Iwakura Mission

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Iwakura Mission. The head of the mission was Iwakura Tomomi, shown in the picture wearing traditional Japanese clothing.

The Iwakura Mission or Iwakura Embassy (岩倉使節団, Iwakura Shisetsudan) 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 of isolation from the West. It was first proposed by the influential Dutch missionary and engineer Guido Verbeck and was probably based on the model of the Grand Embassy of Peter I.

The Iwakura mission followed several such missions previously sent by the Shogunate, such as the Japanese Embassy to the United States in 1860, the First Japanese Embassy to Europe in 1862, and the Second Japanese Embassy to Europe in 1863.


The mission was named after and headed by Iwakura Tomomi in the role of extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador, assisted by four vice-ambassadors, three of whom (Ōkubo Toshimichi, Kido Takayoshi, and Itō Hirobumi) were also ministers in the Japanese government. The historian Kume Kunitake was the official diarist, keeping a detailed log of all events and impressions. Also included were a number of administrators and scholars, totaling 48 people.

In addition to the mission staff, about 60 students were brought along. Several of them were left behind to complete their education in the foreign countries, including five young women who stayed in the United States to study, including the then 7-year old Tsuda Umeko who founded, in 1900 after returning to Japan, the renowned school now called the Tsuda College.

Kaneko Kentarō was left in the U.S., too, as a student. In 1890 he was introduced to Theodore Roosevelt. They became friends and their relationship resulted later in Roosevelt's mediation at the end of the Russo-Japanese War and the Treaty of Portsmouth.[1]

Makino Nobuaki, a student member of the mission was to remark in his memoirs: Together with the abolition of the han system, dispatching the Iwakura Mission to America and Europe must be cited as the most important events that built the foundation of our state after the Restoration.

Nakae Chōmin, who was a member of the mission staff and the Ministry of Justice, stayed in France to study the French legal system with the radical republican Emile Acollas. Later he became a journalist, thinker and translator and introduced French thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Japan.


The Iwakura mission visiting the French President Thiers on December 26, 1872.[2]

On December 23, 1871 the mission sailed from Yokohama on the SS America (1869), bound for San Francisco. From there it continued to Washington, D.C., then to the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, Germany, Prussia, Denmark, Sweden, Bavaria, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. On the return journey, Egypt, Aden, Ceylon, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, and Shanghai were also visited, although much more briefly. The mission returned home September 13, 1873, almost two years after setting out.

United Kingdom

The Iwakura Mission arrived in London via Liverpool and Manchester in August 1872 and split into smaller groups to visit Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle upon Tyne and Bradford.

Iwakura Tomomi was at the head of the Manchester-Liverpool delegation which culminated in a Civic Reception and Banquet where the toast highlighted the leading role of the region in world manufacturing, technology and municipal administration. In 1997 a special celebration marked the 125th anniversary of the historic visit to the north-west of England. Led by the Centre for Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester in collaboration with the Osaka Chamber of Commerce, a delegation of over 70 leading industrialists visited the Manchester Region. A Civic Banquet was held in Manchester Town Hall and replicated the 1872 Reception. The Lord Mayor attended and received Ambassadors together with a citation from the Japanese Foreign Minister. A Civic Plague commmorating the anniversary of the Iwakura Mission to Manchester was inaugurated at the site of the original Manchester Town Hall.

In Newcastle upon Tyne they arrived on October 21 staying in the Royal Station Hotel where they met the industrialist Sir William Armstrong. It had been ten years since the Bakufu mission had visited the town.

"The gentlemen were attired in ordinary morning costume and except for their complexion and the oriental cast of their features, they could scarcely be distinguished from their English companions." (Newcastle Daily Chronicle, October 23, 1872)

They visited the Elswick Engine and Ordnance Works with Captain Andrew Noble and George Rendell, inspected the hydraulic engines and the boring and turning departments and examined the construction of Armstrong and Gatling guns. They also visited the Gosforth Colliery, descending into the mine itself. Further visits were made to Bolkcow and Vaughan Iron Works in Middlesbrough and iron-ore mines in Cleveland. The Newcastle and Gateshead Chamber of Commerce arranged a river trip on the Tyne, taking in the New Tyne Bridge, the Tharsis Sulphur and Copper Company Hebburn and the Jarrow Chemical Works.

From Newcastle upon Tyne the group travelled to Bradford, West Yorkshire, to visit nearby textile manufacturing facilities at Salts Mill, Saltaire and Dean Clough Mill in Halifax. Accompanied by the British Envoy to Japan, Sir Harry Smith Parkes, the group toured not only manufacturing facilities but also village accommodation, schools, almshouses, hospitals and parks provided by Sir Titus Salt and Sir John Crossley for their workers.[3]

Purpose and results

1. Revise Unequal treaties. 2. Learn western ideas. Factories, Military, Transportations, Education etc. Of these two goals, the first one failed universally, prolonging the mission by almost a year, but also impressing the importance of the second goal on its members. The attempts to negotiate new treaties under better conditions with the foreign governments led them to go beyond the mandates set by the Japanese government, which caused friction between the mission and the government. The failures and their prolonged stay became useless at this point, which put Okubo and Kido on bad terms politically. On the other hand, members were impressed by modernization in America and Europe, which made them take initiatives to modernize Japan later.

See also


  1. Baron Kaneko and the Russo-Japanese War, 2009, Part One, Chapter Four
  2. The Iwakura Embassy to the USA and Europe 1871-1873, Kume Kunitake, p.226-227
  3. Kunitake, Kume (2009). Chushichi Tsuzuki and R. Jules Young, ed. Japan Rising: The Iwakura embassy to the USA and Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-521-73516-2. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • The official report of the Mission compiled by Kume was published in 1878, entitled Tokumei Zenken Taishi Bei-O Kairan Jikki (特命全権大使米歐回覧実記). It is available in English as: Healey, Graham and Tsuzuki Chushichi, eds, A True Account of the Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary's Journey of Observation Through the United States of America and Europe, ISBN 4-901617-00-1.
  • The Iwakura Mission in Britain, 1872 London School of Economics STICERD discussion paper IS/98/349 (March 1998)
  • Nish, Ian. (1998) The Iwakura Mission to America and Europe: A New Assessment. Richmond, Surrey: Japan Library. ISBN 9781873410844; ISBN 0415471796; OCLC 40410662
  • Jansen, Marius B. (2002). The Making of Modern Japan. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-6740-0334-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Japan and the North West of England: A Special Publication to mark the 125th anniversary of the Iwakura Mission, edited by Geoffrey Broad, published by the Greater Manchester Centre for Japanese Studies (September 1997) ISBN 1-900748-00-2.

Further reading

  • Charles Lanman, ed. (1872). "The Japanese Embassy". The Japanese in America. New York: University Publishing Company.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Inazo (Ota) Nitobe (1891). "Japanese in America: Imperial Embassy". The intercourse between the United States and Japan; an historical sketch. Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 162–165.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Iwakura Embassy". The Far East: An Exponent of Japanese Thoughts and Affairs. Office of the Kokumin-no-tomo. 1897.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links