportunity for Japan. In the end, the formal leadership group, called the Imperial Headquarters-Cabinet Liaison Conference, agreed on the "southern" strategy. It also agreed that German progress should be closely monitored. Matsuoka transmitted a provocative statement to Hull, and informed the Soviet Ambassador that the Axis agreement took precedence over the Japan-Soviet neutrality pact. Konoe resigned, and formed a new government without Matsuoka as Foreign Minister. The new Foreign Minister assured the Soviet Ambassador that Japan would honor the neutrality agreement, even though Germany was urging its Japanese ally to attack the Russians from the east. On 28 July 1941, Japanese forces occupied all of French Indochina. The United States was forewarned of this move through its monitoring of Japan's cable traffic. Roosevelt immediately froze Japanese assets in the United States. Great Britain and the Dutch East Indies government did likewise. Roosevelt also placed an embargo on oil exports to Japan. Over 80% of Japan's need was being met through American imports, therefore on 31 July, the navy informed the Emperor that Japan's oil stockpiles would be completely depleted in two years. Konoe had been counting on the Navy to restrain the Army from its aggressive designs. Now, however, the Navy Chief of Staff Osami Nagano argued that if war with the United States was inevitable, it should start right away. Konoe made one more desperate attempt to avert war. He proposed a personal summit with Roosevelt–in the United States if necessary–to come to some understanding. Konoe secured backing from the Navy and the Emperor for this move. The Army agreed, provided that Konoe adhere to the consensus foreign policy, and be prepared to go to war if his initiative failed.

Roosevelt and Hull accepted the invitation, since they were keen to delay Japan's potential attack. Roosevelt told Ambassador Nomura that he would like to see more details of Konoe's proposal, and he suggested that Juneau, Alaska, might be a good spot for a meeting.

On 5 September, Konoe met the Emperor with chiefs of staff General Hajime Sugiyama and Admiral Osami Nagano. Alarmed, the Emperor asked what happened to the negotiations with Roosevelt. Konoe replied that, of course, negotiations were primary, and the military option was only a fall-back position if negotiations failed. The Emperor then questioned Sugiyama about the chances of success of an open war with the Occident. After Sugiyama answered positively, Hirohito scolded him, remembering that the Army had predicted that the invasion of China would be completed in only three months.[5]

Visibly distressed in the fall of 1941 right before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The next day the policy about the preparation for war against "United States, England and Holland" was formally proposed at the Imperial Conference. The Imperial Conference adopted the policy that would result in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The policy established a set of minimum demands that must be met through negotiations. If Konoe's negotiations did not bear fruit by mid-October, Japan would commence hostilities against the United States, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

While the Emperor received detailed reports from Sugiyama and Nagano about the operations in Southeast Asia and the attack of Pearl Harbor,[6] Prime Minister Konoe made one last desperate attempt to avoid war. That very evening, he arranged a secret dinner conference with American Ambassador Joseph Grew. He told Grew that he was prepared to travel to meet Roosevelt on a moment's notice. The ship had already been prepared. Ambassador Grew urged his superiors to advise Roosevelt to accept the summit proposal. However, in the end, Konoe's last push for a diplomatic solution was made in vain.

In a cabinet meeting on 14 October, Army Minister Hideki Tōjō stated that negotiations had failed, the deadline had passed. At the close of this meeting, Konoe realized he was not able to win Navy backing against the adamant Army stance.

Cabinet of Prince Higashikuni Naruhiko with Mamoru Shigemitsu, Mitsumasa Yonai and Fumimaro Konoe in front row.

A SCAP coroner performing a postmortem on Konoe (17 December 1945)

Konoe resigned on 16 October 1941, one day after having recommended Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni to the Emperor as his successor.[7] Two days later, Hirohito chose General Tōjō as Prime Minister. In 1946, Hirohito explained this decision: "I actually thought Prince Higashikuni suitable as chief of staff of the Army; but I think the appointment of a member of the imperial house to a political office must be considered very carefully. Above all, in time of peace this is fine, but when there is a fear that there may even be a war, then more importantly, considering the welfare of the imperial house, I wonder about the wisdom of a member of the imperial family serving [as prime minister]."[8] Six weeks later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Konoe justified his demission to his secretary Kenji Tomita. "Of course His Imperial Majesty is a pacifist and he wished to avoid war. When I told him that to initiate war was a mistake, he agreed. But the next day, he would tell me: 'You were worried about it yesterday but you do not have to worry so much.' Thus, gradually he began to lead to war. And the next time I met him, he leaned even more to war. I felt the Emperor was telling me: 'My prime minister does not understand military matters. I know much more.' In short, the Emperor had absorbed the view of the army and the navy high commands."[9]

Final years of the war and suicide

Konoe played a role in the fall of the Tōjō government in 1944. In February 1945, during the first private audience he had been allowed in three years[10] he advised the Emperor to begin negotiations to end World War II. According to Grand Chamberlain Hisanori Fujita, Hirohito, still looking for a tennozan (a great victory), firmly rejected Konoe's recommendation.[11]

After the beginning of the American occupation, Konoe served in the cabinet of Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni, the first post-war government. Having refused to collaborate with Bonner Fellers in "Operation Blacklist" to exonerate Hirohito and the imperial family of criminal responsibility, he came under suspicion of war crimes. In December 1945, during the last call by the Americans for alleged war criminals to report to the Americans, he took potassium cyanide poison and committed suicide. It was 1945, exactly 1300 years after his ancestor, Fujiwara no Kamatari, led a coup d'état at court during the Soga clan. His grave is at the Konoe clan cemetery at the temple of Daitoku-ji in Kyoto.[12]

His grandson, Morihiro Hosokawa, became prime minister fifty years later.

See also

  • Eugenics in Japan


  1. Although -- in accordance with the system adopted by the Japanese imperial government from the Meiji period through the end of WWII -- the official English translation of Konoe's title was "prince," the title of kōshaku (公爵 (ja)) was actually a closer equivalent to "duke."
  2. Kazuo Yagami, Konoe Fumimaro and the Failure of Peace in Japan, 1937–1941: A Critical Appraisal of the Three-time Prime Minister (McFarland, 2006):19.
  3. Wakabayashi, Bob Tadashi (1991). "Emperor Hirohito on Localized Aggression in China". Sino-Japanese Studies 4 (1), p. 15.
  4. The Ambassador in Japan (Joseph C. Grew) to the Secretary of State, 24 June 1940, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1940, vol. IV, p. 962
  5. Herbert Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, 2000, p.411, 745.
  6. Peter Wetzler, Hirohito and War, 1999, p.35, 52–54
  7. Peter Wetzler, Hirohito and War, 1998, p.41
  8. Wetzler, ibid., p.44, Terasaki Hidenari, Shôwa tennô dokuhakuroku, 1991, p.118
  9. Akira Fujiwara, Shôwa tennô no ju-go nen sensô, 1991, p.126, citing Tomita's diary
  10. Herbert Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, Perennial, 2001, p.756
  11. Fujita Hisanori, Jijûchô no kaisô, Chûô Kôronsha, 1987, p.66-67, Bix, ibid., p.489
  12. "Find-a-grave website". Retrieved 2013-09-27. 


  • Connors, Lesley. The Emperor’s Advisor: Saionji Kinmochi and Pre-War Japanese Politics, Croom Helm, London, and Nissan Institute for Japanese Studies, University of Oxford, 1987
  • Iriye, Akira. The Origins of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific, Longman, London and New York, 1987.
  • Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 10-ISBN 0674003349/13-ISBN 9780674003347; OCLC 44090600
  • Lash, Joseph P. Roosevelt and Churchill, 1939–1941, W.W. Norton and Co, New York, 1976.
  • Oka, Yoshitake. Konoe Fumimaro: A Political Biography, Translated by Shumpei Okamoto and Patricia Murray, University of Tokyo Press, Tokyo, Japan, 1983.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Tokugawa Iesato
President of the House of Peers
June 1933 – June 1937
Succeeded by
Yorinaga Matsudaira
Preceded by
Kazushige Ugaki
Minister of Colonial Affairs
Sep 1938 – Oct 1938
Succeeded by
Yoshiaki Hatta
Preceded by
Kazushige Ugaki
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Sept 1938 – Oct 1938
Succeeded by
Hachirō Arita
Preceded by
Senjūrō Hayashi
Prime Minister of Japan
Jun 1937 – Jan 1939
Succeeded by
Kiichirō Hiranuma
Preceded by
Mitsumasa Yonai
Prime Minister of Japan
Jul 1940 – Oct 1941
Succeeded by
Hideki Tōjō
Preceded by
Heisuke Yanagawa
Minister of Justice
Jul 1941 – Jul 1941
Succeeded by
Michiyo Iwamura

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