I. Introduction Amongst the strong hans that stood out in the Bakumatsu period(幕末時期) (1853-1868), Choshu and Satsuma undoubtedly were regarded as the most influential and powerful ones. They bore much resemblance sin

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I. Introduction

Amongst the strong hans that stood out in the Bakumatsu period(幕末時期) (1853-1868), Choshu and Satsuma undoubtedly were regarded as the most influential and powerful ones. They bore much resemblance since their emergence in late Tokugawa politics: they were insulted and punished after the battle of Sekigahara關原; they underwent a long period of hardships; they grew in strength during the Tempo Reforms天保改革; they took up leadership during the 1860s; they were bombarded by the western powers and launched western-style reforms in their own fiefs. But these similarities did not mean that right form the start they stood on a common front and fought for the same cause. As a matter of fact, however, they were in rivalry against each other in their claim for supremacy in that period. It was not until 1866 when they came to a secret agreement whereby they concurred to a common goal of overthrowing the Bakufu and restoring the Imperial position. Once agreement was made, the relationship between the two hans was built up and their cooperation could still be found during the Meiji era.

II. Sources of Strength

Large size and great proportion of samurai. Being the tozamas, the two hans were big enough to challenge the shrinking Bakufu forces. It is estimated that Choshu was probably about the fourth or fifth largest han in Tokugawa Japan, the actual productivity being 713,600 koku (Misaka even estimated that it should reach over 1,000,000 koku). In contrast, Satsuma ranked the second to third, with the actual productivity of 869,500 koku. Thus, they were able to act when so many others could not. Moreover, both Choshu and Satsuma were favoured with an unusually large number of samurai in proportion to the size of their domains. In the early decades the Bakufu determined the official scale so that the number maintained by each domain would be stipulated. It so happened that both Choshu and Satsuma had a very high proportion of samurai within their domains. In the case of Satsuma, after they had been subjugated in 1587 by Hideyoshi, the domain was cut to 2½ provinces. Most of its vassals crowded into the newly reduced domain, giving it a much greater density of samurai population that would have obtained under normal circumstances. A large number of them, because of economic difficulties after the reduction of the size of the domain, had to live in villages with the result that they constituted the famous Satsuma goshi 鄉士class, most of whom being farmers with swords and the status of samurai. As a consequence, Satsuma, which should have had only about 14,000 samurai according to the official scale, in reality, had about 27,000 samurai. As to Choshu, after the battle of Sekigahara, Mori Terumoto(毛利輝元) saw his domains reduced from nine to two provinces (Nagato長門and Suo周防). Although only 5657 vassals were retained, they brought with them to join Mori an unusually large number of rear vassals: over 5000 in all. Therefore, Choshu had about 11,000 samurai rather than the 6000 that the Bakufu stipulated for the domains of a similar size.
In contrast to Choshu or Satsuma, Owari(尾張), one of the great Three Houses with 619,500 koku had only 5910 samurai whereas it should have had over 12,000. Yet, the most striking comparison was found in Bakufu whereby it should have had on paper over 140,000 samurai or the "80,000 mounted horsemen." In actuality, nevertheless, there were only 20,000 or 30,000 vassals available. This amount was only twice the number of the Choshu warrior class but was roughly of the same size as that of the Satsuma. Craig, A.M. made the following comments," to preserve its hegemony over the tozamas, the Bakufu was dependent on its institutional system of controls, on custom and ultimately on the cooperation and loyalty of the military forces of the fudai and shimpan daimyo... Like a bank, the Bakufu hegemony lived on credit. During the Bakumatsu period, its credits began to disappear, and finally in 1867 there occurred a simultaneous withdrawal of accounts. When this occurred, its weakness of numbers ensured its military defeat." (p.17)
A strong hostile anti-Tokugawa attitude and tozama less subject to Edo influence. Satsuma and Choshu were the few tozama subject to constant harsh treatment of the Tokugawas. Even after two centuries, the earlier, hostile attitude towards the tozama persisted and the political potentials of the tozama remained circumscribed. This is particularly true of Choshu whose size was cut from 1,205,000 koku to only 298,480 koku. As a typical example to illustrate their hatred against the Bakufu, on the first day of every new year, the Elders and Direct Inspectors would go to daimyo and ask, "Has the time come to begin the subjugation of the Bakufu?" The daimyo would then reply, "It is still too early; the time is not yet come." Likewise, mothers in Choshu would have their boys sleep with their feet to the east, a form of insult to the Bakufu, and tell them "never to forget the defeat at Sekigahara even in their dreams." In the case of Satsuma, every year on the 14th day of the ninth month the castle town samurai would don their armour and go to a temple to meditate on the battle of Sekigahara. On the following day, they would return to the castle town to listen to "The Military Record of the Battle of Sekigahara". Although it is extremely difficult to judge the extent to which such formalised historical elements weighed on the feelings of the vassals in the governments of the han, it is safe to suggest that these traditional hostilities formed one of several potentially subversive elements in the ideology of the samurai of both hans; whereas in the case of the pro-Tokugawa tozama han, their awareness of past (and therefore present) obligations formed an element that had to be rationalised and resolved before they rose up against the Bakufu. "When most han were paralyzed by the conflict between their desire to increase their own power (at the expense of the existing order) and their sense of obligation to the Tokugawa, Choshu (and Satsuma) could act."

In addition, both Choshu and Satsuma were able to enjoy the advantages of being the tozama. They were structurally and geographical less subject to direct control and influence of Edo but were more autonomous and self-contained. Moreover, in contrast to the prevailing decaying atmosphere at Edo and the nearby areas, they being located in the peripheral areas were less influenced by the existing commercial and cultural phenomena. What had been eroding the spirits of Edo samurai and the feudal structure of the urban cities was found to be less profound in these two hans.

Success of economic reform. Another important factor which accounted for the strength of both hans were their financial solvency when most others were of necessity quiescent. As regards Choshu, the financial imbalance began as earlier as the 17th century when there reported a deficit of 1333 kan (貫)of silver in 1643, a result mainly owing to the sankin kotai system. However, money borrowing from merchants and moneylenders of Osaka and Kyoto, increase in productivity and other invisible income from han monopolies kept the han's debt at slow rise. The founding of buikukyoku撫育局 reinforced its financial solvency. It was a special office or bureau of the han government for savings and investment. Established in 1762, it aimed at cherishing the impoverished samurai class and saving reserve for emergency uses. From the failure of its forerunner, treasury-money (hozokin寶藏金), the buikikyoku would use the funds not for regular uses except in the direst emergencies. Rather the capital would be used for investments in land, harbour development along the Inland Sea and commerce. The success of the buikikyoku was important for Choshu in the Bakumatsu period. Firstly, the so-called 7,300 rifles, cannon and warships purchased from the West were paid for, almost entirely, with buiku money. Secondly, the campaigns of the Choshu troops during the last years of the Bakufu were also financed chiefly by bukiu funds. Furthermore, after the Restoration, Choshu apparently still had 1,000,000 ryo(兩) of gold remaining in the buiku account, 70% of which were presented to the Court. Thus, Craig appreciated that "without its savings Choshu would have been unable to play a leading role in the Restoration." (p. 48)
Choshu's Tempo Reform began in 1838, earlier and longer than that of Mizuno's. It was Murata Seifu (村田清風)who took charge of the reform programme after the debt of 80,000 kan was found and peasant uprisings appeared in 1831 and 1836. Like so many other reforms of the Tokugawa period, conventional methods like issue of sumptuary legislations, practice of swordsmanship, abolition of han monopolies on most commodities, reducing the interest rates and so forth were carried out in Choshu's Tempo Reform. On the other hand, some revolutionary attempts were made with great success. To bolster the morale of samurai, the Meirinkan明倫館 was opened at Hagi to many samurai who had hitherto been excluded because of low rank; schools were also set up in each area of the han for the education of samurai living outside of Hagi. Preeminent youngsters were sent elsewhere to study and learn different subjects; Yoshida Shoin吉田松陰 being sent to Edo for the study of military science. The Tempo Reform improved the condition of Choshu samurai in two ways. The first was to reduce the amount taken from their income, the percentage being dropped from 50% to 30% only. The second was to introduce the so called "Thirty-Seven Year Debt Repayment Act" promulgated in 1843. It decreed that all debts incurred by Choshu samurai were to be paid back over a period of thirty-seven years, during which time the annual interest would not exceed 2%. Any future loans made on terms other than those stipulated above would be illegal and would not have to be repaid. Other innovative reforms included the unprecedented publication of the han budget plan in 1840 and the request of the lower officials to suggest ways of improving han's finances. As regards commercial policy, the only han monopoly was the koshinigata 越荷方, a money-making institution established at the beginning of the 19th century to sell the surplus rice of the han, to provide storage facilities for merchants and to lend money to the merchants of other han while holding their goods as securities.
The nature of the Choshu Tempo Reform was rather traditional and negative. Retrenchment, repudiation of han involvement in commerce, bias against merchants who were just made use of to serve the han, all this indicated that it was basically a backward looking reform programme. It served its purpose of providing a respite and temporary relief to the mounting debt without using a penny from the buikikyoku, yet it was not a solution to the evils that the han faced, as could be illustrated by the call of another reform in Ansei period (安政時代)(1854-59). Its chief contribution to Choshu's role in the Bakumatsu period was the improvements it made in the condition and morale of the individual samurai. As said by Craig, "the financial solvency which had been obtained through the buiku system gave Choshu the leeway to carry out an effective reform, and the reform, in turn, contributed to the condition of its morale and to its political flexibility. Thus, Choshu ...entered the period with a much greater capability for action than most hans." (p.83-84)
With respect to Satsuma, similar developments could be found. During the first two centuries of Tokugawa rule its debt grew more slowly than that of Choshu -- largely because of its income from the sale of cash crops other than rice. However, when it leaped to 312,000 kan, a call for reform was urgent so that Zusho Hirosato 調所廣鄉was appointed in 1827 to carry out a reform. Satsuma's Tempo Reform was radical but traditional: intensive anti-merchant programme to save the han finance. To start with, he simply repudiated all debts owed to merchants within Satsuma. Debts to the creditors in Osaka, Edo and Kyoto were virtually repudiated by the promulgation of a scheme according to which they would be repaid less than ½ per cent a year of the principal of the debt over a 250 year term. As a corollary, it was obvious that the han had no choice but to live within its income, as future loans would not be possible. The next step adopted by Zusho was to establish a rigid state-operated monopoly on sugar. Because of geographical advantages, certain islands to the south of Satsuma were the only places in Japan where cane sugar could be cultivated. To make the best use of this local resources to the maximum, a despotic plantation type system was established on these islands whereby no corps could be raised save sugar; their paddy lands were all destroyed and all other commodities (about 457 items in total) had to be obtained by barter for fixed amounts of sugar. Each stage in the productive process was supervised by samurai. No private sales of sugar was allowed or smugglers would face death punishment. As a result of this rigid commercial control, the Satsuma coffer could earn a steady annual revenue of 6300 kan of silver. Using these and other revenues, Satsuma was even able to accumulate substantial reserves. When Zusho died in 1848 there reported a surplus of 62,400 kan. This provided the financial base for its activities in the Bakumatsu period. Thus in a sense, the cane sugar monopoly of Satsuma played a role corresponding to that of the buikikyoku of Choshu. Besides, han monopoly was extended to cover a variety of other products such as wax, oil, cinnabar, turmeric, paper, medicines and sesame. Like sugar these were subject to close supervision at every stage of production until they were sold. This anti-merchant policy and strict supervision, plus the goshi system, earned for the han the name of the "Prussia of Japan."
In comparison, while Choshu adopted a rather anti-han monopoly measure, Satsuma was determined to strengthen it. However, the differences stemmed largely from the different conditions in the two han and not from a basic difference in outlook. In Satsuma monopolies were lucrative and therefore continued; Choshu's monopolies, no longer profitable, were abolished. In other respects the reforms of the two han were much alike: both used debt repudiation, both were negatively inclined towards the merchant class as a whole, and both relied on institutional innovations to re-establish their finances. And in both cases, "it was the vitality of their traditional samurai governments that gave them the willingness and strength to innovate and that enabled them to override the interests of other groups within their spheres of control." (p. 73) At any rate, both of them emerged to be in better financial conditions that enabled them to challenge their common contender, the decaying and crumbling, feeble Shogunate.
Political factor. In the case of Satsuma, there emerged a succession of strong leadership. Shimazu Shigehide 島津重豪was famous for his ability to restore the vitality of the han and appointed Zusho to be the man leading the reform. He later resumed power from retirement and appointed Shimazu Narioki (島津齊興)as his heir. Narioki's two sons, Nariakira島津齊彬and Hisamitsu島津久光 were men of great talents. The former was one of the members of the "Able daimyo" and carried out a programme of experiments with Western industry in Satsuma. The latter was the celebrity even beyond the Bakumatsu period. He succeeded his elder brother in 1858 and led the han to participate in the national politics in the 1860s. He even suppressed the Teradaya riot寺田屋騷亂 in April 1862 to stop the extremist from plotting a coup against the Bakufu.
The condition was completely different in Choshu. Mori Takachika毛利敬親 (1838-71) was regarded as a weak robot, a bunch of good-for-nothings. His calibre was entirely no match for that of Shimazu Nariakira. Instead, it was the political tradition of the Choshu han itself that made it adaptive and responsive in the Bakumatsu period. At the time of the Tempo Reform, two bureaucratic cliques dominated the han government: the clique of Murata Seifu and an opposing one headed by Tsuoboi Kuemon坪井九右衛門. The former group might be called the austere reformers or "hards," because of their willingness to institute measures against the interests of some in the han in order to achieve the ends of their reform. In contrast to this, the Tsuboi's groups were moderates; they preferred to maintain the status quo and so was called zokuronto俗論黨. According to the Choshu's political tradition, for every second year when the daimyo returned from Edo there would be a change of government in which high officials had to resign collectively. The balance between opposing bureaucratic cliques -- each claimed that its policies best represented the true interests of the han -- seems to have kept alive the possibility of alternative courses of action. This, in return, gave to the han government a flexibility that later enabled it to switch policies in response to a changed situation. To quote an instance, Murata party requested the resignation in June 1844 when Mori returned, having found that many of his reforms, the Thirty-Seven Year Debt Repayment Act in particular, met with vehement opposition. His request was accepted and Tsuboi replaced the Act with a milder one but at the same time carried on the reform spirit of Murata. When his attempts were ineffective to save the han finance, he was ordered into domiciliary confinement in December 1847. It is worth mentioning that this flexibility seems to have been lacking in the cases of many other han. The government of Kumamoto(熊本), for example, was dominated by a single faction of high-ranking retainers who were deeply committed to their privileges and to the status quo, as a result of which, the han, though it being a great han with 721,000 koku, played no role in the politics of the Restoration.
Other. The Mori house of Choshu had a unique historical relation to the Imperial Court. According to one source (Bocho Kaiten shi), the Mori were originally of the Kyoto official class. For generations they frequented the palace. Even after it had become a military house, it developed a special strong emotional tie with the Mikado. In the times of Sengoku jidai Mori Motonari 毛利元就even donated money to the Emperor Ogimachi 正親町to pay for his enthronement ceremonies. After this for three successive generations it was the custom to contribute each year to the Court the income from certain silver mines. During the Tokugawa period Mori was the only daimyo permitted to visit the Emperor from Edo. How strong an influence this had on the Choshu anti-Bakufu action is problematic, but Choshu samurai were at least not unaware of it. At least, this relation to the Court provided an excuse for those advocating stronger participation in national affairs and proved an obstacle to those supporting a neutral, passive role. In other words, this ideology, be it true or not, aroused the emotional tie with Kyoto to such an extent that while the samurai of most han were questioning whether they should rise up against Bakufu, the Choshu samurai could easily justify their "disloyal" act.

III. The Satsuma-Choshu Alliance of 1866

In the years between 1861 and 1865 the antagonism between Choshu and Satsuma was, like the antipodality of the Court and the Bakufu or the rivalry between shimpan and fudai factions within the Bakufu, one of several horizontal axes determining the movements of politics in Japan. Both han were leaders of national movement: Choshu, of the sonno joi movement, and Satsuma, of the kobugattai movement. Each offered a solution to the problems confronting the country, each hoped for power as a reward for success, and each directed its energies toward the defeat of the other. Even as late as the First Choshu Expedition, the Satsuma leaders like Saigo Takamori (西鄉隆盛)expected an annihilation of Choshu, which would open up a clear path for the success of their own movement. What were the factors that linked these two hostile han together? Explanations for this cooperation could be found in terms of the new developments that were taking place in the Bakufu, Choshu and Satsuma. In addition, there were other factors that contributed to the establishment of the alliance.
The Civil War of 1863-65 taught Choshu men two lessons: (1) That Choshu could survive was mainly more due to disunity of the Bakufu force than to its own strength. They were aware that in view of their relationship with the Bakufu, either Choshu or the Bakufu but not both could remain in the national politics; yet it was in no position to resist another shogunal expedition in the future. Rallying han to its side was a tactic to its advantages. (2) after the war the Choshu loyalist was in dominance, this breaking down the political tradition of the han in which either radicals or moderates took turns to govern the fief. They were united and determined to launch the tobaku movement倒幕運動.
As regards Satsuma, it had no liking for Choshu and, as mentioned, anticipated its annihilation. But two developments within and without ended in gradual change of attitude towards Choshu. Hisamitsu had retired from political scene and inclined to trust men like Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi大久保利通in charge of the han affairs, after his quarrel with the Bakufu in 1864. As commented by W.G. Beasley, "the Shogun's (second) visit to Kyoto, which had been planned as a means of consolidating a success (after they had defeated Choshu), ended by provoking instead a quarrel between Satsuma and Edo. (After the quarrel), Hisamitsu fell gradually under the influence of the anti-Tokugawa faction among his followers." (P.86-87) Rupture between Satsuma and the Bakufu became apparent over the question of kobugattai. Satsuma, the advocate of the movement, conceived it as a union watched over and directed by it. The Bakufu was not expected to play an active role; it needed only cooperate. The government, if established, should be under the emperor who acted as arbitrator and the daimyo would have policy-making powers. The roju at Edo, however, conceived of it as an arrangement which would preserve as much as possible of the shogunal system but permit a limited voice to the major daimyo and the court. They were particularly opposed to Hisamitsu's demand that he should have a right to influence policy in any coalition government. Moreover, the adoption of a hard line policy by the Bakufu, suggested by Oguri Kozuke, further widened the gap. Oguri who had recently returned from the United States and who carried considerable weight in the Bakufu was of the opinion that the shogunate should rely on French support to strengthen itself militarily and financially, to adopt the French pattern of an absolute state and to proceed to the complete unification of the country under the shogun by confiscation of the daimyo domains. If the plan had been accepted, then Satsuma would have been subject to punishment. Informed by the English, the Satsuma men was aware that the shogunate did proceed according to the plan. As a result of the above change, by the end of 1864 Satsuma had become less certain about its relationship with Choshu. Saigo, for example, contended that Choshu should be purged of its extremism and that the Bakufu army should disband after attaining its minimal objectives. Instead of total annihilation, they hoped that Choshu extremism must be crushed, but the han itself should be maintained as additional ballast in the west against the Bakufu in the east. Therefore, it is no wonder that Satsuma refused to join the Bakufu forces to chastise Choshu for the second time; instead, Okubo even persuaded, though in vain, Matsudaira Keiei(松平慶永), to oppose the expedition.
Hitherto, it seemed that cooperation was still slim. It was rather illogical, if not improbable, for both sides to forget their past rivalries. The change of personnel in both governments did not naturally lead to cooperation; Satsuma's anxiety over its safety did not necessarily seek help from Choshu who had undergone a civil war and had been beaten by it for three times. Although Hisamitsu agreed to abandon the kobugattai plan held by Satsuma since 1862 in favour of a sonno policy based on the union of the great han, he did not openly inform of the policy change. However irresolute, the shogun was the hegemon. Opposition to the Bakufu in the name of the Court put Satsuma in a position almost identical with that of Choshu. All these uncertainties would have led to the destruction of the whole han.
A series of blunder committed by the Bakufu ironically made cooperation possible. Firstly, there were increasingly evidence that the Bakufu wanted to make use of the success of the First Choshu Expedition (1864) to restore its supreme position in the country. In the early months of 1865 it issued an order reviving the sankin kotai system. Then, it sought to regain control of Kyoto by obtaining Tokugawa Keiki's(德川慶喜) return to Edo and by moving Bakufu troops to Kyoto. Last, it also sought to have the two Mori brought to Edo as further evidence of the Bakufu subjugation of Choshu. All three measures were separate items but they were seen by the han and the Court as a single programme. This evidence, together with the adoption of Oguri's line in the Bakufu, confirmed and reinforced the belief among the han that the shogun aimed at restoring centralisation of the country, which meant reimposing control over them. That explained why it took more than one year to prepare for the Second Choshu Expedition and most of the daimyo preferred peaceful means to military force as a solution to settle the disputes with Choshu. Similar to Satsuma who had already withdrawn its support to the expedition, what would have been the next target once the Bakufu had really reasserted its prestige after the "destruction" of Choshu? The answer would probably be Satsuma itself.
Secondly, the emergence of two important young Tosa samurai, Sakamoto Ryuma板本龍馬 and Nakaoka Shintaro中岡慎太郎 overcame the antagonism existing between Choshu and Satsuma and rendered their cooperation possible. There were many shishi coming from Tosa because their feudal daimyo, Yamanouchi Yodo山內容堂, despite his willingness to share in the political authority, hesitated to attack the Bakufu and on the contrary reprimanded the extremists within the han. Nakaoka was an intimate of the Choshu extremists since 1863. He fought with the Choshu forces in the countercoup of 1864 and in the defence of Choshu against the four-nation bombardment. Sakamoto was the contact man of the Satsuma side. Influenced by Katsu Kaishu勝海舟, another overseas samurai who returned from the United States as Oguri but who advocated the restoration of the imperial authority by establishing in Kyoto an assembly of daimyo to debate matters of policy under the emperor, he was always in touch with two of the triumvirate of Satsuma, Saigo and Komatsu Tatewaki小松帶刀. Through the help and diplomacy of these two Tosa men representing each side, cooperation became possible. Satsuma promised to help Choshu to buy a warship with 7,300 rifles; in return Choshu leaders promised to silence home opposition to prepare for the alliance; in face of the approaching Bakufu force, an alliance would be formed with Bizen備前, Aki安藝, Chikuzen筑前 and, Satsuma.
Eventually, a secret but formal agreement was reached for both sides.


If the Bakufu goes to war against Choshu, then Satsuma will send troops to secure Kyoto


If Choshu should win the war, Satsuma would mediate on its behalf at the Court


If Choshu should appear to be losing the war, Satsuma would do all that was possible on its behalf.


If there is no war, Satsuma will mediate for Choshu at the Court.


If Satsuma is absolutely unable to mediate because of Bakufu interference, Aizu or Kuwana ill go to war against the Bakufu.


Pardoned by the Court, Choshu will join Satsuma in working for the glory of the Imperial country.

Although the alliance was kept secret both to the Bakufu and the samurai of both han, it "was the second great step in the movement to overthrow the Bakufu, second in importance only to the Choshu civil war. ... As said by Nakaoka, 'I see, as in a mirror, that in the near future the entire country will be following the commands of Satsuma and Choshu.'" (p. 319) Thereafter, despite the Bakufu's struggle to strive under the last shogun, Keiki, after the failure of the Second Choshu Expedition, the Kyoto Court was dominated by the extremist nobles again after the death of Emperor Komei孝明in December 1866 whilst most of the daimyo just waited and saw. They regarded it too dangerous to turn against the Bakufu but too folly to support it. Only Tosa made attempt to mediate but to no avail. Eventually, all was settled by force. With the outbreaks of the Satsuma-led coup and the civil war in 1868-69, the Meiji Restoration came out and the 268-year Shogunal rule was gone.


Table 1: The Great Han of Tokugawa Japan



Productivity (o)

Productivity (a)















































Table 2: The Number of Samurai officially stipulated

Size of domains (koku)

Number of Samurai











Table 3: Choshu Governments from 1840-1868

Tempo Reform Tsuboi Reform 1st Ansei 2nd Ansei/National politics



1853-55 (M/S)(T/M)

1857-64 (M/S)

1865-68 (L)

M/S: Murata-Sufu Clique T/M: Tsuboi-Mukunashi Clique L: Loyalist Clique

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