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Iwakura Tomomi




Iwakura Tomomi (1825-1883) was one of the most important government leaders and influencers of the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and Japan’s modernization and exploration of the West. Born in Kyoto into a lower-ranking noble family, he was adopted into the Iwakura family as a child, and attained an important position in the courts after the opening of the country in 1853, following Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s arrival. Iwakura was strongly antiforeign and helped convince the emperor to refuse to ratify the U.S.-Japanese treaty of commerce in 1858.


As a supporter of the Kobugattai Movement, in favor of cooperation between the Court and the Shogunate, Iwakura was seen as a traitor by the sonno joi group and was expelled from his court office and lived in exile in outside of Kyoto from 1863-1867. During this time he came to oppose the Shogunate, and in 1868 together with Okubo Toshimichi and Saigo Takamori, he orchestrated the restoration of Imperial Rule, or the Meiji Restoration, ending the power of the last shogun.


Back in a position of great power as the Minister of the Right, Iwakura went on to lead the Iwakura Mission from 1871-1873. During the 18 months of this expedition, Iwakura led a group of about 50 government leaders to the U.S. and Europe with the intention to renegotiate the unequal treaties between Japan and several Western countries, as well as to learn as much as possible about Western civilization, including education, government, finance, military, and law. This marks a significant shift in Japan’s modernization, as the country was cultivating diplomatic relationships with other parts of the world, and because Iwakura returned to Japan with many ideas and suggestions to implement Western systems in his home country. Most notably, Iwakura spent his last years in office advocating for Western-influenced financial system reforms and initiating the creation of the Imperial Constitution as well as a limited parliamentary democracy system.



The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Iwakura Tomomi.” Encyclopædia Britannica

     Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 22 Oct. 2019,


“Iwakura, Tomomi.” Iwakura, Tomomi | Portraits of Modern Japanese Historical Figures, National 

     Diet Library, 2013,