Omura Masujiro (大村益次郎)

Masujiro OMURA (May 30, 1824 - December 7, 1869) was a physician, Western studies scholar and military theorist from Choshu Domain (now Yamaguchi Prefecture) at the end of the Edo era.

He commanded Choshu forces in the Choshu War and the Boshin War, becoming the architect of triumph. He worked as the hyobu taifu of Ministry of the Military (later renamed Vice Minister of Army Ministry) and he is often regarded as the de facto founder of the Imperial Japanese Army or the father of the Japanese Army. His childhood name was Sotaro and his nicknames were Zoroku and Ryoan. His formal name was Nagatoshi. He held Sanmi (Third Rank), and then Junii (Junior Second Rank). His family crest was a Chinese bellflower with a circle.

Rural physician

Masujiro was born as the eldest son between a rural physician, Takamasu MURATA, and his wife Mume, in Suzenji Village Aza Omura, Yoshiki District, Suo Province (present-day Suzenji, Yamaguchi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture.)
In 1842, he learned medicine and rangaku (Western studies) from Yusai UMEDA in Hofu City and, from April 1843, at Yusai's recommendation, he studied under Tanso HIROSE from Hita City, Bungo Province till July 1844. He went to Osaka in 1846 to study under Koan OGATA at his Tekijuku academy. While enrolled at Tekijuku, he went to Nagasaki City on one year's sabbatical, and was later promoted to head of the Tekijuku.

He returned home at his father's request in 1850, becoming a rural physician and taking the name Ryoan MURATA. The following year he was married to Kotoko, the daughter of a farmer from a nearby village.
As he was a brusque man of few words and tended to give tedious and difficult to understand diagnoses, he was not popular with local people, who criticized him by asking, 'What did he study in Osaka?'

Military Academy Professor

After the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's black ships from the USA in 1853, there was a need for experts in Western studies and Omura was asked to serve in Uwajima Domain, Iyo Province. At that time, the domain lord, Munenari DATE was in Edo, as required by the Shogun, and the chief retainer was away in Kyoto on business. Officials of Uwajima Domain decided to pay him with a low stipend of two servants and 10 ryos per year. When the chief retainer came back to the domain, he reprimanded the officials and changed Omura's stipend to 100 koku, the same as for senior samurai. It appears the officials thought they had given a good deal to Omura, who had shown up in shabby dress without any explanation.

Omura gave lectures on and translated Western knowledge and military theory and, in 1854 and 1855, he went to Nagasaki to study the construction of warships. Omura was accompanied on the trip to Nagasaki by Keisaku NINOMIYA, a student of the German physician Philipp Franz von Siebold, who had come to Dejima in the 1820s. Keisaku introduced him to Siebold's daughter, Ine KUSUMOTO, who was studying obstetrics. Later in life, when Omura was attacked, Ine treated him and she was by his bedside when he died. Back in Uwajima, Omura produced a model of a Western-style warship with the lantern maker, Kazo (later called Kozan MAEBARA). However, it was not very different from Japan's first Western-style warships. Omura was very impressed by the talent of Kazo who was modest, uneducated and of low class. About this time, he changed his name to Zoroku MURATA.

In May 1856, he went to Edo and opened the 'Kyukyodo' academy, teaching rangaku, military theory and medicine. While still working for Uwajima Domain, he was also employed by the Tokugawa Shogunate as an assistant teacher at the Bansho Shirabesho institute for Western studies, receiving monthly rice for 20 persons and an annual income of 20 ryos. In 1857, he became a teacher at the shogunate's military academy. In 1860, at Choshu's request, he was made a samurai of Choshu with an annual stipend of 25 sacks of rice at, although he remained in Edo. In 1862, he studied under James Curtis Hepburn, who had been asked by the government to teach taught English and math at the request of the government.

Choshu Expeditions

Omura returned to Hagi City in 1863. He became a teacher of Western military theory, giving lectures at the Hakushudo school. While in Choshu Domain, his appearance earned him the nickname 'Hifuki Daruma' (Fire Breathing Daruma). It is said that Masanosuke SUFU or Shinsaku TAKASUGI gave this nickname to Omura. As a result of the punitive expedition to Choshu in 1864, Choshu Domain pledged fealty to the Tokugawa government and the conservatives took power. However, in 1865, forces led by Shinsaku TAKASUGI defeated the conservatives at Shimonoseki, leading to consensus in the domain to overthrow the shogunate.

Takasugi undertook military reforms such as the creation of the Kiheitai (irregular militia) and adopting a Western-style military, asking Omura to train them. Omura was made a hereditary samurai of the elite umamawari corps senior samurai of uma-mawariyaku worth 100 koku and was ordered to change his name to Masujiro Nagatoshi OMURA.. As a director and teacher of the Meirinkan Heigakuryo military school, he instructed cavalry, infantry and bombardiers. As Omura lived in the Fumon-ji Temple while in Yamaguchi, the military school was called "Fumon-ji juku" or "Sanpei juku." Omura translated Western military tactics and rewrote them, making them more relevant to actual warfare and easy to understand. Moreover, his way of teaching was simple and exact.

In 1866 the Shogunate ordered a second punitive expedition to Choshu, with operations starting in July. Omura commanded troops in the Iwami Province area. Exercising his talents thoroughly, his superior tactics crushed the shogunate forces, then he passed through neutral Tsuwano Domain and marched to Hamada City. He took control of Hamada Castle.
Rangaku scholar and long time acquaintance in Choshu Domain, Shusuke AOKI, said about him, 'his intelligence is unhuman.'
Choshu armies gained the upper hand on other fronts, effectively winning the battle and brokering a ceasefire.

Boshin War

In February 1868, Omura was appointed a choshin of Gunbo Jimukyoku Hanji (the 3rd post of the newly created military ministry) in the government of the newly restored to power Emperor Meiji. He went to Edo (now Tokyo) from Osaka in April and was made a Justice of Edo-fu. At the Battle of Ueno, troops commanded by Omura put down a rebellion by the Shogun's elite Shogitai in a single day. Omura clashed with Satsuma's Nobuyoshi KAIEDA during the war council and Takamori SAIGO had to intervene. Kaieda was infuriated when Omura told him, 'You don't know anything about the war,' giving rise to the theory that Kaieda was linked to Omura's assassination.

In June 1868, he was put in charge of Chindai-fu's civil finances. After defeating shogunate remnants in the northern Kanto area, he was the new government's commander-in-chief in the 'Tohoku War' against the Northern Alliance (Ouetsu Reppan Domei) in Niigata and the Tohoku region. After the surrender of Northern Alliance leader, Sendai Domain, the remaining shogunate forces, led by Takeaki ENOMOTO, also surrendered at Goryokaku fortress in Hakodate City, bringing an end to the Boshin War in 1869.

Dispute over military system

Omura was rewarded for his performance in the Boshin War with a stipend for life of 1500 koku and, together with Takayoshi KIDO (later called Kogoro KATSURA) and Toshimichi OKUBO, became one of the leaders of the new government. Omura was responsible for military reform and at a military meeting in July 1869, he clashed with Okubo and others over the treatment of the defeated armies and the establishment of a centralized military. The meeting was held from July 29th to August 2nd. There was heated debate between Omura's group, which wanted to create a domain-independent military under direct control of the government, and Okubo's group, which wanted to reorganize a centralized military based on the armies of Kagoshima (Satsuma Domain), Yamaguchi (Choshu Domain) and Kochi (Tosa Domain).

On July 29, the argument concerned what to do with the armies of Kagoshima, Yamaguchi and Kochi, which had been staying in Kyoto. On this issue, Omura was supported by Kido but, on June 23, Okubo came out victorious when it was decided that the three domain's armies were to be hired by the government and moved to Tokyo. On July 31, Tomozane YOSHII, had drafted the Army Reorganization Act, also joined the dispute and the debate turned to the question of recruitment. On this matter, Okubo and Yoshii's 'domain armies theory' was at odds with Omura and Kido's 'universal conscription theory' and the argument carried over to the next day. The result was another victory for Okubo and with this the dispute, although it would continue until August 2, was virtually settled.

The talks resulted in Omura's ideas on the creation of the military being comprehensively rejected. Moreover, on August 2, Okubo requested that Omura be dismissed. Omura got angry and tendered his resignation but, at the time, there was nobody in the government qualified enough to replace him. Therefore, Kido met him on August 14, the day before the government was reorganized into Nikan Hashho (2 houses and 8 ministries), and begged him to stay in the government. Kido also promised to support Omura and asked him to work in the newly created Hyobusho (military ministry). As a result, Omura was appointed to the post of Hyobu taifu (senior assistant minister of the Hyobusho Ministry of Military) the next day.


The hyobukyo (later Minister of the Army) of that time was Imperial Prince Yoshiakira, but he was minister in name only. Omura was effectively tasked with the creation of the Japanese army. Omura recommended Akiyoshi YAMADA, a 'student' of Omura who had been a staff officer in the Boshin War, as hyobu taijo (rank of major) and asked him to choose candidates for non-commissioned officer positions. Yamada chose about 100 people from all over Yamaguchi Domain and, from October 9, started training them as non-commissioned officers at Kawahigashi Training Center in Kyoto.

Omura established a branch of the Gunmukan (Office for Military Affairs) in Osaka in July 1869 and set up the government's Heigakuryo Military Academy in October, also in Osaka. He also decided to build a gunpowder manufacturing plant in Uji, Kyoto and an arms factory in Osaka. His reason for moving the nucleus of the creation of the Japanese army from Tokyo to Kansai was not only that Osaka's central location made it easier to deal with domestic issues, but also for the political reason that he wanted to escape from the interference of Okubo, who was opposed to Omura's military reforms. In addition, it is said that after quelling the Tohoku War, he was wary of the powerful southwestern domains and stressed Osaka's importance in guarding against them.

While working to establish the army, Omura was attacked by an assassin at an inn in Kyoto on October 8, 1869 and badly injured. According to the assassins' 'Zankan-jo,' or statement of reasons for carrying out an assassination, they were strongly opposed to Omura's radical reforms. Omura escaped death and was moved to the official residence in Yamaguchi Domain and after receiving treatment for a few days, he entered a hospital in Osaka where he was operated on by the Dutch physician Bauduin but his condition deteriorated and he died on December 7. He was 46 years old. His tomb is in Suzenji-mura Village, Yamaguchi City. His grandson Hiroto OMURA (the son of Masujiro's adopted son) was awarded a title of Viscount for Masujiro's achievement and joined the ranks of nobility in 1888.

Omura's ideas for the military were completed by the Omura faction including Akiyoshi YAMADA, Mamoru FUNAKOSHI, Sukenori SOGA and Ichido HARADA, who submitted the "Outline of the Responsibilities of the Ministry of the Military," cosigned by Hyobu Shoyu Michitsune KOGA and Yamada, to the Council of State on November 18. Omura's 'universal conscription theory' was taken over by his successors in the Omura faction and conscription was begun in 1871, although it was cancelled later the same year. After leadership of the Military Ministry passed from Yamada's group to Aritomo YAMAGATA's group, conscription was reintroduced in 1873.


He was said to have predicted the western rebellion (Seinan War) after the Meiji Restoration. He was one of the people (including Shigenobu OKUMA) who didn't appreciate Takamori SAIGO at all and likened him to Takauji ASHIKAGA, who rose up in revolt during the Kenmu Restoration.

The young Kinmochi SAIONJI, who later became Prime Minister, studied under Omura and decided to call on him in Kyoto but, he met an old friend and didn't visit Omura, and therefore escaped being caught up in the assassination attempt on Omura.

It is said that he was the composer of the first Japanese military march 'Tokotonyare-bushi' (Miyasan Miyasan), lyrics by Yajiro SHINAGAWA. But considering Japanese musical sensibility of that time, there is another theory that the march was composed much later.

Statues and monuments related to Masujiro OMURA

A bronze statue of Masujiro OMURA, the first Western-style sculpture in Japan, was placed in Yasukuni-jinja Shrine.

'Omura Masujiro sensei guchi ato' (monument of Omura's provisional residence) is in front of Edobori Fukoku Seimei Building at Edobori, Nishi-ku, Osaka City.

'Hyobu taifu Omura Masujiro kyo junnan hokoku no hi' (monument of his deathplace) is at the Uemachi Crossing in Chuo-ku, Osaka City.

'Omura Hyobu taifu mai taikotsu no chi' (burial monument of Omura's femur) is in the Ryukai-ji Temple, Doshin-cho Kita-ku, Osaka City. His other femur, in accordance with his will, was buried next to the tomb of his teacher, Koan OGATA.

Omura Masujiro sonan hi (monument of the place he was attacked) is in Kiyamachi, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto Prefecture.

The year after the Seinan War, a commemorative plaque was erected in birthplace, Suzenji-mura Village.

Works in which Masujiro OMURA appears


"OMURA Masujiro" by Kiyoshi TAN, Matsuno Shoten, 1999

"OMURA Masujiro" by Toshio ITOYA, Chuo Koronsha, 1989

Historical records

"Record of OMURA Masujiro-sensei" by Minejiro MURATA, Matsuno Shoten, 2001

"Documents of OMURA Masujiro" by Noboru UCHIDA, Matsuno Shoten, 1977

"Historical Records of OMURA Masujiro" by Noboru UCHIDA, Matsuno Shoten, 2000

Research papers

'OMURA Masujiro's vision of the establishment of the military: With the focus on the relationship between "Isshin-no-meigi" and the French-style military system' by Tomoyuki TAKEMOTO, "History of Military" volume 42 No.1, 2006


"Kashin" (Flower god) by Ryotaro SHIBA

"Kibo no hito" (included on "Hitokiri Izo" (Izo the killer)) by Ryotaro SHIBA

TV dramas

"Kashin" (Flower god), NHK period drama, played by Umenosuke NAKAMURA

"Kiheitai," year-end special period drama, Nippon Television Network, played by Tsurutaro KATAOKA

"Tobuga gotoku," NHK period drama, played by Mitsuru HIRATA


"The Choshu Five," played by Daijiro HARADA


"Fuunji tachi" by Taro MINAMOTO

"Hidamari no ki" by Osamu TEZUKA

"Oi! Ryoma" written by Tetsuya TAKEDA, illustrated by Yu KOYAMA