Hara Kei, also known as Hara Takashi, was the first commoner to become prime minister of Japan.
He served as a government bureaucrat before becoming Home Minister in 1906. During his term in that position (until 1908), he strengthened his political party, the Seiyûkai, by attracting support from amongst the bureaucracy. He also placed loyal members of his party in positions as prefectural governors, and attracted others to his side by offering them policies and decisions that would specifically benefit their local/regional constituencies.
Following the March First Movement uprisings in Korea in 1919, and the horror among many around the world at the Japanese colonial administration's brutal response, Hara attempted to push for a more moderate approach, and for reforms, including modernization and democratization efforts, to be enacted in the colonies as they had been in the home islands. Seeing how the British managed Ireland, and the level of constant tensions and violence there, and not wishing the same should happen in Korea, he advocated that extending greater freedoms and rights to the Koreans, and ending discrimination against them, would go a long way to easing their grievances, and encouraging their loyalty to Japan. Hara was successful to some extent with his efforts to extend liberal and bureaucratic reforms already underway in Japan into the colonies, bringing a greater degree of civilian rule to Taiwan and Micronesia, but autocratic military rule remained in place in Korea.
Among the most extreme of his suggested reforms would have extended to Taiwanese and Koreans the power to vote, and to have either representation in legislatures in Taiwan and Korea, or representation in the National Diet in Tokyo. Hara was assassinated, however, before these intentions could be more fully realized.
- Conrad Schirokauer, David Lurie, and Suzanne Gay, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 202.
- Mark Peattie, "Japanese Attitudes toward Colonialism, 1895-1945," in Peattie and Ramon Myers (eds.), The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945, Princeton University Press (1984), 107.
- Peattie and Myers (ed.), 21, 29.