A Chōshū samurai and Meiji statesman

Born in Hagi in the Chōshū Domain in 1833 to the samurai physician Wada Masakage (和田 昌景), who served the Hagi clan, Kido Takayoshi (木戸孝允, 1833-1877) was adopted into the Katsura family in 1840 and known as Katsura Kogorō (桂小五郎) until 1865. In Hagi, he attended the school of Yoshida Shōin, an intellectual who believed in the necessity of modernising Japan and who was executed by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1859.

In 1852, Kido went to Edo to learn swordsmanship and western military science. At the Edo residence of the Chōshū domain, he served as a liaison officer between the administration and the radical samurai of Chōshū, who were – like Kido – exposed to the ideas of the sonnō jōi (尊皇攘夷, “Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians”) movement. He was convinced that it was imperative for Japan to overthrow of the shogunate and reinstate the emperor.

A suspicious shogunate transferred him to Kyoto, where he had to hide from the forces of the Satsuma and Aizu domains, who had been entrusted with the protection of the Imperial court and had taken control of the city in 1864, as well as the Shinsengumi (新選組 or 新撰組, “newly selected corps”), a special police force of the late shogunate period. In hiding with him was a geisha by the name of Ikumatsu, who would later become his wife.

Kido was instrumental in forging the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance (薩摩長州同盟, satsuma chōshū dōmei), which eventually defeated the bakufu in the Boshin War (1868/69). Later, he was to play a significant role in the establishment of the young Meiji state. As san’yo (参与, senior counsellor) he would draft the Five Charter Oath (五箇条の御誓文, gokajō no goseimon), a de-facto Meiji Constitution, and contributed to the implementation of policies relating to the modernisation of the administration, such as centralisation and the abolition of the old han (藩, domain) system. As Minister of Education, he advocated the introduction of Western education.

In 1871, he participated in the Iwakura Mission, a Japanese diplomatic journey around the world with the aim of studying the political and economic system of Western nations. The mission confirmed his belief that Japan was not ready yet to compete with Western powers. As a result of the Iwakura Mission he and Ōkubo Toshimichi, who had also participated in the mission, both strongly opposed the occupation of Korea, to the great dissatisfaction of Saigō Takamori and his war-party. When Kido could not prevent the Taiwan Expedition of 1874, he resigned from public service, only to return to politics as chairman of the Assembly of Prefectural Governors, an institution created in 1875.

Kido died in 1877 during the Satsuma Rebellion at the age of 44 due to a combination of mental and physical exhaustion, years of excessive alcohol consumption as well as an illness assumed to be tuberculosis or beriberi. His wife Ikumatsu survived him by nine years and died in 1887 at the age of only 43. Kido’s diaries have been translated into English and disclose his deep fears of having betrayed his samurai friends and his domain Chōshū in being loyal to the new Meiji state.


  • Beasley, W. G.; The Meiji Restoration , Stanford University Press 1972
  • Kune, Kunitake; Japan Rising: The Iwakura Embassy to the USA and Europe, Cambridge University Press 2009
  • Swayle, Alistair; The Meiji Restoration : Monarchism, Mass Communication and Conservative Revolution, Palgrave Macmillan 2009


Kido Takayoshi (click to open; photo credit)

A portrait of Kido Takayoshi based on the photo above (click to open; image credit: Yamaguchi Museum)


Kido Ikumatsu, Takayoshi's wife
Next article in the series 'Historical Biographies': Katsu Kaishu
Previous article in the series 'Historical Biographies': Kuroda Kiyotaka