Mutsu Munemitsu (陸奥宗光)

Munemitsu MUTSU (August 20, 1844-August 24, 1897) was a Japanese warrior/feudal retainer of the Kishu Domain, a statesman, and a diplomat. He was called "Kamisori minister" ("kamisori" refers to a sharp person) and showed his ability as Minister of Foreign Affairs in revising unequal treaties (treaty revisions). Up until the Edo period his by-name was Yonosuke.

He was Shonii (Senior Second Rank), Kunitto (First Order of Merit), and a count. His family crest was Sendai (a geographical name) peony.


On August 20, 1844 he was born as the sixth son of Munehiro DATE (also called Chihiro DATE), a feudal retainer of the Kishu Domain, and his wife Masako (of the Atsumi clan). His childhood name was Ushimaro. His birthplace is said to have been that of a descendant of Munekatsu DATE, the youngest child of Masamune DATE who was known for Date Sodo (the Date family disturbance); actually, however, he was a descendant of the Date family of Suruga Province, who moved out from the Date family of Mutsu Province in the old days and started a branch family. He was called Kojiro DATE or Yonosuke MUTSU. Under the influence of his father, who was known as a scholar of Japanese classical literature and a historian, Mutsu began to have the thoughts of Sonno Joi (slogan advocating reverence for the Emperor and the expulsion of foreigners). Although Mutsu's father was a senior vassal serving in the Kishu Domain who accomplished financial reconstruction, he was defeated in a political strife within the domain and was overthrown when Mutsu was eight years old (1852); as the result, the family suffered hardship and poverty.

End of the Edo period

In 1858, Mutsu left for Edo to study under Sokken YASUI and Seibi MIZUMOTO, and became friends with patriots such as Ryoma SAKAMOTO of Tosa Province, Kogoro KATSURA (Takayoshi KIDO) and Shunsuke ITO (Hirobumi ITO) of Choshu Province.

In 1863, he entered Kobe Naval Training Center of Kaishu KATSU, and in 1867 he joined Kaientai (also called Roshikessha; an association of roshi [masterless samurai] organized by Ryoma SAKAMOTO) of Ryoma SAKAMOTO; as such, Mutsu was always with SAKAMOTO.
Mutsu, who was taken under the wings of Kaishu KATSU and SAKAMOTO, exerted his abilities in such a way that SAKAMOTO was led to say: 'Only Mutsu and I can live without wearing two [swords].'
Likewise, Mutsu praised Ryoma highly as follows.
No one can beat Ryoma who is greatly talented in flexibility.'
He is a person of free will, like a horse galloping in the sky.'

After Ryoma was assassinated, Mutsu, who believed that the assassination was masterminded by Yasushi MIURA, a feudal retainer of Kishu Domain, raided Tenmaya (an inn) with fifteen comrades of Kaientai (Tenmaya Incident) where Yasushi was staying.

After the Meiji Restoration
After the Meiji Restoration, he successively worked in positions such as goyogakari (the person in charge of the command from Imperial Household Ministry) in the foreign affairs office (1868), the governor of Hyogo Prefecture (1869), the prefectural governor of Kanagawa Prefecture (1871), the head of land-tax reform office (1872), but he resigned from his post as the result of having been furious about the current conditions of the government that was dominated by the Satsuma and Choshu clans. In the meantime, his wife died in 1872 and he remarried Ryoko MUTSU the following year. In 1875, the government and Minken-ha (advocates of freedom and popular rights) compromised, and Mutsu became the councilor of the senate which was established as a part of the negotiation.

Imprisonment and studying abroad in Europe
In the Seinan War in 1877, Yuzo HAYASHI, Taku OE and others of Risshisha of Tosa Province (a political group) conspired to overthrow the government; however, Mutsu was keeping up with the Tosa-ha (a political group). The following year, the above fact was discovered, and Mutsu was stripped of his position and made a commoner, was imprisoned and sentenced to five years.

Mutsu, who was kept under restraint in Yamagata Prison, busily wrote letters to his wife Ryoko; on the other hand, he wrote a book and also devoted to translating a work by Bentham, a utilitarian philosopher of England. In 1883, after he was discharged from prison, "Principles of Moral and Legislation" by Bentham was published under the name "Seiso RIGAKU." When a fire occurred in Yamagata Prison, misinformation that Mutsu was burnt to death circulated; however, once the information was discovered to be false, in 1878 Hirobumi ITO employed every possible means to have Mutsu transferred to Miyagi Prison, which had the best facilities at the time.

In January 1883, he was allowed to leave prison by special pardon and went to Europe to study, one of the reasons being Hirobumi's invitation. Upon arrival in London in 1884, Mutsu studied hard in order to understand the structure of modern society in the West. Seven notebooks which he wrote while in London are still remaining today. The notebooks show that Mutsu absorbed various information and knowledge that had been developed over long years in England, an advanced country of democracy, such as how the cabinet system was structured and how the parliament was operated. Furthermore, he studied the theory of state by Stein in Vienna.

Return to political world
He returned to Japan in February of 1886, and by October he began working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1888, he became Resident Envoy to the United States; in the same year, he succeeded in concluding the Japan-Mexico Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Japan's first equal treaty, with Mexico as Resident Envoy to the United States and Resident Envoy to Mexico.

After returning to Japan, he assumed the post of the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce in the cabinet of Aritomo YAMAGATA. In 1890, while serving as the minister, he ran in the first election for a seat in the House of Representatives from the first electoral district in Wakayama Prefecture, was elected, and served the first term. He was the only member of the House of Representatives who was a cabinet member. When Mutsu joined the cabinet, he was expected to conduct a smooth progression of the First Imperial Diet (today's Diet affairs) rather than his role as the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce. In fact, Nobuyuki NAKAJIMA, the first chairman of the House of Representatives, was Mutsu's close friend since the time of Kaientai, and Mutsu also kept through his lifetime a close friendship with Toru HOSHI, a kingmaker in Rikken Jiyuto (a political party) who was also Mutsu's subordinate once; such connections helped Mutsu in his parliamentary affairs. The secretary of the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce at the time was a trustworthy assistant, Takashi HARA. After Mutsu's death, his comrades such as Saionji, Hoshi, and Hara started on Rikken Seiyukai (a political party organized by Hirobumi ITO) with Ito at their head.

In 1891, over the Ashio Copper Mine Mineral Pollution Incident, he received questions from Shozo TANAKA in the Imperial Diet but responded that he did not understand the purport of the questions (Mutsu's second son, Junkichi, had been adopted by Ichibei FURUKAWA, the manager of Ashio Copper Mine). He remained in the cabinet of Masayoshi MATSUKATA which was established in May of the same year, proposed Cabinet Codes and personally became the department director of government affairs, but due to a conflict with the Satsuma-ha (a political group), he resigned. In November, with the support of Shojiro GOTO, Taku OE, and Kunisuke OKAZAKI, he published a daily newspaper called "Suntetsu" in which he criticized the Matsukata cabinet, which he was also a part, and in March 1892, he resigned and became an advisor for the Privy Council.

During service as a foreign minister
Later he was given a seat in the Second Ito cabinet and assumed the post of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In 1894, he concluded the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with England.

He succeeded in abolishing chigaihoken (exterritoriality), which was an unequal treaty which existed since the end of the Edo period. Later, he signed a similar treaty with the United States, and likewise revised the treaties with Germany, Italy, and France and such. While Mutsu was serving as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he accomplished treaty revisions (abolishment of chigaihoken) with all fifteen nations with which Japan had concluded unequal treaties.

In August of the same year, he was conferred a peerage of viscount.

On the other hand, when the Donghak Peasant Revolution began in Korea, he dispatched troops in opposition of the invasion of Qing; on July 23, he established a pro-Japanese regime after the occupation of the royal palace of Korea, and on July 25 began the Sino-Japanese War by the Battle of Toyo-shima Island, and succeeded in neutralization of England and Russia. This diplomacy of starting a war reflected the strategy and a tacit understanding of Soroku KAWAKAMI, the vice-chief of the general staff, who promoted taking a hard-line against China; it came to be known as "Mutsu diplomacy."

After the victory, he and Hirobumi ITO signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki as delegates in 1895, and put an end to the war under the conditions which were advantageous to Japan. However, due to the Triple Intervention by Russia, Germany, and France, he was put in the position of having no choice, but to return Liaodong Peninsula to China. Because of his success in the Sino-Japanese War, he was conferred a peerage of count.

Even before then, Mutsu was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis; when the Triple Intervention arrived, a cabinet meeting was held over this challenge at the sickbed of Mutsu, who was already in a recuperation in Maiko, Hyogo Prefecture. In 1896, he stepped down as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and recuperated in a second residence in Oiso and in Hawaii. Meanwhile, he published a magazine called "Sekainonihon" (Japan in the World).

On August 24, 1897, he died of pulmonary tuberculosis in his main residence in Nishigahara (the former Furukawa-teien - the former Furukawa Garden). His age at the time of death was fifty-four (having lived for a full fifty-three years). His grave is in Jufuku-ji Temple, Kamakura City.

Literary works and letters

The "Kenken Roku" (literally, record of kenken - "kenken" refers to one-legged jumping) which he began writing in 1892 described how he handled the Sino-Japanese War and the Triple Intervention; since it cited confidential documents of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it had been kept closed to the public for a long time, and was published for the first time in 1929. This is ikkyu-shiryo (historical materials of the first grade) in the history of foreign diplomacy during the Meiji period. A copy of a large-printed version by Iwanami Bunko (a publishing company) is easy to read.

In 1952, the Mutsu family donated letters and documents to the National Diet Library. Letters addressed to Mutsu were written by over sixty major statesmen including Hirobumi ITO, Sanetomi SANJO, and Aritomo YAMAGATA, and most of the documents concerned foreign diplomacy.


In his youth, Mutsu was said to have been very good at weaving his way through a crowd without hitting others.

His second wife, Ryoko MUTSU, was a beautiful woman who was called the 'Flower of Rokumeikan' (Pavilion of the Deer's Cry) and the 'Flower of Japanese Legation in the United States.'

When Munemitsu MUTSU died while regretting over the failure to overthrow domain cliques and to accomplish parliamentary democracy, Kinmochi SAIONJI, who was said to have became so downhearted that those who saw him felt sorry, said as follows.
Mutsu has finally passed away.'
Meanwhile, those in domain cliques seem to never die even if they were beaten.'

Words by Mutsu: 'Politics is an art.'
It is not a science.'
Only someone who has practical learning and is widely familiarized with the world can handle the affairs of state and govern the public with a clever mind.'
Such person certainly does not play with desk theories.'

It is said that when Ryoma SAKAMOTO submitted Senchu Hassaku (the basic outline of the new regime drawn up by Ryoma SAKAMOTO) to Takamori SAIGO and stated that '[he] shall be the Kaientai of the world,' Mutsu, who was also present, was greatly impressed and took every chance to mention the reminiscence in later years. However, these words seem to have been made up in later years, including the exchange between Saigo and Ryoma.

[Original Japanese]