Kuroda Kiyotaka (黒田清隆)

Kiyotaka KURODA (November 9, 1840 – August 23, 1900) was a Japanese samurai, a feudal retainer of the Satsuma clan, and a politician.

His assumed names (common names) were Chutaro and Ryosuke. He was the second Prime Minister of Japan (in office April 1888 – October 1889). He held the rank of lieutenant general. He was awarded the court rank of Juichii (Junior First Rank), the Order of the Chrysanthemum (the highest order in Japan), and the title of Count. He was a genro (elder statesman).

Career

Kiyotaka KURODA worked as retainer of the Satsuma clan towards the conclusion of the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance, and in the Boshin War from 1868 to 1869, he took command of troops as staff officer in the battle line of Hokuriku, the area from Hokuetsu to Shonai, and also in the Battle of Hakodate. From 1870 to 1882, he supervised the development of Hokkaido as undersecretary of Hokkaido Development Commission and later as chief of the commission. While holding the position of the head of the Hokkaido Development Commission, he stayed in Tokyo as one of the government leaders. In 1876 he concluded the Treaty of Ganghwa (Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity), and in the Seinan War in 1877 he contributed to the release of Kumamoto-jo Castle that was surrounded by the enemy. In the following year, Toshimichi OKUBO was assassinated, which left Kuroda as the central figure in the Satsuma domain clique. However, just before the Hokkaido Development Commission was abolished, he attempted to sell properties owned by the commission at unreasonably low price and was severely criticized. He became Prime Minister on April 1888. The Constitution of the Empire of Japan was promulgated during his term but he resigned in the following year because of his failure to negotiate treaties. He subsequently became a genro (elder statesman) before becoming a Privy Councilor, Minister of Communication, and the chairman of Privy Council (Japan).

Background and Activities at the End of Edo Period

Kiyotaka KURODA was born near Kagoshima-jo Castle in Satsuma Province in 1840 as the eldest son of Nakazaemon Kiyoyuki KURODA, a feudal retainer of the Satsuma clan. The Kuroda family were low-ranking samurai given a karoku (hereditary stipend) of only 4 koku. The family of Kiyotsuna KURODA who was awarded the title of Viscount in the Meiji period held the hereditary rank of koban, producing documentation officers and teachers, and although they were of the same family as Kiyotaka, their blood relationship was distant.

He went on to become a gunner. In the Namamugi Incident occurred in June 1862, he was at the scene accompanying his lord, but did not fight and stop other retainers drawing their swords. Meanwhile, Kuroda himself was one of the best swordsmen of Jigen-ryu school, and later achieved full proficiency under Shigetada TOGO, the head of the school.

After participating in the Anglo-Satsuma War in 1863, he studied gunnery in Edo, and was conferred full proficiency. In order to realize the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance in 1866, he went to Choshu as envoy of Satsuma to explain the importance of the alliance, and arranged a meeting in Osaka between Takamori SAIGO and Takayoshi KIDO before visiting Choshu again as envoy.

The Boshin War

At the Battle of Toba-Fushimi in 1868, Kiyotaka KURODA fought as the first captain of the Satsuma Domain's rifle troops. In March of the same year, he was appointed a staff officer of Nagasachi TAKAKURA, the Suppression Governor of Hokuriku-do, along with Aritomo YAMAGATA. When the Hokuetsu War broke out, Kuroda thought that they should make the Echigo-Nagaoka clan surrender and employ Tsugunosuke KAWAI, and sent a letter to Kawai but it did not reach him. After occupying Nagaoka-jo Castle, Kuroda made a plan to threaten the enemy from behind by advancing to Niigata via a sea route and thereby cut the supply of arms and ammunition to the enemy, and he landed at Matsugasaki leaving the main government force with Yamagata. Then Nagaoka-jo Castle was attacked at night and the main government force was once defeated and withdrew, but Kuroda conquered the Shibata Domain and occupied Niigata, achieving their original aim.

After the conclusion of the battle in Echigo, Kuroda planed a strategy to land on Akita Prefecture and capture Shonai from behind. Then Takamori SAIGO joined and told him that the soldiers of the Kubota clan were so exhausted, and they changed the strategy to attack Yonezawa first. Saigo and Kuroda adopted tolerant policy, and allowed the Yonezawa Domain and Shonai to submit. He took Tsuruoka-jo Castle in Shonai on September 27, and ended the battle in this area.

He temporarily returned to Kagoshima and was appointed service officer in February 1869. When the Hakodate War broke out, Kuroda was ordered to become a staff officer of lieutenant general Kinnaru SHIMIZUDANI in March, and he set sail from Tokyo in April. On the way, he was confronted by the Battle of Miyako-wan Bay when he was in Miyako harbor. Following the landing of Akiyoshi YAMADA on May 20, Kuroda landed on Esashi on May 30 and took command of troops in the last battle against the army of the former bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). In June, the former bakufu army was cornered in Hakodate and he internally made arrangements to save their lives. During the general offensive on Hakodate on June 20, Kuroda commanded a small group of troops and occupied Mt. Hakodate to the rear before driving the enemy into Goryokaku. Kuroda advised Takeaki ENOMOTO to surrender, and he did so on June 26.

After the war, Kuroda firmly demanded to save Enomoto's life, even by shaving his head to show his sincerity, and had a conflict for long time with those who demanded a severe punishment for Enomoto. The punishment of Enomoto was finally determined on February 14, 1872; some people including Enomoto were suspended and others were released.

Hokkaido Development Commissioner

Soon after the war, Kuroda married Sei NAKAYAMA on December 24, 1869. In response to the increasing threat from Russia in Sakhalin, he was appointed as undersecretary of the Hokkaido Development Commission in charge of Sakhalin in May 1870. From July, Kuroda traveled to Sakhalin, formed a relationship with Russian government official of the area, inspected Hokkaido, and then returned to Tokyo. On November 13, he submitted an opinion that Japan would lose Sakhalin in three years, and argued that it must strive for the development of Hokkaido.

From February to June, 1871 he travelled to the United States of America throughout Europe. During the trip, Kuroda met with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Horace CAPRON, who agreed to go to Japan as adviser, and he also invited many other foreigners to work in Japan. After returning to Japan, Chief Hokkaido Development Commissioner Michitomi HIGASHIKUZE resigned on November 27, and Kuroda played the role of Chief while serving as Undersecretary. On June 23, 1874, he became lieutenant general and was appointed as Chief Commissioner of Hokkaido Ex-legionary. On August 2nd of the same year, he became councilor and Chief Hokkaido Development Commissioner. Kuroda appointed Enomoto and former retainers of the Shogun who surrendered in Hakodate as Development Commissioners.

Kuroda launched a project to develop infrastructure based on the plan made by Capron, but it soon incurred excessive expenditure. It bothered Kuroda, who reduced the scale of the project in 1873 and switched the emphasis on industry development, trying to obtain immediate results.

Diplomacy and the Seinan War

With regard to the seikanron (an opinion to dispatch a mission to Korea) in 1873, Kuroda opposed Saigo and some others as he took the position to emphasize internal politics. He also opposed the dispatch of troops to Taiwan because Japan was facing a threat from Russia, and after the dispatch was done in 1874, he argued that it should promptly have diplomatic negotiations with Qing in order to avoid a full-scale war. It the same year, he recommended Takeaki ENOMOTO as a mission to conduct negotiations with Russia, and the acceptance of this recommendation meant that ENOMOTO played the role of concluding the negotiation of the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (Sakhalin-Chishima Exchange Treaty) as Envoy extraordinary. After the Ganghwa Island incident in 1875, Kuroda concluded the Treaty of Ganghwa as the minister resident plenipotentiary who negotiated with Korea in February 1876.

Because the matters concerning Sakhalin and Chishima fell within the jurisdiction of the Hokkaido Development Commission, Kuroda was in charge of completing the exchange under the treaty. Kuroda then forced the Ainu people in Sakhalin to move to Hokkaido. Juro MATSUMOTO (Hokkaido Development Commissioner) who was in charge of the Sapporo government resigned in opposition to the forced emigration.

When the Seinan War broke out in 1877, Kuroda traveled to Kagoshima by sea in February and secured the area before retreating to Nagasaki. He was appointed to the expedition army on March, 14. Then Kumamoto-jo Castle was surrounded by the enemy, and the main government force coming from the north led by Aritomo YAMAGATA was struggling to release it. Kuroda landed near Yatsushiro City in order to attack the enemy from behind, started a fight on March 30, continued to advance, and reached Kumamoto-jo Castle on April 15. The next day, on April 16, when he joined Yamagata, he communicated his desire to resign from the position, and it was accepted on April 23. The former legionaries who were trained by Kuroda arrived at the front in turn, and fought actively in the subsequent battles.

The Central Figure in the Satsuma Domain Clique

Kuroda's wife Sei was suffering from a lung disease and died in March 28, 1878. As there was a rumor at that time that a drunk Kuroda had killed his wife, Tokyo Metropolitan Police commissioner Toshiyoshi KAWAJI exhumed the body of Sei and confirmed that she had died due to illness. There is also the opinion that Kawaji protected Kuroda because he was also from Satsuma. Kuroda started drinking excessively at this time, and sometimes became drunk and rowdy. While serving as Chief Hokkaido Development Commissioner, Kuroda was on board a merchant ship and, when he became drunk, tried to shoot the shore reef with a cannon on ship for fun (merchant ships of the time were also armed to avoid pirates) and killed a resident. The matter was resolved by paying compensation.

In May of the same year, Toshimichi OKUBO was murdered and Kuroda came to be considered the most powerful person in the Satsuma domain clique.

In 1881, the abolishment of the Hokkaido Development Commission was decided, and Kuroda, in order to continue the commission's project, planned to make its officials resign, set up a business with them, and sell the commission's properties to the business. He then offered a very low price because the project had a deficit. Kuroda insisted that the special offer should be allowed to the business set up by the former officials who would not act from self-interest, but it was opposed by Shigenobu OKUMA who had established the regulations on sale of public properties. When newspapers reported Kuroda's plan to sell the properties, opposition parties severely criticized it alleging that it had been plotted by Tomoatsu GODAI, who was a merchant from Satsuma and had a connection with the government (Kaitakushi Kanyubutsu Haraisage Jiken [Incident Concerning Sale of the Properties Owned by the Hokkaido Development Commission]). Ito, Kuroda and other Satsuma-Choshu Domain clique members believed that this information was disseminated by Okuma, and they ousted him in the failed Meiji-14 coup of 1881. However, the sale of the properties was abandoned, and Kuroda resigned as Chief Hokkaido Development Commissioner and instead was appointed to a less important position, adviser to the Cabinet.

The scandal and bribery case were remembered by the people for many years and tarnished Kuroda's name. However, he remained a major figure in the Satsuma clique, was appointed to the Agriculture and Commerce Ministry (Japan) under the first Ito Cabinet in 1887, and became the second Prime Minister in April 1888 after Ito. The largest while he was in power was the proclamation of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, but Kuroda himself was not involved in the constitution. The next day of the proclamation of the constitution, he delivered a speech in Rokumeikan, insisting, 'the government should pursue its own way free from any restraints from the Diet and political parties,' which represented his principle called Chozen Shugi. The Kuroda Cabinet collapsed in October 1889, after the negotiations to revise unequal treaty initiated by Shigenobu OKUMA resulted in failure and Okuma was assaulted. During the negotiations, he accepted the appointment of foreign judges in Japan as a condition for revising the treaty, but it meant accepting another unequal article and was opposed by the Japanese public (after Kuroda resigned, Naidaijin [Minister of the Center] Sanetomi SANJO concurrently served as Prime Minister for two months). Meanwhile, Kuroda was upset with Kaoru INOUE, who had opposed the draft revised treaty, and sneaked into Inoue's residence while getting drunk (in the night of December 15, 1889); Kuroda was suspended after being criticized by the government members.

Kuroda's Later Years

After his resignation of Prime Minister, Kuroda became a Privy Councilor. In August 8, 1892, he was appointed Ministry of Communication of the second ITO Cabinet. The Sino-Japanese war broke out under the Ito Cabinet, but Kuroda did not play a particularly important role, and he became a Chairman of the Privy Council in 1895. He fell sick from 1893 and his work was often interfered with. He died of a brain hemorrhage on August 23, 1900. The chairman of the funeral ceremony was Takeaki ENOMOTO.

Although he was the central figure in the Satsuma domain clique, the scandal and bribery case isolated him in his later years and the people from the same domain left him. Instead, he established close relationships with the former bakufu retainers, especially with Takeaki ENOMOTO whom he highly valued in the areas such as diplomacy. It is thought that Enomoto played the role of chairman at the funeral ceremony because people in Satsuma avoided Kuroda.

Books

"Kanyu Diary" (Diary of an inspection tour of Europe), 1887
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