Shimazu Clan: Enemies of the Shogun

Shimazu Clan: Enemies of the Shogun

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Shimazu Clan: Enemies of the Shogun

The Shimazu Clan was the daimyo (literally “big name” family ruling over a region) of a large chunk of southern Japan during the feudal era. They started out with the greater Satsuma Domain (modern day Kagoshima and Miyazaki) and went on to control the entirety of Kyushu by the end of feudalism in the late 16th century.

shimazu yoshihiro sekigahara
Shimadzu Yoshihiro, the conquerer of Kyushu. Image courtesy of Sengan-en

They opposed Tokugawa Ieyasu’s forces in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, which would decide the shogunate for the next 250 years. Even though the Shimazu ended up on the losing side, the newly formed Tokugawa Shogunate was worried enough about their power in a potential uprising that they allowed the Shimazu free reign in the south. Thanks to this relative pardon, the Shimazu conquered the Ryukyu Kingdom soon after, making them the only family at the time to have control over an entire foreign country.

The Shimazu Clan went head-to-head with the Tokugawa Shogunate again in 1868, as part of an allegiance of outsider daimyo hoping to restore power to the emperor. The Shimazu’s top samurai, Saigo Takamori, led their army to a total victory over Tokugawa, overthrowing the shogunate. 

SEGODON | NEP Program Finder
Saigo Takamori and the Shimazus in Segodon

Shimazu Clan Prodigy: Saigo Takamori, i.e. The Last Samurai

After leading the victory over the shogun, Saigo Takamori would go on to be a key figure in the following Meiji Restoration. He was a passionate advocate for bushido, the samurai code, and this devotion eventually led him to his death. He is the inspiration for Ken Watanabe’s character in The Last Samurai, and the lead character in the more recent, more accurate NHK historical drama Segodon.

Immerse Yourself in Shimazu Clan History: Sengan-en Japanese Garden

The legacy of the Shimazu Clan lives on in Sengan-en, one of the family’s traditional gardens. The beautifully preserved garden and traditional family residence are open to the public today. The garden offers views of Sakurajima, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes, rising up from the Kagoshima Bay.

The residence at Sengan-en was a filming location for Shimazu Clan scenes in the abovemented NHK drama Segodon. Check it out to see what the historical residence would have looked like in action.


The Clan’s Domain: Satsuma, Home of the Satsuma Sweet Potato

While the area that used to be the Satsuma Domain is now Kagoshima Prefecture and Miyazaki Prefecture, the Satsuma name lives on in food. The area is where satsuma imo, mild purple sweet potatoes, were first brought over from the Ryukyu Kingdom. Satsuma sweet potatoes are the main ingredient in yakiimo, i.e. baked sweet potatoes, which happen to be Bike Tour Japan’s favorite food. They are also used in shochu Japanese hard liquor, the drink of grandpas all over Japan. 

Japan's delicious sweet potatoes are a must try on your next trip!
Japan’s delicious sweet potatoes are a must try on your next trip!

Want to learn more about Japan’s exciting daimyo history? Check out our article on Cycling Nikko National Park the Shimazu’s rival Tokugawa Ieyasu’s famous burial grounds.

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