Shimazu clan mon

島津

The Shimazu were a powerful Japanese samurai clan that controlled the southern portion of the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu from the 12th to the 19th century. Ensconced in their isolated stronghold on the southern frontier of Japan, the Shimazu were the only feudal family to play a leading role in Japanese history in both medieval and modern times. During the era of the Tokugawa Shogunate (16001867), the Shimazu family's feudal domain, called "Satsuma," was the third largest in the country. Finally, on the eve of the Meiji Restoration in 1867, it was Shimazu warriors from Satsuma, together with warriors from the Mori clan's Choshu domain, who overthrew the last Tokugawa shogun, ending Japan's feudal era and establishing a modern nation state. Men from the Shimazu family's Satsuma domain would continue to dominate the Japanese government and military for decades thereafter.

The Shimazu clan was established in the late 12th century by Shimazu Tadahisa (?-1227), who adopted the surname "Shimazu" after he was appointed shugo (military governor) of the southern portion of Kyushu. Tadahisa was the son of the first shogun of Japan, Minamoto Yoritomo, and thus the Shimazu are descendants of the Seiwa Genji line of the Minamoto, meaning they can also trace their ancestry back to the Japanese Imperial Family itself.

Over the centuries, the Shimazu clan prospered by taking advantage of their proximity to the Asian continent to trade extensively with China and the Ryukyu Islands. By the 16th century the Shimazu had become the most powerful family in southwestern Japan, at which point they directly controlled almost the entire island of Kyushu.

The Shimazu family was finally defeated in 1587 when the great warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Kyushu with a massive army as part of his successful effort to reunify Japan under a single ruler after centuries of chaos and warfare. Although the size of Shimazu landholdings was drastically reduced, Hideyoshi allowed them to keep the southern part of their domain, and thereafter they became one of his staunchest allies.

In 1600, shortly after Hideyoshi's death, the Shimazu clan entered into an alliance with the other great lords of the western half of Japan in a futile effort to prevent the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu from usurping control of Japan from Hideyoshi's young heir. This meant that the Shimazu fought on the losing side of the great Battle of Sekigahara that brought a decisive end to Japan's "Warring States Era." Most of the warlords on the losing side were punished by having their domain's confiscated. However, the Shimazu were too powerful to easily dispossess, so Ieyasu made peace with them and allowed them to keep most of their lands. However, the Shimazu were classified as a "tozama" ("outsider") clan and were thus barred from holding high office in the new Tokugawa Shogunate and subject to onerous taxes and constant surveillance to make sure they would never again threaten Tokugawa hegemony. Ironically however, this forced distance from the regime would encourage the Shimazu to retain a sense of independence and nurse a longstanding grudge against the Tokugawa that would ultimately come back to haunt the Shogunate several hundred years later.

In the early 17th century, the Tokugawa Shogunate cut off all trade with the outside world and forbade Japanese people to travel abroad, on pain of death, effectively closing off the entire country. However, in 1609 the Shimazu conquered the Ryukyu Islands and forced the Ryukyu kingdom to pay them tribute. Since the Ryukyu islanders continued their traditional tributary trade with China, Satsuma had indirect access to Chinese luxury products and was able to carry out a clandestine trade with the Chinese with the unspoken approval of the Shogunate, who wished to have some access to Chinese goods without officially acknowledging that trade was occurring.

In the mid 19th century as the Tokugawa regime was collapsing, the Shimazu's distance from the capital at Edo and sense of autonomy arising from their "tozama" status gave them a much more free hand to modernize and experiment with Western ideas. While the rest of Japan was still trapped in a feudal system and antiquated social system, the Shimazu reformed their fiscal policy, began to industrialize, and built a modern, Western-style army and navy. They even sent a delegation to the 1867 World's Fair in Paris, under their own name, rather than as a representative of "Japan." Finally they united with Choshu to overthrow the sclerotic Tokugawa regime and establish a modern government. The new government then disbanded the feudal domains, including Satsuma, but softened the blow by granting the Shimazu family the highest rank in the newly created Japanese peerage, as well as an immense government stipend.


Heads of the Shimazu Clan, 1197-Present

  1. Shimazu Tadahisa
  2. Shimazu Tadatoki
  3. Shimazu Hisatsune
  4. Shimazu Tadamune
  5. Shimazu Sadahisa
  6. Shimazu Morohisa
  7. Shimazu Ujihisa
  8. Shimazu Yuihisa
  9. Shimazu Motohisa
  10. Shimazu Hisatoyo
  11. Shimazu Tadakuni
  12. Shimazu Tachihisa
  13. Shimazu Tadamasa
  14. Shimazu Tadaosa
  15. Shimazu Tadataka
  16. Shimazu Katsuhisa
  17. Shimazu Takahisa
  18. Shimazu Yoshihisa
  19. Shimazu Yoshihiro
  20. Shimazu Tadatsune
  21. Shimazu Mitsuhisa
  22. Shimazu Tsunataka
  23. Shimazu Yoshitaka
  24. Shimazu Tsugutoyo
  25. Shimazu Munenobu
  26. Shimazu Shigetoshi
  27. Shimazu Shigehide
  28. Shimazu Narinobu
  29. Shimazu Narioki
  30. Shimazu Nariakira
  31. Shimazu Tadayoshi
  32. Shimazu Toyohisa
  33. Shimazu Yoshihiro

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