Prince Ito Hirobumi (?? ??, 16 October 1841 – 26 October 1909, born Hayashi Risuke and also known as Hirofumi, Hakubun and briefly during his youth as Ito Shunsuke) was a Japanese politician, Prime Minister and preeminent member of the Meiji oligarchy.
A London-educated samurai of the Choshu Domain and leader of the early Meiji Restoration government, he chaired the bureau which drafted the Meiji Constitution in the 1880s.
Looking to the West for inspiration, Ito rejected the United States Constitution as too liberal and the Spanish Restoration as too despotic before ultimately drawing on the British and German models, particularly the Prussian Constitution of 1850.
Dissatisfied with the prominent role of Christianity in European legal traditions, he substituted references to the more traditionally Japanese concept of kokutai or "national polity", which became the constitutional justification for imperial authority.
In 1885, he became Japan's first Prime Minister, an office his constitutional bureau had introduced.
He went on to hold the position four times, becoming one of the longest serving PMs in Japanese history, and wielded considerable power even out of office as a member of Japan's genro and occasional President of the Emperor's Privy Council.
A monarchist, Ito favoured a large, bureaucratic government and opposed the formation of political parties.
His third term in government was ended by the consolidation of the opposition into the Kenseito party in 1898, prompting him to found the Rikken Seiyukai party in response.
He resigned his fourth and final ministry in 1901 after growing weary of party politics.
Ito's foreign policy was ambitious.
He strengthened diplomatic ties with Western powers including Germany, the United States and especially the United Kingdom.
In Asia he oversaw the First Sino-Japanese War and negotiated Chinese surrender on terms aggressively favourable to Japan, including the annexation of Taiwan and the release of Korea from the Chinese Imperial tribute system.
Ito sought to avoid a Russo-Japanese War through the policy of Man-Kan kokan – surrendering Manchuria to the Russian sphere of influence in exchange for the acceptance of Japanese hegemony in Korea.
A diplomatic tour of the United States and Europe brought him to Saint Petersburg in November 1901, where he was unable to find compromise on this matter with Russian authorities.
Soon the government of Katsura Taro elected to abandon the pursuit of Man-Kan kokan, and tensions with Russia continued to escalate towards war.
The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905 made Ito the first Japanese Resident-General of Korea.
He initially supported the sovereignty of the indigenous Joseon monarchy as a protectorate under Japan, but he eventually accepted and agreed with the increasingly powerful Imperial Japanese Army, which favoured the total annexation of Korea, resigning his position as Resident-General and taking a new position as the President of the Privy Council of Japan in 1909.
Four months later, Ito was assassinated by Korean-independence activist and nationalist An Jung-geun in Manchuria.
The annexation process was formalised by another treaty the following year after Ito's death.
Through his daughter Ikuko, Ito was the father-in-law of politician, intellectual and author Suematsu Kencho.