Chōshū samurai and senior Meiji politician

Inoue Kaoru (井上薫, 1836-1915) was a senior member of the genrō, the political oligarchy of the Meiji period and yielded significant influence over the policies and political decisions of Meiji-era Japan. He was born into a gōshi (郷士, lower-ranking samurai) family of the Hagi clan in Chōshū (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture), and was a close childhood friend of Itō Hirobumi.

He studied Dutch and military arts during his adolescence and participated in the sonnō jōi (尊皇攘夷, lit. "Revere the emperor, expel the barbarians") movement which was influenced by Yoshida Shōin and other anti-Tokugawa leaders.

In 1858, he moved to Edo to further his studies, where he met other like-minded people from among the sonnō jōi movement. Together they planned and burned down the British Legation in 1863. He was incarcerated for one week but promoted to palace guard notwithstanding.

Despite his resentment of foreigners, he was chosen to be one of the Chōshū Five, along with Itō Hirobumi and three others. As it was still officially prohibited to leave Japan, they secretly embarked on a journey to Great Britain in 1862 to study Western technologies at University College London under the guidance of Professor Alexander William Williamson. Back in Japan in 1864, he helped to forge the alliance between Satsuma and Chōshū which was eventually to overthrow the Tokugawa government.

Inoue held several high-ranking positions in the new Meiji government: Sanyo (参与, senior counsellor); taifu (大夫, senior vice minister) of Finance; Sangi (参議, associate counselor in the Imperial court); Minister of Agriculture and Commerce; Minister of Foreign Affairs in the first cabinet under Itō Hirobumi; Home Minister in the second Itō administration and again Finance Minister in the 3rd Itō administration. He also served as vice-ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Korea in 1895.

His close ties to the railway business and in particular to the Mitsui zaibatsu made Saigo Takamori sarcastically call him "Chief Minister for Mitsui". However, Inoue viewed Mitsui as a decisive element in the industrialisation process of Japan.

Inoue fell ill in 1909 and spent his last years secluded at his summer residence at Okitsu-juku (Shizuoka Prefecture) where he died in 1915.


  • Alistair, Swayle; The Meiji Restoration : Monarchism, Mass Communication and Conservative Revolution, Palgrave Macmillan 2009
  • Irokawa, Daikichi; The Culture of the Meiji Period, Princeton 1988
  • Jansen, Marius B.; The Making of Modern Japan, Cambridge 2002



Inoue Kaoru (Photo credit: NDL)


Inoue Kaoru before 1915 (Photo credit)


The Chōshū Five: Itō Shunsuke (later Ito Hirobumi; Prime Minister), Inoue Monta (later Inoue Kaoru; Foreign Minister), Yamao Yōzō who later studied engineering at the Andersonian Institute, Glasgow, 1866-68 while working at the River Clyde shipyards by day, Endō Kinsuke, Nomura Yakichi (later Inoue Masaru)


Inoue Kaoru as a young samurai (Photo credit)
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