Shigeru Yoshida (1878-1967) was one of Japan’s most influential post World War II politicians who served two terms as Prime Minister between 1946-47 and 1948-54. Yoshida’s refusal to rearm Japan at the encouragement of the American Allied forces post-war and his belief in economic and technological development – known as the Yoshida Doctrine – was primarily responsible for Japan’s remarkably swift and strong economic recovery.
Born in Yokosuka in an era when Japan’s Emperors were worshipped as gods as well as absolute rulers, Shigeru Yoshida graduated with a degree in law from the Tokyo Imperial University in 1906. He joined the diplomatic corps at the critical stage in the country’s history when Japan had somewhat unexpectedly defeated the Russian Tsar Nicholas II in the Russo Japanese War (1904-5).
Yoshida rose through the ranks of the diplomatic corps to become minister to Sweden, Norway and Denmark in 1928 then Ambassador to Italy in the early 1930s. It was at this time that Yoshida first became a customer of Henry Poole & Co. In 1936, he was appointed to one of the most prestigious diplomatic posting available: Japanese Ambassador to the Court of St James’s in London. Yoshida was recalled to Tokyo in 1938 a year before war was declared and lobbied for an early Japanese surrender for which he was imprisoned and only liberated in 1945 when the Americans occupied Japan.
With Emperor Hirohito of Japan facing prosecution as a war criminal unless he surrendered absolute power and agreed to be a constitutional monarch, the pro-British and American Yoshida was perfectly placed to lead his country in the aftermath of World War II. His first term as Prime Minister began in 1946 and Yoshida immediately set about distancing his country from the hostile communist regimes antagonistic to the West during the ensuing Cold War.
In his second term as Prime Minister, Yoshida addressed the San Francisco Peace Conference in 1951 and his introduction to the speech summarises his economic and political policy that formed the basis of modern Japan: ‘the peace treaty before the Conference contains no punitive or retaliatory clauses; nor does it impose upon Japan any permanent restrictions or disabilities. It will restore the Japanese people to full sovereignty, equality and freedom and reinstate us as a free and equal member in the community of nations. It is not a treaty of vengeance but an instrument of reconciliation. The Japanese Delegation gladly accepts this fair and generous treaty’.
Prime Minister Yoshida was voted out of power in 1954 and retired from the Diet of Japan in 1963. He was a prolific writer of political polemics and his 159-works were published in six languages. He was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum, the Collar of the Order of the Chrysanthemum and the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun. Yoshida was baptised a Catholic on his deathbed and was awarded a State Funeral at St Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo. His grandson Taro Aso is a Japanese politician and his granddaughter Princess Tomohito of Mikasa married the first cousin of present Emperor Akihito of Japan.