Early Years of Struggle
Born on Iheya Island, Kanemaro was the son of a farmer. When he was 20 years old, he lost both his parents, we don’t know how. That left him to take care of his uncle, aunt, older sister, and young brother. He married a local girl.
He was a very skilled farmer and consistently had better crop yields than his neighbors. However, after a while suspicions arose about his methods. One year during a drought, he was accused of stealing water from others to water his fields. This was a crime punishable by death. Afraid for his life, one night he abandoned his family and fled Iheya to avoid his certain punishment. He went to Ginama, which is at the northern end of Okinawa Island.
Life in Ginama for him lasted only five or six years, until once again he got into trouble with his neighbors there (we don’t know why).
Entry into Royal Circles
At this point he moved to Shuri, and managed to get a job with the Sho Taikyu household. Kanemaro was a good manager and rose quickly in the ranks. When Sho Taikyu became king, Kanemaro was appointed treasurer. He held this position until the death of Sho Taikyu and the rise of Sho Toku as the new king.
Unhappy with Sho Toku’s actions, especially his misguided military adventures that spent the kingdom’s money but brought no reward in return, Kanemaro resigned his treasurer position. He, along with several other local aji, retired to their country estates. There he these aji are rumored to have planned the overthrow Sho Toku.
As noted in my last post about the end of the First Sho Dynasty, his scheme was successful and Kanemaro became King Sho En, founder of the second Sho Dynasty. He is considered among the ranks of Satto and Hashi as one of Okinawa’s great leaders.
King Sho En’s Contributions to Okinawa
As king, Sho En took steps to establish himself as ruler, protect his new position and ensure that his family line would endure as head of the kingdom. He applied to the Ming Dynasty for recognition, and banned heirs of Sho Toku from any high office. Furthermore Sho Toku’s heirs were not allowed to marry into the new royal family.
More importantly, he took several steps to shift the regime of Okinawa from the personal rule of a magnetic and charming leader, to a more organized and official basis. He was successful and this allowed his family to remain in control until the Ryukyu kingdom itself was brought to an end by the Japanese several hundred years later.
Sho En also made efforts to boost his prestige among the Okinawan people. He built a tomb on the southern end of Iheya for his parents, whom he buried there. He appointed his sister the chief noro priestess in Iheya, and this lineage has continued into the present day.
Sho En improved Okinawa in several ways. He built up foreign trade, and built many roads. But perhaps most significantly, he used his prowess as a skilled farmer and excellent administrator to lead the country to better land reclamation and irrigation techniques.
Sho En’s Death and Succession
Sho En died in 1477, after only six years as King. Sho En’s first wife whom he married in Iheya had died before he moved to Shuri. His second wife Yosoidon gave birth to a son seven years before Kanemaro became king. This son was only 13 years old when Sho En died. But he was next in line for the throne.
However, Sho En’s younger brother challenged the 13 year old son for the throne and was made king briefly. But Sho En’s mother Yosoidon was not happy, to say the least. Meanwhile, Sho En’s oldest daughter became chief noro priestess at the royal court. In this position, she had a vision that Sho En’s brother should abdicate.
That is exactly what he did only 6 months after taking office. This paved the way for a non-violent transfer of power to Sho En’s son to become king.
The new son King called himself Sho Shin. He would rule Okinawa for 50 years, during the Ryukyu Kingdom’s true golden period.