I had been reading about Tojo's history and was surprised that he was not Prime minister at the start of the war (Looking at other European Authoritarians and how they saw things through from start to end).

I do not understand why there were so many different people that held the office around the time.

I am making the assumption that Japan's participation in WW2 started with the Marco Polo bridge incident and subsequent invasion of China rather than Pearl Habour.

I have only been reading from Wikipedia, and no books specifically. I am rather new to having a more detailed interest in History.

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    Hello & Welcome! Thanks for the edit! I think the answer comes down to the form of the constitution, i.e., Army and Navy having effective veto powers. However, looking through the list of Japanese PMs it's interesting to think whether other, more systemic or traditional, forces are also at play. Even the post-WWII PMs have rarely served three years.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 11:08
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    Not a period that I've studied deeply, but from discussions with a friend, my impression is that part of the answer is that Japan was experiencing a crisis of governance. the Prime Minister and the Government were actually less relevant to governance than zealots within the Military. That leads to a situation with high PM turnover.
    – MCW
    Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 11:39
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    Oh man I know there's an actual answer to this but I can't recall off the top of my head. There's something specific with the way the Japanese constitution operated at the time that made Japanese premierships highly unstable.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 13:43
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    Actually, short terms of PMs are very common throughout Japanese history (post-Meji). Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 14:32
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    Agreeing with a lot of the commenters that I'm not sure its clear what should be considered "normal" turnover in that office for Japan or for Parliamentary Democracies in general. That would need to be established first before going on to analyze how this period deviates from it. Perhaps that uncertainty could be edited to be included in the question, but otherwise this looks like a pretty good question to me.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 20:51

1 Answer 1


At least from the publicly available documents, the substantive decision making authority relating to military affairs was concentrated from Nov. 1937 onward in the ‘Imperial General Headquarters-Government Liaison Conference’ which was later renamed to ‘Supreme Council for the Direction of the War’ informally called the ‘Big Six committee’.

The committee kept on increasing in scope until by 1944, coinciding with the renaming, all substantive decision making authority on all affairs was concentrated there. See: Wikipedia:SupremeWarCouncil

Notice how the Prime Minister was only 1 of 6 yet was meant to assume ultimate responsibility with the Emperor while tradition prevents the Emperor from ever speaking in favor of the PM specifically.

In short, the PM position became increasingly untenable as the war dragged on and increasingly undesirable among the high ranking folks in Tokyo due to the, correct, perception that there was limitless downside with almost no upside as everything substantive had to go through the Army or Navy factions anyways at the end of the day.

Hence a very high circulation of people.

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    Thank you very much! Why did Tojo hold onto the position for so long nearer to the end of the war?
    – GMoney
    Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 9:01
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    Well did he have any alternatives? From my perspective he was already too committed by the end to have a chance at redemption or anything else.
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 16:18

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