Satsuma samurai and Meiji statesman
Born into a samurai family from Satsuma (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture) in the service of the Shimazu daimyō of Kagoshima, Kuroda (黑田清隆, 1840-1900) was one of the retainers involved in the Nagamugi Incident in Yokohama (see text box below). Kuroda also fought in the ensuing Anglo-Satsuma War in 1863 and went to Edo in the same year to study gunnery.
He contributed to the establishment of the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance that aimed at ending the Tokugawa shogunate. Kuroda served as commander in the Boshin War and spared the life of the Tokugawa admiral Takeaki Enomoto (榎本 武揚, 1836-1908) in the Battle of Goryokaku in Hakodate. Enomoto was one of the few Tokugawa loyalists who rose within the Meiji government, serving as vice-admiral, special envoy to Russia, Navy Minister, Minister of Communications, Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, Minister of Education and Foreign Minister, owing his rise mainly to Kuroda.
In the light of Russia’s accelerating expansion towards the East, Kuroda advocated the quick development of Japan’s northern territories, supporting Japan’s claims to the island of Sakhalin (樺太, Karafuto). In 1874, Kuroda became director of the Hokkaidō Colonization Office, recruiting former samurai and soldiers to settle and farm in Hokkaido. He also served as envoy to Korea, concluding the Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity and – despite hailing from Satsuma himself – was sent there in 1877 to suppress the Satsuma Rebellion, a revolt of disgruntled former Satsuma samurai against the Meiji government. In the wake of Ōkubo Toshimichi‘s assassination in 1878, he became the leader of Satsuma.
Kuroda’s reputation suffered in the Hokkaidō Colonization Office Scandal of 1881. When it was revealed to the public that Kuroda had submitted a proposal to the cabinet for the sale of government assets purchased for 14 million yen to the Kansai Bōeki Kaisha (Kansai Trading Company) held by his Satsuma acquaintances for just 380,000 yen, which could be repaid annual installment over thirty years without interest, the press and the public reacted with fierce criticism. In the same year, his wife died, and it was rumoured that he had killed her under the influence of alcohol. An autopsy revealed Kuroda’s innocence (his wife had died of pulmonary disease), but rumours of his alcohol abuse persisted.
In 1887, Kuroda was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Commerce and just a year later, he became the second Prime Minister of Japan, succeeding Itō Hirobumi. Kuroda had to resign over his inability to revise the unequal treaties, and in 1892 he served as Minister of Communications. In 1895, he became a genrō and chairman of the Privy Council. Kuroda died of a brain haemorrhage in 1900. His former enemy in battle and protégé Enomoto presided over his funeral ceremonies.
Also known as the Kanagawa Incident, and as the Richardson Affair, or 生麦事件 (Namamugi-jiken in Japanese), it was an assault of samurai of the Shimazu daimyō of Kagoshima, Satsuma domain, on four British nationals who were travelling on horses north to Kawasaki Daishi temple. In the village of Nagamugi, close to Tsurumi, Yokohama, they encountered the armed retinue of Shimazu Hisamitsu, travelling in the opposite direction. When the British party did not stop and dismount (they were, in fact, exempt under the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty) as the procession passed by, one samurai struck Charles Lennox Richardson, wounding him mortally, two other British men were injured. The samurai later blamed the insolent behaviour of the British as a cause for the incident. It eventually led to the bombardment of Kagoshima by the Royal Navy in 1863 and the Anglo-Satsuma War over Satsuma’s refusal to apologise and pay compensation. In the end, the daimyō paid £100,000 – borrowed from the bakufu in Edo and never paid back.
The Namamugi Incident
- Auslin, Michael R.; Negotiating with Imperialism: The Unequal Treaties and the Culture of Japanese Diplomacy, Harvard University Press 2006
- Ehara, Tadashi; Daimyo of 1867: Samurai Warlords of Shogun Japan, Different Worlds Publications 2010
- Jansen, Marius B.; The Emergence of Meiji Japan, Cambridge University Press 1995
- Mounsey, Augustus Henry; The Satsuma Rebellion: An Episode Of Modern Japanese History (1879), Kessinger Publishing 2008
- Namamugi Incident (by Lonelee Planet, linked via Internet Archive)
Kuroda Kiyotaka (Photo credit)
Hayakawa Shozan (早川松山), a woodblock print of the Nagamugi Incident (Image source; click to enlarge)
Kuroda as a young samurai