During his early years, his education consisted mainly of the study of Confucian literature and derivative works. However, he left school in 1853 to move to a Dutch studies institution.
During a trip to Nagasaki, Okuma met a Dutch missionary named Guido Verbeck, who taught him the English language and provided him with copies of the New Testament and the American Declaration of Independence.
At the Meiji Restoration (1868), Shigenobu Okuma was appointed a judge in Nagasaki and handled affairs involving foreigners. Distinguished himself by ably settling Christian and money exchange affairs.
He was appointed Finance Minister (1869) and subsequently Home Minister. Became concurrently Finance Minister (1873). Under his administration the Tokyo-Yokohama railway (Japan's first) was built and the mint established. Shigenobu Okuma resigned (1881), due to disagreement with other government leaders on disposal of government properties.
Shigenobu Okuma organized the Rikken Kaishinto (Progressive Party), became its president and founded the Tokyo Semmon Gakko, predecessor of Waseda University. He was made a Count (1887) and appointed Foreign Minister (1888). Shigenobu Okuma endeavored hard to revise the unequal treaties which Japan had concluded with foreign powers. He resigned as foreign Minister after the incident and became a member of the Privy Council. He was appointed Foreign Minister again (1896). He then organized a cabinet together with Taisuke Itagaki, became Prime Minister and concurrently Foreign Minister (1898). He was managing editor of the "Shin Nihonjin" and "Taikan" magazines which aimed to enlighten the people on affairs of the world. He was again appointed Prime Minister (1914).
Physical Characteristics: Shigenobu Okuma lost one leg (1889) when Tsuneki Kurushima, a would-be assassin, hurled a bomb at him.