Shimazu Hisamitsu

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Statue of Shimazu Hisamitsu at Tanshôen in Kagoshima
Shimazu Hisamitsu's grave at the Shimazu clan cemetery at Fukushô-ji, in Kagoshima
  • Born: 1817
  • Died: 1887
  • Titles: 周防 (Suô), 和泉 (Izumi), 大隅守 (Ôsumi no kami)
  • Other Names: 普之進 (Kane no shin), 又次郎 (Matajirô), 忠教 (Tadanori), 三郎 (Saburô)
  • Japanese: 島津久光 (Shimazu Hisamitsu)

Shimazu Hisamitsu was the father of the last daimyo of Satsuma han, the young Shimazu Tadayoshi, who ruled the domain from 1858 until 1871. Despite not being the domain's lord himself, as regent for his son, Hisamitsu came to be known as "father of the country" (国父), and in significant ways governed the domain, and acted prominently on the national level, as if he were himself the daimyô.

Early Life

Born in Kagoshima castle in 1817, Hisamitsu was Shimazu Narioki's fifth child. His mother was Oyura no kata, and he was thus a half-brother to Shimazu Nariakira. Hisamitsu was considered the head of the Echizen (Shigetomi) branch of the Shimazu, and the founder or ancestor of the Tamazato branch. Narioki brought Hisamitsu in to participate in discussions and decisions regarding the governance of the domain beginning in 1848/4.[1]

Though supported by his mother, Hisamitsu lost to Nariakira in a succession dispute in 1851, and was passed over as lord of the domain. However, when Nariakira died suddenly in 1858, Nariakira was succeeded by Hisamitsu's teenage son, Tadayoshi. Hisamitsu then served as regent for a time, and exercised considerable influence over domain policy.

As Regent

In regards to the Ryûkyû Kingdom, which was something of a vassal state under Satsuma's suzerainty, Hisamitsu reversed many of the policies of the previous daimyô, his brother, Shimazu Nariakira. Among his first actions as regent were to reverse Nariakira's policies aiming to expand trade with Westerners in Ryûkyû. For the next several years, the domain avoided seeking out any new or additional involvements with Westerners, but continued to support Ryûkyû's tribute trade with China, and worked to expand connections between Satsuma and Chôshû, a domain in Western Honshû with whom Satsuma had no particular history of close relationship. Hisamitsu pursued this aggressively, establishing a trading office in Shimonoseki and sending two merchant ships laden with Satsuma goods in 1859; the following year, Chôshû sent representatives to Satsuma to negotiate a trade relationship. A lively trade in Satsuma sugar for Chôshû salt and whalebones, among other goods on both sides, quickly developed. Later that same year (1860), with the aid of the Nagasaki bugyô, Hisamitsu managed to purchase a steamship, the England.[2].

Prior to the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Hisamitsu vacillated between supporting and opposing the shogunate, while certain of his prominent retainers, Saigô Takamori chief among them, were staunch in their opposition to the shogunate. Still, Hisamitsu took steps to encourage an alliance between the shogunate and the Imperial Court, uniting the two in order to restore order; to those same ends, he also pressured Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi to travel to Kyoto.[3] Doing so in 1863, he became the first shogun since Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1634 to enter the Imperial city.

The previous year (1862), in accordance with orders from Emperor Kômei that he aid in eliminating the problem of anti-shogunate rebels meeting and plotting in Kyoto, Hisamitsu dispatched a team of samurai from Satsuma to retrieve rebels originating from Satsuma and to bring them back to the domain, resulting in the famous Teradaya Incident. A fight broke out at an inn in Fushimi between rebels who had met there to plot against the shogunate, and these samurai dispatched by Hisamitsu to suppress their activities; several were killed before the remaining rebels surrendered.

Meanwhile, Hisamitsu was called to Edo to contribute to discussions on shogunal policy reforms. He contributed to having daimyô's sankin kôtai obligations relaxed, and to the appointment of Tokugawa Yoshinobu as guardian for the shogun (shôgun kôken shoku) and Matsudaira Shungaku as seiji sôsai shoku. The famous Namamugi Incident took place as he passed through Yokohama on his way back to Satsuma, amidst an entourage of some 1000 Satsuma samurai. A British merchant, Charles Richardson, either refused or was unable to properly make way for Hisamitsu's entourage as it traveled down the road; Richardson was killed, and the following year, in response, the British Royal Navy bombarded Kagoshima, the chief Satsuma castle town. Yet, in the aftermath of this conflict, Hisamitsu managed to build strong friendly relations with Britain, importing silk spinning technologies, sending students to study in England (in violation of the shogunate's maritime prohibitions), and welcoming British engineers and technicians, who helped design and build the beginnings of "modern" industry in Satsuma.

From 1864 onwards, Hisamitsu distanced himself (and the domain) from the shogunate. He briefly toyed with the idea of establishing a new government headed by Satsuma and certain other domains, themselves, but soon changed to supporting calls for a new government centered around the emperor. He was named to the Imperial Court's Privy Council by Emperor Kômei in 1863.

Meiji Period

In the early Meiji period, he was appointed to the Imperial Diet, where he remained a staunch pro-samurai conservative, opposing a variety of aspects of Westernization and reforms. After submitting memorials to the Emperor expressing his distaste for reforms and innovations that had been undertaken which undermined the samurai as a privileged class of warriors, as well as reforms to the calendar, the wearing of Western dress at formal state occasions, the employment of foreigners as special advisors to the government, the adoption of foreign modes of military training, the adoption of commoner/citizen military conscription, and the like, he ultimately left Tokyo and returned to Kagoshima in anger and frustration in the early 1870s.

Hisamitsu returned to Tokyo in 1873 at the urging of the new government, and served for a time as advisor to the Cabinet, and as Sadaijin (Minister of the Left). However, opposed to the continuing policies of Westernization, he returned to Kagoshima once again in 1875, taking up residence in the Ninomaru of Kagoshima castle.

Hisamitsu then retired to the Tamazato mansion, a residence originally built by Narioki, where Hisamitsu occupied his days collecting documents and compiling histories. During the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, he remained neutral, and waited out the events from Sakurajima. He was named kôshaku (Duke) in 1884, and died in 1887 at the age of 71, in the Tamazato mansion in Kagoshima.[4] He was buried in the Shimazu clan cemetery at Fukushô-ji. A new road was constructed for his funerary procession; connecting the Kuromon ("Black Gate") of the Tamazato mansion to the National Road, it is known as "State Funeral Road" (kokusô dôro).


  • Kerr, George. Okinawa: The History of an Island People. Revised Edition. Tuttle Publishing, 2000.
  • Norman, E.H. Soldier and Peasant in Japan: The Origins of Conscription. New York: Institute for Pacific Relations, 1945. pp43-44.
  • "Shimazu Hisamitsu," Satsuma Shimazu-ke no rekishi, Shôkoshûseikan official website.
  • Plaque at Shimazu Hisamitsu statue at Tanshôen, Kagoshima City.[1]
  1. Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 1 (1937), 143.
  2. Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 186-188.
  3. Hellyer, 187.
  4. Today, the site of Kagoshima Girls' High School (鹿児島女子高校).Google Maps