Hirado History

Facing the sea and open to the world in an era when the rest of Japan was closed, Hirado was a gateway to the world and played an interesting role in Japanese history. Learn how other countries came, what happened to the castle and the people who ruled the area, and how a unique culture flourished.
Hirado has mesmerized people from throughout the world since ancient times and building lasting relationships has always been important. Hirado flourished as a center of international trade, and has many buildings and sites that speak of its exotic history. Even today it is still a gateway to the world and continues to build and maintain relationships with people around the globe.
A beautiful townscape crowned by the presence of this magnificent castle; a sight that will surely stand the test of time.

1543 A Portuguese ship is cast up on the shore of Tanegashima. Guns are introduced into Japan.


A Portuguese ship sails into Hirado for the first time.

In 1550, the arrival of a Portuguese ship brings Western culture to Japan and a new era begins. Seeing the potential benefits from trading with the Portuguese, Matsura Takanobu allows Christianity to spread in his domain, and Hirado becomes a regular port of call for Portuguese vessels. Hirado becomes known as a trading center and as the best port in Japan.

1551 A Portuguese ship sails into Hirado for the first time.
1587 The Matsura clan takes part in Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s conquest of Kyushu. Hideyoshi issues a shogunal charter guaranteeing that Matsura Shigenobu may keep his domain. An edict is issued prohibiting Christianity.


Construction of Hirado Castle is commenced (Hinotake Castle).

The Hirado clan sees the need to expand the castle and develop the town in order to build unity among their vassals and consolidate governance over their territory. In 1599, Matsura Shigenobu (later called Ho-in) commences construction of a new castle in Kameoka (Hinotake). According to Koyoroku, the Hirado Clan Journal, the castle is completed 12 years later.

1600 The Battle of Sekigahara is fought. The Dutch ship Liefde is cast ashore at Bungo. The East India Company is founded as a British joint-stock company.
1603 The rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate starts in Edo (Tokyo).
1609 A Dutch ship arrives in Hirado. The Dutch Trading Post opens in Hirado.
1613 A British ship sails into Hirado. The British Trading Post opens in Hirado.


Hirado Castle is burnt down.

In August 1613, Matsura Shigenobu (later called Ho-in) shockingly sets fire to his new castle at Hinotake (the same place as the current Hirado Castle) just after it was completed. It is said that Shigenobu, who had close ties with Toyotomi, did this to dispel suspicions of disloyalty to the Tokugawa shogunate. For the next 100 years until the castle is rebuilt, the Matsura clan bases themselves in the otachi (the mansion), the site of the present-day Matsura Historical Museum.

1616 Trade with the Dutch and English is restricted to Hirado and Nagasaki.
1619 The Dutch-Anglo Alliance is formed in Hirado.
1623 The British Trading Post in Hirado is closed.
1624 Zheng Chenggong, future leader of the Ming loyalist movement opposing the Qing Dynasty, is born in Hirado.
1633 Voyages outside of Japan are prohibited for vessels unless licensed to trade overseas by the Tokugawa shogunate (1st National Seclusion Order).
1637 The Shimabara rebellion occurs. Matsura Shigenobu (later called Tensho) becomes the 4th Lord of Hirado.
1639 Visits by Portuguese ships are banned.
1640 The Dutch Trading Post and other facilities in Hirado are ordered destroyed.
1641 The Dutch Trading Post is closed and relocated to Dejima, Nagasaki.


Matsura Shigenobu (later called Tensho) starts a new tea ceremony style for samurai and calls it Chinshin-style.

Matsura Shigenobu (later called Tensho) works to improve governance and aspects of culture, such as poetry and the tea ceremony. In establishing the Chinshin-style of tea ceremony, he adopts the style of Katagiri Sekishu, who later becomes the tea instructor for the Shogunate, as a base, and improves it by adopting certain aspects from other styles. He uses the tea ceremony as a venue to hone the minds of his samurai, based on the idea that samurai should have an understanding of culture.

1691 Matsura Takashi became the national commissioner for temples and shrines in the Shogunate government.


Reconstruction of Hirado Castle begins.

In the time of Matsura Shigenobu (later called Tensho), administration of the official activities of the domain becomes difficult due to the small size of the Matsura mansion. His son Takashi is appointed National Commissioner for Temples and Shrines under Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s new “outside” daimyo (feudal lord) policy whereby a daimyo who was not a hereditary vassal of the Tokugawa family could become a daimyo and participate in the Shogunate government. Takashi takes this opportunity to start rebuilding Hirado Castle. He spends a total of 1080 kan of silver (about 4,050 kg) and 543,000 laborers complete the work in 1718.

1775 Matsura Kiyoshi (later called Seizan) becomes the 9th Lord of the domain.
1779 Kiyoshi establishes Ishinkan, a school for the domain, and establishes Rakusaido Library inside Hirado Castle.
1813 Ino Tadataka visits Hirado during his 8th survey.


Matsura Kiyoshi (later called Seizan) starts writing his essay Kasshi Yawa.

Kiyoshi becomes well known as a writer during the late Edo period. After leaving the post of daimyo, he moves to Edo and becomes good friends with Hayashi Jussai, who is head of the Shogunate schools. There, at the recommendation of Hayashi, on the night of an auspicious day in November 1821, Kiyoshi starts writing essays called Kasshi Yawa, meaning “a story for a night.” He writes on just about on every topic: politics, foreign relationship, the lives of commoners, and culture. He continues to write, completing 278 volumes on about 7000 topics by the time he passes away at the age of 82. Duplicates and hand-written copies of these essays are now designated as Prefectural Cultural Assets.

1835 Aiko, daughter of Kiyoshi (later called Seizan), gives birth to Yoshiko, who will go on to become the mother of Emperor Meiji.
1850 Yoshida Shoin comes to study in Hirado.
1852 Emperor Meiji is born to Emperor Komei and Nakayama Yoshiko, the grand-daughter of Matsura Kiyoshi.
1853 Commodore Matthew Perry arrives off the coast of Uraga in his “Black Ships.”


The ports of Nagasaki, Hakodate, and Kanagawa are opened to foreign vessels.

In 1854, one year after the arrival of the Black Ships, the Shogunate signs the Japan-US Treaty of Peace and Amity (Kanagawa Treaty), and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the US in 1858. The same kind of treaty is signed with Holland, Russia, England, and France. In 1859, in accordance with those treaties, trade with foreign countries is permitted through Nagasaki, Hakodate, and Kanagawa. The Sonno-joi movement is started in an attempt to reinstitute the reign of the Emperor, which brings turmoil to Japanese society.

1860 More foreign ships start to arrive. A fort is established in Hirado Strait.
1867 The Shogunate relinquishes its power, bringing the 260-year Edo period to a close.
1868 During the Boshin War, Hirado warriors who are in Kyoto join the Battle of Toba-Fushimi.