Shimadzu Narioki

Financial reformer, keen swordsman, and culture enthusiast

shimazu narioki

Shimadzu Narioki (1791-1859) was feudal lord of the Satsuma domain and the 27th head of the Shimadzu family.

A keen calligrapher and lover of traditional culture, Narioki was also a capable swordsman and received a license in the domain style of Jigen-ryu.

Narioki’s reign was characterized by the arrival of foreign ships to Japan trying to force the country’s borders open. At the same time he faced severe financial trouble in his own domain. The domain debt had spiralled out of control during the reign of Narioki’s father Shigehide. At one point finances were so bad that Narioki was forced to petition the Shogunate to cancel the yearly sankin-kotai visit to the capital Edo. The request was refused, but Narioki was allowed to stay in the capital after paying tribute to the Shogun to reduce the cost of travelling home again.

With the help of senior retainer Zusho Hirosato, Narioki was able to bring about agricultural reform and monopolize the sugar trade as well as leveraging illicit trade with China through the Ryukyu Islands. The result of these combined financial reforms was a turnaround from a debt of over 5 million ryo to a 2.5 million ryo surplus by 1840. This allowed Satsuma to purchase modern steam driven warships and industrialize in the face of pressure from western nations.

Narioki was also responsible for a great deal of renovation and construction work not only at Sengan-en but also at many locations around Kagoshima. The 11-meter high Senjingan carving on the rockface behind the gardens, the Kansuisha and Shusendai tea houses (now part of the hiking route), the Kekura Okariya residence (currently closed to the public), Tamazato Garden, and even the stone bridges on display in Ishibashi Park were all built under Narioki’s watch.

Narioki had a strained relationship with his first son Nariakira, who would eventually sieze leadership of the clan from his own father. Nariakira went on to kickstart the modernisation of Japan through his industrial project at the Shuseikan, but none of this would have been possible without the capital generated by Narioki and Zusho and their comprehensive financial reforms.

This painting of Narioki is by “Nobunaga’s Ambition” artist Tsuyoshi Nagano. Narioki is sitting at a desk considering the finances of the domain whilst in discussion with senior retainer Zusho. Foreign ships can be seen in the background.

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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