Sai On (1682-1761)
Finally, the last and perhaps most influential figure to steer Ryukyu’s direction was Sai On (Gushi-chan Bunjaku). Sai On was pro-Chinese like Tei Junsoku, but also pragmatic. He was appointed to the Sanshikan in 1728, and retired in 1752. Sai On used the tension created between the two prior views – pro Japan vs. pro China - to produce a new vision, and based it on Confucianism.
Sai On’s Early Years and Government Affairs
Sai On was very much involved in affairs of the country. In 1718 he dredged Naha harbor, which had filled with silt. In 1719 Sai On moderated a tense situation known as Hangaa in Okinawan, or Hyoka in Japanese, or the “Valuation Incident”. A Chinese mission had arrived with goods that it expected to sell, valued at 2,000 kanme of silver, but Ryukyu had only 500 kanme. The Chinese traders were quite upset, but Sai On was somehow able to calm the situation.
“The Way of Government”
- Unchangeable fate
- Fate that humans have the capacity to alter
What Makes a Country
Countries could be divided into nine grades according to their resources as follows:
- Based on a country’s total resources one could separate countries into superior, median and inferior levels.
- Each of these divisions could be further separated into high, middle and low based on how those resources were used or spent.
- The basic resources were water, fire, earth, wood, and metal.
- To be prosperous, a nation required all five elements.
Basic Resources for
- Water, fire, and earth are ubiquitous to all countries, therefore not the deciding difference.
- Wood and metal are the key elements to address in order to build up a country’s greatness.
- The Ryukyu Kingdom lacked metal but was rich in wood.
- Therefore, by exporting wood to Satsuma and importing metal from them in return, the Satsuma overlords allowed Ryukyu to have all five elements and to be complete.
More Changes for the
Changes in ritual and
Changes in Material
- Old bent trees were cut down in many small semicircular blocks.
- A thin ring of old growth was left in place, forming an interconnected network of semicircular old growth shells, in a honeycomb network.
- This protected the young trees from the wind, allowing them to grow tall and straight.
- He also used Ryukyu pines (called “Sai On” pines) as windbreakers, especially on roads.
- A thick sturdy shrub called adan was planted in between the spaces between trees, and together this made a natural wall that was thick and tall.
- This method was also used to protect field and crops from wind and waves. It was used along rivers and ditches too.
Control of local
religion and social practices:
As one example, mourning rites traditionally lasted 49 days. Since it was typically the case that everyone in an entire village was related, this meant that no one in the village worked in the fields for that entire time.
Sai On’s Supporters
- Peasants did not like his attempts to change their religion and culture, and therefore gave passive resistance when they could.
- The Elite of Kumemura felt themselves in a rivalry with Shuri royalty for influence, and for control of Confucian schools and teachers.
- Tei Junsoku and his followers had strong differences of opinion with Sai On’s views on Japan’s role in Ryukyu’s wealth and future.
Legend says that Heshikiya Chobin and the daughter of Shō Kei had been in love, and that when he was executed, she threw herself from the castle walls, committing suicide. Only her leg was found, and from then on a particular pavilion in the castle's gardens came to be known as "One-Leg Pavilion" (Kunra gushiku).
“One Man’s Views”
In 1750 Sai On wrote a treatise entitled “One Man’s Views” (Hitori Monogatari), which was an outline of key policy issues he documented for the benefit of future generations. His points were that:
- Satsuma’s control of Okinawa has been beneficial to Ryukyu.
- Even poor small countries can achieve peace and prosperity if they only adhere closely to “fundamental principles” of the “Way of Government.”
- Ryukyu has obligations to both China and Japan which it cannot fulfill, and yet it has survived. Why? His answer was geomancy:
- The Okinawa mountain ranges all connect to form a shape like a dragon.
- Dragons are associated with concentrations of material energies.
- This geographical arrangement and concentration of energies helped Ryukyu in the past despite the lack of the “Way of Government”.
- Satsuma had brought to Ryukyu the “Way of Government”.
Wikipedia: Sai On
Wikipedia: Heshikiya Chobin
Wikipedia: Pinus luchuensis