Robert Walker Irwin

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The Irwin family plot at Aoyama Cemetery. Robert Walker Irwin's grave is at right, with the cross having fallen off

Robert Walker Irwin was a prominent figure in relations between Japan, the United States, and Hawaii in the 1880s, serving for a time as acting Hawaiian Consul in Japan.[2], succeeding Harlan P. Lillebridge in that position.[3] He played a prominent role in the early 1880s (especially 1884) in negotiating agreements and organizing arrangements related to the beginning of Japanese immigration to Hawaii. He was one of the first Americans to become a naturalized Japanese citizen, marrying a Japanese woman named Takechi Iki, and living in Japan from the 1880s until his death in 1924.

A businessman descended from Benjamin Franklin[4], Irwin was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and first traveled to Japan in 1866, where he was stationed for a time in Yokohama as an agent of the Pacific Mail Co., later becoming involved with the Mitsui Trading Company (est. 1876). In 1867, he was appointed Vice-Consul of the Kingdom of Hawaii in Japan, becoming Consul General in 1881, and Minister Plenipotentiary for the Bureau of Immigration in 1882 during the visit to Japan of Hawaiian official John Kapena. In 1884, Irwin became Hawaii's Resident Minister in Japan, and special agent of the Bureau of Immigration.

Takechi Iki was an adopted daughter of the Takechi family, and was 17 years old when she accompanied Irwin as he departed the Pacific Mail Co. for a job in Nagasaki in 1869. Marriage between Japanese & non-Japanese was first legalized in Japan in 1873, and the couple had their marriage officially registered in 1882. Irwin then remained in Japan the rest of his life, until his death at 81. He is buried at Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo.[5]

His summer home in Ikaho (伊香保), Gunma prefecture, still stands and has been designated a historical site by the city. In conjunction with his summer home being located there, Ikaho is host to an annual Hawaiian Festival, and was sister cities with the Hawaiian city of Hilo until Ikaho's merging into Shibukawa City in 2006.[6]


  • Franklin Odo and Kazuko Sinoto, A Pictorial History of the Japanese in Hawaii 1885-1924, Bishop Museum (1985), 22, 24.
  • John Van Sant, et al, ”Irwin, Robert Walker,” Historical Dictionary of United States – Japan Relations, The Scarecrow Press (2007), 117.
  1. Odo and Sinoto, 24.
  2. David Kalakaua, in a letter to John Owen Dominis, governor of Oahu, May 12 1881, as reproduced in Richard Greer (ed.), "The Royal Tourist - Kalakaua's Letters Home from Tokio to London," Hawaiian Journal of History 5 (1971), 82.
  3. Ralph Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom 1874 - 1893: The Kalakaua Dynasty, University of Hawaii Press (1967), 155.
  4. Donald Keene, Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912, Columbia University Press (2002), 791n7.
  5. "Robert Walker Irwin (1844-1925)," Find A
  6. "Hawai ôkoku kôshi bettei ハワイ王国公使別邸," Shibukawa City Official Site. Accessed 20 June 2014.