Iwakura mission

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Members of the Iwakura mission meet with Ulysses S. Grant in Washington. As depicted in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, March 23, 1872. Reproduction on display at American National Museum of History, Smithsonian Institution.

The Iwakura Mission was a major diplomatic mission conducted by representatives of the new Meiji government in 1871-1873, led by Iwakura Tomomi. Its chief aim was to pay respects to the heads of state of various world powers on behalf of the Meiji Emperor, to establish or continue friendly relations, and to set the stage for future discussions of potential treaty revision.

The mission lasted 631 days, including seven months spent in the United States, four in the United Kingdom, and seven on the European continent. This was among the first, most extensive, and most official such journeys undertaken by representatives of Japan; in addition to meeting with heads of state and other politicians & statesmen, the members of the Japanese embassy took in a wide range of experiences of Western society and technology. They toured factories, shipyards, foundries, mines, banks, prisons, museums, and libraries, and attended theatre, concerts, masked balls and dances, as well as visiting zoos, churches, and schools.

Members of the mission included Iwakura Tomomi, Kido Takayoshi, Ôkubo Toshimichi, Fukuchi Gen'ichirô, Tateishi Onojirô, and Hayashi Tadasu, among a number of other prominent figures of the time.

Though one of the chief goals of the mission was to seek revision of the Unequal Treaties, the American and European governments were consistent in refusing to consider any such revisions until Japan's political and legal systems were up to Western standards.[1]


  • Conrad Schirokauer, David Lurie, and Suzanne Gay, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 171.
  1. Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, Oxford University Press (2013), 73.