The school's beginnings are traced to 1478, when lord of Satsuma Shimazu Tadamasa invited the Japanese scholar Keian Genju to teach Zhu Xi-style Neo-Confucianism in Satsuma. Active in Satsuma, Ôsumi, and Hyûga provinces, the heads of the Satsunan school, all of them trained in Rinzai Zen at the Tôfuku-ji in Kyoto, not only served as teachers of Neo-Confucianism and writers of Neo-Confucian texts, but many also played key roles in the drafting of diplomatic documents for Japanese trade relations with Ming Dynasty China. Keian's student Gessho Gentoku, Gessho's student Ichiô Genshin, and Ichiô's student Nanpo Bunshi, are known as the most prominent proponents of the school, alongside Keian Genju himself. Most were active at one time or another at the Ankoku-ji in Obi, Hyûga province (with some serving as head of the temple), and/or at Ryûgen-ji in Fukushima (Hyûga).
Their contributions to the broader development of Neo-Confucian and Classical Chinese learning in Japan include the publication of the teachings of Zhu Xi in kakikudashi formats in 1481 and 1492, and the spread of the reading methods and transcribed texts of Giyô Hôshû, which made the Chinese classics more widely accessible. This was a significant shift after the hereditary families of the myôkyô Court post jealously guarded secret readings; the introduction of a system of notation known as Keian-ten or Bunshi-ten was accomplished through publications by Nanpo Bunshi's student Tomari Jochiku.
- Gallery labels, Reimeikan Museum, Kagoshima, Sept 2014.
- Takatsu Takashi, “Ming Jianyang Prints and the Spread of the Teachings of Zhu Xi to Japan and the Ryukyu Kingdom in the Seventeenth Century,” in Angela Schottenhammer (ed.), The East Asian Mediterranean: Maritime Crossroads of Culture, Harrassowitz Verlag (2008), 255-259.
- Gallery labels, Shôkoshûseikan, Kagoshima, Sept 2014.