Chōshū Domain

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Color of Chōshū army at Boshin war.

The Chōshū Domain (長州藩 Chōshū han?) was a feudal domain of Japan during the Edo period (1603–1867).[1] It occupied the whole of modern-day Yamaguchi Prefecture. The capital city was Hagi. The name Chōshū was shorthand for Nagato Province. The domain played a major role in the Late Tokugawa shogunate. It is also known as the Hagi Domain (萩藩 Hagi han?).[1]


The rulers of Chōshū were the descendants of the great Sengoku warlord Mōri Motonari. Motonari was able to extend his power over all of the Chūgoku region of Japan and occupied a territory worth 1,200,000 koku. After he died, his grandson and heir Mōri Terumoto became daimyo and implemented a strategy of alliance with Toyotomi Hideyoshi. This would later prove to be a great mistake. After Hideyoshi's death, the daimyo Tokugawa Ieyasu challenged the Toyotomi power and battled with Hideyoshi's trusted advisor Ishida Mitsunari at the Battle of Sekigahara. Mōri Terumoto was the most powerful ally of the Toyotomi and was elected by a council of Toyotomi loyalists to be the titulary head of the Toyotomi force. However the Toyotomi forces lost the battle due to several factors tied to Mōri Terumoto:

  • His cousin Kikkawa Hiroie secretly made a deal with Tokugawa Ieyasu resulting in the inactivity of 15,000 Mōri soldiers during the battle.
  • His adopted cousin Kobayakawa Hideaki and his 15,600 soldiers betrayed Ishida and joined the Tokugawa side.
  • After assurances from Tokugawa Ieyasu, Terumoto gave up the formidable Osaka castle without a fight.

Despite its inactivity, the Mōri clan was removed from its ancestral home in Aki to Nagato Province (also known as Chōshū), and its holdings were drastically reduced from 1,200,000 to 369,000 koku.

This was seen as a great act of betrayal to the Mōri clan, and Chōshū later became a hotbed of anti-Tokugawa activities. The origins of this were evident in the tradition of the clan's New Year's meeting. Every year during the meeting, the elders and the administrators would ask the daimyo whether the time to overthrow the shogunate has come, to which the daimyo would reply: "Not yet, the shogunate is still too powerful."

This dream would eventually be realized some 260 years later, when the domain joined forces with the Satsuma Domain and sympathetic court nobles to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. They also led the fight against the armies of the former shogun, which included the Ouetsu Reppan Domei, Aizu, and the Ezo Republic, during the Boshin War. The domains' military forces of 1867 through 1869 also formed the foundation for the Imperial Japanese Army. Thanks to this alliance, Chōshū and Satsuma natives enjoyed political and societal prominence well into the Meiji and even Taishō eras.


The Chōshū Kiheitai fought against the Shogunate in the Second Chōshū expedition and the Boshin war.

The initial reducing of 1.2 million to 369,000 koku resulted in a large shortfall in terms of military upkeep and infrastructure maintenance, despite which the domain remained the seventh-largest in Japan outside the shogunate-controlled domains. In order to bring the domain's finances out of debt, strict policies were enforced on the retainers:

  • All retainers' fiefs were drastically reduced.
  • Some retainers who were paid in land began to be paid in rice.
  • Some retainers were laid off and encouraged to engage in agriculture.

Previously, as a result of high taxation, farmers secretly developed farms far inside the mountains as a private food source. A new land survey was conducted within the domain in which many hidden farms were discovered and taxed. The domain also began a strict policy with regard to trade.

Laws were also passed in which the profitable trade of the "four white"s were controlled by the domain: paper, rice, salt, and wax. Some of the profits, and a large amount of the tax revenues from this trade, went into the domain coffers.

These policies greatly strengthened the domain's finances and allowed the daimyo more effective control over his territory. However, these policies angered peasants and displaced samurai alike, resulting in frequent revolts.


The capital of the domain was the castle town of Hagi, which was the source of Chōshū's alternate name of Hagi han (萩藩).

The domain remained under the rule of the Mōri family for the duration of the Edo period. Because the shogunate frequently confiscated domains whose daimyo were unable to produce heirs, the Mōri daimyo created four subordinate han ruled by branches of the family:

During the Edo period, the main branch died out in 1707, after which heirs were adopted from the Chōfu branch, which also became extinct in 1751. The family then continued through the Kiyosue branch.

The Mōri daimyo, as with many of his counterparts throughout Japan, was assisted in the government of his domain by a group of karō, or domain elders. There were two kinds of karō in Chōshū: hereditary karō (whose families retained the rank in perpetuity) and the "lifetime karō," whose rank was granted to an individual but could not be inherited by his son.

The hereditary karō were either members of minor branches of the Mōri family, or members of related families such as the Shishido and the Fukuhara, or descendants of Mōri Motonari's most trusted generals and advisors such as the Mazuda, the Kuchiba and the Kunishi.

The lifetime karō were middle or lower samurai who displayed great talent in economics or politics and was promoted to karō by the daimyo. One such person was the great reformer Murata Seifu.

List of daimyo

Name Tenure
0 Mōri Terumoto (毛利輝元?) 1563–1623
1 Mōri Hidenari (毛利秀就 ?) 1623–1651
2 Mōri Tsunahiro (毛利綱広?) 1651–1682
3 Mōri Yoshinari (毛利吉就?) 1682–1694
4 Mōri Yoshihiro (毛利吉広?) 1694–1707
5 Mōri Yoshimoto (毛利吉元?) 1707–1731
6 Mōri Munehiro (毛利宗広?) 1731–1751
7 Mōri Shigetaka (毛利重就?) 1751–1782
8 Mōri Haruchika (毛利治親?) 1782–1791
9 Mōri Narifusa (毛利斉房?) 1791–1809
10 Mōri Narihiro (毛利斉熙?) 1809–1824
11 Mōri Narimoto (毛利斉元?) 1824–1836
12 Mōri Naritō (毛利斉広?) 1836
13 Mōri Takachika (毛利敬親?) 1836–1869
14 Mōri Motonori (毛利元徳?) 1869–1871

Simplified family tree of the main Mōri line (Lords of Chōshū)

  • Mōri Motonari (1497–1571)
    • Takamoto (1523–1563)
      • Simple silver crown.svg I. Terumoto, 1st Lord of Chōshū (cr. 1600) (1553–1625; r. 1600–1623)
        • Simple silver crown.svg II. Hidenari, 2nd Lord of Chōshū (1595–1651; r. 1623–1651)
          • Simple silver crown.svg III. Tsunahiro, 3rd Lord of Chōshū (1639–1689; r. 1651–1682)
            • Simple silver crown.svg IV. Yoshinari, 4th Lord of Chōshū (1668–1694; r. 1682–1694).
            • Simple silver crown.svg V. Yoshihiro, 5th Lord of Chōshū (1673–1707; r. 1694–1707)
        • Naritaka, 1st Lord of Tokuyama (1602–1679)
          • Mototsugu, 3rd Lord of Tokuyama (1667–1719)
            • Hirotoyo, 5th Lord of Tokuyama (1705–1773)
              • Nariyoshi, 7th Lord of Tokuyama (1750–1828)
                • Hiroshige, 8th Lord of Tokuyama (1777–1866)
                  • Simple silver crown.svg XV. Motonori, 15th Lord of Chōshū, 1st Prince (1839–1896; r. 1869, Governor of Hagi 1869–1871, family head 1871–1896, created 1st Prince 1884)
                    • Motoaki, 29th family head, 2nd Prince (1865–1938; 29th family head and 2nd Prince 1896–1938)
                      • Motomichi, 30th family head, 3rd Prince (1903–1976; 30th family head 1938–1976, 3rd Prince to 1947)
                        • Motoyoshi, 31st family head (1930- ; 31st family head 1976-)
                          • Motoei (born 1967)
    • Motokiyo (1551–1597)
      • Hidemoto, 1st Lord of Chōfū (1579–1650)
        • Mitsuhiro, 2nd Lord of Chōfū (1616–1653)
          • Tsunamoto, 3rd Lord of Chōfū (1650–1709)
            • Simple silver crown.svg VI. Yoshimoto, 6th Lord of Chōshū (1677–1731; r. 1707–1731)
              • Simple silver crown.svg VII. Munehiro, 7th Lord of Chōshū (1715–1751; r. 1731–1751)
        • Mototomo, 1st Lord of Kiyosue (1631–1683)
          • Masahiro, 6th Lord of Chōfū, 2nd Lord of Kiyosue (1675–1729)
            • Simple silver crown.svg VIII. Shigetaka, 8th Lord of Chōshū (1725–1789; r. 1751–1782)
              • Simple silver crown.svg IX. Haruchika, 9th Lord of Chōshū (1754–1791; r. 1782–1791)
                • Simple silver crown.svg X. Narifusa, 10th Lord of Chōshū (1779–1809; r. 1791–1809)
                • Simple silver crown.svg XI. Narihiro, 11th Lord of Chōshū (1784–1836; r. 1809–1824)
                  • Simple silver crown.svg XIII. Naritō, 13th Lord of Chōshū (1815–1836; r. 1836).
              • Chikaaki (1766–1800)
                • Simple silver crown.svg XII. Narimoto, 12th Lord of Chōshū (1794–1836; r. 1824–1836)
                  • Simple silver crown.svg XIV. Takachika, 14th Lord of Chōshū (1819–1871; r. 1836–1869)


Famous people

Middle Edo period
Bakumatsu period
Meiji statesmen
Imperial Japanese Army personnel
Imperial Japanese Navy personnel
  • Inoue Koichi (pen-name: Inoue Kenkabō) (1870–1934), journalist and writer of senryū (short, humorous verse)
  • Aikawa Yoshisuke (1880–1967) Japanese entrepreneur, businessman, and politician, founder and first president of the Nissan zaibatsu (1931–1945)

See also


Further reading

  • Bakufu seichō kiroku 幕府征長記錄 (1973). Edited by Nihon Shiseki Kyōkai 日本史籍協會. Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai.
  • Craig, Albert M (1961). Chōshū in the Meiji restoration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Huber, Thomas M. (1981). The Revolutionary Origins of Modern Japan. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  • Ogawa Ayako 小川亜弥子 (1998). Bakumatsuki Chōshū-han yōgakushi no kenkyū 幕末期長州藩洋学史の研究. Tokyo: Shibunkaku Shuppan.