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  • Japanese: 山川 (Yamakawa)

Yamakawa was an important port near the southern tip of Satsuma province, particularly for ships traveling between Satsuma and the Ryûkyû Islands. Yamakawa guarded the entrance to Kagoshima Bay, and ships destined for Kagoshima generally were made to make port first at Yamakawa, for cargo inspections and taxation. Today, Yamakawa has been incorporated into the city of Ibusuki.

Yamakawa was the first port on mainland Kyushu where Francis Xavier made landfall in 1549; it is also said to have been the place where the Satsuma sweet potato (Satsuma imo) was first introduced. Markers commemorating these two events can still be found at the harbor today.

Yamakawa was also the port from which Satsuma han forces departed in 1609 for their invasion of Ryûkyû. Following this invasion, as was also the case previously, ships from the Ryûkyû Kingdom regularly stopped at Yamakawa on their way to and from Kagoshima. Port offices known as bansho performed cargo inspections and collected taxes. Over the course of time, a number of Ryukyuans who passed through the port happened to die there, and while gravestones from that time remain, a new monument was erected in 2009 in their memory; another monument nearby commemorates those who died in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. Various Yamakawa-Okinawa partnership or friendship events have been held regularly in the modern era. The connection between Yamakawa and Ryûkyû is also seen in the 62 ishigantô located throughout the town; though also found elsewhere throughout Kyushu, these are originally a Ryukyuan talisman against evil spirits.

The Buddhist temple of Seiryû-ji in Yamakawa was a major center of Satsunan school Neo-Confucianism, and the temple played a significant role in translating and drafting communications in Chinese related to trade matters. Today, the temple no longer survives, but a portion of its graveyard has been maintained, as is the case at many former temples in Kagoshima prefecture. Hirakiki Shrine is another notable site in the city, and maintains a collection of hengaku plaques bearing the calligraphy of Ryukyuan scholar-officials.[1]

One corner of the town was known as Tôjinmachi, and contained the homes of a number of Chinese, Ryukyuan, and Southeast Asian traders, and establishments involved in the trade with these and other (e.g. European) ships which came to the port, prior to the Tokugawa shogunate's imposition of maritime restrictions in the 1630s.

Yamakawa remained a major port into the Bakumatsu era, if not later, and was one of a number of key ports throughout the archipelago to be equipped with coastal defenses. The American ship Morrison, for example, was driven away from Yamakawa with cannon fire in 1837.


  • "Ibusuki shi Yamakawa o aruku" 指宿市山川を歩く, Momoto モモト 14 (April 2013), n.p.
  1. Yomigaeru Ryûkyû geinô Edo nobori よみがえる琉球芸能江戸上り, DVD documentary, 2011.