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Ōkubo Toshimichi (大久保 利通, September 26, 1830 – May 14, 1878) was a Japanese statesman, a samurai of Satsuma, and one of the three great nobles who led the Meiji Restoration. He was regarded as one of the main founders of modern Japan.

Ōkubo Toshimichi
大久保 利通
Toshimichi Okubo 4.jpg
Ōkubo Toshimichi
Personal details
Born(1830-09-26)September 26, 1830[1]
Kagoshima, Satsuma Province, Japan
DiedMay 14, 1878(1878-05-14) (aged 47)
Tokyo, Japan
Cause of deathAssassination
Resting placeAoyama Cemetery, Tokyo, Japan
Hayasaki Masako (m. 1858–1878)
MotherMinayoshi Fuku
FatherŌkubo Toshio
OccupationSamurai, Politician
Known forOne of the three great nobles of the Meiji Restoration

Early lifeEdit

Ōkubo was born in Kagoshima, Satsuma Province, (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture) to Ōkubo Juemon (1794-1863; also known as Toshio and Shirō),[2] a low-ranking retainer of Satsuma daimyō Shimazu Nariakira, later given a minor official position, and his wife Minayoshi Fuku (1803-1864), daughter of a physician.[3] Although the Ōkubo family were not of high status, they were of distinguished origin, thought to descend from the noble Fujiwara house.[4] The eldest of five children, Ōkubo studied at the same local school as Saigō Takamori, who was three years older. In 1846, he was given the position of aide to the domain's archivist.

Satsuma samuraiEdit

Ōkubo Toshimichi as a young samurai.

Shimazu Nariakira recognized Ōkubo's talents and appointed him to the position of tax administrator in 1858. When Nariakira died that year, Ōkubo joined the plot to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. Unlike most Satsuma leaders, he favored the position of tōbaku (倒幕, overthrowing the shogunate), as opposed to kōbu gattai (公武合体, marital unity of the Imperial and Tokugawa families) and hanbaku (opposition to the shogunate) over the Sonnō jōi movement.

The Anglo-Satsuma War of 1863, along with the Richardson Affair and the September 1863 coup d'état in Kyoto convinced Ōkubo that the tōbaku movement was doomed. In 1866, he met with Saigō Takamori and Chōshū Domain's Kido Takayoshi to form the secret Satchō Alliance to overthrow the Tokugawa.

Meiji restorationEdit

Ōkubo Toshimichi

On January 3, 1868, the forces of Satsuma and Chōshū seized the Kyoto Imperial Palace and proclaimed the Meiji Restoration. The triumvirate of Ōkubo, Saigō and Kido formed a provisional government. Appointed as Home Lord (内務卿[note 1]), Ōkubo had a huge amount of power through his control of all local government appointments and the police force.

Initially, the new government had to rely on funds from the Tokugawa lands (which the Meiji government had seized in toto). He then was able to appoint all new leaders for this land. Most of the people he appointed as governors were young men; some were his friends, such as Matsukata Masayoshi, and others were the rare Japanese who had gained some education in Europe or the United States. Ōkubo used the power of the Home Ministry to promote industrial development building roads, bridges, and ports—all things that the Tokugawa shogunate had refused to do.

As Finance Minister in 1871, Ōkubo enacted a Land Tax Reform, the Haitōrei Edict, which prohibited samurai from wearing swords in public, and ended official discrimination against the outcasts. In foreign relations, he worked to secure revision of the unequal treaties and joined the Iwakura Mission on its round-the-world trip of 1871 to 1873.

Ōkubo Toshimichi (right), as a member of the Iwakura Mission

Realizing that Japan was not in any position to challenge the Western powers in its new present state, Ōkubo returned to Japan on September 13, 1873, just in time to take a strong stand against the proposed invasion of Korea (Seikanron). He also participated in the Osaka Conference of 1875 in an attempt to bring about a reconciliation with the other members of the Meiji oligarchy.

However, he was unable to win over former colleague Saigō Takamori regarding the future direction of Japan. Saigō became convinced that some of Japan's new policies of modernization were wrong and in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, some Satsuma rebels under the leadership of Saigō fought against the new government's army. As Home Minister, Ōkubo took command of the army and fought against his old friend Saigō.

With the defeat of the rebellion's forces, many Satsuma samurai considered Ōkubo a traitor. On May 14, 1878, Ōkubo was assassinated by Shimada Ichirō and six Kaga Domain samurai on his way to the imperial palace,[5] only a few minutes' walk from the Sakurada gate where Ii Naosuke had been assassinated 18 years earlier.


Ōkubo was one of the most influential leaders of the Meiji Restoration and the establishment of modern governmental structures. From November 1873, when he was made Home Affairs Minister also known as the Lords of Home Affairs (a newly created post), until his death in 1878, he was the most powerful man in Japan.[6] A devout loyalist and nationalist, he enjoyed the respect of his colleagues and enemies alike.

Personal lifeEdit

Ōkubo married Hayasaki Masako (d. 1879), with whom he had four sons and a daughter. His children from this marriage were Toshikazu, the 1st Marquess Ōkubo (1859–1945), Makino Nobuaki (1861–1949), Toshitake, later the 2nd Marquess (1867–1943), Ishihara Takeguma (1869–1943), who was adopted by his wife Yaeko's family, and Yoshiko, who married Ijuin Hikokichi.

Ōkubo's second son, Makino Nobuaki, and his son-in-law Ijuin Hikokichi served as Foreign Minister.[7] Tarō Asō, the 92nd Prime Minister of Japan, and Princess Tomohito of Mikasa are great-great-grandchildren of Ōkubo Toshimichi.

In 1884, Toshikazu was ennobled as a marquess in the new peerage in honour of his father's achievements. He married Shigeno Naoko (1875–1918), but had no children and relinquished the title in 1928 in favour of his younger brother Toshitake (1865–1943). A graduate of Yale and Heidelberg universities, Toshitake successively served as governor of Tottori (1900), Ōita (1901–1905), Saitama (1905–1907) and Osaka (1912–1917) prefectures. He married Kondō Sakae (1879–1956) and had three children, Toshiaki (1900–1995), Toshimasa (1902–1945) and Michitada (1907–????).[8] Toshiaki became a prominent professor of Japanese history and succeeded as the 3rd Marquess in 1943, holding the title until the peerage was abolished in 1947. He subsequently became the librarian of the National Diet Library from 1951 to 1953 and then taught as a lecturer and professor of history at Nagoya University (1953–1959) and at Rikkyū University (1959–1965). He was awarded the Asahi Prize in 1993, two years before his death. He married Yoneda Yaeko (1910–????) and had two children, Yasushi (b. 1934) and Shigeko (b. 1936). Yasushi married Matsudaira Naoko (b. 1940) and had a daughter, Akiko (b. 1965).[9]

Ōkubo also had four illegitimate children by a mistress.

In fictionEdit

In the manga/anime series Rurouni Kenshin, Ōkubo Toshimichi appears to seek Himura Kenshin's assistance in destroying the threat posed by the revolt of Shishio Makoto. Kenshin is uncertain, and Ōkubo gives him a May 14 deadline to make his decision. On his way to seek Kenshin's answer on that day, he is supposedly assassinated by Seta Sōjirō, Shishio's right-hand man, and the Ichirō clan desecrates his corpse and claim they killed him. (Watsuki makes a comparison to President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, with Ōkubo in his notes).[10]

In Boris Akunin's novel The Diamond Chariot, Erast Fandorin investigates the plot to assassinate Ōkubo but fails to prevent the assassination.



  1. ^ The Naimukyo (内務卿, the Lords of Home Affairs), that the post was similar to Prime Minister, and had been the strongest post in Japan until 1885.
  1. ^ Iwata, Masakazu. Okubo Toshimichi: The Bismarck of Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), 21.
  2. ^ Ōkubo Toshimichi: The Bismarck of Japan, Masakazu Iwata, University of California Press, 1964, p. 281
  3. ^ Ōkubo Toshimichi: The Bismarck of Japan, Masakazu Iwata, University of California Press, 1964, p. 29
  4. ^ Ōkubo Toshimichi: The Bismarck of Japan, Masakazu Iwata, University of California Press, 1964, p. 28
  5. ^ Iwata, Ōkubo Toshimichi, p. 253.
  6. ^ Key-Hiuk., Kim (1980). The last phase of the East Asian world order : Korea, Japan, and the Chinese Empire, 1860-1882. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 187–188. ISBN 0520035569. OCLC 6114963.
  7. ^ Hui-Min Lo (June 1, 1978). The Correspondence of G. E. Morrison 1912–1920. CUP Archive. p. 873. ISBN 978-0-521-21561-9. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  8. ^ Tuttle, Roger Walker (1911). Biographies of Graduates of the Yale Law School, 1824-1899. Morehouse & Taylor Company. p. 592. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  9. ^ Genealogy
  10. ^ Watsuki, Nobuhiro. "The Secret Life of Characters (22) Ōkubo Toshimichi", Rurouni Kenshin Volume 7. Viz Media. 186.


Further readingEdit

  • Iwata, Masakazu. Okubo Toshimichi, the Bismarck of Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964.
  • Sagers, John H. Origins of Japanese Wealth and Power: Reconciling Confucianism and Capitalism, 1830–1885. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

External linksEdit