During the 1840s, due to its location in Southern Kyushu, Satsuma was among the first of the feudal domains to feel the pressure of Western colonialisation of East Asia. The 28th head of the Shimadzu family, Nariakira, was particularly aware of this threat, stating “Japan must be made into a strong and wealthy country, on par with the Western powers”.
Nariakira began the Shuseikan Project in an attempt to develop industrialisation, and started a number of education projects that would raise some of the young leaders who in a few years’ time would bring about the Meiji Restoration. The modernisation project at the Shuseikan consisted of ironworking, cotton spinning, and glassmaking among other enterprises, and innovation took place at a stunning rate.
One of the greatest successes was the manufacture of a functional reverberatory furnace, with only a drawing from a Dutch textbook as reference. By combining Japanese traditional craftsmanship and Western scientific learning, the samurai of Satsuma managed to bring modernisation to Japan. Nariakira unfortunately died suddenly, but his legacy was continued by the 29th head of the Shimadzu, Tadayoshi, and his father Hisamitsu.