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.