Matsuoka was Foreign Minister of Japan from 1940-1941. He was a westernized man, brought up in Portland, Oregon by a Methodist family and holding a degree in law from the University of Oregon. However he was at the same time extremely xenophobic, greatly mistrusted America and Britain, and was primarily concerned with not allowing Japan to lose out in the approaching Great Power crisis. He is best remembered for coining the phrase, Greater East Asia CoProsperity sphere.
His main experience was in business but he turned to foreign affairs as Japanese delegate to the League of Nations, 1932-3. He staged a dramatic walk-out when Japan was censored for its invasion of Manchuria. A close friend of KONOYE’s, Matsuoka became Foreign Minister in his Cabinet in September 1940. His first achievement was to complete a Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy (23 September) which was primarily aimed at inhibiting the United States. In the spring of 1941 he traveled to Germany and Russia and was so impressed with STALIN and with the USSR’s strength that he signed a neutrality pact with MOLOTOV on 13 April 1941. The Japanese were outraged by the conclusion of such an agreement with their traditional enemy and by Matsuoka’s un-Japanese-like direct action. In July 1941 the entire Cabinet resigned in order to get rid of him. Matsuoka was tried and executed by the Allies for his part in initiating the war.