Satsuma han

From SamuraiWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
The island of Kyûshû, with Kagoshima Prefecture in dark green. Satsuma han covered this territory, along with some to the northeast, in Hyûga province.

Satsuma was one of the most powerful han in the Edo period, and played a major role in the Meiji Restoration and in the government of the Meiji period which followed. Controlled throughout the Edo period by the tozama daimyô of the Shimazu clan, its territory spanned the provinces of Satsuma, Osumi and the south-west region of Hyûga on the island of Kyûshû, and had the Ryûkyû Kingdom as a vassal state. The territory is largely contiguous with today's Kagoshima prefecture, plus parts of Miyazaki prefecture. As one of only ten daimyô clans to control (at least) an entire province, the Shimazu were considered hon-kunimochi ("true country holders").[1]

Officially called Kagoshima han, the domain was ruled from Kagoshima castle in Kagoshima. Its kokudaka, the official measure of the domain's production, and therefore its wealth and power, was assessed at 770,000 koku for most of the period, the second highest kokudaka after that of Kaga han.



The Shimazu family controlled Satsuma province for roughly four centuries prior to the beginning of the Edo period and the establishment of the han, and towards the end of the 16th century, controlled nearly all of Kyûshû. Despite being chastised by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in his 1587 Kyûshû campaign, and forced back to Satsuma, they remained one of the most powerful clans in the archipelago. During the decisive battle of Sekigahara, which took place in 1600 and put an end to the long Sengoku period, the Shimazu stayed home in Satsuma, consolidating and protecting their power. While a great many clans fought and lost at Sekigahara, the Shimazu remained one of the few who, alone, possessed sufficient military might to resist the shogun's armies, had he tried to forcibly seize their territory. Unlike many clans who were assigned and reassigned han over the course of the Edo period, the Shimazu maintained their territory, and a great degree of autonomy.

In 1609, the Shimazu requested permission from the shogunate to invade the Ryûkyû Kingdom which lay to its south. After a brief invasion which met little resistance, Satsuma seized a number of the northern Ryûkyû Islands,[2] annexing them to the han, and claimed the Ryûkyû Kingdom as a vassal state. For the remainder of the Edo period, Satsuma exacted tribute from Ryûkyû, influenced its politics, and dominated its trading policies. As strict maritime prohibitions were imposed upon much of Japan beginning in the 1630s, Satsuma's ability to enjoy a trade in Chinese goods, and information, via Ryûkyû, provided it a distinct and important, if not entirely unique, role in the overall economy and politics of the Tokugawa state. The degree of economic benefits enjoyed by Satsuma, and the degree of their oppression of Ryûkyû, are subjects debated by scholars, but the political prestige and influence gained through this relationship is not questioned. The Shimazu continually made efforts to emphasize their unique position as the only feudal domain to claim an entire foreign kingdom as its vassal, and engineered repeated increases to their own official Court rank, in the name of maintaining their power and prestige in the eyes of Ryûkyû. Satsuma also maintained contacts with Chinese merchants, in violation of the shogunate's policies, allowing Chinese merchants to visit their shores and engage in trade; the domain hired Chinese language interpreters to speak with these merchants, who arrived sporadically, in order to attempt to glean information from them regarding events in China, and allowed a Chinese community to remain active at the port town of Bônotsu up until the early 18th century.[3]

Though arguably opposed to the shogunate, Satsuma was perhaps one of the strictest domains in enforcing particular policies. Christian missionaries were seen as a serious threat to the power of the daimyô, and the peace and order of the domain; the shogunal ban on Christianity was enforced more strictly and brutally in Satsuma, perhaps, than anywhere else in the archipelago. The ban on smuggling, perhaps unsurprisingly, was not so strictly enforced, as the domain gained significantly from trade performed along its shores, some ways away from Nagasaki, where the shogunate monopolized commerce.

In addition, Satsuma was regarded as one of the strictest domains in restricting travel into or out of the domain. One contemporary account describes it as the strictest of the domains, with Hizen han, Awa han, and Tosa han following closely behind, and at least one scholar has today described Satsuma as a "closed country" within the "closed country" of Tokugawa Japan (or, "double-layered sakoku," 二重鎖国).[4] Residents and travelers within Satsuma were required to carry wooden identification tags, and checkpoints called sakaime bansho and tsuguchi bansho were established at border crossings and ports, respectively,[4] making it quite difficult for people to enter or leave the domain, and resulting in the development of a marked difference in cultural norms from those even in immediately neighboring domains. One contemporary traveler remarked that customs do not change much between Kansai and Higo province, but that as soon as one steps over the border into Satsuma, the customs are quite different; he describes them as possibly old-fashioned, or perhaps even as if Satsuma were a foreign country. Not only was the transmission or influence upon Satsuma of cultural changes the rest of the archipelago limited, but the flow or spread of Satsuma's culture into the rest of Japan was likewise quite limited, making it seem all the more mysterious and unfamiliar.[5] Reasons for these tight controls may have included a desire to protect the domain from outside religious influences, and from epidemics and plagues, as well as to protect domain secrets. Indeed, one scholar notes, very few residents of Satsuma appear on registers of pilgrims in Shikoku, for example, an indication that very few residents of Satsuma traveled outside the domain at all.[6]

These policies were considerably relaxed, however, for a brief period under daimyô Shimazu Shigehide (r. 1755-1787). It is said that Shigehide desired to bring more commerce and trade into the domain, and believed that greater merchant activity was essential for a prosperous castle town; Satsuma residents were even allowed during this period to make the pilgrimage to Ise. It was during this time, as well, that Furukawa Koshôken and Tachibana Nankei, among other prominent scholar-travelers, were able to enter the domain and travel within it, Koshôken explicitly noting that it was then easier to enter Satsuma than it had been previously. Various precautions and procedures more strict than in most other domains were still in place, however, as he relates that the guards at the border searched all his possessions, and required him to prove he had enough coin to prevent himself from becoming any kind of burden for the domain.[6]

Satsuma remained the second wealthiest domain (in terms of official kokudaka rating) and among the most powerful throughout the Edo period. This derived not only from their connection to Ryûkyû, but also from the size and productive wealth of Satsuma province itself, and from their extreme distance from Edo, and thus from the Shogun's armies. The Shimazu exercised their influence to exact from the shogunate a number of special exceptions. Satsuma was granted an exception to the shogunate's limit of one castle per domain, a policy which was meant to restrict the military strength of the domains. Satsuma had the highest proportion of samurai in its population of any domain, roughly 25%,[7] as compared to 6% in most parts of the archipelago.[8] Contrary to the policy of removing the samurai from the countryside and consolidating them in the domainal capital, as was standard in most domains, the Shimazu were able to form sub-fiefs within their domain, and to dole out castles to their retainers, in a system known as the tojô seido (外城制度). There were around 113 of these "outside castle" administrative units, each of which might be considered a sub-domain or sub-fief in certain important ways, making the Shimazu administration of their domain not entirely dissimilar from being a microcosm of the Tokugawa state(s) itself. Samurai lords of these "outside castle" sub-fiefs, known as jitô (often translated as "stewards"), typically had a number of gôshi (rural samurai) retainers, who performed agricultural work in peacetime, but could be called up for military service when necessary.[4]

Most of these rural samurai lived in separate samurai villages, watching over neighboring peasant villages and effecting tax collection, which was done through a system known as kadowari ("dividing into gates"); villages or homes were grouped together into groups known as kado, each of which owed a certain amount of taxes to the samurai.[4] This was in contrast to the system in place in most domains, in which village heads were responsible, within a hierarchy of peasant and samurai officials, for the collection of taxes.[9]

The Shimazu also received special exceptions from the shogunate in regard to the policy of sankin kôtai, another policy meant to restrict the wealth and power of the daimyô. Under this policy, every feudal lord was mandated to travel to Edo at least once a year, and to spend some portion of the year there, away from his domain and his power base. The Shimazu were granted permission to make this journey only once every two years. These exceptions thus allowed Satsuma to gain even more power and wealth relative to the majority of other domains. Even so, sankin kôtai was expensive, and like most domains, by the 19th century, Satsuma found itself in heavy debt, having borrowed time and again from Osaka merchants to finance their trips to Edo. In fact, despite its high rank and kokudaka, in terms of debts, Satsuma was the poorest domain in the realm in 1827, with roughly 320,000 kan (a measure of silver) in debt.[10]

Satsuma's financial situation had been particularly ill-affected by a command from the shogunate in 1753 that the domain contribute to the construction of embankments along the Kiso River. This corvée labor project took fifteen months. Satsuma contributed 1000 samurai, out of whom 80 died from the back-breaking work or for other reasons related to the working conditions; the man appointed by Satsuma to serve as overseer, Hirata Yukie, committed suicide as a means of acknowledging or seeking atonement for his responsibility for their deaths. The entire affair was profoundly expensive for the domain, and combined with other financial difficulties, severely worsened the domain's already exceptional degree of debt.[4]

A number of agricultural policies put in place in the 1820s-1830s by domain official Zusho Shôzaemon helped alleviate the domain's financial difficulties, but only somewhat. Zusho also oversaw the creation of a system of smugglers, sanctioned and sometimes even supported financially by the domain. The most prominent of these, the Hamazaki family, boasted agents in all the major port and market cities, and was involved in everything from Ryukyuan sugar to marine products from Ezo, cutting into the trade volume or market share of the Western and Eastern Sea Circuit trade routes. Satsuma had been condoning Chinese smuggling within its territory to varying extents throughout the period as well, receiving Chinese ships in violation of Tokugawa policy, instead of sending them on to Nagasaki. When the volume of trade at Nagasaki began to seriously decline in the 1830s, shogunate officials pointed the finger at Satsuma's smuggling; in fact, there were a variety of other causes for the decline in trade, including wars being fought by the Dutch Republic which severely weakened the Dutch East India Company, and the growth of domestic products, including sugar from the Amami Islands, which competed with imported goods. Zusho's policies in Amami were devastating for the people of those islands, but have been credited as playing a crucial role in effecting recovery for the domain's economy, and setting the stage for Satsuma's success in its industrializing efforts in the Bakumatsu era.[4]

Meanwhile, in 1837, Mizuno Tadakuni declared a ban on the sale of Ryûkyû goods at Nagasaki for a ten-year period, from 1839-1848, and further that in the intervening time before the ban came into effect, the shogunate-run Nagasaki customs house would take over the warehousing, sale, and transportation of Satsuma's goods. Satsuma complained almost immediately, citing once again the financial difficulties of the Ryûkyû Kingdom, but in the end, the ban was upheld, with the shogunate issuing a grant of 5,000 ryô annually for three years, directed specifically at benefiting the kingdom.[11]

Relations with Ryûkyû

Satsuma's lordship over Ryûkyû chiefly provided the domain benefits in terms of prestige and status, and economically.

Satsuma boasted it was the only domain to claim a foreign kingdom as a vassal, and encouraged regular Ryukyuan embassies to Edo as a display of that fact, leveraging this at times to demand greater court rank and other privileges and concessions. After the shogunate rejected Satsuma's requests in 1704 and 1709 to send Ryukyuan missions, the dismissal (muyô, "no need") coming perhaps chiefly from financial concerns, Satsuma emphasized the importance of these missions for Ryûkyû in demonstrating its loyalty and fealty to the shogunate, and the powerful implications for the shogunate's own prestige and impressions of legitimacy. The shogunate, spurred by Arai Hakuseki, who was of a particular mind for the political importance of ritual display, relented, and allowed a mission to come in 1710. Shimazu Yoshitaka also pressed the shogunate at that time for an elevation in court rank, suggesting that a higher court rank was essential for demanding the respect of the Ryûkyû Kingdom, but likely truly thinking about his rank relative to other daimyô, such as the Maeda clan, lords of Kaga han. He got what he wanted, and from that year forward, the lord of Satsuma was elevated in court rank every time he escorted a Ryukyuan embassy to Edo.

After Tsushima argued that its diplomatic and trade interactions with Korea constituted an important service to the shogunate in terms of intelligence and national defense, in 1748 both Tsushima and Satsuma were exempted from military or corvée obligations related to the defense of the port of Nagasaki, an obligation otherwise shared by all other Kyushu daimyô.[12]

The economic benefits for Satsuma of the arrangement came chiefly in the ability to import Chinese silks, medicinal products, and other luxury goods, obtained by Ryukyuan envoys in China (or as gifts from Chinese investiture envoys who came to Ryûkyû), and to sell those goods at market in Japan. Right around the same time that Satsuma was experiencing difficulties with the shogunate permitting them to send Ryukyuan embassy missions to Edo, the shogunate's monetary policies were creating other very severe problems for the domain. In 1711, the shogunate debased the currency to an all-time low, producing silver ingots that were only 20% silver. Satsuma complained that as 80% ingots had been the standard, sending Ryukyuan envoys to China with 20% ingots would not only make it much more expensive (in number of ingots) to purchase goods, but would also risk Ryûkyû losing face with China, and Satsuma losing face with Ryûkyû. Tsushima han, which had an exclusive privilege to engaging in trade with Korea, and which was by far the chief source in Japan of the highly-demanded product ginseng, similarly complained, and was granted permission to use 80% ingots; Satsuma was not so successful, being granted permission to use 64% ingots. The shogunate returned to producing 80% silver ingots only a few years later, in 1715, but seeking to find a way of stemming the flow of silver out of the country, restricted further the amount of silver Satsuma could send out of the country. Whereas they had previously been permitted to provide 800 kan of silver to Ryûkyû for Ryukyuan tribute missions to China and 400 kan for gifts given to Chinese investiture envoys visiting Ryûkyû, these amounts were now limited to 600 and 300 kan respectively.[13]

Satsuma experienced further economic/commercial difficulties beginning in the late 1780s to early 1790s, when Matsudaira Sadanobu, as part of broader efforts to limit Japan's foreign trade activities, restricted Satsuma to selling only silk and silk damask - two particularly less profitable products - at Kyoto, obliging them to consume all other Chinese and Ryukyuan goods they imported within the domain. This struck a severe blow, nearly defeating entirely the economic purpose of Satsuma's links with Ryûkyû. Satsuma petitions to the shogunate in 1801 to reverse the imposition, or to expand the variety of permitted goods, were rejected. However, over the course of the 1810s-1820s, a series of famines and other problems in Ryûkyû offered Satsuma the opportunity to press its claims, asserting that the Nagasaki trade was essential to Ryûkyû's financial well-being. In 1825, the shogunate finally relented, not only allowing Satsuma to sell a variety of different goods on the market, but also making official limits on the total volume of sale significantly more lenient, increasing the amount from 900 kan, stipulated in 1716, to 1,720 kan.[14] These restrictions were further loosened in 1846, with Satsuma now being able to sell a full sixteen stipulated types of goods at the Osaka and Kyoto markets, albeit under a tighter limit on total volume of trade - 1,200 kan instead of the previous 1,720.[15]


Towards the end of the Edo period, the shogunate's power waned, and contacts with Westerners increased dramatically, particularly for Satsuma, as Western ships frequently landed in the Ryûkyûs and sought not only trade, but formal diplomatic relations. Frustration and tensions arose in Satsuma and other domains over the shogunate's failure to repel these Western incursions, and over a number of other issues. In the Namamugi Incident of 1862, an Englishman was killed by retainers of Satsuma, leading to the bombardment of Kagoshima by the British Royal Navy the following year.

A number of powerful retainers of the Shimazu, foremost among them Saigô Takamori, along with samurai of a number of other domains, then pushed forward the events which led to the Meiji Restoration. The events of the 1860s are in fact far more complex than most accounts indicate, but in short, Saigô and his comrades, against the wishes of the Satsuma daimyô at the time, sought to overthrow the shogunate. A number of political discussions and petitions led to skirmishes, and ultimately, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu agreed to step down and put an end to the shogunate.

The Meiji government which was established in the aftermath of these events was largely dominated by people from Satsuma and Chôshû han. Though the samurai class, domain system, and much of the political and social structures surrounding these were abolished shortly afterwards, figures from these two areas dominated the Japanese government roughly until World War I. It is said, however, that these two areas continue to exert a disproportionately powerful influence over politics even today.

Daimyô of Satsuma

  1. Shimazu Tadatsune (r. 1602-1638)
  2. Shimazu Mitsuhisa (r. 1638-1687)
  3. Shimazu Tsunataka (r. 1687-1704)
  4. Shimazu Yoshitaka (r. 1704-1721)
  5. Shimazu Tsugutoyo
  6. Shimazu Munenobu
  7. Shimazu Shigetoshi
  8. Shimazu Shigehide (r. 1755-1787)
  9. Shimazu Narinobu
  10. Shimazu Narioki
  11. Shimazu Nariakira (r. 1851-1858)
  12. Shimazu Tadayoshi (r. 1858-1871)

Other major figures from Satsuma


This article was written by User:LordAmeth and contributed to both S-A and Wikipedia; the author gives permission for his work to be used in this way.

  • Sakai, Robert (1957). "Feudal Society and Modern Leadership in Satsuma-han" Journal of Asian Studies Vol 16. pp. 365-376
  • Sakai, Robert (1968). "The Consolidation of Power in Satsuma-han." in Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan. (John W. Hall & Marius Jansen eds.) Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Sakai, Robert, et al. (1975). The Status System and Social Organization of Satsuma. Tokyo: Tokyo University Press.
  • Sansom, George (1958). A History of Japan to 1334. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  • Sansom, George (1961). A History of Japan: 1334-1615. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  • Sansom, George (1963). A History of Japan: 1615-1867. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. pp218-242.
  1. *Mark Ravina, Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan, Stanford University Press (1999), 19.
  2. including Amami Ôshima, Tokunoshima, Okinoerabujima, Yoronjima, and Kikaigashima.
  3. Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 46-47.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Gallery labels, Reimeikan Museum, Kagoshima, Sept 2014.
  5. Munemasa Isoo 宗政五十緒, “Tachibana Nankei ‘Saiyūki’ to Edo kōki no kikō bungaku” 橘南谿『西遊記』と江戸後期の紀行文学, in Shin-Nihon koten bungaku taikei 新日本古典文学大系, vol. 98, (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1991), 442.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Vaporis, Constantine. Breaking Barriers. Harvard East Asia Monographs, 1994. pp209-210.
  7. Norman, E.H. Soldier and Peasant in Japan: The Origins of Conscription. New York: Institute for Pacific Relations, 1945. p44.
  8. Hellyer, 25.
  9. Hellyer, 28.
  10. Hellyer, 126.
  11. Hellyer, 134-138.
  12. Hellyer, 68.
  13. Hellyer, 67.
  14. Hellyer, 132.
  15. 158-159.
Personal tools