Shimazu clan

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The Shimazu circled-cross mon, seen above a replica of Shimazu Yoshihiro's armor, on display at Sengan'en
  • Japanese: 島津(Shimazu-ke)

The Shimazu clan were the lords of Satsuma province for nearly 700 years, from the 1180s through the 1870s, commanding considerable power and semi-independence within their domain. During the Edo period, the Shimazu had the second-highest official kokudaka in the realm, and with the marriage of Atsuhime in 1856 became the only samurai clan to marry daughters into the Tokugawa clan. Following the Meiji Restoration, members of the clan remained powerfully influential in politics.


The Shimazu clan was founded by Koremune Tadahisa (1179-1227), who was granted the Shimazu shôen in 1185, and took on the name Shimazu Tadahisa. He was then appointed as military commander of southern Kyushu by Minamoto no Yoritomo in 1187. It was once believed that Shimazu Tadahisa was an illegitimate child of Yoritomo's, a story that has largely been abandoned since the end of the Edo Period.

The Shimazu shôen from which the clan takes its name had been established by Taira no Suemoto in the 11th century, and had grown to encompass as much as half the territory of Satsuma, Ôsumi, and Hyûga provinces. The estate was taken away from the Taira and given by Yoritomo to the Shimazu, who then became shugo in that territory; though they originally appointed daikan to administer this territory for them, following the Mongol Invasions, the Shimazu, like many other clans, relocated from Kamakura to Kyushu, where they began to exercise more direct control over their estates. Militarily and politically fighting off rivals, the Shimazu began to consolidate their power in southern Kyushu.[1]

The Shimazu lost control of Ôsumi and Hyûga in wars with the Hiki clan, regaining them only under Shimazu Motohisa (1363-1411).[2] Meanwhile, the clan itself was splintered into two contending factions following the death of Shimazu Sadahisa (1269-1363), with Sadahisa's third son Shimazu Morohisa becoming shugo of Satsuma and heading the Sôshû branch, while his fourth son Shimazu Ujihisa became shugo of Ôsumi and head of the Ôshû branch of the family.

Both families fought for the Northern Court in the wars of the Nanbokuchô Period, against Kyûshû tandai Imagawa Ryôshun and the Kimotsuki, Nejime, Taniyama, and Ijûin clans. Though falling to the Southern Court in 1371, the Shimazu eventually returned to the side of the Northern Court and fought briefly alongside Imagawa Ryôshun against the Southern Court; when betrayed by Imagawa in the Mizushima Incident, however, they once again parted ways with him, and the two lines came together in opposing Imagawa until the latter was dismissed from his post as Kyûshû tandai in 1395.[3]

The two branches then turned against one another once again, and the Ôshû branch, based in Ôsumi province, gradually expanded into Satsuma, until the Sôshû branch finally met its end with the suicide of Shimazu Hisamori in 1430 at Takamitsu castle.[4] The Ôshû branch then went on to become the main line of the clan, and reunited all three provinces under its rule.

Throughout this period, the Shimazu maintained elite samurai practices, e.g. banquets, in the style of the Kamakura period, expressing pride at their adherence to tradition, even as practices changed elsewhere in the archipelago. Still, they also maintained connections to new cultural developments, despite their remote geographic location, through connections to the Konoe family and others, even as Kyoto fell into chaos.[5]

The death of Shimazu Tatsuhisa in 1474 led to increased tensions and conflict between factions of the clan led by Shimazu Kunihisa and Shimazu Suehisa, and by 1484, outright war broke out in southern Kyushu, in conjunction with conflicts between Isaku Hisatoshi and Niiro Tadatsugu. Kimotsuki Kanehisa rose up in rebellion in 1506, contributing to the decision of Shimazu Tadamasa, clan head at that time, to commit suicide the following year.[2]

Beginning in 1550, Shimazu Takahisa, along with his sons Yoshihisa and Yoshihiro, expanded the clan's domains considerably. By 1574, they had secured control of Satsuma province by defeating the Shibuya and Hishigari clans, and Ôsumi province by defeating the Kimotsuki, Kamo, and Ijichi clans. They defeated the Itô clan in 1577 to claim control over parts of Hyûga province, and Ôtomo Sôrin the following year, at the battle of Mimigawa. In 1586, Yoshihisa led forces against the Ôtomo in Bungo province, while Yoshihiro attacked Bungo from Higo province, and their youngest brother Shimazu Iehisa moved in from Hyûga. They quickly isolated the Ôtomo's vassals, and before long seized most, if not all, of the Ôtomo territory. They even defeated an allied force of Ôtomo and Toyotomi forces to keep moving forward after the battle of Hetsugigawa. The Shimazu then also defeated Sagara Giyô and Ryûzôji Takanobu of Higo and Hizen provinces, and expanded into northern Kyushu, but began to find themselves stretched far too thin, financially, just as Toyotomi Hideyoshi began, in 1587, to challenge them for control of Kyushu. Before the Shimazu were able to complete their conquest of the island, they began to suffer defeats, and Hideyoshi's Kyushu Campaign ended in him securing control of the entire island.[1][6] In preparing banquets for Hideyoshi, and receiving or entertaining him otherwise, the Shimazu, though proud of having upheld older samurai traditions, were forced more than ever before to adopt and perform newer forms of elite samurai practices.[5]

Though officially allied with the Western Army in the battle of Sekigahara (against Tokugawa Ieyasu), neither Shimazu Iehisa (Tadatsune) nor his brother Shimazu Yoshihisa actually contributed to the battle.[7] As a result - and, likely, due to the Shimazu house's great power and the remote location of their holdings - they were permitted by Ieyasu to retain their territories under the newly-established Tokugawa hegemony. Heads of the Shimazu met with Ieyasu at Fushimi castle in 1602, affirming their loyalty and being confirmed in their holdings in return; Tadatsune (Iehisa) and Yoshihisa then met with Ieyasu and Hidetada at Fushimi in 1605 to formally declare their loyalty to Hidetada, and were received in audience by Hidetada at Edo castle in 1607, reaffirming their loyalty once again and marking the beginning of a regular pattern of alternate attendance journeys to Edo, several years before it was declared mandatory for a wider subset of the daimyô.[8] The Shimazu thus remained a powerful house through the end of the Edo Period, controlling Satsuma han, with a kokudaka of 770,000 koku, the second-largest of any domain (han). Members of the family continued to be powerful and influential in government and business from the Meiji period onwards, through the 20th century and today.

Prominent Members of the Shimazu clan[9]

Prominent Branch and Retainer Families

In 1712/11, family head Shimazu Yoshitaka reorganized the status hierarchy of the Shimazu retainer families. The top-ranking group of retainer families, known as the ichimon-yonke (一門四家), were the Kajiki, Shigetomi (Echizen) Shimazu, Imaizumi Shimazu, and Tarumizu Shimazu clans.[12]

Directly below them was a group of families known as the daishinbun (大身分), lower in status than the ichimonke, but still above the Shimazu karô ("House Elders," also known as kokurô, or "Domain Elders") The daishinbun included the Shimazu Saemon clan (also known as the Hioki Shimazu), the Shimazu Suo clan (Hanaoka Shimazu), and the Hongô clan (Shimazu Chikugo clan, or Miyakonojô Shimazu), with the Shimazu Tosho clan (Miyanojô Shimazu) being added to the group later.[12]

Other prominent Shimazu retainer families included the Ijûin, Kabayama, Tanegashima, and Niiro clans.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Gallery labels, permanent exhibits, Reimeikan Museum, Kagoshima.
  2. 2.0 2.1 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.
  3. "Nanbokuchô no tatakai," Satsuma Shimazu-ke no rekishi, Shôkoshûseikan official website.
  4. "Shimazu Tadakuni," Satsuma Shimazu-ke no rekishi, Shôkoshûseikan official website.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Gallery labels, Shôkoshûseikan, Kagoshima.
  6. "Bungo seme," Satsuma Shimazu-ke no rekishi, Shôkoshûseikan official website.
  7. Honjin ni tomatta daimyô tachi, Toyohashi, Aichi: Futagawa-juku honjin shiryôkan (1996), 24.
  8. Honjin ni tomatta daimyô tachi, 75.
  9. Kaiyô kokka Satsuma 海洋国家薩摩, Kagoshima: Shôkoshûseikan (2010), 58-59.
  10. The Sôshû family (総州家) was considered one of the chief branch families of the Shimazu lords of Satsuma
  11. 相州家, not to be confused with the Shimazu Sôshû family (総州家) mentioned above.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Miyakonojô to Ryûkyû ôkoku 都城と琉球王国, Miyakonojô Shimazu Residence (2012), 28.