Shimai Soshitsu (島井宗室)

Soshitsu SHIMAI (1539 - October 16, 1615) was a merchant in Hakata and a master of the tea ceremony who lived from the period of warring states, Azuchi-Momoyama period to the Edo period. His name was Shigekatsu. He was known by the name of Kyohakuken. He was on good terms with SEN no Rikyu.

In Hakata at that time, there were many wealthy merchants; in particular, Soshitsu, Sotan KAMIYA, and Soku OGA who were collectively called 'the three great men in Hakata.'
While Soshitsu and Sotan were merchants under the patronage of Hideyoshi, Soku OGA was a merchant under the patronage of the Kuroda clan: the natures of the two types of merchants appear completely different through the history.

According to the family tree of the Shimai family, the family was descended from the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan and the descendants declared themselves Toji (the Fujiwara clan) for generations; however, they changed their family name to Shimai in the generation of Jiro Uemon Shigehisa. There is one theory that Soshitsu was from the family of the Shimai clan, the vassal of the So clan in Tsushima; however, this theory has not been confirmed. Sotan KAMIYA was his relative.

In those days, special tea bowls were so valuable that it was said one could exchange a single tea bowl for a whole province; in particular, 'Hatsuhana,' 'Nitta,' and 'Narashiba' were called the three most special tea bowls in the world.
Soshitsu was such a wealthy merchant that he owned one of the above tea bowls, 'Narashiba.'

Brief personal history

While running both a sake shop and banking business in Hakata, he engaged in the Japan-Korea Trade with Ming and Yi Dynasty Korea, thereby acquiring enormous wealth.

In 1573, he started dealing with Yoshishige OTOMO, who possessed the domain in Hakata at that time. At the same time, he became friendly with Soeki SEN and Doshitsu TENNOJIYA, who were masters of tea ceremony and wealthy merchants in Sakai, and they associated with each other as tea masters and Japan-Korea traders. In exchange for supplying war funds for the Otomo clan and the So clan in Tsushima, he obtained various privileges from Sorin OTOMO to establish his position as a wealthy merchant.

When the Otomo clan was defeated in the Battle of Mimi-kawa and the Shimazu clan gained power, Soshitsu who was close to the Otomo clan became afraid that his privileges would be taken away by the Shimazu clan so that he met the then ruler of the country Nobunaga ODA to gain protection from him. It is said that, at this occasion, he offered to hand over the tea bowl 'Narashiba' to Nobunaga in exchange for protection. Nobunaga tried to protect Soshitsu on the condition of having trade with foreign countries, but as Nobunaga died in the Honnoji Incident in 1582, Soshitsu's plan was cancelled. There is an episode that Soshitsu took "Senjimon" (the Thousand Character Classic), Kobo-Daishi Kukai's autograph, from Honno-ji Temple in the Honnoji Incident. The "Senjimon" is now housed in Tocho-ji Temple in Hakata.

Soshitsu gained protection from Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI who gained power after Nobunaga's death, and established transportation lines extending from the Kinai region (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto) to Hakata and further to Tsushima. Following this, he traded products with the Southeast Asian countries and Korea among others, and reached his highest prosperity. Also, he helped Hideyoshi during the Kyushu Conquest. After the unification of the country, Hideyoshi attempted to dispatch troops to Korea (the Bunroku-Keicho War); however, Soshitsu strongly opposed that Japan should not battle against Korea which was an important trading partner. He cooperated with Yoshitoshi SO and visited the King of Korea for negotiations to avoid war. However, his attempt was unsuccessful; additionally, he strongly insisted on the withdrawal even after the Hideyoshi's troop dispatch. Accordingly, he incurred Hideyoshi's anger and thus, was ordered to be confined to his house. After he was forgiven later, he cooperated with Mitsunari ISHIDA, who was one of the five major magistrates, and served as military logistics support of the Japanese army, while he arranged peace with Ming officials behind the scenes.

When Hakata came under the control of the Kuroda clan after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Soshitsu cooperated with Nagamasa KURODA to build Fukuoka-jo Castle. He died at the age of 77 on October 16, 1615. His graveyard is at Zuiun-an of the Sofuku-ji Temple.

Just before he died, he sent the Seventeen Injunctions to his adopted heir Shinkichi SHIMAI.

He was the author of "Shimai Soshitsu nikki" (diary of Soshitsu SHIMAI). His portrait is housed in the Fukuoka City Museum.

There is a stone monument at the site of the residence of Soshitsu SHIMAI near the exit of Gofukumachi Interchange on the Fukuoka Urban Expressway.

[Original Japanese]