In July 2015 UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee approved the inscription of “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” on the World Heritage List. In this second article of a series introducing the twenty-three component parts of the inscription, we take a look at the early industrial heritage of Kagoshima.
Kagoshima Prefecture, formerly known as the Satsuma Domain, was for many centuries the home of the wealthy and powerful Shimazu Clan. The territory is located at the southwestern tip of the main island of Kyushu. Like the Choshu Domain (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture at the far southwestern tip of the main island of Honshu), the Satsuma Domain was located far from the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate’s base in the Edo-period capital, present-day Tokyo. The Satsuma would ultimately align with the Choshu Domain, whose revolutionaries we introduced in Part I of this series, and join forces to overthrow the Tokugawa government and usher in the Meiji Restoration of 1868, thereby ending more than 250 years of national seclusion.
In the tumultuous years immediately prior to the Meiji period, the Satsuma Domain busied itself shoring up its defenses against the growing military threat from western powers.
One of the pioneers of work in the defense of the Domain was Shimazu Nariakira (1809–1858), who in 1851 would become the daimyo of the Satsuma Domain. Nariakira had a deep fascination for Western technologies, an inquisitive trait he inherited from his grandfather, Shimazu Shigehide. Shigehide had a great interest in Dutch studies as well as in scientific and industrial projects, and owned such western devices as clocks, musical instruments, telescopes, microscopes and weapons. Shigehide’s endeavors in industrial enterprise ate deeply into the Domain’s financial reserves, however, memory of which led others in the Shimazu family to be suspicious of Nariakira’s own plans for industrialization and heavy armament.
Despite internal conflict within the Shimazu family hampering his progress, Nariakira would ultimately succeed his father as lord of the Domain and set about his bold plans for modernization.
According to documents belonging to the Shoko Shuseikan Museum, in the same year that he became daimyo, Nariakira ordered construction to begin on two ships, the Iroha-maru and Ottosen. The Shohei-maru, a Western-style tall-masted sailing ship, was then completed in 1854, and the first successful Japanese-built steamship, the Unko-maru, followed in 1855. These ships are examples of a fusion of Japanese and Western skills and technologies developed by Satsuma engineers based entirely on Western books and illustrations and their own ingenuity, since the Shogunate’s policy of national seclusion meant that no Westerners could be brought into the Domain as advisors.
Nariakira also took steps to acquire Western weaponry for the Domain, sending his retainer Ichiki Shiro on a mission to the semi-independent Ryukyu Islands early in 1858 with the objective of obtaining 1,000 rifles and a steam-powered warship from the French.
More significantly still, Nariakira ordered the construction of a small industrial complex, Shuseikan, close to the sea in Iso. Though he would pass away before the complex could be completed, the machinery factory and other facilities were nevertheless finished in 1865 by those determined to fulfill their lord’s dying wishes. The complex would play an important role in the industrialization of Japan, both practically and educationally.
According to the historian Robert Hellyer, the complex employed 1,200 men and included reverberating furnaces, blast furnaces, a smithy, a foundry, and a glass workshop for the industrial production of porcelain, cannon, rifles, agricultural implements and glassware. Foreign engineers would be accommodated here to pass on their skills.
Nariakira would be deified by Imperial decree on his death in 1858 and, for his role in helping to bring an end to the Shogunate would, according to historians Van C. Gessel and J. Thomas Rimer, “earn an esteemed place among the ‘four wise lords’ whom patriots throughout the country looked to as saviors.”
The industrial legacy of Nariakira’s wisdom and forethought is now preserved as UNESCO World Heritage.
Alex Hendy, The Japan Journal
Bibliography: The Making of Modern Japan, Marius Jansen; The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, C Van Gessel and Thomas J. Rimer; Shimazu Nariakira and the Emergence of National Leadership in Satsuma, Robert K. Sakai; Defining Engagement, Robert Hellyer; Shoko Shuseikan museum