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Japanese Prime Ministers with the shortest terms in office

By Edited Jul 1, 2014 0 1

Japan, a modern First World country, has the misfortune of going through a series of short-lived Prime Ministers in its post-war history. As of 25 November 2011, the current incumbent, Yoshihiko Noda, is now in his second month in office after assuming office on 2 September. Since 1885, Japan has 62 Prime Ministers, of which 32 are from the 66-year period after World War Two. The list below comprises of the eight post-war Prime Ministers whose tenure was less than a year. This musical-chair sytem of rotating Prime Ministers sadly reflects Japan's weak leadership and parliamentary style that has hampered the country's ability to revitalise its economy. 

8. Taro Aso (358 days)

  • 59th Prime Minister
  • September 24 2008 - September 16 2009

Born in Wakayama Prefecture, Aso was elected to the House of Representatives in 1979 as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party. Before he became Prime Minister, Aso served as Foreign Minister, Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, Minister in charge of Economic and Financial Policies and Director-General of the Economic Planning Agency. As Prime Minister, his main focus was to revitalise the Japanese economy but to no avail. His tenure was cut short after the LDP lost by a landslide in the Lower House elections in August 2009. 

Taro Aso

7. Tetsu Katayama (292 days)

  • 33rd Prime Minister
  • May 24 1947 - March 10 1948

Born in Wakayama Prefecture, Katayama worked as an attorney after graduation from Tokyo Imperial University. In 1930, Katayama was elected to the House of Representatives as a member of the Japan Socialist Party. In 1945, he became the Secretary-General of the party. In 1947, Katayama formed a three-party coalition government and became the first socialist Prime Minister of Japan. His tenure was marked by the introduction of social reforms, like the establishment of Japan's first Labour Ministry, the unemployment compensation and insurance acts and the dissolution of any companies considered to be monopolistic. He was subsequently forced to resign due to the strong influence of hardline socialists over his policies.

Tetsu Katayama

6. Yukio Hatoyama (266 days)

  • 60th Prime Minister
  • September 16 2009 - June 8 2010

Born in Tokyo, Hatoyama is the son of Foreign Minister Iichiro Hatoyama. His mother is the daugther of Shojiro Ishibashi, the founder of the Bridgestone Corporation. In 1986, Hatoyama was elected to the House of Representatives on the Liberal Democratic Party ticket, representing a district in Hokkaido.  In 1993, he left the LDP and eventually joined the Democractic Party of Japan (DPJ) in 1996. From 1999 to 2002, he served as the leader of the opposition. After the DPJ's electoral victory in 2009, he became the Prime Minister. During his tenure, he increased social spending, particularly in education, healthcare and unemployment assistance. Hatoyama also tried to shift Japan's foreign policy from America-centric to more Asia-focused. After the DPJ performed badly in the Upper House elections in July 2010, Hatoyama was pressured by his own party members to step down.

Yukio Hatoyama

5. Morihiro Hosokawa (263 days)

  • 50th Prime Minister
  • August 9 1993 - April 28 1994

Born in Tokyo, Hosokawa was the grandson of former Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe.  Hosokawa worked as a journalist before being elected to the House of Councillors in 1971, as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In 1983, he successfully ran for Governor of Kumamoto Prefecture, where he served for two terms until 1991.  In 1992, he left the LDP to establish the Japan New Party. The following year, the LDP lost its parliamentary majority, resulting in a eight-party coalition government headed by Hosokawa. As Prime Minister, Hosokawa publicly acknowledged World War Two as a "war of aggression" and expressed responsibility and condolences to the war victims and survivors. His government also managed to pass legislation to reform the electoral system. However, in 1994, Hosokawa was forced to step down from office over allegations that he had misused public funds during the 1980s.

Morihiro Hosokawa

4. Hitoshi Ashida (220 days)

  • 34th Prime Minister
  • March 10 1948 - October 15 1948

Born in Kyoto, Ashida served in the Foreign Ministry for two decades, before being elected to the House of Representatives as a member of the Seiyukai Party. After World War Two, he won election to the new Diet as a member of the Liberal Party (which subsequently merged with another party to form the Japan Democratic Party). In 1948, Ashida became the Prime Minister, heading a coalition government. His tenure was cut short due to a corruption scandal which involved two of his Cabinet members. (Ashida himself was cleared of the corruption charges in 1958.)

Hitoshi Ashida

3. Sousuke Uno (69 days)

  • 47th Prime Minister
  • June 3 1989 - August 10 1989

Born in Shiga Prefecture, Uno served in the Japanese Imperial Army during World War Two. He won election to the House of Representatives in 1960. As Prime Minister, Uno introduced the consumption tax, which was highly unpopular in Japan. His public standing was further exacerbated by the effects of the Recruit scandal, which involved insider trading and corruption. Uno was finally forced to resign due to the public uproar over his extramarital affair with a geisha, particularly of his "insufficient" financial support for her.

Sousuke Uno

2. Tanzan Ishibashi (65 days)

  • 36th Prime Minister
  • December 23 1956 - February 25 1957

Born in Tokyo, Ishibashi worked as a journalist at the Mainichi Shimbun after graduation from Waseda University. His forte was in economics, which was displayed in his numerous writings about Japan's financial policies. Initially from the Japan Socialist Party, he subsequently left to join the Liberal Democractic Party in 1955 when it was formed. He became the LDP President and Prime Minister in 1956, replacing Ichiro Hatoyama. As Prime Minister, Ishibashi adopted a conciliatory approach towards the People's Republic of China, and even proposed the establishment of diplomatic ties with the PRC. However, his term in office was cut short due to ill health, forcing him into early retirement. 

Tanzan Ishibashi

1. Tsutomu Hata (64 days)

  • 51st Prime Minister
  • April 28 1994 - June 30 1994

Born in Tokyo, Hata was the son of a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member of parliament. In 1969, Hata won election to the House of Representatives, representing Nagano Prefecture. Although he had served as Finance Minister in the Miyazawa administration in the early 1990s, Hata resigned from the LDP in 1993 to establish the Japan Renewal Party, which was a coalition partner in the Morihiro Hosokawa administration. Hata also served as Foreign Minister then, before replacing Hosokawa as Prime Minister in 1994. His administration was cut short by the departure of his coalition partner, the Japan Socialist Party, which wiped out his parliamentary majority. Rather than face a vote of confidence, Hata chose to resign instead.

Tsutomu Hata


Mar 19, 2013 12:55am
the revolving door prime ministers in this country is probably one of the more fascinating aspects of japanese politics to an outsider. very good article.
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  1. Japan Cabinet Office "Japanese Prime Ministers in History." Japan Cabinet Office. 25/11/2011 <Web >

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