Episode 241 – All in the Family, Part 3

This week, we conclude our up close look at the Shimazu family and Satsuma domain with a consideration of how the domain fit into Edo society, and its position in modern Japan.


Sansom, George. A History of Japan, vol 3

Beasley, W.G. The Collected Writings of W.G. Beasley

Hall, John Witney, et al., editors. An Institutional History of Early Modern Japan.

Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan.


Sekisho (checkpoints) like this one dotted Tokugawa Japan. This particular example is from Honshu, but the basic principle is the same — the gate allows for controlled access, giving samurai officials a chance to inspect traveler’s documentation.
A marker for one of the old sekisho in Kagoshima itself.
Today it’s a trendy tourist area, but in the early Edo Period, Bonotsu, just a short distance northwest of Kagoshima, was home to a Chinatown from which an illicit smuggling operation of Chinese goods into Kagoshima was operated.
Zusho Hirosato (Shouzaemon), who rescued the Shimazu clan’s finances from near disaster.
The Japanese government and the Kagoshima prefectural government run a museum dedicated to the history of Satsuma and the Shimazu — the Shokoshuseikan, shown here.
Kagoshima today — a modern city with a very distinct regional identity.

2 thoughts on “Episode 241 – All in the Family, Part 3”

  1. I liked what you were saying about the sugar plantations; you don’t really think of east Asian nations being involved in that type of agriculture.

    Was there a direct influence on plantation techniques by the Portuguese or the Dutch, who maintained slave labor sugar plantations in the Americas on the way the Shimazu ran things? After all both of those powers were trading in Nagasaki during the Edo period. Did the Shimazu export the sugar outside of Japan and or distill it into rum? Finally, how much awareness did Japan (and other Asian nations) have about slavery and the triangular trade?

  2. To the best of my knowledge, this was an independently evolved system that was in no way based on the ones developed by the colonial West. To be fair, I suppose if the goal is to maximally exploit people, there’s definitely a most efficient way to do that.

    I do know that Satsuma sugar was for domestic consumption — if any of it did make it out of the country, it certainly was not a major export. I actually don’t know about the extent to which pre-Perry Japan was aware of Western chattel slavery, because the Spanish-Portuguese era ended before that system really began. I imagine it would make for an interesting monograph; it may already have been done!

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