Choshu han

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Chôshû han was among the more prominent tozama domains in Edo period Japan. The domain was ruled by the Môri clan, who controlled much of Nagato and Suô provinces from their seat in Hagi.

Chôshû also played a particularly prominent role in the events leading up to the Bakumatsu period and the Meiji Restoration, and various figures from Chôshû went on to play prominent roles in government and business into the Meiji period.


Early Decades

Hagi became the seat of the Môri clan of Aki province following the battle of Sekigahara; following the defeat of Ishida Mitsunari, with whom the Môri had sided, Tokugawa Ieyasu had their territory reduced by 3/4ths, and relocated the Môri from their base in Aki (modern-day Hiroshima prefecture) to the somewhat more distant castle town of Hagi.

Initially, the Môri only controlled about one-third of the territory of their domain, with the remainder being divided into sub-fiefs controlled semi-independently by their retainers. The Môri effected a cadastral survey, however, in 1625, which re-allocated much of these sub-fiefs, bringing more territory under direct Môri control.[1]


Though previously antagonistic toward one another, in 1859, Chôshû secured the beginnings of an alliance with Satsuma han. In that year, Satsuma established a trading post at Shimonoseki, and the following year, agreements were reached leading to a short-lived but vibrant trade in Satsuma sugar and Chôshû salt and whalebones, among other goods.[2] This relationship fell apart soon afterwards, however, as Chôshû, in accordance with Emperor Kômei’s 1863 imperial edict ordering the violent expulsion of the barbarians, began firing upon passing ships. The following year, one of Satsuma’s ships was hit by the Chôshû batteries, leading to a falling-out between the two domains. When British ships were struck by the batteries, the Royal Navy retaliated by shelling the port of Shimonoseki. That same year, response to moves Chôshû had made against the Tokugawa shogunate, shogunate leaders ordered an alliance of twenty-one domains to also attack Chôshû. Chôshû's anti-shogunate stance also involved the domain sheltering a number of court nobles who fled Kyoto in the 1863 Fall of Seven Nobles Incident.[3] Around this same time, in 1862-1863, Chôshû leadership formed an alliance with a faction within the leadership of Tsushima han, helping that group press the shogunate to expand aid to Tsushima; however, this alliance crumbled soon afterwards, when Chôshû and the shogunate turned against one another in 1864.[4]

A number of samurai from Chôshû, meanwhile, separately from the actions and intentions of the Môri daimyô, became prominent members of sonnô jôi and shishi anti-shogunate rebel groups. The 1864 Ikedaya Affair, in which a plan to set fire to Kyoto, kidnap Emperor Kômei in the confusion, and bring him back to Chôshû, was prevented by a Shinsengumi attack on the Ikedaya inn in Kyoto where the rebels were meeting, for example, featured a number of rebels from Chôshû. That same year, in the so-called Kinmon Rebellion, a number of rebels from Chôshû attempted to seize the Imperial Palace, but were stopped by forces chiefly from Satsuma and Aizu han. In 1866, however, the two domains achieved rapprochement, and restarted trade relations with one another, entering more formally into what has come to be known as the Sat-Cho Alliance, or ‘’Satchô dômei’’. Whereas trade between the two domains was previously handled by independent merchants hired or enlisted by the domains, this now became more directly controlled by the leadership of the two domains, who assigned samurai officials to oversee the arrangements.


In the first month of 1869, Chôshû, along with Satsuma, Tosa, and Kumamoto (Higo), were among the first domains to petition to be allowed to return their lands to the new Meiji government, that is, to the Emperor.

Lords of Chôshû

  1. Môri Terumoto
  2. Môri Hidenari (d. 1651)


Other Notable Figures from Chôshû


  • Martin Dusinberre, Hard Times in the Hometown: A History of Community Survival in Modern Japan, University of Hawaii Press, 2012.
  1. Dusinberre, 20.
  2. Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 186-188.
  3. "Shichikyôochi," Digital Daijisen デジタル大辞泉, Shôgakukan.
  4. Hellyer, 227-230.