Lost the war yet ended up like a "winner" !? — the Shimazu Clan after AD 1600 Sekigahara

Jul 2018
Hong Kong
This time, I am going to share with you a tale of the Sengoku Era of Japan. Welcome any feedback and opinion.

Source :

[討論] 關原之戰後的島津家

The Shimazu Clan joined the "Western Army" headed by Ishida Mitsunari who waged war against Tokugawa Ieyasu, despite the "Western Army" was utterly defeated at Sekigahara, the Shimazu Clan ended up unpunished (Ieyasu did not dare to invade Satsuma), why !?

The Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い) occurred in AD 1600 was a very important event in the history of Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康)'s crushing victory signified the end of the Sengoku Era (戦国時代), though the Toyotomi Clan (豊臣) continued to be a grave threat to the Tokugawa regime afterward until AD 1615. Numerous daimyos who sided with the "Western Army" (西軍, the coalition against Ieyasu) in AD 1600 either being severely reduced or confiscated of his domain as punishment — for example, the Mori Clan (毛利) 's domain was gravely reduced from 1,200,000 koku to 360,000 koku ; the Uesugi Clan (上杉) 's domain was also drastically shrinked from 1,200,000 koku to 300,000 koku ; more unlucky such like the Ukita Clan (宇喜多) even lost all of his 570,000 koku territories.

However, the Shimazu Clan (島津) managed to hold his 730,000 koku domain intact without being punished by Ieyasu, instead of suffering tragedic fate just like other "Western Army" daimyo-loser. Regarding of such impressive achievement, it was a "miracle". Then what kind of factors made this "miracle" happened ? At below I'm going to expound it.

The Shimazu Clan before and during the Sekigahara Campaign

To find out why Ieyasu did not retaliate against the Shimazu Clan, we need to know about what was going on for the Shimazu Clan prior to Sekigahara. Shimazu had been being a prominent clan since the Kamakura Period (鎌倉時代), and almost achieved the unification of Kyushu (九州) in the late Sengoku Era until being soundly defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉). The Shimazu Clan's most of the territories obtained through conquest was thus confiscated by Hideyoshi, leaving only the Province of Satsuma (薩摩国) and Osumi (大隅国) as his possession — it was a major setback for the Shimazu Clan.

By the time Hideyoshi had just forced the Shimazu Clan to submit, that clan's leader was Shimazu Yoshihisa (島津義久), who was reputed a shrewd politician. But Hideyoshi disliked him and favored his younger brother Shimazu Yoshihiro (島津義弘). Hideyoshi deliberately sowed the discord between brothers and attempted to place Yoshihiro on the throne of the Shimazu rulership for supplanting of Yoshihisa by a written order, but Yoshihiro used all sort of pretext and tricks for not turning against his elder brother, thus foiled Hideyoshi's plan. Despite that, Yoshihiro acted like a representative of the Shimazu Clan by living in residence in Kyoto and commanding the army across the sea to participate the Invasion of Korea.

Shimazu Yoshihisa had a son named Shimazu Iehisa (島津家久), who was originally named Shimazu Tadatsune (島津忠恒). Later he became the first lord of the Satsuma Domain under the Tokugawa Shogunate (徳川幕府). Indeed, during and after the Battle of Sekigahara, the Shimazu Clan once split to three factions which were respectively led by Yoshihiro, Yoshihisa and Iehisa.

In AD 1600, Toyotomi Hideyoshi already passed away, the entire Japan was in turmoil again. Tokugawa Ieyasu was increasingly despotic in running the whole Japan's affair from the administrative center Osaka Castle (大坂城). He accused the Uesugi Clan plotting treachery and waged war against him, leading the coalition army composed of many daimyos marching to north-eastern Japan. Taking advantage of vacuum around Kyoto and Osaka, the Toyotomi Clan's prominent retainer Ishida Mitsunari (石田三成) declared war against Ieyasu in league with some anti-Ieyasu daimyos, forming the anti-Ieyasu coalition known as the "Western Army" (西軍).

The Western Army launched the assault upon the Fushimi Castle (伏見城), raised the prelude of the Sekigahara Campaign. At that time, Shimazu Yoshihiro was coincidentally at Kyoto (with some Shimazu samurai), very close to the battlefield ! Alarmed of the situation, Yoshihiro issued an urgent request to his elder brother Yoshihisa for sending reinforcement from the Satsuma homeland. But due to the turbulent situation (one of the Satsuma retainers just raised rebellion in AD 1599 !), Yoshihisa refused for sending military aid, but allowed Yoshihiro "make a free choice" for siding with any side in the ongoing war. Kyoto was so faraway from Satsuma (nowadays Kagoshima Prefecture 鹿児島県), even in the modern age with transportation infrastructure such as railways and planes.

Isolated, unsupported with reinforcement from the Shimazu homeland, how would Yoshihiro make his choice ?

Yoshihiro's decision

Yoshihiro only had 1,500 men under his disposal at Kyoto, not a significant force strong enough to influence the tide of the war. According to the measure calculating how much troops could be generated from economic production, 10,000 koku could generate approx. 300 troops ; in other words, the Shimazu Clan should be able to generate 21,900 troops on paper — yet Yoshihiro had only 1,500 on hand (since his elder brother preserved most at his homebase of Satsuma and Osumi), would be surely looked down by the "Western Army" daimyos if he joined their side. On the contrary, the Ukita Clan which possessed 570,000 koku mobilized 16,500-strong army, definitely a "total mobilization" !

Therefore, initially, Yoshihiro decided to rendezvous with the Fushimi Castle's garrison, which was commanded by a major Tokugawa retainer Torii Mototada (鳥居元忠), planning to join the "Eastern Army" (東軍, the coalition united under the banner of Ieyasu). However, Mototada distrusted him and suspected this must be a trap, thus staunchly refused his offer of aiding the defense of the castle. Enraged, Yoshihiro had no choice but led his army to join the Western Army in turn. Since Yoshihiro only had 1,500 men at his disposal, the Western Army's daimyos despised him and even thought that the Shimazu Clan was not faithful in joining their side.

At the eve of the Battle of Sekigahara, Yoshihiro suggested launching a night raid upon the Eastern Army's main camp to Mitsunari, but the latter declined. Infuriated, Yoshihiro lost much of his will to fight for the Western Army and made no move during almost the entire Battle of Sekigahara until the very final moment.
Jul 2018
Hong Kong
How the Shimazu Clan cleverly forced Ieyasu to negotiation table and won a "status quo" peace ?

Shimazu Yoshihiro's heroic "fighting retreat" just charging forward smash the central of the Eastern Army won him everlasting reputation of the "God of War". His forward retreat forged the popular term "Shimazu way of retreat" (島津の退き口). Nonetheless, his awesome escape did not erase the fact that the Shimazu Clan was in great danger afterward. Tokugawa Ieyasu surely was going to "punish" the Shimazu Clan for the latter's joining of the Western Army against Ieyasu. In response, Shimazu Yoshihisa smartly claimed that Yoshihiro's decision of joining Mitsunari's rebellion was merely "his personal decision" without authorization from the Shimazu Clan. In the whole course of Sekigahara, Yoshihisa did not even a single troop to support the Western Army against Ieyasu. He conducted this explanation to Ieyasu who was unable to retort. Yoshihisa further claimed that his younger brother actually wanted to join hands with Ieyasu, but the Fushimi Castle's garrison commander bluntly refused, forcing his younger brother to side with Mitsunari for protecting himself, so it was not really his younger brother's fault at all !

But Ieyasu did not cease exerting pressure upon the Shimazu Clan. He demanded Lord Yoshihisa personally came to Kyoto for pleading mercy, and ordered him disarm all the military force within his domain. Of course, this was totally unacceptable to Yoshihisa. Yoshihisa utilized all sorts of excuse for not going to Kyoto, such as :

"The border of my clan's domain was impassable with massive hostile clans' army around."

"I am devoid of traveling expenses. May I delay the schedule ?"

"I got a serious illness and was unable to travel !"

Expectedly, Ieyasu was angered and ordered three Eastern Army daimyos in Kyushu included Kuroda (黑田), Kato (加藤), Nabeshima (鍋島) gathering armies attack the Shimazu Clan. As the negotiation stalled without progress and the war seemed imminent, the Shimazu Clan played his last "trump card"....

On 12th January 1601, a event greatly shocked Ieyasu occured — in the ocean near Satsuma, two vessels from the (Chinese) Ming Dynasty were under attack by a group of "unknown pirates" and burnt, with all the crews killed and all the cargos seized in atrocity ! The terrified Ieyasu decided to cease his intention of attacking the Shimazu clan. Why Ieyasu was so scared !? The Japanese history professor Haraguchi Izumi (原口泉) explained :

「これは家康に対する強烈なデモンストレーション 、島津をつぶすとこういう事件が起こるんだ!・・もし最後まで戦う と我々は海に散らばる・・経済的基盤を固めなければならない家康は 、島津が海のゲリラとして抵抗勢力になるのを怖がったんですね」

Translated to English :

"This was a frightening demonstration for showing Ieyasu what consequence it would be if the latter insisted on attacking Shimazu ! ....we will fight to the end, even scattered in the ocean....this would seriously threaten Ieyasu's vital economic source through maritime trade with foreign countries if the Shimazu warriors turn out to be guerillas raiding merchant ships in the vast ocean."

Facing such "high-pitch response" from the Shimazu Clan, Ieyasu was "psychologically cripped" and decided to make a concession instead — okay, I promise would not punish your clan, guarantee your clan's domain astriding three provinces (Satsuma, Osumi and Hyuga) intact, just send your newly-succeeded daimyo Shimazu Iehisa who already replaced Yoshihisa as a clan leader to Kyoto for swearing allegiance to me in formality, and I would not punish Yoshihiro for his act as well.

So the Shimazu Clan gratefully accepted this favorable term, formally submitted to the Tokugawa Clan in AD 1602 and ended up having a "good ending" even nominally losing the war in AD 1600 !

Yet about 260 years later....the Shimazu Clan played a key role in overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate. How ironic !

There was a proverb about the Satsuma Clan : "There're no foolish lord of the Shimazu Clan." (島津は暗君なし) Maybe it contains a clue of why the Satsuma Clan could consistently remain to be robust in strength.
Apr 2012
The Netherlands
The Sengoku era's end is full of those little ironies.

The Mori arguably did more than any other clan outside the big three to end the fighting yet they ended the period with the majority of their domain confiscated. Meanwhile the Hosokawa were responsible for starting the whole mess in the first place but were comfortably settled into a 540,000 Koku domain which I believe made them one of the more prominent ones.