Born into a samurai family from Akune City, Satsuma domain (modern-day Kagoshima Prefecture), Terashima (寺島宗則, 1832-1893) studied rangaku (蘭学, “Dutch studies” consisting of Dutch language and European sciences) in Edo and specialised in Western medicine.

In 1856, he was appointed a personal physician to Satsuma daimyō Shimazu Nariakira (島津斉彬), and in 1862 selected to participate in the shogunal delegation to London, where he studied at the University College. He also travelled through France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and Portugal. In 1863, he returned to Japan to teach medicine at the Kaiseijo (開成所, the shogunal school for Western learning in Edo). He participated in the Anglo-Satsuma War, during which he was taken prisoner by the Royal Navy, along with his friend Godai Tomoatsu. He joined the Satsuma Mission of 1865, visiting Europe for the second time.

After the Meiji Restoration, he became governor of Kanagawa, decreeing to establish the first telegraph connection between Tokyo and Yokohama. In 1873, he was appointed san’yo (参与, senior counsellor), just like Godai, and Foreign Minister. He negotiated the Treaty of St. Petersburg (樺太・千島交換条約 Karafuto-chishima kōkan jōyaku) with the Russian Empire in 1875, in which Japan gave up all territorial claims to Sakhalin in return for sovereignty over the Kuril islands. Terashima signed commercial treaties with Spain and Hawaii but was unable to renegotiate the unequal treaties with the United States.

In 1891, Terashima became vice-president of the Emperor's Privy Council (枢密院 sūmitsu-in). He died in 1893 at the age of 61.

References:
  • Brunton, Richard Henry; Building Japan 1868-1876, Japan Library 1991
  • Calman, Donald; The Nature and Origins of Japanese Imperialism: A Re-interpretation of the 1873 Crisis, Routledge 1992
  • Irokawa, Daikichi; The Culture of the Meiji Period, Princeton 1988
  • Jansen, Marius B.; The Making of Modern Japan, Cambridge 2002
  • Mounsey, Augustus Henry; The Satsuma Rebellion: An Episode Of Modern Japanese History (1879), Kessinger Publishing 2008
  • Swale, Alistair; The Meiji Restoration: Monarchism, Mass Communication and Conservative Revolution, Palgrave Macmillan 2009
  • Wilson, George M.; Patriots and Redeemers in Japan: Motives in the Meiji Restoration, University of Chicago Press 1992
  • Cover image: photo credit

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Portrait of Terashima Munenori