Irie Kuichi ("Sugikura") was born on
April 5, 1837, the eldest son of a lower-class Choshu samurai
(a common foot soldier). He worked as a subordinate of the han
starting from the age of thirteen. After his father died in the
summer of his nineteenth year, he went to work the following spring
at the Choshu clan residence in Edo to pay off housekeeping expenses.
Yoshida Shoin, hearing of this remarkable young man Sugikura,
invited Irie to his Shoka Sonjuku through Yoshida Toshimaro (unrelated
to Shoin) in early fall of Irie's twentieth year. However, at
that time, Irie was still in Edo on official business, so he was
unable to enter the school until the following summer, when he
was twenty-one. He, along with Takasugi Shinsaku, Kusaka Genzui,
and Yoshida Toshimaro, soon became known as the "Shi Tennou"
(literally Four Sky Lords), or the "Big Four" of Shoin's
School Under the Pines.
Irie was one of the most loyal and upright of Shoin's students;
under Shoin's influence he became an avid supporter of sonno-joi
and the other various pro-emperor, anti-foreigner movements. He
was one of the few who followed his teacher to the very end. Soon
after Shoin's execution, Irie was implicated in an attempt to
leave the Choshu clan and become a ronin, and was thrown into
prison. He was helped by Kusaka Genzui after his release, and
became one of the principle members of another village private
school under Kusaka's superintendence.
this point, Irie became more and more active in the cause for
overthrowing the Bakufu. In 1861, he dressed up as a beggar to
gather information and scout out the general opinion of the Mito
han, and went to Kyoto the following year. Early in 1863, his
services were recognized and he was promoted from his common foot
soldier status and allowed a last name, thus becoming "Irie
Kuichi." That same year, he aided Takasugi Shinsaku in the
founding of the Kiheitai, "Extraordinary Corps," as
one of the staff members. He was in charge of information gathering
for the next few months, and hid in the Kyousaka district until
early summer of 1864. He died in battle at the Kinmon no Hen incident
later that summer at the age of 27.
information was translated by HItomi Shimizu for this site.