Privy Council of Japan

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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.


Modeled in part upon the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, this body advised the throne on matters of grave importance including:

  • proposed amendments to the Constitution of the Empire of Japan
  • proposed amendments to the 1889 Imperial Household Law
  • matters of constitutional interpretation, proposed laws, and ordinances
  • proclamations of martial law or declaration of war
  • treaties and other international agreements
  • matters concerning the succession to the throne
  • declarations of a regency under the Imperial Household Law;
  • matters submitted by the emperor. generally on the advice of the cabinet.
The Emperor 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.


The Privy Council of Japan was established by an imperial ordinance of Emperor Meiji dated 28 April 1888, under the presidency of Ito Hirobumi, to deliberate on the draft constitution.[1] 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. The president had extraordinary power, as it was he who called and controlled the meetings of the Council. The Council always 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.


Assessments on the importance of the Privy Council vary from claims that it was the single most powerful agency in the Meiji government (probably true legally and theoretically), to allegations that it was completely insignificant in terms of national politics (probably also true in terms of actual practice).

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.[2] After the Privy Council challenged the government by attempting to reject several government decisions, and by attempting to assert itself on certain foreign policy issues, it became clear that the balance of power was with the elected government. The Privy Council was thenceforth largely ignored, and it was not even consulted when Japan decided to declare war on the United States in 1941.

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

Presidents of the Privy Council

Name Dates as Chairman
1 Itō Hirobumi 30 April 1888 – 30 October 1889
2 Oki Takato 24 December 1889 – 1 June 1891
3 Itō Hirobumi 1 June 1891 – 8 August 1892
4 Oki Takato 8 August 1892 – 11 March 1893
5 Yamagata Aritomo 11 March 1893 – 12 December 1893
6 Kuroda Kiyotaka 17 March 1894 – 25 August 1900
7 Saionji Kinmochi 27 August 1900 – 13 July 1903
8 Itō Hirobumi 13 July 1903 – 21 December 1905
9 Yamagata Aritomo 21 December 1905 – 14 June 1909
10 Itō Hirobumi 14 June 1909 – 26 October 1909
11 Yamagata Aritomo 26 October 1909 – 1 February 1922
12 Kiyoura Keigo 8 February 1922 – 7 January 1924
13 Hamao Arata 13 January 1924 – 25 September 1925
14 Hozumi Nobushige 1 October 1925 – 8 April 1926
15 Kuratomi Yuzaburo 12 April 1926 – 3 May 1934
16 Ichiki Kitokuro 3 May 1934 – 13 March 1936
17 Hiranuma Kiichirō 13 March 1936 – 5 January 1939
18 Konoe Fumimaro 5 January 1939 – 24 June 1940
19 Hara Yoshimichi 24 June 1940 – 7 August 1944
20 Suzuki Kantaro 7 August 1944 – 7 June 1945
21 Hiranuma Kiichiro 9 April 1945 – 3 December 1945
22 Suzuki Kantaro 15 December 1945 – 13 June 1946
23 Shimizu Tōru 13 June 1946 – 26 September 1946

See also


  1. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan. pp. 68
  2. Gordon, A History of Modern Japan, pp.92


  • Beasley, William G. (2000). The Rise of Modern Japan. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-23373-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Colgrove, Kenneth W. (1931). The Japanese Privy Council. ASIN: B00086SR24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gordon, Andrew (2003). A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-511061-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> ISBN 9780674003347; OCLC 44090600
  • Takenobu, Yoshitaro (1928). The Japan Yearbook; Complete Cyclopaedia of General Information and Statistics on Japan and Japanese Territories. Tokyo: The Japan Year Book Office.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>; OCLC 145151778