Iwakura Tomomi

Iwakura Tomomi

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was a Japanese statesman
A statesman is usually a politician or other notable public figure who has had a long and respected career in politics or government at the national and international level. As a term of respect, it is usually left to supporters or commentators to use the term...

 in the Meiji period
Meiji period
The , also known as the Meiji era, is a Japanese era which extended from September 1868 through July 1912. This period represents the first half of the Empire of Japan.- Meiji Restoration and the emperor :...

. The former 500 Yen banknote
A banknote is a kind of negotiable instrument, a promissory note made by a bank payable to the bearer on demand, used as money, and in many jurisdictions is legal tender. In addition to coins, banknotes make up the cash or bearer forms of all modern fiat money...

 issued by the Bank of Japan
Bank of Japan
is the central bank of Japan. The Bank is often called for short. It has its headquarters in Chuo, Tokyo.-History:Like most modern Japanese institutions, the Bank of Japan was founded after the Meiji Restoration...

 carried his portrait.

Early life

Iwakura was born in Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

 as the second son of a low-ranking courtier and nobleman
The was a Japanese aristocratic class that dominated the Japanese imperial court in Kyoto until the rise of the Shogunate in the 12th century at which point it was eclipsed by the daimyo...

 . In 1836 he was adopted by another nobleman, , from whom he received his family name. He was trained by the kampaku Takatsukasa Masamichi
Takatsukasa Masamichi
, son of regent Masahiro, was a Kugyō or Japanese court noble of the late Edo and the late Tokugawa shogunate periods. He held a regent position kampaku from 1823-1856. In 1856 at the Ansei Purge he was prosecuted and later became a priest. Sukehiro was his son who he had with a daughter of the...

 and wrote the opinion for the imperial Court reformation. In 1854 he became a chamberlain
Chamberlain of Japan
The is a domestic caretaker and aide of the Emperor of Japan. He also keeps the Privy Seal and the State Seal and has been an official civil servant since the Meiji Period. Today the Grand Chamberlain, assisted by a Vice-Grand Chamberlain, heads the Board of the Chamberlains, the division of the...

 to Emperor Kōmei
Emperor Komei
was the 121st emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Kōmei's reign spanned the years from 1846 through 1867.-Genealogy:Before Kōmei's accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne, his personal name was ;, his title was ....


As court noble

As with most other courtiers in Kyoto, Iwakura opposed the Tokugawa Shogunate
Tokugawa shogunate
The Tokugawa shogunate, also known as the and the , was a feudal regime of Japan established by Tokugawa Ieyasu and ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family. This period is known as the Edo period and gets its name from the capital city, Edo, which is now called Tokyo, after the name was...

's plans to end Japan's national isolation policy
was the foreign relations policy of Japan under which no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country on penalty of death. The policy was enacted by the Tokugawa shogunate under Tokugawa Iemitsu through a number of edicts and policies from 1633–39 and remained in effect until...

 and to open Japan to foreign countries. When Hotta Masayoshi
Hotta Masayoshi
was a Japanese daimyo in the Edo period; and he was a prominent figure in the Tokugawa shogunate.-Rōjū:the Shogun's advisor from 1837 to 1843, and again from 1855 to 1858...

, a Rōjū
The ', usually translated as Elder, was one of the highest-ranking government posts in Tokugawa Japan. The term refers either to individual Elders, or to the Council as a whole; under the first two shoguns, there were only two Rōjū...

of the Tokugawa government came to Kyoto to obtain imperial permission to sign the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (United States-Japan)
Treaty of Amity and Commerce (United States-Japan)
The , also called Harris Treaty, between the United States and Japan was signed at the Ryōsen-ji in Shimoda on July 29, 1858. It opened the ports of Yokohama and four other Japanese cities to American trade and granted extraterritoriality to foreigners, among other stipulations.-The Treaty:The...

 in 1858, Iwakura gathered courtiers who opposed the treaty and attempted to hinder negotiations between the Shōgun and the Court.

After Tairō
Tairō was a high-ranking official position in the bakuhan taisei government of Japan. The tairō would preside over the governing Rōjū council in the event of an emergency. A tairō would be nominated from among a group of samurai families who supported Tokugawa Ieyasu...

Ii Naosuke
Ii Naosuke
was daimyo of Hikone and also Tairō of Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan, a position he held from April 23, 1858 until his death on March 24, 1860. He is most famous for signing the Harris Treaty with the United States, granting access to ports for trade to American merchants and seamen and...

 was assassinated in 1860, Iwakura supported the Kobugattai Movement, an alliance of the Court and the Shogunate. The central policy of this alliance was the marriage of the Shōgun Tokugawa Iemochi
Tokugawa Iemochi
was the 14th shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, who held office 1858 to 1866. During his reign there was much internal turmoil as a result of Japan's first major contact with the United States, which occurred under Commodore Perry in 1853 and 1854, and of the subsequent "re-opening" of...

 and Princess Kazu-no-Miya Chikako
Kazu-no-Miya Chikako
was the wife of 14th shogun Tokugawa Iemochi. She was renamed Lady Seikan'in no miya after she took the tonsure as a widow.She was the eighth and youngest daughter of Emperor Ninkō and his concubine, Hashimoto Tsuneko - renamed Kangyouin after she took the tonsure. She was the younger half-sister...

, the younger sister of the Emperor Kōmei. Samurai and nobles who supported the more radical Sonnō jōi
Sonno joi
is a Japanese political philosophy and a social movement derived from Neo-Confucianism; it became a political slogan in the 1850s and 1860s in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa bakufu, during the Bakumatsu period.-Origin:...

policy saw Iwakura as a supporter of the Shogunate, and put pressure on the Court to expel him. As a result Iwakura left the Court and moved to Iwakura, north of Kyoto.

In exile

In Iwakura he wrote many opinions and sent them to the Court or his political companions in Satsuma Domain. In 1866 when Shōgun Iemochi died, Iwakura attempted to have the Court seize political initiative. He tried to gather daimyō
is a generic term referring to the powerful territorial lords in pre-modern Japan who ruled most of the country from their vast, hereditary land holdings...

under the name of the Court but failed. When the Emperor Kōmei died the next year, there was a rumor Iwakura had plotted to murder the emperor with poison, but he escaped arrest.

With Ōkubo Toshimichi
Okubo Toshimichi
, was a Japanese statesman, a samurai of Satsuma, and one of the three great nobles who led the Meiji Restoration. He is regarded as one of the main founders of modern Japan.-Early life:...

 and Saigō Takamori
Saigo Takamori
was one of the most influential samurai in Japanese history, living during the late Edo Period and early Meiji Era. He has been dubbed the last true samurai.-Early life:...

, on January 3, 1868, he engineered the seizure of the Kyoto Imperial Palace by forces loyal to Satsuma and Chōshū, thus initiating the Meiji Restoration
Meiji Restoration
The , also known as the Meiji Ishin, Revolution, Reform or Renewal, was a chain of events that restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868...

. He commissioned Imperial banners with the sun and moon on a red field, which helped ensure that the encounters of the Meiji Restoration were generally bloodless affairs.

Meiji Bureaucrat

After the establishment of the Meiji government, Iwakura played an important role due to the influence and trust he had with Emperor Meiji
Emperor Meiji
The or was the 122nd emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from 3 February 1867 until his death...

. He was largely responsible for the promulgation of the Five Charter Oath
Five Charter Oath
The was promulgated at the enthronement of Emperor Meiji of Japan on 7 April 1868. The Oath outlined the main aims and the course of action to be followed during Emperor Meiji's reign, setting the legal stage for Japan's modernization...

 of 1868, and the subject abolition of the han system
Abolition of the han system
The was an act, in 1871, of the new Meiji government of the Empire of Japan to replace the traditional feudal domain system and to introduce centralized government authority . This process marked the culmination of the Meiji Restoration in that all daimyo were required to return their authority...


Soon after his appointment as Minister of the Right
Udaijin , most commonly translated as the "Minister of the Right", was a government position in Japan in the late Nara and Heian periods. The position was consolidated in the Taihō Code of 702. The Asuka Kiyomihara Code of 689 marks the initial appearance of the Udaijin in the context of a central...

 in 1871, he led the two-year around-the-world journey known as the Iwakura mission
Iwakura mission
The Iwakura Mission or Iwakura Embassy was a Japanese diplomatic journey around the world, initiated in 1871 by the oligarchs of the Meiji period. Although it was not the only such "mission", it is the most well-known and possibly most important for the modernization of Japan after a long period...

, visiting the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and several countries in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 with the purpose of renegotiating the unequal treaties
Unequal Treaties
“Unequal treaty” is a term used in specific reference to a number of treaties imposed by Western powers, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, on Qing Dynasty China and late Tokugawa Japan...

 and gathering information to help effect the modernization of Japan. A celebration was held in Manchester and Liverpool in 1997 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Iwakura Mission. On his return to Japan in 1873, he was just in time to prevent an invasion of Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

The Seikanron debate was a major political conflagration which occurred in Japan in 1873....

). Realizing that Japan was not in any position to challenge the western powers in its present state, he advocated strengthening the imperial institution, which he felt could be accomplished through a written constitution
A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is...

 and a limited form of parliamentary democracy. He ordered Inoue Kowashi
Inoue Kowashi
Viscount was a statesman in Meiji period Japan.- Early life :Inoue was born into a samurai family in Higo Province , as the third son of Karō Iida Gongobei. In 1866 Kowashi was adopted by Inoue Shigesaburō, another retainer of the Nagaoka daimyō...

 to begin work on a constitution in 1881, and ordered Itō Hirobumi
Ito Hirobumi
Prince was a samurai of Chōshū domain, Japanese statesman, four time Prime Minister of Japan , genrō and Resident-General of Korea. Itō was assassinated by An Jung-geun, a Korean nationalist who was against the annexation of Korea by the Japanese Empire...

to Europe to study various European systems.

External links