Inoue Kaoru (井上馨)

Kaoru INOUE (January 16, 1836 - September 1, 1915) was a Japanese feudal samurai retainer of the Choshu clan, statesman, and businessman. His real family name was Genji. He was from the Inoue clan, a vassal of Mori clan which was local lords in Aki Province following Kawachi-Genji (Minamoto clan), one family lineage of Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan originated from Emperor Seiwa).

His childhood name was Yakichi,and common name was Monta (given by Takachika MORI, the lord of the Choshu clan). Imina (real name of a man of position) was Korekiyo. He worked as Gaimukyo (chief of Foreign Ministry), Sangi (one of the position in Grand Council of State) during the period of Daijokan (Grand Council of State) System. He served as Minister of Agriculture and Commerce in the Kuroda Cabinet, as Home Minister (Japan) in the second Ito Cbinet and held important posts involved in many corruptions. He was Genro, Junior First Rank supreme order marquis.

The period of Fudal retainer of the Choshu clan

He was born in Yuda village, Suo Province as the second son of Mitsuyuki Saburo Goro INOUE (upper-class samurai, 100 koku), a feudal retainer of Choshu Domain. Later, he became an adopted heir of the Shiji family (upper-class samurai, 250 koku), a feudal retainer of Choshu Domain, but reenrolled in the Inoue family again. He worked as a pageboy. He learned Western studies under Genzo IWAYA and Hidetatsu EGAWA in Edo, after entering the Meirinkan Domain school. He sympathized with the gradually rising sonno joi movement, engaging in extreme acts such as setting fire to the British legation along with Shinsaku TAKASUGI and Genzui KUSAKA in 1862 while he was travelling to study in Edo.

In 1863, he petitioned the Domain through administration Masanosuke SUFU to send him abroad and smuggled himself into England with Hirobumi ITO, Yozo YAMAO and Masaru INOUE as one of five outstanding persons of Choshu, which made him convert to the opinion of the opening the country to the world, realizing the difference in the national power, and then returned to Japan immediately together with Ito to try to make an effort for peace negotiations when the Shimonoseki War began. In the first conquest of Choshu, he was attacked by Zokuron-to (Sodetogi-bashi Bridge incident) due to his claiming of superficial obedience to the Bakufu and secret reinforcement of armaments, being seriously injured, but narrowly escaped death thanks to an operation conducted by Ikutaro TOKORO, a doctor and a ronin of Mino. After that, he rose up along with Shinsaku TAKASUGI and others at the Kozan-ji Temple in Chofu. He again unified the opinion of a domain people into kaikoku joi (opening the country to the world and excluding foreigners). In 1865, he formed an alliance with the Satsuma Domain through Ryoma SAKAMOTO (Satsuma-Choshu Alliance), beating the Bakufu army in the Second conquest of Choshu.

After the Meiji Restoration

He joined the government, mainly working on financial affairs. In 1873, he was forced to resign, being accused of his involvement with the corruption in the scandal of Osarizawa copper mine by Shinpei ETOU. He returned, in response to Hirobumi ITO's request, and served as Gaimukyo (chief of Foreign Ministry), Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Finance, after having been a businessman for a while, founding Senshu company backed by Mitsui Group. In 1883, he built Rokumeikan to negotiate the revision of an unequal treaty as Gaimukyo (chief of Foreign Ministry). And he proceeded with the project of centralizing the government offices in order to create a capital as good as Paris or Berlin (it was aborted due to Inoue's resignation).

He also contributed to the development of the business world, starting cotton spinning and railway industries, promoting industrialization. He was elevated to the rank of count under the Peerage Law in 1884, followed by the elevation to marquis in 1907. He was closely linked to Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Line), DOWA Holdings and especially Mitsui Zaibatsu (company syndicate) as a senior adviser. And he was called "Oban gashira (captain of the great guards) of Mitsui" by Takamori SAIGO who felt discomfort about that. He was seen as the epitome of greedy and corrupted officer being accused by the public of his act of feathering his nest with bribes and interests and dissipate it, actually being involved closely with a businessmen with political ties of Mitsui and Choshu, represented by Osarizawa Copper Mine incident. After the fourth Ito Cabinet collapsed, he was to assume the position of prime minister, given an imperial command, but he declined and handed it over to Taro KATSURA, seeing that the political situation couldn't offer much prospect (but when he was interior minister of the second Ito Cabinet, he served as provisional prime minister by proxy for about a month, when Ito met a car accident). After Ito's death, he enjoyed great power as Genro (elder statesman) in the world of politics, bureaucracy and business along with Kinmochi SAIONJI and Masayoshi MATSUKATA.

He died in his villa, Choja-so in Okitsu, Shizuoka Prefecture (present day Shimizu Ward, Shizuoka City) in 1915.


The Choshu and Satsuma Domains were gaining so much power that they were called Yuhan (the powerful domains), improving financial affairs by carrying out reforms according to the conditions of the countries in Tenpo era. Even though it was the period when policies were quite swingy in not only the Bakufu but also in each domain, and the difficulty of the problem, which prevented from determining even the guideline, put people in various situations in which some were troubled and just hesitating while others took radical positions, the measure to enrich and strengthen a country itself was a common goal for each class in each domain. Yuhan allowed the young using money with relative generosity to make their eyes open to the world. As to the Satsuma Domain, more than nineteen people went to England to study.

Public administration after the Meiji restoration needed the steer such as making systems and carrying out each measure at the same time, and Kaoru INOUE was the first who had a talent for finance among those who served in important positions during the early Meiji period, making a great effort to restore financial affairs. Since the Choshu Domain, which had played the biggest part in subverting the Bakufu, was the center of authority, it appears those who had a talent for finance gathered around Inoue all the more. And he eagerly became involved in corruption using his political power backed by people of Mitsui group, who forced him to resign once, but with his connections with someone related to Choshu and his prestige as a revolutionary genkun (the statesmen who contributed during the Meiji Restoration), he remained as an important figure along with Aritomo YAMAGATA who was from the same domain, for all his past corruption.

He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs for a long time during which he devoted himself to revising treaties. It seems the results of his effort appeared later at the time of Shigenobu OKUMA, Shuzo AOKI and Munemitsu MUTSU. Since diplomacy is a result of constructing a long trusted relationships between representatives of citizens of the states, it is not appropriate to make an evaluation based upon his clout in Japan. It seems Inoue hoped to prevent war against foreign countries as best he could, having seen the way of state management from the side of financial affairs of the restoration government.


Yaroku NAKAMURA, doctor of forestry, described as the follows.
Inoue was caring person.'
Once he placed his confidence in someone, he took care of him sincerely regardless of his social status or where he came from.'
He was honest in his actions and hated equivocality. He went to a place in person and negotiated face to face. It is said he barked when he encountered unwilling things. This bark kept some people away from him since then or made other people turn into his enemy, but many who were not daunted, or who were honest and confident, succeeded in their later career, because actually he barked out due to his kindness.

Because of his temper and angry voice, he was dubbed 'lightning old man.'
But Inoue put great confidence on Eichi SHIBUSAWA and never raised his voice while Shibusawa was in his company, which meant lightning never struck around Shibusawa, so he was dubbed 'lightning rod.'
But Shibusawa later said 'The real lightning rod was Inoue' and that Inoue took any attack by himself so that he was able to work freely.

Soho TOKUTOMI praised Inoue as follows.
He opposed to governmental works.'
In addition, Tokutomi introduced rationalistic side of Inoue as 'government official's business that private firms could do from beginning to an end is inefficient and hinders private business.'

Shigenobu OKUMA described Ito and Inoue as follows.
Mr. Ito's good point was his ability to organize something systematically according to the ideals, especially in creating systems and regulations.'
He took the trouble of preparing and it was tiresome to arrange necessities, but Inoue was not a stickler about the latter.'
Inoue was not the type of person who works systematically and render meritorious service.'
His characteristic is the working skill at the moment of an encounter.'
Once he put his hand to a complicated matter, he worked as quick as lightning, showing various skills according to circumstances.'
Anyway, there was no problem he couldn't solve once he was involved, no matter how difficult it was.'
He had courage plus the ability to adapt to circumstances.'
He was short-tempered, but did not got tired easily.'
Mr. Ito didn't like intense conflict.'
Sometimes his attitude was not clear to his opponents and even to proponents of him, because he was prone to saying yes driven by the momentum.'
Ito was calculating how to win the hearts of the people because his tricks were positive and dynamic, being ambitious in politics.'
Inoue was not ambitious and not concerned with making his name, so he didn't often appear on the front.'
Mr. Inoue was older than Mr. Ito and his Kakaku (family status) was also the higher, he seemed to help Ito every time as if he had been an older brother before the Restoration.'
He worked hard when asked by Mr. Ito even if his role was disadvantageous, being faithful to his friend and chivalrous by nature.'
Which made Mr. Inoue a victim, often receiving a bad reputations.'

He mixed with Eichi SHIBUSAWA,Takashi MASUDA and many other people in business. Having a long life, teaching his young relative Yoshisuke AYUKAWA (a grandson of his real sister Tsuneko) and AYUKAWA's brother-in-law Fusanosuke KUHARA.

His best friend was Kanichi YOSHITOMI (born to a village headman of Yabara in Yamaguchi, the first chairman of Yamaguchi Prefecture, a founder of Bocho-shinbun newspaper, and supporter of the Seiyu Party). Shinsaku TAKASUGI and Hirobumi ITO were his lifelong friends.

He had many friends also in the world of public entertainment, for example, Danjuro ICHIKAWA (the 9th)(Inoue helped him with clearing financial problem of slumping Kawarazaki Kabuki Theater which Ichikawa had undertaken asked by his adoptive family), a Rakugo story teller Encho Sanyutei, Kiyomoto (a performance of Joruri [the Japanese-type puppet play]) player Oyo and a gidayu (a style of reciting dramatic narratives) player Echigodayu TAKEMOTO.


His grandson, Mitsusada INOUE, who was professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo was known as a researcher of ancient history of Japan.

[Original Japanese]