Inoue Kaoru (1835-1915) was one of the oligarchs that ruled Japan during the Meiji Era.
Born to a Choshu samurai family, Inoue was part of the anti-foriegn sonno joi movement that attacked the British legation in Edo in 1862. When the movement failed, Inoue decided to learn all he could about western ways, traveling to England as a stowaway on a clipper ship in 1863 along with his boyhood friend Ito Hirobumi. The young men returned home the following year upon hearing of the Choshu bombardment of foreign ships. Now firm believers in the necessity of westernization, they unsuccessfully urged the Choshu to seek peace and later supported the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa.
With the fall of the bakufu and Meiji Restoration of 1868, Inoue rose to become a leading member of the new government and held important positions in the ministries of finance, industry, and foreign affairs. Inoue was influential in reorganizing government finances along western models, especially with his reform of the land tax system. When his old friend Ito became prime minister in 1885, Inoue was one of his most trusted lieutenants, serving as foreign minister, minister of the interior, minister of finance. In later years, Inoue also served as governor of Okinawa and minister to Korea.
Inoue retired from active politics in 1898 but continued to have an important influence on national affairs, remaining until his death one of the genro, or "elder statesmen," who advised the Emperor on important policy decisions. Inoue briefly came out of retirement during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 when he was named special adviser to the minister of finance and at the request of the Emperor attended all important state councils.
Inoue was named a marquess in 1907, and died quietly in his Okitsu villa in 1915. He had truly been one of the most influential men of his age.