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Unsung Heroes: The Shimazu of Kyushu

 
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 6:27 pm    Post subject: Unsung Heroes: The Shimazu of Kyushu Reply with quote
Certain clans and personalities receive attention from the Sengoku period more than others. The more well-known are the Oda, the Matsudaira, the Mori and the Takeda. Less discussed, however, are the Shimazu, who were warlords in the Satsuma region of Kyushu, the most southwesterly of Japan's four islands. Clawing their way from a handful of castles to almost complete hegemony over Kyushu, the Shimazu ultimately submitted to Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587 as he unified Japan. Still, they survived well on into the Edo period and were instrumental in the demise of the Tokugawa shogunate and the ushering in of the Meiji era.



According to Mark Ravina, the Shimazu claimed descent from Koremune Tadahisa, who was appointed in 1185 by Minamoto Yoritomo, the first shogun, as military steward over the Shimazu province (roughly today's Kagoshima Prefecture). In 1197, Tadahisa was promoted to military governor, and in the following year, Tadahisa adopted "Shimazu" as his surname. Ravina also claims historians have traced the Shimazu to an imperial courtier family from the 6th century and "with less certainty" to aristocrats who immigrated from Korea. Warriors were more prestigious than courtiers, however, so the clan considered Tadahisa to be its first official head.

(Tadahisa was also the first to be named lord over the Ryukyu Islands, although it should be noted that the Shimazu did not actually exercise any actual control over the islands until the 17th century, when the clan conquered them based on this historical claim.)

The Shimazu survived the Kamakura shogunate and held onto its domain under the Ashikagas. The arrival of the Sengoku period found the clan in dire straits, however. Around 1484, the head of the clan at the time, Shimazu Tadamasa, fought with the Itō clan over control over the southern part of Hyūga Province. While this went on, various families rose up in rebellion against the Shimazu, including the Iriki-in. Frustrated and depressed, Tadamasa died in 1508, possibly having taken his own life.


Satsuma, the traditional territory of the Shimazu

Several decades later, in 1526, the lord of Izumi castle, Shimazu Sanehisa (head of a cadet branch) rebelled against the clan, now under the command of Shimazu Katsuhisa. Katsuhisa was forced to flee and his adopted son, Takahisa, assumed control of the clan. For the next forty years or so, southern Kyushu -- much like the rest of Japan -- was embroiled in severe civil war. Like many other daimyo of the era, the Shimazu were not so much fighting with some grand ambition of unifying Japan as merely trying to retain supremacy over their lands. In 1549, Takahisa became the first daimyo to use arquebuses in battle, employing them in the siege of Kajiki castle in Osumi Province.


Shimazu Yoshihisa in Nobunaga no Yabō

In 1566 Takahisa retired in favor of his son, Yoshihisa, who began a campaign of consolidation as well as expansion. Three years after his ascension, Yoshihisa seized northern Satsuma from the Hishikari and, a year later, brought the Iriki-in and Togo families back under his thumb. In 1574 the Shimazu won more of Osumi from the Kimotsuki and Ijichi, leaving only their old rivals the Ito. The Shimazu had inflicted a huge defeat on the Ito in 1572, when 300 Shimazu warriors allegedly defeated 3,000 Ito soldiers, in what has been termed the "Okehazama of Kyushu." By 1578, the Ito had been so thoroughly routed that Yoshisuke fled to northern Kyushu, to the holdings of Otomo Sorin, the lord of Bungo.


Otomo Sorin, the Lex Luthor of Japan

Sorin and his son, Yoshimune, marched toward Hyūga with approximately 40,000 men under their banner, razing Buddhist and Shinto shrines as they went (Sorin was a Christian daimyo with alleged ambitions of establishing a Christian community in Hyūga.) Yoshihisa led his own forces north, and at the Battle of Mimigawa routed the Otomo forces, who were using European-made cannon. The Shimazu, once again outnumbered (with only 30,000 troops), had once more scored a major victory against a superior foe. The Otomo were forced to retreat and, due to external pressures and internal crises, never again posed a threat to the Shimazu on their own.

The Shimazu next found themselves opposed by Kyushu's other great clan, the Ryuzoji, under their leader, Takanobu. The two clans feuded over control of Higo Province in the 1580s, with the conclusive battle coming in 1584 at the Battle of Okinawate. Takanobu, an avid alcoholic known for wearing bearskin over his armor (hence the nickname "the Bear of Hizen"), arrived at the battlefield in a palanquin, as his beer belly had grown so large he could not ride a horse. In the subsequent battle, Shimazu soldiers killed Takanobu in his command post. His son, Masaiie, sought and secured peace, leaving the Shimazu more or less the absolute power on Kyushu.


The Bear of Hizen, Ryuzoji Takanobu

It was not to last, however. In 1585 Otomo Sorin petitioned the premier warlord and effective successor of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, for relief. The taiko jumped at this chance to impose his authority over Kyushu and sent a series of letters demanding the Shimazu to recognize him as their overlord. The Shimazu, proud warriors at heart, scoffed, and in 1587, just after a year after the Shimazu had captured Bungo itself, around 60,000 men under the Toyotomi banner landed on Kyushu, supported by around 90,000 Mori troops. Rather than hasten the inevitable, the Shimazu fell back to their home base at Kagoshima and eventually submitted. Yoshihisa "retired," took up the trappings of the Buddhist lay clergy, and turned over the clan to his brother Yoshihiro. As was often the case in such situations, however, it is likely that Yoshihisa remained the true power behind the scenes, with Yoshihiro merely serving as the public face for the clan.

Despite internal dissent over doing so, the clan contributed to the ill-fated invasions of Korea under the Toyotomi. If records are to be believed, Yoshihiro and his son Tadatsune defended a Japanese garrison with 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers against an assaulting force of around 30,000 Ming Chinese troops at the Battle of Sacheon in 1598. The Shimazu forces later provided rearguard support for the western section of the Japanese army when it retreated from Korea, having won victories in most of their battles but having obtained none of its goals.

Following Hideyoshi's death, the Shimazu allied itself with the Toyotomi faction under Ishida Mitsunari against Tokugawa Ieyasu. At the Battle of Sekigahara, Yoshihiro led the Shimazu contingent of the Western Army. During the battle, the Shimazu were kept on the wings, to charge down from the flanks at Ishida's command. Despite orders from Ishida to join the battle, the Shimazu refused, perhaps skeptical due to Ishida's inexperience as a commander or a general unwillingness to get involved in a fight many thought actually decided before it began. At any rate, the Shimazu ended up surrounded by Eastern forces and had to break out in a near-suicidal move. As ever, the Shimazu were able to hack their way out of certain death, and even inflicted a major blow to the Eastern Army by fatally wounding Ii Naomasa, Ieyasu's "Red Devil."

Although Ieyasu emerged triumphant, the Shimazu accepted the Tokugawa shogunate in exchange for their traditional domain of the Satsuma and Osumi provinces. Ironically, almost 300 years later, Satsuma -- along with Choshu - would be the breeding grounds for the samurai who, in the name of "revering the emperor and expelling the barbarians," overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate in the Boshin War and set up the Meiji government centered around the imperial court.

Questions? Comments? Favorite things about the Shimazu?
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 9:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Quote:
Ironically, almost 300 years later, Satsuma -- along with Choshu - would be the breeding grounds for the samurai who, in the name of "revering the emperor and expelling the barbarians," overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate


I don't think it's ironic at all, but quite the opposite. With a kokudaka of 770,000, the Shimazu were (I believe) the second-wealthiest daimyo in the entire archipelago, and the third-wealthiest samurai clan, behind the Maeda of Kaga domain (1 million koku) and the Tokugawa themselves (4 million koku). Satsuma was also among the most distant from Edo, had the highest number of samurai per capita of any domain, and was the only domain to claim an entire foreign kingdom as a vassal. So, I think it rather makes sense that one of the most powerful domains, which never really supported or liked the Tokugawa anyway, should be among those to rise up against the shogunate when the time came.

Since I study Ryukyuan history, the Shimazu are quite prominent in my research. One of my favorite things about the Shimazu is the number of exceptions they get to standard rules of the Tokugawa state - chief among them, an exception to the one-castle rule. While every other domain was limited to one castle, Satsuma maintained quite a number of castles, which they gave to their retainers as sub-fiefs.[/quote]
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 10:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Agree with Meth. The Shimazu get tons of attention and figure prominently in sengoku publications. There is a lot out there, particularly in Japanese, about the three main late sengoku period Shimazu daimyo and their near conquest of all of Kyushu.

It should also be noted that throughout the Edo period, almost immediately after Sekigahara, the Shimazu became quite close with the Tokugawa, marrying two daughters to shoguns. They were very strong supporters of the bakufu up until the 2nd campaign to chastise Chôshû in June of 1866. After that, Ôkubo and Saigô pretty much became opportunistic and guided Satsuma into an unholy alliance with Chôshû to topple the bakufu. Don't forget that until the alliance was formed, Satsuma and Chôshû went through most of the Edo period with a strong dislike for one another.
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Last edited by Obenjo Kusanosuke on Tue Dec 03, 2013 5:31 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 3:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
I kept it short and sweet on the Edo period stuff because this is the forum for the Sengoku, aka the only time when stuff happened in Japan!

Seriously, though, it does indeed make sense that rebellion against the shogunate fomented in Satsuma, given its geographical location relative to Edo. My "irony" was that, despite their technical opposition to the Tokugawa at Sekigahara, the Shimazu were allowed to keep their primary domains -- which, of course, isn't all that ironic as, you say, it was so difficult for the shonguate to project its power so far from its base.

Thanks for making those points and contributing to the thread Very Happy
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 10:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
I'm not sure if "heroes" would be the way that the residents of Shuri Castle might have referred to the Satsuma in 1609 - despite how publicly they would have been obliged to voice their enforced submission to them thereafter.

The residents of the Amami islands were reportedly not overly big fans of how their new overlords from Kagoshima treated them, either. (They were the unlucky ones not to have any useful diplomatic links to the Ming and Qing dynasties, so were subjected to direct rule rather than the less overt control the domain held over what remained of the Ryukyu Kingdom.)

And even domestically, the Shimazu seemed to go out of their way in terms of persecuting any Christian presence thought to be found lingering in their "home" domains.


But if you want to stick to pre-Edo material, their actions in Korea may not have been all that flattering either, given that they didn't seem to be any less reluctant than other clans in terms of engaging in the more brutal aspects of the invasion and occupation.


That's not to say that the Satsuma domain isn't a major factor to be taken into account. I'd just be somewhat less keen on referring to them as "heroes" while doing so. (But then, in fairness, there were plenty of shades of grey to go around at the time.)



Actually, I'd be curious as to whether or not any sizeable proportion of the domain's population in southern Kyushu was descended from members of the old Hayato peoples (who in this case would have long since been assimilated culturally), or if the Shimazu clan's subjects were descended from "wajin" colonists transplanted from elsewhere.

Unlike what happened with the Matsumae clan in Ezo, the absorption of the Hayato happened well before the first Shimazu lord was sent to rule over this domain; but it would be interesting to note whether or not the peoples they first came to rule over had their own distinct story to tell.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 12:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
"Unsung heroes" was just a cliche I used to refer to the fact that the deeds of the Shimazu are lesser known than the accomplishments of some other clans and personalities from this period. Whether or not you agree that their actions were moral or good, the numerous battles where the Shimazu managed to defeat superior enemy forces -- if you believe the reports -- would impress most people.

I could go for pages and pages about how terribly unjust and cruel the feudal system is in general without going into things like war crimes, religious persecution, etc. The samurai, just like the nobility, didn't get to enjoy their status without the brutal repression of the people in the castes beneath them.

Still, putting morality aside and accepting it for what it is, an account of the Shimazu clan during the Sengoku period, as flawed as my attempt was, should hopefully make for interesting reading on a site devoted to samurai history Very Happy
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Nerroth wrote:
Actually, I'd be curious as to whether or not any sizeable proportion of the domain's population in southern Kyushu was descended from members of the old Hayato peoples (who in this case would have long since been assimilated culturally), or if the Shimazu clan's subjects were descended from "wajin" colonists transplanted from elsewhere.


Archaeologists who specialize in south Kyushu no longer view the Hayato to have been a distinct, separate group. It is considered more likely that the "us versus them" narrative arose during the 8th century, as Japan was molding its mature, territorial state. Ethnic solidarity, us vs. them ideology, and strong borders would all have been very important. Additionally, the concepts of domination and subjugation would have been strategically important politically. In short, the concept of the Hayato is now considered to have been a fabricated narrative by the court.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Interesting. I had no idea. Thanks, Yari.
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 04, 2013 4:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
lordameth wrote:
One of my favorite things about the Shimazu is the number of exceptions they get to standard rules of the Tokugawa state - chief among them, an exception to the one-castle rule. While every other domain was limited to one castle, Satsuma maintained quite a number of castles, which they gave to their retainers as sub-fiefs.


This isn't exactly unique to the Edo period, either. The Shimazu were present in Satsuma & Osumi pretty much as far as records go back, and were often given titles and local governorship because it was easier to incorporate them into the system nominally than it would be to subjugate them. Kagoshima is a LONG way down there, and it just wasn't worth the effort, especially to developing hegemons trying to establish centralized control (like the Yamato court as Nags mentions, or the Heian court, or Kamakura, or Muromachi....)
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 04, 2013 4:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Obenjo Kusanosuke wrote:
Agree with Meth. The Shimazu get tons of attention and figure prominently in sengoku publications. There is a lot out there, particularly in Japanese, about the three main late sengoku period Shimazu daimyo and their near conquest of all of Kyushu.


Yeah, I'd hardly consider them under-represented. Perhaps in English, I guess, but there's a lot out there on the Shimazu, in both pop and academic history. The Iriki-in documents contribute to that. But saying the Shimazu aren't "known" is like saying no one ever talks about the Go-Hojo.

Pretty much if you've been made into a character in Sengoku:Total War, Sengoku Muso, etc. you don't get to claim that you're unrepresented or unsung. Though I'd love to get into families like the Sagara, etc. that never make it into the history books.
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 04, 2013 5:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
nagaeyari wrote:
Archaeologists who specialize in south Kyushu no longer view the Hayato to have been a distinct, separate group. It is considered more likely that the "us versus them" narrative arose during the 8th century, as Japan was molding its mature, territorial state. Ethnic solidarity, us vs. them ideology, and strong borders would all have been very important. Additionally, the concepts of domination and subjugation would have been strategically important politically. In short, the concept of the Hayato is now considered to have been a fabricated narrative by the court.


When are you going to get around to writing something with this sort of stuff? Could use an update to Barnes and Piggot one of these days...
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 04, 2013 12:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
ltdomer98 wrote:
Obenjo Kusanosuke wrote:
Agree with Meth. The Shimazu get tons of attention and figure prominently in sengoku publications. There is a lot out there, particularly in Japanese, about the three main late sengoku period Shimazu daimyo and their near conquest of all of Kyushu.


Yeah, I'd hardly consider them under-represented. Perhaps in English, I guess, but there's a lot out there on the Shimazu, in both pop and academic history. The Iriki-in documents contribute to that. But saying the Shimazu aren't "known" is like saying no one ever talks about the Go-Hojo.

Pretty much if you've been made into a character in Sengoku:Total War, Sengoku Muso, etc. you don't get to claim that you're unrepresented or unsung. Though I'd love to get into families like the Sagara, etc. that never make it into the history books.


Not unknown, just underrepresented compared to other clans and individuals. And, yes, I am sure that if you study this stuff full-time as part of a career, speak and read Japanese, have been to Japan, etc. then the Shimazu and their history are nothing new to you. But there are some of us out there who don't have those skills or knowledge, and relatively speaking, the Shimazu don't get tons of attention compared to some of the other clans and daimyo.

I would love to hear/read more about some clans that get virtually no attention paid to them at all. I look forward to threads about them
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