Inoue Kaoru was born in a samurai family of Choshu, and was a close boyhood friend of Ito Hirobumi. He studied Dutch and military arts as a youth.
Influenced by Yoshida Shoin (see Hagi), he was eager to expel the foreigners out of Japan.
In 1858, he moved to Edo to further his studies, where he met other like-minded people. Together they planned and burned the British Consulate in 1861. He spent 7 days in jail in consequence, but was promoted to palace guard notwithstanding.
In 1862, he secretly embarked into a journey to the UK, along with Ito Hirobumi and Yamao Yozo, to study Western technologies. Back to Japan, he helped creating the alliance between Satsuma and Choshu which was to overthrow the Tokugawa government.
Inoue held various high positions in the new Meiji government, such as vice-minister of finance, governor of Okinawa or minister of public works.
His close ties with the Mitsui zaibatsu made Saigo Takamori sarcastically call him "Chief Minister for Mitsui". However, Inoue viewed Mitsui as a decisive element in the industrialization process of Japan.
Inoue fell ill in 1909, and remained practically secluded in his Shizuoka villa for the last 6 years of his life.
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