The Long Road Home to Satsuma

The daring escape from the Battle of Sekigahara

shimazu yoshihiro

The Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 was the most decisive single conflict in Japanese history, bringing about the end of the turmoil of the Sengoku period and seeing the establishment of a military government under the Tokugawa Shogunate that lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

In part one and two of this series on Sekigahara and the Shimadzu Clan we learned how Shimadzu Yoshihiro and his band of 1,500 men charged the front line of the Tokugawa army of over 30,000 and escaped the battlefield.

Now with only a few hundred men, Yoshihiro had to find a way back to Kagoshima over 1,000 kilometres away while being hunted by Tokugawa search parties.

samurai warrior walking

The Long Road Home

After Yoshihiro and a handful of men managed to break through the enemy lines they began making their way south towards a place known as Komano. From here they headed west, but along the way got lost several times and were involved in repeated skirmishes with search parties.

Exhausted and with no supplies or food, they turned to trying to take food from peasant settlements, but found that this only drew attention. Groups of peasants armed with farm tools also chased down exhausted stragglers and beat them to death. The Shimadzu samurai were forced to kill and eat their horses, but refused to give the meat to Yoshihiro, as priority was given to the men that would have to fight to defend him if they were attacked.

sakai merchants

Finding Help at Sumiyoshi

The ragged group finally managed to reach Sumiyoshi in southern Osaka, where the founder of the Shimadzu family line had been born over 400 years earlier. Here they split into smaller groups to be less conspicuous and secured the help of local merchants who profited from trade with Satsuma. To prove his loyalty a merchant named Shioya Magoemon sat his three-year-old grandchild on Yoshihiro’s lap, ensuring they wouldn’t betray the weary band of samurai.

With the help of the local merchants Yoshihiro was also able to free his beloved wife Saisho and his son Tadatsune’s (later Iehisa) wife Kameju from Osaka Castle before the band of survivors headed home for Satsuma by boat.

Hirayama Kurozaemon left the following account.

“We knew of a lacquerware merchant by the name of Tanabe in nearby Sumiyoshi, so sent a messenger ahead to speak with him. From here onwards the men moving together would draw attention so we ordered them to disband. The men disagreed and some committed seppuku.

We ordered them to calm themselves and they became complicit. Lord Yoshihiro rode in a women’s palanquin sent by the merchant Tanabe to Sumiyoshi, taking only Oshige Heiroku with him.

The rest of the men broke up into small groups and under cover of night made their way into Sumiyoshi and Osaka. Sumiyoshi turned out to be more dangerous than expected, so we moved to Sakai after being introduced to a merchant called Shioya Magoemon by Tanabe.”

Kobe Kugoro left the following account

“At Sakai we hid in the house of a merchant called Shioya Magoemon. Even at Sakai the Tokugawa search parties cut down five to ten men a day fleeing from the defeated western army.

Shioya sat his three-year-old grandchild on Yoshihiro’s lap and said “Children show the character of their parents. Please trust me.””

The reason why the merchants of Osaka were so keen to help the Shimadzu forces is simple economics. When trading with China and south east Asia, the merchants’ ships had to pass through Shimadzu territory in Kagoshima before leaving Japan. By helping Yoshihiro and his men in their most desperate time of need they could guarantee a strong relationship and hopefully preferential treatment in the future.

It seems in the case of Tanabe this paid off. Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma, one of Japan’s largest pharmaceutical companies was started by the direct descendants of the Sumiyoshi merchant who helped the Satsuma samurai. To express thanks for risking his life in aid of the Satsuma samurai, Shimadzu Yoshihiro gave Tanabe a set of swords and valuable medicine used on the battlefield. Tanabe began selling the medicine, laying the foundations for the medical business founded by his descendants.

map of journey to Satsuma

Returning to Satsuma

With the help of the merchants of Sumiyoshi and Sakai, the Shimadzu forces were able to secure boats for passage back to their homeland of Kagoshima. After regrouping at the port, the remaining Satsuma samurai boarded the boats and set off west on the Seto Inland Sea.

As the boats approached Higo (Oita) they were attacked by ships belonging to Kuroda Kanbei, an intense battle followed, and many Satsuma men were killed and wounded. After manging to shake off their attackers, the Yoshihiro and his men made landfall close to Hososhima in Hyuga (Miyazaki). From here the remaining men entered familiar territory, crossing the mountainous Kirishima region before arriving at Tomikuma Castle to report to Yoshihiro’s elder brother Yoshihisa. One can only image the conversation that was had after Yoshihisa refused to send help before the Battle of Sekigahara.

After speaking with Yoshihisa, the surviving samurai headed to Yoshihiro’s base in nearby Chosa. Of the 1,500 men that fought at Sekigahara, less than 80 returned with Yoshihiro. The journey back to Satsuma took 19 days and pushed the highly experienced and battle-hardened Satsuma samurai to their limits.

Some fifty years after the battle, one samurai who survived Sekigahara as a teenager was asked how they escaped, having never talked about his experiences. It is said he simply burst into tears, showing the trauma of war was as real over 400 years ago as it is today.

shimadzu iehisa

The Aftermath of Sekigahara

Following the return to Kagoshima, Yoshihiro moved from Chosa to Sakurajima, leaving his brother Yoshihisa and son Tadatsune (Iehisa) to repair relations with the Tokugawa clan, who now had no opposition to claiming the title of Shogun.

Yoshihisa sent a letter to Tokugawa Ieyasu explaining that Yoshihiro had no option but to join the western army and offered his apologies for standing against Tokugawa rule. The letter also stated that preparations were being made to fight to the bitter end in Satsuma if forgiveness was not granted.

After a year and a half of deliberations, and an agreement written by Ieyasu’s own hand allowing the autonomy of their own domain was sent to the Shimadzu clan. Tadatsune then travelled to Fushimi Castle in Kyoto to meet with Ieyasu and express his thanks and pledge fealty to the new regime. In return Tadatsune was awarded the name Matsudaira Iehisa, an unprecedented honour that repaired the rift between the Shimadzu and Tokugawa clans and prevented any further unnecessary conflict.

Alex Bradshaw

Alex is the Head of Overseas Business for Shimadzu Limited, and has lived in Kagoshima for over 15 years.

He has spent many years studying traditional swordsmanship, and has demonstrated martial arts for the Crown Prince of Japan as well as at many venerable shrines across Japan. He also practices calligraphy, zazen, and many other elements of Japanese culture and has translated several works on the subject.

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