The Matsura family who ruled the Hirado domain during the Edo period (1603-1868) can trace its origins back to the Heian period (794-1185). The family participated in various events that shaped Japan such as the battle of Dan-no-ura (1185) and the Mongol invasions of Japan (1274 and 1281).
During the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and the Nanboku-cho period (1333-1392) the Matsura family controlled only the northern parts of Hirado island and Ojika island. They were merely one of the houses that formed a military naval alliance called the Matsura Naval Faction. During the Muromachi period (1336-1573), the Matsura family continued to extend their influence and power within this faction and ultimately became the rulers over the region during the Sengoku period (1467-1603). The Hirado domain included modern day Sasebo, the Northern Matsura peninsula, Iki island and parts of the Goto islands. The profits from the international trade and the access to firearms are considered to be the main reasons behind this expansion.
In 1587, during his Kyushu Campaign, Toyotomi Hideyoshi recognized the Hirado domain of Matsura Shigenobu (1549-1614). As a result, the matsura family was ordered to participate in the Hideyoshi’s Japanese invasion of Korea (Imjin War) where they had to fight for seven years.
At the battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa Ieyasu gained control over Japan by defeating the Toyotomi forces and established the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo (Tokyo). Since the Matsura family were originally aligned to Toyotomi they were under suspicion. In 1613, Matsura Shigenobu burnt his newly built castle in Hirado to the ground to show his support for the Tokugawa shogunate.
The relation turned for the better during the rule of the 5th Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. Under Tsunayoshi’s rule the 4th and 5th lords of Hirado, Matsura Shigenobu (1623-1703) and Hirado Matsura Takashi (1646-1713), were appointed positions in the government. Especially Matsura Takashi was highly valued as he was promoted to be the national commissioner for shrines and temples. He was the first daimyo with a non Tokugawa allied background to be promoted to this important position.
Before the Edo period with its closed door policy, the Matsura family were one of the few families that ruled through foreign diplomacy by having the Dutch and the English Trading Posts established in Hirado. Later the family provided some well known cultured figures such as Matsura Kiyoshi (Seizan) who was also called the Arts and Sciences daimyo. It fell upon Matsura Akira, the 37th head of the Matsura family, to step down as ruler of the Hirado domain after the abolishment of the feudal system in 1871, ending centuries of Matsura family rule over the area that had continued since the 12th century.