Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Shimazu Clan

Seal of the Shimazu

An old folk song in Miyazaki has these lyrics:
Toyotomi taught if the canary does not sing, kill it.
Tokugawa taught if the canary does not sing, be patient.
The Ito say if the canary does not sing, teach it.
The Shimazu say if the canary does not sing, bribe it.
The Shimazu are descendents of the Minamoto clan.  When Yoritomo Minamoto became shogun he gave the Shimazu the Shioda Domain in Shimano Province (modern Nagano Prefecture).
In 1185, Tadahisa Shimazu was named military commander of the Kamakura Shogunate over all of Kyushu.  This meant he received large tribute from the lords of Hyuga, Satsuma (present western Kagoshima, which he was also named lord over), Osumi, and the other Kyushu provinces.  This gave the Shimazu tremendous potential and eventually the Shimazu set their eyes on control of all Kyushu. 
What is now Miyakonojo City gave the Shimazu great leverage for this task to take Hyuga.  In control of Miyakonojo (Capital Castle) since 1375, they were in perfect position to take their conquest into Kumamoto and Hyuga.
The Shimazu before 1477 and the fall of the Kamakura Shogunate had intermittent skirmishes with not only the Ito but also the Tomochi.  Often castles like Mukasa (in present day Takaoka) and Obi Castle would change control from Shimazu to Ito and back again many times.  Mukasa fell from the Ito to the Shimazu in 1403, but the Ito reclaimed it a few weeks later.  It fell again to the Shimazu in 1458, but the Ito reclaimed it a few months later in February 1459.  Mukasa fell for the final time to Shimazu control in 1577 a week before Aya Castle was taken.
The Sengoku Period (1477 – 1582) after the fall of the Kamakura Shogunate gave the Shimazu the opportunity to begin a campaign to rule all of Kyushu.  By 1458 the Simazu had brought Osumi (present day eatern Kagoshima), southern Hyuga, parts of Higo (modern Kumamoto) and all of Satsuma under their control.  They suffered a minor setback when the Ito and their allies wrested Obi in Hyuga back from their control in 1484.
In Satsuma, the Shimazu grew rich in trade of salt (needed for food preservation which Satsuma had the bulk of in Japan), metal work, silk, spirits, and armaments.  They grew even more wealthy conducting trade with the Portuguese from the harbor in Satsuma (modern Kagoshima City).
By 1577 the Shimazu won Hyuga from Ito control after victories in the Battle of Kizakibaru (1572), Battle of Tokubaru (1577) and then finally the successful siege of Aya Castle.  The Ito abandoned their main fortress at Tonokori after receiving the signal of Aya’s fall.  After Aya, the Shimazu advanced to Tonokori to find it abandoned.  The Ito had burned bridges across rivers as they fled north to Otomo controlled lands.  After finally reaching abandoned Miyazaki Castle, the Shimazu raized it and advanced on Sadowara Castle, also to find it abandoned.  The Ito had sent messengers ahead to other castles warning them to advance to Bunga (modern Oita) when Aya fell. 
The control of Shimazu over Hyuga would be short lived when by 1587 the Shimazu were put under control of the shogunate of Hideyoshi Toyotomi.  The Ito received all of Hyuga under their lordship, but the Shimazu were given the Sadowara Domain in Hyuga by the Ito under advice of the Tokugawa as a gesture of goodwill.
At the Battle of Sekigahara, the Shimazu sided with the forces of Mitsunari Ishida against Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa.  After Tokugawa’s victory the Shimazu were financially fined, but had no lands stripped as Tokugawa feared an uprising from the Shimazu.
At this time the Shimazu were expert riflemen, owned one of the few rifle factories, and had stretched their control as far as the Okinawa Islands.  Confined to Satsuma, Okinawa, and part of Hyuga, the Shimazu grew even wealthier although the shogunate kept their power at bay by having shogunate controlled districts throughout their domains.
The Shimazu were able to trade with foreign nations through a concealed port in Okinawa which foreign ships would dock and conduct trade with the Shimazu.  Again the shogunate turned a blind eye as long as the Shimazu made no plans of further conquest.  The Shimazu were among the daimyo families that had to keep their lords’ families in Edo (Tokyo) continually.  This basically held the daimyos’ families as hostages to keep powerful clans like the Shimazu under firm shogunate control.
Throughout the Tokugawa Shogunate the Shimazu, like other daimyo families, settled into a peaceful existence of studying the arts, martial arts, and Buddhist religion.  Many Shimazu became Buddhist priests and Zen masters.
The Meiji Reformation created a split in the Shimazu.  Many revolted against the Tokyo government in the Boshin War (1868 to 1869).  The reason is complex but centered most on the Meiji government enticing violence against Buddhists, confiscating all samurai lands, outlawing the samurai, paying low prices for samurai holdings, and what samurai felt was low stipends for their support.  Others like Shimazu retainer Saigo Takamori had fierce loyalty to the Meiji government, going so far as to demand all samurai and Tokugawa Shogunate lands be stripped completely of their control and given to the government to be distributed among all Japanese classes.  Eventually, Saigo himself led the Satsuma Rebellion (January to September 1877) against the Tokyo government after he tired of Tokyo pushing not only modernization but Westernization of Japan.  Saigo was defeated and killed by Imperial forces at the Battle of Shiroyama in present Kumamoto on September 24, 1877.
During the Meiji Reformation, many Shimazu settled in Tokyo and Kyoto.  For example, Genzo Shimazu founded Shimadzu Industries which is still a scientific and technology research company based in Kyoto.  Shimadzu Industries contributed much to advance Japanese technology during the Meiji era, World War II, and the Japanese aerospace industry today.
By the end of World War II, the Shimazu had lost much of their family in fighting.  The majority were officers in the Imperial Army and Navy.  The toll on life was great for their family.  Shimazu also made up the bulk of Kamikaze units.  Before flying off on his kamikaze mission one Shimazu pilot translated the “Kimigayo”, Japan’s national anthem, into English and mailed it to a close friend in Japanese held Formosa.  It is on display at the Shimazu Museum in Miyakonojo, in beautiful cursive he wrote,
I have only wish: May your reign (the Emperor’s) continue for a thousand, ten thousand generations, until the pebbles grow into boulders lush with moss.  For this I give my life.
Today, the majority of their descendents are still found in Kagoshima and the Miyakonojo District of Miyazaki.  They also have many family members in the Japanese government today.

Thank you to Mr. Karahara at the Shimazu Museum in Miyakonojo for his time today.  The museum was closed today, but he met me there to discuss the Shimazu.  Thank you also for the books and other information you gave me for research.


  1. Zzzzzz shimazus........ greedy people

  2. Very interesting. Thank you for taking the time to write this up. I am heading to Kyushu in September and hope to visit some historic locations related to the Shimazu.