Suematsu Kenchō

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Suematsu Kenchō
末松 謙澄
Suematsu Kencho.jpg
Viscount Suematsu Kenchō, ca.1898
Home Minister of Japan
In office
Preceded by Saigō Tsugumichi
Succeeded by Utsumi Tadakatsu
Personal details
Born (1855-09-30)September 30, 1855
Buzen Province, Japan
Died October 5, 1920(1920-10-05) (aged 65)
Nationality Japanese
Spouse(s) Ikuko Itō

Viscount Suematsu Kenchō (末松 謙澄, September 30, 1855 – October 5, 1920) was a Japanese politician, intellectual and author, who lived in the Meiji and Taishō periods. Apart from his activity in the Japanese government, he also wrote several important works on Japan in English. He was portrayed in a negative manner in Ryōtarō Shiba's novel Saka no ue no kumo.

Early life[edit]

Suematsu was born in the hamlet of Maeda in Buzen Province, now part of Yukuhashi, Fukuoka Prefecture. He was the fourth son of the village headman (shōya), Suematsu Shichiemon. His name was initially Ken'ichirō (謙一郎), he later changed it to the shorter Kenchō.[1]

At the age of ten he enrolled in a private school where he pursued studies in Chinese (kangaku 漢学).[2] Suematsu went to Tokyo in 1871, and studied with Ōtsuki Bankei (ja) and Kondō Makoto (ja). In 1872, he briefly entered the Tokyo Normal School, but left it soon after. It was around this time that he made the acquaintance of Takahashi Korekiyo.[1]

In 1874, at age 20, Suematsu began working for the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun newspaper (predecessor to the Mainichi Shinbun), writing editorials under the pen name Sasanami Hitsuichi (笹波篳一).[1] During his time working for the newspaper, he was befriended by its editor, Fukuchi Gen'ichirō.

Suematsu at Cambridge[edit]

Suematsu arrived in London in 1878 with the Japanese embassy which was dispatched there, and enrolled in Cambridge University in 1881.[3] He graduated with a law degree from Cambridge (St. John's College, Cambridge) in 1884,[4][5] returning to Japan in 1886.

Political activities[edit]

Suematsu was elected to the Diet of Japan in 1890. Suematsu served as Communications Minister (1898) and Home Minister in his father-in-law Itō Hirobumi's fourth cabinet, 1900–01. He had married Itō's second daughter Ikuko in 1889 when he was 35 and she was 22. As they were from clans which had fought in the 1860s (Kokura and Chōshū), he joked about his marriage as "taking a hostage".

Suematsu was influential in the founding of Moji port in 1889, approaching Shibusawa Eiichi for finance. He also worked to improve the moral standards of Japanese theatre and founded a society for drama criticism.

Suematsu was raised to the kazoku peerage in 1895, when he was made a baron (danshaku).[6]

From 1904 to 1905 Suematsu was sent by the Japanese cabinet to Europe to counteract anti-Japanese propaganda of the Yellow Peril variety and argue Japan's case in the Russo-Japanese War, much as Harvard-educated Kaneko Kentarō was doing at the request of Itō Hirobumi at the same time in the United States.[7] He was promoted to viscount (shishaku) in 1907.

Literary activities[edit]

Suematsu was also active as a writer of English works on Japanese subjects. His works include the first English translation of Genji Monogatari (which he wrote while at Cambridge) and several books on aspects of Japanese culture.

  • Kenchio Suyematz, trans. Genji Monogatari : The Most Celebrated of the Classical Japanese Romances. London: Trubner, 1882.
  • Baron Suematsu, A Fantasy of Far Japan; or, Summer Dream Dialogues. London: Constable, 1905.
  • Kenchio Suyematsu, The Risen Sun. London: Constable, 1905.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c NCBank biographical timeline of Suematsu's life
  2. ^ Yukuhashi City webpage about Suematsu Archived 2004-09-11 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Cobbing, The Japanese Discovery of Victorian Britain, p. 123.
  4. ^ "Suyematsu, Kencho (SMTS881K)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  5. ^ O'Brien, The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-1922, p. 202.
  6. ^ Kowner, Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War, p. 361–362.
  7. ^ Lister, The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910: Gateway to the Island Empire of the East, p. 94.

References (Books and articles)[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Osaki Mitsuyoshi
Director-General of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau
Succeeded by
Kamimura Tomotsune
Preceded by
Nomura Yasushi
Minister of Communication
Succeeded by
Hayashi Yūzō
Preceded by
Saigō Tsugumichi
Home Minister
19 October 1900 – 2 June 1901
Succeeded by
Utsumi Tadakatsu