Morioka: Home of the ‘commoner prime minister’

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Mt. Iwate is seen towering over the Kitakamigawa river flowing under the Kaiunbashi bridge.

By Haruki Sasamori / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterMORIOKA — This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration. It is also 100 years since the first Cabinet was formed by a political party in the history of Japan’s constitutional government.

It was the Cabinet headed by Morioka native Takashi Hara (1856-1921), who was called a “commoner prime minister.”

I visited the Hara-Kei Memorial Museum in Morioka, which displayed Hara’s original diaries until the end of February. (Hara was also known as Kei Hara.)

The museum, which opened 60 years ago, sits on the site of Hara’s family home. It keeps and exhibits precious materials related to modern Japanese political history, such as Hara’s diaries and the clothes he was wearing when he was assassinated at Tokyo Station.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Exhibits at the Hara-Kei Memorial Museum

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

Most of the items are kept in a separate storehouse and most of the ones on display are sophisticated reproductions.

However, these are sufficient to convey the turbulent life of a man who as a 16-year-old student served a French priest, then worked as a newspaper journalist and diplomat before entering politics, helped bring about an end to domain-dominated politics through battles with Aritomo Yamagata and others, and finally became the first commoner and first member of the House of Representatives to serve as prime minister.

The exhibits include a fascinating letter from Haruko Hatoyama asking Hara to support her son Ichiro, who went on to become prime minister himself after World War II.

The site includes part of the original Hara family home, which was built 168 years ago.

Hara’s diaries comprise 83 ruled notebooks bound in traditional Japanese fashion. The notebooks are stored in a wooden cabinet, which museum director Akira Yamauchi opened so I could have a look.

The entry for Sept. 27, 1918, records his appointment as prime minister by Emperor Taisho: “I received an order to form a Cabinet from His Majesty, because Prime Minister [Masatake] Terauchi resigned.”

Hara kept a diary from age 20 until he was assassinated. He would take notes on scraps of paper, then make a clean copy in clear handwriting once a week. His methodical character and desire to leave a record for later generations comes across in them. I picked up a notebook and saw not even a single blot.

“After Hara’s death, the diaries were moved to a kura storehouse at a villa in Morioka, so they were kept safe from earthquakes and war,” Yamauchi said.

Hara’s home in Shiba Park in Tokyo burned down in fires caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake two years after he was killed. The storehouse in the villa near the Kaiunbashi bridge was moved to the museum in 1980, and now holds about 7,000 precious items.

Hara’s diaries are to be designated as cultural assets by Iwate Prefecture this month. In recognition of this, the museum plans to again put the originals on display.

The city of Morioka has several related facilities that reflect how it prizes taking life lessons from one’s predecessors, such as great figures who came from the area.

One of them, the Morioka Memorial Museum of Great Predecessors, is in the same Motomiya district as the Hara museum.

There are rooms dedicated to Inazo Nitobe, undersecretary general of the League of Nations; Mitsumasa Yonai, prime minister and admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy; and Kyosuke Kindaichi, an influential linguist. The museum has a wealth of valuable items.

Yonai was a classmate at the Morioka Junior High School (present-day Morioka Daiichi High School) of Seishiro Itagaki, who was executed as a Class A War Criminal. The museum has a photograph of the two when Itagaki was inaugurated as war minister, an interesting tidbit of Showa era (1926-1989) history.

Standing on Kaiunbashi looking upstream on the Kitakamigawa river, you can see 2,038-meter-high Mt. Iwate, looking so grand that I almost mistook it for a cloud.

This so-called Nanbu Fuji was also visible from Hara’s family home.

Poet Takuboku Ishikawa, also from Iwate Prefecture, wrote a poem as follows: “The mere existence of a mountain at my birthplace is a very important thing that soothes my heart.”

The poem describes precious scenery for Hara, who overcame the stigma of being from the Nanbu domain, treated as rebels in the Boshin War, and rose in the world.

Letters on display

The Morioka Museum of Letter, in the center of the city on the Nakanohashi-dori street, has a unique collection of letters by famous figures.

Until June 11, the museum is holding an exhibition called “Takuboku Ishikawa as seen by literary figures.”

The exhibition features original letters from the linguist Kindaichi, who was ahead of Ishikawa at Morioka Junior High School, and husband-and-wife poets Tekkan and Akiko Yosano, who are credited with discovering Ishikawa.


The fastest way to Morioka from Tokyo is via a Hayabusa or Komachi train on the Tohoku Shinkansen line, which takes about 2 hours and 10 minutes.

The Hara-Kei Memorial Museum is about five minutes by taxi from Morioka Station.

For inquiries about the Hara-Kei Memorial Museum, contact (019) 636-1192.

The other museums mentioned in the text can be reached by contacting them directly or through the history and culture section at the Morioka Board of Education at (019) 639-9067.

To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit

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