Giichi Tanaka

Tanaka Giichi Prime Minister of Japan 1927-9. A career soldier whose reputation within the military was established on the basis of his knowledge of Russia and the Russian military. A participant in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, Tanaka promoted reforms in army training and was a key figure in the foundation of the Military Reservists Association. In 1925, he became the president of the Seiyukai and was invited to form a government in 1927, in a bid to bring order to a banking crisis and remedy a weak China policy. The Tanaka Cabinet was responsible for large-scale crackdowns on left-wing groups. He was forced to step down over the failure of his China policy, especially after Emperor Hirohito made known his displeasure at the government's inability to rein in the Guandong Army.

Early life and military career

Tanaka was born to a samurai family in Hagi, Nagato Province (modern day Yamaguchi Prefecture), Japan. He graduated from the Imperial Japanese Army Academy and the Army War College in 1892, and served in the First Sino-Japanese War, and later in the Russo-Japanese War, as aide to General Kodama Gentaro. In 1906, he helped draft a defense plan which was so highly regarded by the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff that it was adopted by as basic policy until World War I.

Tanaka was fluent in the Russian language, which he learned while as a military attaché to Moscow. He attended mass every Sunday at a Russian Orthodox church, which enabled him to practice his Russian at church social events, although it is uncertain if he ever actually converted to Christianity.

In 1911, Tanaka was promoted to major general, and was made director of the Military Affairs Bureau at the Army Ministry, where he recommended an increase in the strength of the standing army by two more infantry divisions.

Promoted to full general in 1920, he served as War Minister under Prime Ministers Hara Takashi (1918-21) and the 2nd Yamamoto administrations (1923-24), during which time he backed the Siberian Intervention.

After retiring from the army, he was invited to accept the post of party president of the Rikken Seiyukai political party in 1925, and was made a member of the House of Peers. He was later elevated to the title of danshaku (Baron) under the kazoku peerage system.

Tanaka had been scheduled to be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal at the time of his retirement. However, when news reached the ears of the Army Ministry of a 3 million Yen bonus that Tanaka received on agreeing to join the Rikken Seiyukai, the promotion was denied.

As Prime Minister

Tanaka became Prime Minister of Japan in 1927, during the Sh?wa financial crisis, serving simultaneously as the Foreign Affairs Minister.

On the domestic front, Tanaka attempted to suppress leftists, Communists and suspected Communist sympathizers through widespread arrests (the March 15 incident of 1928, and the April 19 Incident of 1929).

In foreign affairs, he continued the aggressive interventionist policies he began as a military officer in China, Manchuria and Mongolia. On three separate occasions in 1927-1928 he sent troops to intervene militarily in China to block Chang Kai-shek’s Northern Expedition to unify China under Kuomingtang rule, in what became known as the Jinan Incident.

Tanaka came into office even as forces were already beginning to converge that would draw Japan into World War II. In 1928, however, the machinations of the ultranationalist secret societies and the Kwantung Army resulted in a crisis: the assassination of the Manchurian warlord Zhang Zuolin and the failed attempt to seize Manchuria. Tanaka himself was taken by surprise by the assassination plot, and argued that the officers responsible should be publicly court-martialed for homicide. The military establishment, from which Tanaka was by now estranged, insisted on covering up the facts of the incident, which remained an official secret. Bereft of support, and under mounting criticism in Diet and even from Emperor Hirohito himself, Tanaka and his cabinet resigned en masse.

He was succeeded by Hamaguchi Osachi, and died a few months later.


    Tanaka Giichi
    b. 22 June 1864
    d. 29 Sept 1929