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  • Japanese: 九州 (Kyuushuu)

Kyushu is the southernmost of Japan's main four islands. Its name means "nine states" and, as might be expected, it was historically divided into nine provinces: Bungo, Buzen, Chikuzen, Hizen, Chikugo, Higo, Hyûga, Ôsumi, and Satsuma.


Ancient Periods

Though far from the major historical political, economic, and cultural centers of Kansai and Kantô, as the part of the archipelago closest to the Asian mainland, Kyushu features prominently throughout history in Japan's interactions with the outside world. At their closest point, Kyushu and Korea are about six times as far away as Britain is from France; this has allowed considerable exchange and interaction over the centuries, but also protection from mainland invaders.[1]

Kyushu is generally said to have been the site of the earliest state formation in the Japanese archipelago. Though the origins and identity of the Yayoi people remain very much subjects of debate, it is widely accepted that prior to the establishment of a proto-Japanese state on the Yamato plain in central Honshu, the Yayoi clans became organized on Kyushu, pushing out or competing with other groups, such as the Hayato (隼人). Small tribal communities formed confederations, and engaged in trade and relations with societies on the Ryukyu Islands, Korean peninsula, and in China. Among the more powerful, or at least more famous today, was a confederation known as Yamatai, ruled for a time by Queen Himiko.

Kyushu remained a site of great political and economic importance into the Yamato period, as the center on Honshu solidified and a unified Yamato state emerged.

The Yamato state engaged in active trade and diplomatic relations with the various kingdoms of the Korean peninsula, primarily through locations on Kyushu, and through the islands of Tsushima and Iki. In the 660s, plans were made to invade the Korean kingdom of Silla, which was hostile to Paekche and the Gaya Confederacy (Mimana), Yamato allies. These plans were scrapped, the invasion never undertaken, but as a result of Yamato fears of Chinese or Korean attacks, a more organized defense was established for Kyushu, centrally managed by an administrative headquarters at Dazaifu, just outside what is today the city of Fukuoka.

Nara and Heian periods

By the end of the Heian period, the Shimazu shôen (estate) and that of the Ôsumi Shô-Hachiman Shrine had emerged as the chief landholders in the southern Kyushu provinces of Satsuma, Ôsumi, and Hyûga. The Shimazu estate had its start when Taira no Suemoto, the Dazai daigen, developed lands around the Shimazu area and donated them to Kampaku Fujiwara Yorimichi; as was typical in the shôen system, a patron figure such as a member of the Fujiwara clan (such as Yorimichi) would then allow the developer (in this case, Suemoto) to exercise effective (de facto) administrative control over the land. In this manner, Suemoto soon came to control as much as half the territory of these three provinces.[2]

Kamakura period

After becoming shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo removed the Taira from power in the southern provinces of Satsuma, Ôsumi, and Hyûga, appointing his various retainers (gokenin) as stewards (jitô) over those territories. These included the Shimazu, Chiba, and Sameshima clans, and later, the Shibuya, Nikaidô, and Hôjô Nagoe clans as well.

Meanwhile, in northern Kyushu, Dazaifu would remain the central headquarters for the defense and administration of the entire island for centuries. At the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the position of Chinzei bugyô[3] was established. The first Chinzei bugyô was a samurai by the name of Amano Tôkage, appointed in 1186 to oversee the pursuit and elimination of support for the shogun's brother Minamoto no Yoshitsune. However, the position soon came to be that of the chief officer of Dazaifu; all orders from the shogunate in Kamakura regarding Kyushu would pass through this headquarters. It is believed that this system came about in part because the shogunate could not rely upon the local lords of Kyushu to follow orders directly without the intermediation of a more direct local presence and authority, in the form of the Dazaifu government.

The Chinzei bugyô thus oversaw the administration and defense of all of Kyushu, along with Ikishima and Tsushima. Under him were the Daini and Shôni, which Sansom translates as Senior and Junior Assistant. The post of Shôni came to be held hereditarily by members of the Muto branch of the Fujiwara clan, who later came to call themselves the Shôni clan and to wield significant influence in the region.

Around this time, the Dazaifu government, along with a parallel headquarters in Tôhoku (northeastern Honshû), came to reproduce the organizational structure of the shogunate, albeit on a smaller scale. Thus, various offices and structures, such as a samurai-dokoro, a separate office dedicated specifically to military affairs, came to be established.

The Dazaifu headquarters would play a crucial role in the Japanese defense against the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281. Forces from all across the archipelago were organized under the command of Dazai Shôni Tsunetsugu. After the first invasion was repelled with the help of a storm which destroyed roughly one-third of the invading force, efforts were made to step up defenses, and a series of walls and fortresses were constructed along the island's northern coast. The Mongol forces were repelled once again in 1281, as samurai made night attacks on the Mongol fleet and refused the invaders a beachhead; much of the Mongol fleet was destroyed in a storm which has come to be known as kamikaze (divine wind), and the invasion was called off.

Kyushu remained on high alert for some time after, into the 14th century, fearing a third Mongol invasion which never came. The samurai of the island began to ask for compensation for their extensive efforts, and their losses, in repelling the invasions, but the bakufu had nothing to offer. They were instead told to apply to the shugo of the nine provinces, who included members of the Shimazu, Shibuya, Shôni and Ôtomo clans. Finally, in 1294, the bakufu declared that the question of rewards or compensation for service in repelling the Mongol invasions closed. By this time, the Shimazu had gained considerable power for themselves. Whereas previously they and most other jitô and shugo clans remained based in Kamakura and appointed daikan to manage their lands for them, following the Mongol invasions, many of these clans relocated to their territories in Kyushu (and in the case of other clans, elsewhere in the archipelago), where they seized more direct control over their lands, fought off rivals militarily and politically, and consolidated their power.[2]

Muromachi and Sengoku periods

The Ashikaga shogunate of the Muromachi period (1333-1467) is said to have had very little control over Kyushu. Beginning in 1336, the shogunate appointed officers to the post of Kyushu Tandai, a successor to the office of Chinzei Bugyô, which served primarily as a representative of the shogunate to Kyushu, and as an intermediary.

Prince Kanenaga, son of Emperor Go-Daigo, gained power over the various local clans, and by 1365 the entire island was under his control. He did not, however, remain loyal to the shogunate, and subverted the Dazaifu government, claiming control of the island for himself. Kanenaga prepared an army to defend this claim, and even contemplated moving on Kyoto. His primacy did not last long, however, as the local lords regained strength, and the shogunate sent a force west to topple Kanenaga by force if it came to that (though it did not in the end).Imagawa Sadayo was then appointed Kyushu Tandai in 1371, and began a campaign to ensure the local lords' loyalty to the shogunate, both through military and diplomatic activity. After battling Kanenaga for several years, Sadayo arranged an agreement in 1374 with the heads of the Shimazu, Shôni, and Ôtomo clans.

The arrangement fell apart, however, when Imagawa, it is said, ordered the assassination of the Shôni lord, who he suspected of disloyalty. The Shimazu lord, having made great efforts to convince the Shôni to join the agreement, was disgusted by Imagawa's behavior, and turned his back on the enterprise. It would be several more years, and many battles, before Imagawa and the shogunate could claim control of the island. The death of Shimazu Ujihisa in 1387, and his successor's declaration of allegiance to the shogunate, sealed the victory for the shogunate, though Imagawa never did earn the respect and loyalty of the Shimazu.

The Tandai continued, however, to wield little real power in comparison to that of the local lords, particularly the Shimazu, who remained largely outside of the control of the shogunate. What little authority the Tandai did wield dwindled and faded after 1400.

From 1550 onward, Shimazu Takahisa, along with his sons Yoshihisa and Yoshihiro, fought to unify southern Kyushu under their control. By 1574, they had subjugated the Hishigari and Shibuya clans in northern Satsuma province, and the Kimotsuki, Ijichi and Kamo clans in Ôsumi province; they then went on to defeat the Itô in Hyûga province in 1577, and the Ôtomo, led by Ôtomo Sôrin, in the battle of Mimigawa the following year. Shimazu Yoshihisa moved into other provinces after that, defeating Sagara Giyô and Ryûzôji Takanobu to gain power in Higo and Hizen provinces respectively. However, in 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi entered Kyushu, and defeated the Shimazu, putting an end to their expansion.[2]

  • contact with Europe, guns, Christians
  • Hideyoshi's Kyushu Campaign
  • Korean invasions

Edo period

After Hideyoshi's invasion, a number of the larger clans (such as the Shimazu of Satsuma & Ôsumi provinces) were able to keep their territories, while Hyûga province was divided up into five smaller territories, and was divvied up among different clans. The Akizuki clan of Chikuzen, for example, was one such clan, relocated at that time to Takanabe castle, where they remained through the Edo period.[4]

  • Edo period - Satsuma/Ryukyu, Nagasaki

Bakumatsu and Meiji periods

  • Bakumatsu/Meiji - Satsuma, Saga Rebellions


  1. Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, Second Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 2.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Gallery labels, permanent exhibits, Reimeikan Museum, Kagoshima.
  3. "Chinzei" (鎮西) is an alternate name for Kyushu. The position was also referred to as Chinzei Shugo and in later times Chinzei Tandai or Kyûshû Tandai.
  4. Ono Masako, Tomita Chinatsu, Kanna Keiko, Taguchi Megumi, "Shiryô shôkai Kishi Akimasa bunko Satsuyû kikô," Shiryôhenshûshitsu kiyô 31 (2006), 235.


  • 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.