He attended the Sukagawa Medical School in Fukushima Prefecture. In 1881, after graduating, he became director of the Aichi Hospital and head of the Aichi Medical School.
Goto began government service in 1882. By the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, he was director of the Health Bureau of the Home Ministry. The young doctor rose to prominence in establishing a wartime quarantine system to guard the civilian population from diseases carried home by members of the armed forces. In 1898 Goto accepted appointment as a colonial administrator in Formosa. A notable career in politics followed, marked by Goto's selection as Japan's minister of communications in 1908, a post he held until 1911. Meanwhile, the physician-turned politician maintained an active interest in colonial affairs, directing the South Manchurian Railroad Company and serving as vice-president of the government's Colonization Bureau.
In October 1916, Goto reentered the government to become home minister under General Terauchi Masatake. Goto was widely considered by contemporaries to be "the power behind the Terauchi cabinet." His interests included foreign affairs, and, in June 1917, he joined the influential Advisory Council on Foreign Policy, composed of military, political, and parliamentary leaders.
The last months of 1917 and the early months of 1918 were a critical period in Japanese foreign affairs. Russia's eastern Siberian provinces were close to anarchy as the effects of the 1917 revolutions spread. Members of the Entente, notably Britain, urged Japan to land an expeditionary force in Vladivostok and proceed westward. London fantasized that such Japanese action might revitalize or even restore the eastern front against Germany. Some leaders, including Foreign Minister Motono, were willing, but the necessary consensus did not materialize. Goto for one insisted that an invitation from the Entente was insufficient. He deprecated the fading power of countries like Britain. Like the getiro, Japan's influential group of elder statesmen, Goto insisted that the United States must join in any such expedition. This guaranteed that Japan would not lose the vital financial and material support only the United States could provide. It also shielded Japan from the possibility of a debilitating campaign in Siberia while the Americans stood aside, growing both stronger and more hostile. With the broad consent of diplomatic, political, and military circles, Goto assumed the post of foreign minister in late April 1918.
Chaos in Siberia deepened. In May the Czech legion, passing through to join Entente forces on the western front, revolted against the Bolsheviks. The Czechs seized the Trans-Siberian Railroad and advanced to the port of Vladivostok. Under intense pressure from Britain and France to aid the Czechs and to support Russian anti-Bolshevik elements,
Woodrow Wilson ended American opposition to a Japanese landing. On July 8 Goto received an invitation to cooperate with the United States in landing limited forces in the area around Vladivostok.
Goto had larger ambitions. Proposals and counterproposals passed between 1 okyo and Washington over the next month. Goto could not obtain American assent to a large Japanese expedition permitted to occupy the entire Amur valley. Nonetheless, his authoritative statement of Japanese policy, promulgated on August 2, evaded the precise territorial and numerical limits the United States hoped to impose. Interventionist elements in the Japanese military were disappointed, but Japan's Siberian intervention could then begin. To Hayase, Goto was "its chief architect." When the Terauchi cabinet fell in September 1918, Japan was firmly en-trenched in eastern Siberia, with the army providing a powerful impetus for future expansion.
Goto continued his political career in the 1920s, serving as mayor of Tokyo and returning to his wartime office of home minister. He died in Kyoto, April 13,1929.
As a doctor by training, Gotō believed that Taiwan must be ruled by "biological principles", i.e. that he must first understand the habits of the Taiwanese population, as well as the reasons for their existence, before creating corresponding policies. For this purpose, he created and headed the Provisional Council for the Investigation of Old Habits of Taiwan (ja).
Gotō also established the economic framework for the colony by government monopolization of sugar, salt, tobacco and camphor and also for the development of ports and railways. He recruited Nitobe Inazō to develop long-range plans for forestry and sub-tropical agriculture. By the time Gotō left office, he had tripled the road system, established a post office network, telephone and telegraph services, a hydroelectric power plant, newspapers, and the Bank of Taiwan. The colony was economically self-supporting and by 1905 no longer required the support of the home government despite the numerous large-scale infrastructure projects being undertaken.