Shimadzu Tadayoshi and Hisamitsu

The father and son who continued the modernisation of Japan

shimazu tadayoshi hisamitsu

After the death of Shimadzu Nariakira in 1858, his nephew Tadayoshi took over as the last lord of the Satsuma domain. Since Tadayoshi was still only eighteen years of age, his father Hisamitsu took control of the daily affairs of the domain and continued the projects that Nariakira had started.

At first many of the projects started by Nariakira were scaled back or stopped entirely due to being seen as costly and impractical. However this decision was quickly reversed and the second stage of the Shuseikan Project was soon brought into action. One of the main driving forces behind this was the bombardment of Kagoshima by the British Royal Navy in August, 1863.

Having seen the advanced technology of western powers for themselves, the samurai of Satsuma realised that the industrial development that had been started by Nariakira was the only way which Japan could compete as a modern nation. The hostility between Britain and Satsuma was put to rest and an unlikely friendship was born.

With cooperation from Britain, modern machinery such as steam engines were imported, and British engineers instructed Japanese workers in their operation. Promising young samurai were also sent on a secret mission to Britain to learn about modern industrial nations directly.

Nariakira was an influential leader and a revolutionary, but Hisamitsu was a strong believer in forming a structure for his retainers to follow. While Nariakira was able to inspire talented individuals to follow his lead, it was Hisamitsu who managed to apply this vision of modernization on a larger scale.

This painting of Hisamitsu and Tadayoshi is by “Nobunaga’s Ambition” artist Tsuyoshi Nagano. It shows the pair in front of the Shuseikan Machinery Factory, which is now the Shoko Shuseikan Museum.

The photograph behind them is of the spinning factory which stood close to the beach in front of Sengan-en.

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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