Shimazu Yoshihisa (島津義久)

Yoshihisa SHIMAZU was a military commander who lived from the Azuchi-Momoyama period through the Sengoku period (Period of Warring States). He was the Shugo daimyo (Japanese territorial lord as provincial constable) of Satsuma Province, and became a daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) in the Sengoku period. He was the 16th head of the Shimazu clan.

Brief Personal History

He is a renowned as a great general, who managed to subjugate Kyushu through the deft maneuvering of his three brothers.

His family was descended from the Shimazu clan, whose progenitor, Tadahisa SHIMAZU, is considered to have been the eldest child of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, born out of wedlock.. He was the 16th head of the Shimazu clan. He served as the Shugoshiki (post of provincial constable) of provinces of Satsuma, Osumi and Hyuga under the Muromachi (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun).

He was born in Izaku-jo Castle, as the first son of Takahisa SHIMAZU, the 15th head of the Shimazu clan, and his childhood name was Torajumaru. He usually went by the name Matasaburo. After his Genpuku (coming-of-age) ceremony, his name was changed to Tadayoshi. Later, he received one character from the name of Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA, the 13th Shogun, changing his name to Yoshitatsu, and then to Yoshihisa.


He was born on March 14, 1533, as the first son of Takahisa SHIMAZU, who was the 15th head of the Shimazu clan, in Izaku-jo Castle.

He was shy and reserved as a child, whereas his three younger brothers were all outgoing and bright; it is said that some people called them, 'a living showcase of a foolish older brother and a smart younger brothers' behind their backs. However, his grandfather, Tadayoshi SHIMAZU, detected the brothers' characters and said, 'Yoshihisa is a person of virtue by nature, having the character to rule over three countries; Yoshihiro has martial vigor and outstanding powers of reason; Toshihisa is unrivalled in his ability to grasp the big picture of a situation, discerning the inherent advantages and disadvantages; and Iehisa is skilled at art of warfare,' showing the expectations he had for Yoshihisa. From the fact that Yoshihisa adopted the name Tadayoshi at first, thereby identifying himself with his grandfather, and later took his grandfather's daughter for his legal wife, it can be presumed that he was greatly influenced by his grandfather.

Dominion over Three States

He accompanied his father, Takahisa, to fight against the Kokujin-shu (local lords) of Satsuma and Osumi Provinces; they were victorious and successfully pacified those areas. In 1566, his father went into retirement, and Yoshihisa succeeded him as the 16th head of the Shimazu family. Around this time, the struggle against Yoshisuke ITO in Hyuga intensified, and in June 1572, Yoshisuke ITO ordered Sukeyasu ITO to invade the Shimazu camp. Yoshihisa's younger brother, Yoshihiro SHIMAZU went off to war at the head of a force only slightly stronger than 300 men, leading them to Kizakibaru to wait in ambush for the enemy. Shimazu's army took 500 heads in the ensuing battle, including those of some 160 famous warriors, such as the commanding general, Sukeyasu.
This Battle of Kizakibaru is called the Kyushu's 'Battle of Okehazama.'
As for the Ito clan, the Shijoshu (lord of a branch castle) of the 'So-Sijuhachi-jo' (forty-eight castles), who had been on the Ito side, broke away one after another, leading the clan into decline. Yoshisuke ITO found an asylum in Bungo Province, which was under the rule of Yoshishige OTOMO. This event enabled the Shimazu clan to achieve their long held desire to have dominion over three states.

Battle of Mimi-kawa

As Yoshisuke ITO had been sent into exile, Sorin OTOMO invaded Hyuga with a large force in November 1578. Sorin stayed in Mushika (present-day Mushika, Nobeoka City), while Chikakata TAWARA became commanding general, leading 43,000 troops, including Shigekane TAKITA and Korenori SAIKI, and took charge of directing the battle. The Shimazu army deployed Arinobu YAMADA toTakajo, and Iehisa SHIMAZU to Sadowara, bringing up the rear; however, when Otomo's army invaded Hyuga, the Iehisa contingent also entered Takajo-jo Castle, bringing the total number of the castle guards to more than 3,000. Otomo's army surrounded Takajo-jo Castle, and the battle see-sawed back and forth between the two sides.

In December, Yoshihisa set off to join the war at the head of a force of 20,000 troops, and set up camp in Sadowara. Shimazu's army launched a successful raid against the Otomo army, and set up camp on the Nejirozaka (a hillside) across the Omaru-gawa River from the camp of the Otomo army. Due in part to the absence of Sorin, the Otomo army was somewhat lacking in esprit de corps. Shigekane TAKITA of the Otomo army launched an attack against the Shimazu army, without consulting his commander. Soten (Korenori) SAIKI then followed him. Yoshihisa employing a tactic called 'Tsuri-Nobuse' (a tactic using three forces in which one lets the enemy advance (tsuri) while the rest two hide lying low on both sides (nobuse), which will eventually come out and surround the enemy) against the marauding Otomo forces, who were attacking in disarray from across the river, sent wave after wave of troops to lie in ambush for the Otomo marauders, eventually wiping them out. Shimazu's army took 2,000 to 3,000 heads in the fighting, (the Battle of Mimi-kawa), including those of senior commanders, such as Shigekane TAKITA and Soten SAIKI.

Battle of Okitanawate

The Otomo clan fell into decline after suffering defeat at the Battle of Mimi-kawa, and Takanobu RYUZOJI of Hizen Province subsequently rose to prominence. When he could no longer tolerate the oppressive measures being forced upon him by Takanobu RYUZOJI, Harunobu ARIMA asked Yoshihiro and Ieshisa, who were garrisoned in Yatsushiro, to send reinforcements. The Shimazu came to the aid of Harunobu, and their army captured Chijiwa-jo Castle from RYUZOJI's army in 1582. The following year, Sumitoshi ANTOKU, lord of Antoku-jo Castle and relative of the Arima clan, betrayed the Ryuzoji clan. A force of more than 1,000 men from the Shimazu army, including Tadataka NIIRO and Tadakata KAWAKAMI, who had been standing by atYatsushiro, entered Antoku-jo Castle as reinforcements, and proceeded to launch an attack on Fukae-jo Castle.

In 1584, Yoshihisa dispatched Iehisa to Shimabara as commanding general. Iehisa travelled by ship across Shimabara Bay, and entered Antoku-jo Castle. He had to face Ryozoji's army of 25,000 troops (by some accounts, 60,000) with a force of 5,000 troops, including the Arima contingent. Iehisa's army killed more than 3000 enemy troops, including Takanobu RYUZOJI, his family and main retainers in fighting at a wetland called Okitanawate, winning a decisive victory (the Battle of Okitanawate). Shortly thereafter, the Ryozoji clan surrendered to the Shimazu clan.

Dream for the Unification of Kyushu

After the Ryozoji clan surrendered to the Shimazu clan, in 1584, the Chikanaga KUMABE and Chikayasu KUMABE (father and son) of Higo Province, Tanesada AKIZUKI in Chikuzen Province, and Hirokado TSUKUSHI in Chikugo Province submitted to or made peace with the Shimazu clan in succession. A year later, Yoshihisa defeated Koremitsu ASO in Higo Province, leaving the only territory unconquered in Kyushu as that of the Otomo clan. However, at this point Yoshihisa received an order from Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI forbidding further armed conflict in Kyushu. The Shimazu family deliberated Hedeyoshi's order, but in the end, Yoshihisa decided to order an attack on Chikuzen Province, the territory of the Otomo clan. A force of more than 20,000 troops under the command of Tadanaga SHIMAZU and Tadamune IJUIN captured Iwaya-jo Castle, where Joun TAKAHASHI had been barricaded (the Battle of Iwaya-jo Castle).

Yoshihisa ordered some 30,700 troops from Higo Province, under the command of Yoshihiro, and some 10,000 troops from Hyuga Province, under the command of Iehisa, to capture Bungo Province. Yoshihiro, however, had been slower in capturing castles in Naoiri-gun than anticipated; therefore, only Iehisa's troops was able to attack the home base of the Otomo clan. Iehisa's troops capture Tsuruga-jo Castle, stronhold of the Otomo clan. At this point, the advance contingent of allied forces under Toyotomi, consisting of 6,000 troops, including Hidehisa SENGOKU, Motochika CHOSOKABE, Nobuchika CHOSOKABE and Masayasu SOGO, landed in Kyushu as reinforcements to the beseiged Otomo clan, and encamped across the Ono-gawa River facing Iehisa's camp. A combined total of more than 4,000 troops from both sides died in the fighting (the Battle of Hetsugi-gawa River), including Nobuchika CHOSOKABE and Masayasu SOGO, with the allied forces of Toyotomi being routed.

Conquest of Kyushu by Hideyoshi

In 1587, a force 100,000 strong, the vanguard of Toyotomi's army, under the command of Hidenaga TOYOTOMI, arrived in Buzen Province, followed by a force numbering 120,000 men, under the command of Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, landed in Kokura. In Bungo, the forces of Yoshihiro and Iehisa were forced to withdraw while being pursued by the Otomo army, knowing that Toyotomi's army had landed. Except for a small number of the daimyo and kokujin-shu in Buzen, Bungo, Chikuzen, Chikugo, Hizen and Higo Provinces surrendered the Toyotomi forces. Hidenaga's army surrounded Takajo-jo Castle, where 1,500 troops, including Arinobu YAMADA, had barricaded themselves. In addition, Hidenaga set up defensive positions on Nejirozaka across the Takajo-gawa River to meet any Shimazu forces that were coming to join the fray. Shimazu's army of over 20,000 strong, including Yoshihiro and Iehisa, launched an assault against the forces entrenched on the Nejirozaka; howerver, they were repulsed, suffering heavy casualties, and eventualy were routed in the fighting (the Battle of Nejirozaka).

Before the bulk of his force were decimated, Yoshihisa, deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, proposed a cessation of hostilities to Hidenaga, offering in exchange for the hostage Tadamune IJUIN. At this juncture, Yoshihisa took the tonsure, and assumed the Buddhist name Ryuhaku, but it is unclear as to whether he transferred the family estate to Yoshihiro. Yoshihisa had an audience with Hideyoshi at Taihei-ji Temple in Sendai City (present-day Satsumasendai City) at which he formaly surrendered. Though Yoshihisa surrendered, others, including Yoshihiro, Toshihisa, Tadamoto NIIRO, Tadanori KATSURA and Tokihisa HONGO coutinued to resist. By agreeing to relinquish several castles to Hideyoshi, Yoshihisa, gained assurances from Hideyoshi that the Shimazu clan would have dominion over Satsuma and Osumi Provinces and Morokata-gun, Hyuga Province.

Under Toyotomi's Administration

Hideyoshi granted the Shimazu clan certain dominion over the three separate provinces as follows: Satsuma was to be the domain of Yoshihisa; Osumi the domain of Yoshihiro; and Morokata-gun, Hyuga the domain of Yoshihiro's heir, Hisayasu SHIMIZU. After pacifying Kyushu, Hideyoshi proceeded to bring the entire country under his unified rule, and then ordered the daimyo to dispatch troops for an invasion of Korea. The ranking military commander of the Shimazu clan at this time, however, was not Yoshihisa, who was considere to be the head of the clan, but his yonger brother, Yoshihiro. Hirofumi YAMAMOTO considers Yoshihisa and his retainers to have been opposed to the administration of Toyotomi, and they would therefore have had little interest in contributing troops for this plan. Putting this theory aside for the moment, perhas they had become vassals of Toyotomi only after have first resisted him with arms, unlike the other daimyo, the fact that there were a number of excessive demands made upon the Shimazu clan, such as the construction of Daibutsu-den (the Great Buddha hall) of Hoko-ji Temple, that they were ordered to immediately dispatch troops to Korea, and that there was an incident in which Yoshihisa was ordred to execute Toshihisa by Hideyoshi because of the Umekita Uprising (an uprising by a retainer of the Shimazu family, Kunikane UMEKITA), leaving him no choice but to comply, show that Yoshihisa and other members of the Shimazu clan were at odds with the Hideyoshi administration.

On the other hand, after Yoshihiro after returned from the Bunroku and Keicho Wars, Hideyoshi realigned the assignment of dominions among the Shimazu, granting Osumi Province and Morokata-gun, Hyuga Province to Yoshihisa, and the important parts of Satsuma Province, including Kagoshima, to Yoshihiro, treating him like a family head. In addition, Hideyoshi harassed Yoshihisa by placing a number of territories under his direct control (called Okurairichi) and territories of Mitsunari ISHIDA and Yusai HOSOKAWA who had been Taiko-kenchi bugyo (land survey magistrates) in the Osumi Province, which was part of Yoshihisa's domain. However, Yoshihisa retained control within his territory (called 'Siden-taisei,' or a system of diarchy). Since Yoshihisa did not have a son, he selected Hisayasu, Yoshihiro's oldest son to be his successor, arranging to have him marry his third daughter, Kameju, and adopting him; however; Hisayasu died young, and Yoshihisa had Kameju remarry, this time to Hisayasu's younger brother, Tadatsune, and made him succesor by order of Hideyoshi.

On the occasion of the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Yoshihisa did not mobilize, but stayed at his home base, leaving it to Yoshihiro to lead the Shimazu contingent of the western army. Though the western army was routed in the battle, leading a relativelyt small force of only slightly more than 1,000 men, Yoshihiro successfully attacked, breaking through the enemy ranks, and successfully returned to Satsuma, with the eastern army in pusruit. After the battle, Yoshihisa negotiated diligently with Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, securing preferential treatment in the form of granted assurance of continued dominion over the territory under control of the Shimazu clan.

Late life

In 1602, after successfully concluding negotiations with the Tokugawa Shogunate, he officially transferred the position of family head to Tadatsune SHIMAZU, and retired; however, he retained significant influence, as evidenced in his exchanging correspondences with the Edo bakufu, and was continually sought out for counsel within the family until his death.

However, his relationwhip with Tadatsune gradually worsened, as his daughter, Kameju, and Tadatsune were not getting along well in their marriage. It it said that Tadatsune and Kameju did not have even one child, and that they therefore tried to have Hisanobu SHIMAZU, his daughter's son, installed as Tadatsune's successor, but failed. Also, Yoshihisa opposed sending troops to Ryukyu which had been actively supported by Yoshihiro and Tadatsune.

On March 5, 1611, he died from of illness, in Kokubu-jo Castle (Osumi Province). He was 79 years old.

Farewell Poem

I applied myself with dedication in the world, now I found the empty sky over my head.'


After negotiating continued dominionover the territories under the Shimazu clan, Yoshihisa was invited by Ieyasu TOKUGAWA to Fushimi-jo Castle, and asked to recount the time when he almost conquered Kyushu.
Though he declined the request, claiming there he didn't have much to say, Ieyasu and his retainers persisted, so he eventually relented, offerring the response, 'The honor rightfully belongs to my three brothers, starting with Yoshihiro, and our retainers, such as Tadamoto NIIRO, who put up a unified front in fighting the battles, without internal dissent, I never led the troops in battle, but just looked after the castle in Kagoshima.'
Yoshihisa may simply have been refraining from making the visit, but he also seems to have felt somewhat shamed by the fact that he did not engage in the battles.
However, there is an anecdote that after Yoshihisa left, Ieyasu told his retainers as follows:
The commander is a man who has a talent fordeftly directing his retainers to the greatest effect, without thrusting himself into matters.'
He is a paragon of commander.'

Yoshihisa's is a rare case in that no portrait exists for him, a military commander of the Sengoku period, and that his countenance is unknown; however, there is a statue of depicting Yoshihisa's surrender, which was made several generation later, in the Taihei-ji Temple in Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture.

It is said that Yoshihisa had not just wisdom and courage, but also he was also a learned person, having, for example, received lectures on the Kokin-shu (a collection of waka poems) from Yusai HOSOKAWA, and maitained close relations with Sakihisa KONOE, a chief adviser to the Emperor.

In 1586, Yoshihisa was pressed to make peace with Sorin OTOMO and serve as a vassal to the Toyotomi clan, but he sent a reply addressed to to Yusai HOSOKAWA saying that he refused to make peace or serve as a vassal. Yoshihisa seems to have been proud of his family and the Shimazu clan, viewing Hideyaoshi as something of an upstart, and therefore choosing not to enter into corresponse with him.


He took a daughter of his grandfather, Tadayoshi SHIMAZU (his aunt) for his legal wife and after mourning her early death, he remarried to a daughter of Tokitaka TANEGASHIMA. There is no record showing that Yoshihisa had a concubine. However, because a record dated March 13, 1583 in 'UWAI, Kakuken Nikki' (Diary of Kakuken UWAI) refers to Goryo-sama and the territorial distribution of the Shimazu clan around 1599, printed in the "Sappan Kyuki-zatsuroku" (Miscellaneaous Records of old Satsuma) and to Yoshihisa's Naigi (wife), it is confirmed that he again remarried after the death of his second legal wife, but she is considered not to have been a legal wife. This woman is considered to have been the same person referred to as 'Ichinodai' in the "Shinjo-Shimazu-ke Bunsho" (History of the Shinjo-Shimazu family). In addition, according to the section on Munetaka SAMEJIMA in the 'Honpan-Jinbutsushi' (Personages of Satsuma), there was a concubine of Yoshihisa's called Kojijyu who bore a male child after she was granted to Sukemitsu KIWAKI, giving rise to the theory that there was a child born out of wedlock, but she does not appear in official historical records, and the credibility of the account, including the existense of a concubine, is low.

Grave Sites

There is a Hokyoin-to (Buddhist stupa) memorializing Yoshihisa and successive heads of the Shimazu family at Fukusho-ji Temple in Kagoshima City. In addition, there is a three-story stone pagoda which enshrines a relic of his body (said to be tooth) at the ruins of Kongo-ji Temple in Kokubu, Kirishima City, and there is a Gyakushu-to (a memorial stone erected for onself before death) that had been built to memorialize himself, Masumune HIRATA, Arinaga YAMADA and others in 1600 at Imakumano-Kannon-ji Temple in Kyoto City. There is also a Kuyo-to (memorial tower) on Koyasan.

Chronology of Government Posts and Ranks

1564: Yoshihisa was given the rank of Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade) and assumed the position of Shuri no daibu (Master of the Office of Palace Repairs). 1581: He was promoted to the rank of Jushinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade).

Works featuring Yoshihisa SHIMAZU

"Shimazu Yoshihisa" (Sakijin KIRINO, PHP books, PHP Interface, 2005, ISBN 4569664199)
"Ogon no Hibi"(The Golden Days) (NHK Taiga drama series, starring Seinosuke NAKAMURA the First).
"Ryukyu no Kaze" (Winds of Ryukyu) (NHK Taiga drama series, staring Hideo MUROTA)

[Original Japanese]