Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kublai Khan’s Mongols and Okinawa

Part of Okinawa’s history has been the balancing act it has had to play with the superpowers that surrounded it, especially China, Japan, and later the Western powers, in particular Britain and the United States.

The first recorded conflict with a foreign nation involved Kublai Khan and his Mongols.

Kublai Khan – Genghis Khan’s Grandson

Genghis Khan was a famous leader of the Mongols who conquered much of central Asia, including Persia, Turkey, southern Russia and parts or East Asia.

His grandson Kublai Khan conquered northern China and declared himself emperor in 1271, and succeeded in conquering all of China by 1279.  The capital of his new Yuan (“Original”) Dynasty moved to Beijing.  Mongols held top positions and mainly non-Chinese held second tier positions.  He is said to have not trusted the Chinese.  Three race distinctions were made:  Mongol, Other, and Chinese.  Inter-marriage between these groups was forbidden.  However all religions were tolerated provided they did not go against the empire.

During his reign over China, the Silk Road flourished.  Paper currency was introduced. Relations with the West increased. There were at least nine European embassies in the capital city. One famous visitor to his court was Marco Polo.  Arts flourished, in landscape paintings and stage plays.  A pony express type messenger system was established allowing quick communications across long distances. 

The Mongols were very good fighters on land, especially their cavalry.  They had iron stirrups which gave archers on horseback much better stability and accuracy.  They used coordinated battle formations rather than individual warrior combat.  They had gunpowder, and catapults that launched explosive bombs.  At sea, however, they were not so great at fighting.

Conquering China was not enough for Kublai Khan.  He wanted more.  He set his sights on additional conquests, in particular Japan.  This is where Okinawa comes into the story.

Kublai Khan Calls on Okinawa

In 1272 the Mongols sent an envoy to Okinawa and requested from King Eiso that the Ryukyu kingdom submit to Mongol authority, and in addition to supply them troops and other support in their upcoming campaign against Japan.  King Eiso rejected their demands and sent them away.

Khan’s First attack on Japan fails

The first attempted invasion of Japan occurred in 1274.  The Mongols set sail from Korea with 25,000 troops.  They landed at Hakata Bay in Northern Kyushu.   The Mongols had a massive cavalry, but no room to maneuver.  They also brought their catapults and bombs.  The Japanese Samurai defended with swords and bows.  After one day of fighting, the Mongols retreated to their ships.  That night a typhoon blew in and destroyed much of their fleet.  Their invasion had failed and they left.

Mongols Try to Bully Okinawa – but Fail

Kublai Khan was even more determined to invade Japan after this failure, since he concluded he had been beaten by bad weather and not by the Japanese military.  He began preparing an even more massive invasion force, and once again sent an envoy to Okinawa demanding their support.  This time a military contingent came with them.

The Okinawans refused again, and a struggle broke out.  The Mongols were finally driven away but not before taking some 130 Okinawans captive.

Second attack on Japan – the Kamikaze legend

In 1281 Khan launched a fleet of 140,000 troops to invade Japan.  Japan by this time had improved their fortifications and were ready.  The Japanese held off the Mongols from advancing a beachhead in fierce fighting from June to August.  On August 15 a large typhoon descended on the Mongol forces.  The ships in the harbor and their troops were severely battered.  Many lives were lost.  The Mongols stranded on shore were cut down by Japanese swordsmen.

This decisive battle left a strong impression on the Japanese.  It was the first time a foreign power had tried to invade their country.  The typhoon that saved them was called “Kamikaze”, or “Divine Wind of the Gods”.   The Japanese homeland would not be threatened with invasion again until 1945.  The Japanese would resurrect the image of the Kamikaze to use suicide bomber attacks against the American ships advancing toward them in World War II.

End of Mongol Rule and the New Ming Dynasty

Kublai Khan wanted to launch a third invasion attempt but by this time the country was suffering from the cost of his previous tries and other public works projects internally.  He died in 1294 and the invasion never happened. The Mongol dynasty then split into factions.  In the 1350’s and 1360’s there were a series of revolts by several secret groups.

The Yuan Dynasty of Kublai Khan finally collapsed in 1368, and a beggar-turned-revolutionary named Zhu Yuanzhang became the first emperor of the Ming (“Brilliant”) Dynasty.

Relationships between the Ming Dynasty and Okinawa would prove to be very beneficial to the Okinawan Kingdom.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Eiso Dynasty – Return to Prosperity

Eiso – From Regent to King


The last of the Shunten Dynasty kings, Gihon, saw many disasters befall Okinawa and he appointed Eiso to manage the nation’s affairs.  Eiso effectively ran the country from 1235 to 1260 as a regent under the king, when the realm was suffering very badly.  

Finally, in despair Gihon abdicated, thus ending the Shunten dynasty that his grandfather had started.   Eiso became King, starting a new family line of rulers.

Eiso’s Accomplishments – Prosperity Returns to Okinawa

Having seen the devastation that had befallen Okinawa under Gihon, Eiso realized how unprepared the country was for natural disasters.  He organized governmental institutions to build an emergency reserve to prepare for such disasters in the future. 

Eiso implemented a systematic taxation system, built warehouses of reserves, and began public works projects. He also built Shuri castle.  The government gained strength.  It was no longer just each aji as overlord of his own land, left to his own ideas about such matters.

The kingdom recovered and began to do well again.  Economic order returned. Systematic levies on rice fields and household production became law.

Eiso also began to bring the outer islands under his control.  In 1264, the islands of Kume, Kerama and Iheya began to send tribute to him.  In 1266, his rule expanded to Amami Oshima.  He built a government office in Tomari at the head of an inlet just below Shuri Castle to receive tributes. 

Foreign relations and trade also developed.  Buddhism was introduced to Okinawa during this time.  Tradition says that a shipwrecked priest named Zenkan, with Eiso’s patronage, built a temple at Urasoe named Gokurau-ji.

Kublai Khan and the Mongols Make Demands on Okinawa

In 1272, the Eiso court received a message from Kublai Khan, Mongol overlord and Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty in China.  He was getting ready to invade Japan via Korea, which he had already conquered.  His demands to Okinawa were twofold:  to submit to Mongol authority and to make a contribution to support his upcoming planned invasion of Japan. King Eiso rejected the demands and sent the envoys away. 

The Mongols did try to invade Japan in 1274, but were repelled by Japanese samurai fighting them at their beachhead, and by a typhoon that sank much of their fleet.

In 1276 the Mongols returned to Okinawa.  They were planning another attack against Japan and made the same demands for submission and assistance from Okinawa.   This time they also made a show of force but were driven off by the Okinawans.  Before they left they managed to take some 130 Okinawan captives with them. 

It turns out that the Mongols tried again to invade japan in 1281 with a much larger force of men, but again were defeated by a large typhoon that decimated their fleet.  That was Kublai Khan’s last attempt to take Japan.  It was also the battle that created the idea in Japan that their country was protected by a “Divine Wind of the Gods” or “Kamikaze.”  Such a belief would last until the end of World War II.

King Eiso’s Successors

Eiso ruled successfully until his death in 1299. The next two descendant kings ruled uneventfully and continued with progressive actions started by Eiso, but in 1314 an heir named Tamagusuku became king at age 19.

Tamagusuku did not continue the strong governance of his ancestors and did not follow his predecessors’ footsteps.  His poor leadership led to the loss of loyalty of several aji, and consequently the island split into three separate territories. 

The “Three Kingdoms”

Fed up with Tamagusuku’s leadership, the Lord of Osato left Urasoe and returned to his own castle in the south of Okinawa Island near present day Itoman.  He declared himself King of Nanzan (Southern Mountain).   Likewise, the Lord of Nakijin castle in the Motobu Peninsula to the north declared independence from Tamagusuku and made himself king of Hokuzan (Northern Mountain).

This left Tamagusuku as king of only the Chuzan (Central Mountain) area.  He had authority over only Urasoe, Shuri, and Naha.  But because of his superior trading ports he was still the wealthiest of the three kingdoms.

Okinawa effectively became three kingdoms, each with its own “king”, army, farm and fishing resources, and trading ports.

The Eiso Line Ends and Satto Rules Chuzan

At Tamagusukus' death in 1336 at the age of 40, the throne of Chuzan passed to his 10 year old son Seii.  The kingdom was basically ruled by his mother, however, and she was not popular.  Seii died in 1349 at the age of 23.

Upon Seii’s death, the governor of Urasoe, a man named Satto, took the throne of Chuzan, thereby starting a new dynasty.  A farsighted man, he would bring great changes to Ryukyu. Satto would be the man to accept relations with the Chinese Ming Dynasty and be named the king of the Ryukyu Kingdom by the Chinese emperor.  Satto would form the Sho Dynasty and reunite the country.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Shunten: The First Okinawan King of Historical Record

Shunten - First Recorded Ryukyu King

Shunten was the son of legendary warrior Minamoto Tametomo.  Raised by his Okinawan mother, he became lord of Urasoe at age 15.  At age 22 he became king after leading a successful attack on the traitor Riyu who had betrayed and poisoned the previous ruler.

King Shunten is the first recorded king of the Ryukyu Islands.  Whether he was really “king” of all Okinawa or simply a very powerful chieftain is debated among scholars. 

He started a family dynasty that  would end after a series of disasters befell his grandson’s reign as king. Up until then it was a time of relative peace and harmony.  Shunten was a good leader. He had the loyalty of the other aji and brought peace and prosperity to the land.

Shunten ruled until his death in 1237 at the age of 71 years.  He had a  50 year reign.  During his time he did much to develop the political, economic and social lives of the Okinawan people.  His dynasty lasted only two more generations, ending in 1259.

King Shumba-Junki – Shunten’s Son

Upon Shunten’s death the throne passed to his son Shumba-Junki who  ruled from 1238 to his death in 1248.  He was also considered a good ruler, and the kingdom had much prosperity.

Progress for the Okinawan people continued.  His reign saw the construction of Shuri castle.  He introduced the kana phonetic system of writing.  New clothing styles and headdresses came into fashion. 

Gihon – the Last of the Line

When Shumba-Junki died, he passed the throne to his son and Shunten's grandson, Gihon.  Gihon was 44 years old in the year 1248.  He was an unlucky king. 

During his reign the islands were struck with many typhoons and floods that destroyed crops, followed by famine, and sickness.  It is said that over half the population died.   Distraught over the deteriorating conditions, he appointed a regent named Eiso to manage the affairs of the country. 

Finally, despondent over what had befallen the kingdom, he abdicated and went into self-imposed exile in the wilderness.   It is said that he vanished somewhere in the hills at the remote northern tip of the island at Heda-misaki. 

The regent Eiso became king in 1260 and launched the Eiso dynasty which was to last  five  generations.

Meanwhile  in Japan - The Shogun and Samurai Warriors

 The Minamoto clan had taken over rule of mainland Japan in 1185. The first military dictator, or Shogun, a man named Minamoto no Yoritomo, moved the capital from Kyoto to Kamakura and continued to consolidate his power there. 

The word “samurai” originally meant “one who serves”.  In Japan, Yoritomo established the samurai class as a privileged and regulated military order.  The term became virtually synonymous with “bushi” or warrior.  The samurai followed a code of conduct referred to as “bushido”.  Samurai typically fought on horseback in full armor.  Other fighting men fought on foot and had lighter armor. Zen (Chan) Buddhism was introduced from China at this time.  It was widely accepted by the military class as a direct means to enlightenment through self-discipline and inner control. 

The evolution of “samurai” to mean only “bushi” did not happen in Okinawa.  Okinawans had warriors, but they maintained the distinction.

And in China - The Song  and Jin Dynasties and Kublai Khan

During this time China was split into the Song dynasty in the south and the Jin Dynasty in the north.  The Song dynasty invented many things including the abacus, printing press, and gunpowder.  Arts and culture also flourished.  They were in constant skirmishes with the Jin Dynasty.  The Mongols, led by Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, were also a threat.

The Okinawans would have an encounter with Kublai Khan’s forces in 1272, shortly after Eiso became king.

Next Post:  Eiso Dynasty

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The First Okinawan Dynasty and the Legend of Tametomo

The Tenson Dynasty

The first line of kings in Okinawa was called the Tenson Dynasty or “Dynasty of Heavenly Descent.”  According to legend, the Tenson dynasty lasted over 17,000 years and had 25 kings in succession.  The first king was a direct descendant of Amamikyo, the Sun Goddess of Okinawa.  The dynasty came to an end in 1185 by violent means.

Little is known about this period of history, since it precedes any written records of Okinawa.  What we do know is based on a version of history written by Japanese historians in the 1600’s, over 400 years after the fact.

As the story goes, the 25th Tenson king was overthrown by one of his retainers named Riyu.  In 1185 the treacherous Riyu poisoned the king, led a revolt, and declared himself the new king. 

Immediately following the Riyu insurrection, a man named Sonton led a counter revolt of aji  lords who were still loyal to the former Tenson throne.   Sonton’s forces defeated and killed Riyu.  Sonton was proclaimed King Shunten in 1187. He ruled for 50 years, and his family line ruled for another two generations.

Fact vs. Legend

Most historians agree that the story has been modified to justify Japan’s “divine right” to oversee Okinawa because it links Shunten's lineage to the Minamoto clan.  The Minamoto descendants  ruled Japan at the time this history was written.  They also controlled the Ryukyu kingdom following the Satsuma invasion of 1609. A political motivation existed to justify the linkage to Okinawa.  The connection of the Ryukyu kings to the Minamoto family was a “politically correct “move.

What we do know is that feudal society in Okinawa developed over a period of time from the 700's through the 1100's. Many local chieftains or warlords called aji grew to power, and fought each other for resources.  Over time, some would be more successful than others.  Rivalries and treachery would certainly have existed.

We also know that in 1185 the powerful Taira clan in Japan lost a war for control of that country.  Many Taira warriors fled to the Ryukyu Islands then.  They brought much knowledge with them that would have been helpful to the local aji in Okinawa.  Some speculate that a Taira clan connection to Shunten may actually be more likely than the Minamoto story.   

Nevertheless, it is a great story, full of heroism, romance and tragedy.  Here it is.

The Legend of Minamoto no Tametomo, Father of King Shunten

The first emperor of Japan was a child of the Sun Goddess.  In the 9th century, his grandson, emperor Kammu, founded the Taira family.  In the 10th century another grandson named Seiwa founded the Minamoto family.  Five generations later, Minamoto no Tametomo was born.

In 1156 Minamoto no Tametomo led an unsuccessful attack to claim the throne of Japan.  He was defeated by Taira no Kiyomori.  As punishment for his treason, Tametomo was banished to the Izu Peninsula in Japan.  Banishment to remote parts of the country or outer islands was a common form of exile and punishment, as an alternative to immediate execution, for example.

Stories vary on how Tametomo made it from Izu Peninsula to Okinawa, but somehow he did.  Once there, he struck up a friendly relationship with Lord Osato, one of the local aji.  Shortly thereafter, a marriage was arranged between Tametomo and Lord Osato's daughter.

They had one son, who they named Sonton.

Tametomo did not stay long in Okinawa. He was anxious to return to Japan.  As the story goes, he was never able to do so.  On the way there, he and his men engaged in a battle with superior Japanese forces.  Finding himself surrounded  Tametomo chose to commit ritual suicide (seppuku or hara kiri) rather than surrender.  This is claimed to be the first such ceremonial suicide.

Meanwhile, Sonton and his mother were abandoned and settled in Urasoe.  There they waited for Tametomo’s return, which of course never came.  The harbor they overlooked is today called Machi-minato or "waiting harbor".  Shunten was raised to manhood by his mother.

At age 15, Sonton inherited the throne of Osato, and became lord of Urasoe castle.  In 1187 at age 22, he led the successful campaign against the traitor Riyu (discussed above) and became King Shunten .  

Next:  the Shunten Dynasty.