Okura Kihachiro went to Edo when young and was apprentice to a merchant.
Shrewd in business, Okura Kihachiro engaged in the sale of weapons and ammunitions during the turbulent period around the Meiji Restoration (1868). Afterward, he opened a tailor shop and amassed a fortune. Went abroad (1872) and organized the Okura Gumi Company after returning to Japan. It was one of the first firms to engage in direct export and import business. In the Formosan expedition and the Saigo Rebellion in early Meiji years, he engaged in transportation of ammunitions for the army and navy. He then started civil engineering and mining enterprises.
In his late years, he endeavored to promote Sino-Japanese friendship, established the Okura Commerce School and the Okura Shukokan, a fine arts museum, in Tokyo.