Shimazu Hisamitsu, final daimyo of the Sadowara Domain
Photo courtesy of the Shimazu Museum, Miyakonojo, Miyazaki
By 1603 Tokugawa Ieyasu had most of his reforms in place. These were to restrict the power of daimyo and samurai from rebellions that would threaten the power of the Shogunate government. This was done in three steps: require residency of all the daimyo and their families in Edo (Tokyo), restrict foreign contact with Japan, and control the import and export of goods through commerce. Anything that threatened the success of the Shogunate was banned, limited, or exterminated.
One of the misconceptions is that during this period there was no foreign contact in Japan. In reality, the Shogunate allowed contact in only one city, Nagasaki. Here only Chinese, Dutch, and Koreans could dock and conduct commerce. All domains were expected to contribute forces to the garrison protecting the harbor.
In Hyuga, the Ito grew wealthy due to the astounding success of their farms. Wheat production alone accounted for the fact it was one of the few domains to produce the crop. Adding to this the success of pig, cow, dairy, horse, and tea commodities the Ito were content to send their news continually to their daimyo in Tokyo.
The Azuzaki also grew wealthy in their rice crops. The lands they controlled were idea for the labor intensive crops.
The Otomi used the colder regions of Nobeoka and the mountains to produce some of the finest swords Japan produced in the Era. Maezuru and Tanaka swords were some of the most sought after in Japan. The Otomi domain also traded in granite and limestone that came from the mountains in the region.
The Shimazu bred some of the most sought after horses in Japan. Their lands from Satsuma to Miyakonojo were dedicated to either horse breeding or firearm production, as well as agriculture. Salt which was abundant in their domain was also a major commodity they traded in with the Chinese, Dutch, and Koreans.
By 1610 the Shogunate became uneasy with the increasing wealth and power of local daimyo. Tokugawa Ieyasu enacted strict laws to hedge off trouble. Daimyo were ordered to reside in Edo every other year and their families were commanded to reside in Edo full time. This meant that at any time a daimyo left Edo, their family was kept back as a token that there would be no trouble.
Samurai were under the control of the Shogunate. Samurai were moved from daimyo to another quite often to hedge off alliances. Some samurai found themselves master less when a daimyo refused their service. This created the ronin, master less samurai, who would then either find a trade or become a hired assassin.
The Shogunate enacted the “One domain, one castle” policy. Each daimyo was allowed only one castle in their domain. All others had to be destroyed. This prevented a number of castles from being used to hide munitions, stores, and warriors from the Shogunate. Each domain had to allow a building of Shogunate governance. Like a federal office, the control of registrations and official government business fell on these officers.
In Hyuga the Ito maintained Obi Castle, the Simazu maintained Sadowara Castle, the Azuzaki maintained Takanabe (Maezuru) Castle, and the Otomi maintained Nobeoka Castle. The Azuzaki and Ito maintained a close alliance of resource, information, wealth, and intermarriage to keep in check the power of the Shimazu. The Shimazu were as much untrusted by their fellow daimyo as by the Shogunate. As the wealth of the Shimazu increased, the distrust for them did proportionately as well.
A strict caste system was in place. At the top was the Shogun equal with the Emperor. The Emperor was the ceremonial ruler and the Shogunate set up a liason office in Kyoto to manage and deal with the Imperial household. In all practicality, the Shogun was the dictatorial ruler of Japan. Next were the daimyo, then the samurai. At the bottom were the farmers, artisans, and merchants. Another misconception is that merchants were the very bottom; the fact of the matter is that taxes were so high that for all intent and purposes outside of the samurai class all others were classified as being peasants, this included the clerics and teachers. Some merchants in fact were richer than the Shogun, and some farmers carried more weight in their community than the daimyo did. The more land their samurai lord allotted them, the more they produced and the more they were allocated by their lord. Land holding samurai were the only exception to being placed under a new daimyo. Some of these samurai actually controlled great portions of the daimyo’s domain.
While Nagasaki was the only permitted city for foreign trade and business, the Shogunate did make exceptions when it served their utility. Medical professionals from Germany arriving on a Dutch vessel were met by the Shogun himself in 1746 to discuss medical advances in Europe. They were escorted under Shogunate banner to Edo where they stayed at Edo Castle under the care of the Shogun. Numerous texts were produced in Japan to disseminate the new knowledge brought in. Many a daimyo and samurai were treated by the newly licensed “Court Doctors” and the treatments they used.
For the domains in Hyuga the trade was brisk and wealthy. Over half of which was produced found its way to Nagasaki and on board Dutch, Chinese, and Korean vessels. All of Hyuga’s domains shared a distribution center where a variety of goods from rice to silk to livestock to iron tools were sold and loaded for export. The Hyuga domains also imported firearms from Europe, horses from Arabia, and silk goods from China and Korea. All transactions were done with a Dutch bank keeping track of the trades. The official currency may have been rice, but a Hyuga trade association created by the Hyuga domains paid the Shogunate in gold and silver.
In order to skirt the Shogunate controls on trade, the Hyuga domains set up a trade partnership that paid the Shogunate 17% of trading. To keep things honest the Shogunate required all transactions be registered by a Dutch bank given the license by the Shogunate to do so in the Hyuga Trade Association (日向貿易協会) complex.
By combining forces the Hyuga domains created one of the strongest trade alliances in Japan. The Shimazu still sat back, however, waiting to take advantage of the situation where they could take either take control of the Shogunate or the Imperial Court. Their domain in Okinawa was their real prize. With control of the vast islands, they operated underground trade with foreign nations the Shogunate had no way of monitoring.
For example, it is has long been rumored that the Shimazu received cotton plants from a British vessel in Okinawa in the mid 17th century. These plants were cultivated in Satsuma (modern Kagoshima Prefecture). In time Shimazu cotton textiles were the most sought after in Japan. By the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Shimazu operated cotton production facilities throughout Japan with their main facility in Edo. Never once did the Shogunate risk money, time, or lives to check Shimazu power or call them to task for breaking trade restrictions. Too much would have been risked in such a move. The Shogunate instead turned blind eyes and kept the peace. The Shimazu controlled Okinawa, most of Kyushu, and were a powerful force in Edo. With trade between fellow daimyo and Shimazu all over Japan, the Shogunate risked civil war and an end to Tokugawa control by ever confronting the Shimazu.
The Ito created an education facility in Obi that educated some of top elite thinkers in Japan. Aside from agriculture, Ito Mansho set the Ito Clan focus with his words, “A man with no intellect is incapable of action”. In the tradition of his ancestors, all in the Ito domain, including peasants, were entitled to at least a primary education. Talented students went onto be educated in the Ito secondary schools and promoted by the Ito into the Hyuga Trade Association.
For the Shogunate, keeping a unified Japan was the main goal. As long as the daimyo played nicely with one another and were content to get rich then all was well. The samurai on the other hand were another matter. With continual peace, many samurai were perplexed how to spend their time. Trained continually as warriors, with no war many turned to the arts such as shodo (calligraphy), sumie (ink painting), and even haiku (Japanese poetry) to fill their time. The goal became as a samurai not just be a killing machine, but to become well rounded in all pursuits. Other samurai simply looked for ways to use their lethal talents as hired assassins, defecting mercenaries leaving on Chinese or Dutch ships, or as paid protectors of wealthy merchants.
During this time legends of the actual thief Goemon Ishikawa became popular folklore in Japan. Born in 1558 and put to death around 1581 for theft, Goemon went from common thief to ninja assassin. Hyuga would not be outdone by the legends. One legend in Hyuga painted Goemon as a Robin Hood character that stole from the wealthy and gave the bounty to the poor, orphaned, and widowed using his ninja prowess. One Hyuga version had Goemon camping under a Gingko tree in Sarukawa and falling in with his band of nine ninjas. They then went throughout Hyuga, Kyushu, and Japan righting injustice against the poor and weak by the wealthy and powerful. According to some accounts, that even corrupt officials in the Shogunate were put in their place by Goemon. Goemon was put to death by the Shogunate, supposedly, by being boiled alive in a pot of oil. To this day traditional iron bathtubs are called “goemonburi” or Goemon tubs. These tales began to rub the Shogunate wrong.
This would later be changed in the mid 18th century by the Shogunate. The nephew of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Tokugawa Mitsukuni (Mito Komon), was ordered to be a replacement to the Goemon legends. This character travelled Japan and put corrupt daimyo and samurai in their place by simply displaying the komon (seal) of the Tokugawa. Bad guys trembled in fear before the disguised vagabond and his samurai companions who sought to show the eye of the Shogunate is not far from even the most remote domains. Various versions in Hyuga had him helping harvest rice in Obi, helping in the building of a home for a widow in Sadowara, or saving a drowning child in Nobeoka.
In any case, these show that feudal societies vacillate between the good thief (Goemon – Robin Hood) and the benevolent noble (Tokugawa Mitsukuni – Ivanhoe). In times of want the good thief rights wrongs, and in times of prosperity the benevolent noble rights the wrongs. Hyuga and Japan were no different. Later the Shogunate relaxed the taboo against Goemon by allowing Kabuki plays to be produced using the character. As long as in the plot the villain was plotting against the noble Shogunate.
With the US and other nations forcing Japan to open to international trade, and the daimyo demanding the same for their financial benefit, the Shogunate began to lose influence and power against the forces of modernization. The elite wanted all that entailed their position, including a monarchy on the European model with a parliament and class structure. Peasants wanted out of the farm fields and in urbanized modern cities working factory jobs and sending their children to schools. The merchants wanted lucrative trade with the Europeans, Americas, and Africa without the stiff Shogunate restrictions. Little by little, the controls set in place by Tokugawa Ieyasu 250 years before became the Shogunate’s undoing. By 1868, the Meiji Reformation was well under way. Japan’s feudal society for almost 700 years was in for great upheaval and tensions.