Satsuma samurai and Meiji politician
Ōkubo Toshimichi was a Japanese statesman and one of the Satsuma samurai who supported the Meiji Restoration. He is commonly regarded as one of the main founders of modern Japan.
Ōkubo was born in Kagoshima, Satsuma Province (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture), to Ōkubo Juemon, a low-ranking retainer of Satsuma daimyō Shimazu Nariakira. He studied at the same local school with Saigō Takamori, who was three years his senior. In 1846, he was given the position of aide to the domain’s archivist. When his mentor Nariakira died, Ōkubo joined the plot to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate.
In 1866, he met with Saigō Takamori and Chōshū domain’s Kido Takayoshi to form the secret Satcho Alliance to overthrow the bakufu. Later, Ōkubo, Saigō and Kido formed a provisional government and Ōkubo was appointed the first minister of Home Affairs. As Finance Minister, Ōkubo enacted a Land Tax Reform Haitōrei Edict or “Sword Abolishment Edict” in 1871 that prohibited samurai from wearing swords in public, and ended official discrimination against social outcasts. In foreign relations, he worked to secure revision of the unequal treaties and joined the Iwakura Mission on its around-the-world trip of 1871 to 1873.
Returning from overseas, Ōkubo strongly opposed Saigō’s plan to invade Korea, a move that would estrange him from his childhood friend forever. Saigo became convinced that Japan’s new policy of modernization was flawed 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 rebellion’s forces, Ōkubo was considered a traitor by many of the Satsuma samurai. On May 14, 1878, Okubo was assassinated by Shimada Ichirō and six Kanazawa domain samurai in Tōkyō.
The film “The Last Samurai” portrays a fictionalized account of Saigō’s last years and the Omura character in the film is clearly modeled after Ōkubo. It is interesting to note that Japan’s 92nd Prime-Minister Tarō Asō is a great-great-grandson of Ōkubo Toshimichi