The Land of Samurai: Kagoshima
Samurai are a well-known part of Japanese history and often one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about Japan. The Samurai warrior class first came about in the Heian Period (710 – 1185) and continued to exist until Emperor Meiji abolished the class in the late 19th century. From an outsider’s point of view, samurai are seen as powerful fierce warriors with no fear. While this is true on the battlefield, the lifestyle of samurai is not quite what you would expect. They were trained to have an inner peace to keep their mind calm while also be very literate, well educated, and often versed in culture and arts.
Satsuma, present day Kagoshima, was truly a land of samurai. Satsuma put an emphasis on the samurai class, which included education, training, and preparing the young for the next generation. During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), it is estimated that throughout Japan, the samurai class was roughly 5% of the total population. Kagoshima, at the same time, had more than a remarkable 25% samurai population. These samurai were not just the fierce warriors that are known oversees, but many of them were political leaders, inventors, exchange students, and more.
Near the end of the samurai times, the samurai spirit continued to live strong in Kagoshima. While Kagoshima was very progressive, being one of the first areas of Japan to seek knowledge and exchange from the western world, the spirit and core thinking to protect Japanese ways was perhaps the strongest in Japan. Even now, this “samurai spirit” is often still considered to remain in Kagoshima and it is often said that men of Kagoshima can be very thick-headed and stubborn.
While it depends on who you ask, it is widely recognized that the last samurai were from Kagoshima. The last samurai conflict/battle took place in Kagoshima during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. This is also when the famous Saigo Takamori, known as the last true samurai, died in battle. The Hollywood movie, “The Last Samurai,” was based on these events.
There are many historic “samurai neighborhoods” known as Bukeyashiki throughout Kagoshima, but there are a few places in particular that are worth noting.
Izumi Fumoto Bukeyashiki: This was the first line of defense for Satsuma and therefore a powerful district that still remains today. There are some old houses, a history museum, art museum, shrine, and more located in the neighborhood. You can also enjoy some activities such as kimono wearing, tea ceremony, water buffalo carriage ride, and more.
Iriki Bukeyashiki: Located in Satsuma Sendai City, This neighborhood has a very historic feeling with the rock walls all throughout the residential area. There is also a hill with castle remains that makes for a nice walk through the woods.
Chiran Bukeyashiki: This neighborhood is a collection of Japanese Gardens. Each garden offers an intro to different styles of Japanese gardens and how the natural features on the landscape, such as mountains, can be used as part of a garden.
Marutake: This company produces over 90% of genuine samurai armor to be used in historic movies, tv shows, etc. This year, they open a new facility in Satsuma Sendai City with over 200 sets of armor on display, factory tours, and more.
Finally, Senganen in Kagoshima City, is the best place to get an introduction to the history of Kagoshima. It belongs to the Shimadzu family which ruled of Kagoshima for hundreds of years