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Matsukata, Marquis

MATSUKATA, MARQUIS (1835- ), Japanese statesman, was born at Kagoshima in 1835, being a son of a samurai of the Satsuma clan. On the completion of the feudal revolution of 1868 he was appointed governor of the province of Tosa, and having served six years in this office, was transferred to Tokyo as assistant minister of finance. As representative of Japan at the Paris Exhibition of 1878, he took the opportunity afforded by his mission to study the financial systems of the great European powers. On his return home, he held for a short time in 1880 the portfolio of home affairs, and was in 1 88 1 appointed minister of finance. The condition of the currency of Japan was at that time deplorable, and national bankruptcy threatened. The coinage had not only been seriously debased during the closing years of the Tokugawa regime, but large quantities of paper currency had been issued and circulated, both by many of the feudal lords, and by the central government itself, as a temporary expedient for filling an impoverished, exchequer. In 1878 depreciation had set in, and the inconvertible paper had by the close of 1881 grown to such an extent that it was then at a discount of 80% as compared with silver. Matsukata showed the government the danger of the situation, and urged that the issue of further paper currency should be stopped at once, the expenses of administration curtailed, and the resulting surplus of revenue used in the redemption of the paper currency and in the creation of a specie reserve. These proposals were acted upon: the Bank of Japan was established, and the right of issuing convertible notes given to it; and within three years of the initiation of these financial reforms, the paper currency, largely reduced in quantity, was restored to its full par value with silver, and the currency as a whole placed on a solvent basis. From this time forward Japan's commercial and military advancement continued to make uninterrupted progress. But pari passu with the extraordinary impetus given to its trade by the successful conclusion of the war with China, the national expenditure enormously increased, rising within a few years from 80 to 250 million yen. The task of providing for this expenditure fell entirely on Matsukata, who had to face strong opposition on the part of the diet. But he distributed the increased taxation so equally, and chose its subjects so wisely, that the ordinary administrative expenditure and the interest on the national debt were fully provided for, while the extraordinary expenditure for military purposes was met from the Chinese indemnity. As far back as 1878 Matsukata perceived the advantages of a gold standard, but it was not until 1897 that his scheme could be realized. In this year the bill authorizing it was under his auspices submitted to the diet and passed; and with this financial achievement Matsukata saw the fulfilment of his ideas of financial reform, which were conceived during his first visit to Europe. Matsukata, who in 1884 was created Count, twice held the office of prime minister (1891-1892, 1896-1898), and during both his administrations he combined the portfolio of finance with the premiership; from October 1898 to October 1900 he was minister of finance only. His name in Japanese history is indissolubly connected with the financial progress of his country at the end of the 19th century. In 1902 he visited England and America, and he was created G.C.M.G., and given the Oxford degree of D.C.L. In September 1907 he was advanced to the rank of Marquis.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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