The Father of Modern Japanese Diplomacy: Kaoru Inoue

As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the 'Choshu Five' in the UK, in the first of a five-part series, we introduce Kaoru Inoue, who became Japan’s first Foreign Minister and is known as ‘the Father of Modern Japanese Diplomacy’.

Kaoru Inoue was one of the five men of the Choshu domain who were smuggled out of Japan to travel to the UK in order to study at University College London. Even though he had been a strong supporter of the campaign to expel foreigners from Japan at the time, his experience of travelling abroad is said to have transformed his outlook. However, Inoue's time abroad was cut short when he decided to return to Japan early the following year in an effort to dissuade the Choshu domain from further confrontation with western naval powers.

Inoue held several important positions in the new government after the Meiji restoration. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1879, where later he was officially appointed as Japan's first Minister of Foreign Affairs in December 1885, paving the way for the strengthening of diplomatic relations with the UK and the rest of the world.

Kaoru Inoue, Japan's first Foreign Minister

Dr Andrew Cobbing (Professor of Japanese History at the University of Nottingham) writes the following comment on Inoue in Biographical Portraits Volume VII (*): "He was deeply influenced by his experiences in Britain, and he actively tried to reconcile the challenging new ideas he encountered there with his political background as a Choshu loyalist and role as Meiji Statesman. In this period of rapid change it was rarely an easy balance to achieve."

Japanese Diplomacy in 2013
The current Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs is Fumio Kishida. After taking up this role in Prime Minister Abe's second cabinet, Minister Kishida made his first visit to the UK earlier this month (9-11 April 2013). He met with Foreign Secretary William Hague along with Foreign Ministers from the United States, Russia, Canada, France, Germany and Italy for the G8 Foreign Ministers' meeting.

The joint statement issued by the G8 Foreign Ministers following the meeting declared: "The Foreign Ministers addressed a number of international issues, challenges and opportunities that impact on global peace, security and prosperity. Beyond exchanging views and coordinating actions on the pressing foreign policy issues of the day, they made a number of commitments as set out below (click here to see full statement) and in the separate Declaration on the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict."

With respect to the relationship between Japan and the United Kingdom, Minister Kishida said the two countries share fundamental values as well as interests and responsibilities on a range of challenges. Japan and the United Kingdom also have in common histories in which free maritime trade provided the foundation of their existence as nations, he noted. (Click here to see the full report from MOFA.)

G8 Foreign Ministers' meeting
(Photograph copyright of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Foreign Minister Kishida and Foreign Secretary William Hague
(Photograph copyright of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

(*) Biographical Portraits Volume VII was compiled & edited by former Ambassador to Japan (1980–84) and prominent Japanologist Sir Hugh Cortazzi.