Shimazu Nariakira - Associates and Death

Associates and Death

In the course of his life, Nariakira made many friends in high places. These connections came in handy during his efforts to force the retirement of his father. Abe Masahiro, who at the time was a rōjū, was one of these friends. Abe spoke on behalf of the Tokugawa shogun in regards to Japan’s national military defense and was the one who placed Nariakira in charge of Satsuma’s dealing with the Ryūkyū Western Trade Treaty crisis.

Abe, and indirectly, the Tokugawa shogun, were disturbed by Nariakira’s removal from responsibility over the Ryūkyū Western Trade Treaty crisis because their policy concerning the crisis was predicated on their trust in him, not in his father or Zusho Hirosato. Narioki and Zusho had already proven themselves untrustworthy by not being completely reliable on matters concerning Ryūkyū. Abe knew that the only way Nariakira could gain control of the Ryūkyū crisis was if his father and Zusho were removed; through Abe’s intervention, this too was accomplished.

Since Narioki and Zusho together ceased the flow of information regarding Satsuma’s officials or their dealings with Ryūkyū to Nariakira, Nariakira had to establish his own information-gathering network. He relied on Date Munenari of Uwajima to explain his predicament to the Tokugawa shogunate and Abe. He instructed his associates Yamaguchi Sadayasu and Shimazu Hisataka to gather information in Satsuma for him as well as keep a close watch on Zusho’s activities with special emphasis on goods and money being brought into the domain. Nariakira then decided it was time to make his bid for the lordship of Satsuma. He relied on Date Munenari to report the situation for him and gain the sympathies of Abe. In a letter addressed to Date on August 27, 1848, Nariakira thanks him for obtaining Abe’s assurance that he would overlook Nairoki and Zusho’s transgressions and not take Satsuma to court as long as the Ryūkyū problem was resolved satisfactorily. Date’s correspondence with Abe served to hasten Narioki’s retirement and Nariakira’s ascendancy as daimyō of Satsuma.

Once Nariakira became daimyō, he needed loyal men to ensure that Yura and Narioki’s continued efforts to undermine his power did not succeed. Saigō Takamori, a low-ranking Satsuma samurai, was promoted from assistant clerk, to Nariakira’s attendant, in 1854. Ōkubo Toshimichi was exiled by Narioki for supporting Nariakira, but once Nariakira came to power he was pardoned and rose rapidly through the ranks. Saigō and Ōkubo worked on Nariakira's behalf, speaking with Nariaki, the lord of Mito to convince him to back Nariakira’s view that government should have greater focus on the emperor and less on the shogun. Saigo and Okubo adopted many of Nariakira’s views, which would later become the foundation of the new Meiji government. These views included centralizing the government around the emperor, and Westernizing the Japanese military.

Shortly before his death, Nariakira was left with only a two-year-old son (Tetsumaru) and eight-year-old daughter (Teruhime). He had been forced to ask Narioki to decide between Hisamitsu or Hisamitsu's son Tadayoshi to succeed him as daimyō. Saigō and Ōkubo felt the death of all of Nariakira's viable heirs was caused by Yura and wanted retribution, but Nariakira would not allow it. On July 8, 1858, Nariakira was supervising the joint preparatory maneuvers in Tempozan for sending 3,000 Satsuma soldiers to Edo, and he succumbed to the heat. He was transported to Tsurumaru Castle, where he died on the 16th. A few years after his death, he was deified as a Shinto kami, Terukuni-daimyōjin.

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