Episode 135 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 18

This week, we cover the major issues of the new government. Who’s in charge? What do they want to do? And what could possibly go wrong if we just take half the leadership off for a two year trip?

Listen to the episode here.


Nish, Ian, ed. The Iwakura Mission in America and Europe: A New Assessment.

Pyle, Kenneth. Japan Rising.

Umegaki, Michiko. After the Restoration.


Okubo Toshimichi of Satsuma was a childhood friend of Saigo Takamori who would help lead the charge for the abolition of feudalism. His kickin’ sideburns didn’t appear until later in life, but I think they nicely encapsulate his self-image as a conscious Westernizer who wanted to remake Japan in the Western image.
Guido Verbeck, the Dutch-American engineer-cum-missionary who dreamed up the Iwakura Mission.
I have been hunting for an excuse to use this photo, and now seems like as good a time as any. This picture was taken in 1868; Verbeck, with his daughter, is in the center, surrounded by the leading restorationist samurai. All manner of famous restoration leaders are in here: Ito, Yamagata, Sakamoto Ryoma, even Katsu Kaishu. It’s great!
Iwakura Tomomi, center, during the mission. Standing at center right is Ito Hirobumi. Sitting at the far right is Okubo Toshimichi.
Wherever the Iwakura Mission went it was greeted with lavish parties like this one, depicted in a contemporary American magazine. The affairs served to boost Japan’s overseas profile.
The Iwakura Mission actually included a number of women, charged with learning about the West. Several chose to stay and study abroad in the West; Tsuda Umeko (shown here as the youngest, sitting on another girl’s lap) will eventually attend Bryn Mawr College before returning to Japan to found her own university. You better believe she’s getting an episode.
The path of the Iwakura Mission. Courtesy of Iwakuramission.gr.jp

2 thoughts on “Episode 135 – The Fall of the Samurai, Part 18

  1. Mat Hayashi

    Where is the Meiji Emperor in the photo with Verbeck and his daughter? I would have imagined identifying the emperor would have been obvious by the sitting arrangements for the photo.
    —M@, haymat@yahoo.com

    1. So I did a bit more digging because I was sure I’d seen something about Emperor Meiji being in that photo. Turns out he’s not (my mistake, and I apologize) but the truth is way more interesting and WAY more bonkers.

      The man who is sometimes thought to be emperor Meiji (front row, kneeling, directly in front of Verbeck in the white gi) is actually Omuro Toranosuke, a Choshu samurai who LOOKED a lot like the emperor physically. There is apparently a completely insane conspiracy theory that Omuro killed and replaced the Emperor because the original Prince Mutsuhito was too much of a sissy to go along with the demands of the shishi.

      So yeah, I’ll be editing the photo description; thank you for encouraging me to dig harder and helping me find this INSANE story.

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