Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sho Nei - The Ill-Fated King

Sho Nei rose to the throne in 1589 at the age of 24.  He was the great grandson of Sho Shin, and the adopted son-in-law of Sho Ei.  He would unfortunately be the last king to rule a truly independent Ryukyu Kingdom,  due to events that would transpire in Japan and his response to those events.

In Japan, meanwhile, Hideyoshi had taken power, and was thankful to those who helped him to do so after Nobunaga’s assassination.  One of those people who helped him was Kami Korenori, who in return for his help asked to be given a seaport in the Japan Sea.  Instead he was given Ryukyu.

Hideyoshi did this for several reasons. He was growing more concerned about the European threat from the south. In particular, he knew that the Spanish wanted to conquer all of China, Ryukyu, Japan and Java.  The Spanish had already built two forts and a mission in northern Formosa (Taiwan).  By assigning the Ryukyu Islands to Kami, he knew he would have a trusted ally defending him from any incursions coming from the south.

Hideyoshi Invades Korea

 In 1591, Kami was preparing to go take control of his "gift" of the Ryukyus, but Hideyoshi had made plans to invade Korea,  to be followed by invasion of China.  He called on Kami to serve his cause. 

Kami, being loyal to Hideyoshi, did not want Okinawa to tell China what was being plotted against them, so he ordered Okinawa to suspend all trade with China.  Okinawa, on the other hand, had a long a fruitful trade history with China and considered them allies.  So Sho Nei did not obey this order. 

Hideyoshi wanted all parts of his domain to support his Korean invasion plans, including Okinawa.  On the other hand, Lord Shimazu, the ruler of Satsuma, did not want Okinawa to raise an army and thereby pose a threat to his southern flank. So he convinced Hideyoshi that the Ryukyu Kingdom should only contribute material, not weapons or men.  Hideyoshi agreed to this. 

Sho Nei Refuses to Provide Assistance to Hideyoshi

In 1591 Sho Nei was instructed by Lord Shimazu to have Ryukyu provide enough supplies for 7,000 men for 10 months, and to deliver it in one year, as their contribution to the Korean invasion. 
The Shuri government, however, did not want to get involved at all in a war with Korea, nor did they want to offend China, their long time trading partner.

Sho Nei replied to Shimazu that Okinawa was too poor to fulfill such a large request.  Meanwhile he sent word to China about what was going on and pleaded for help, but none came.

The Korean invasion took place, and Hideyoshi planned to investigate why Ryukyu did not provide their support as ordered.  But events of the invasion distracted him from following up on that investigation, to Okinawa's benefit.

In 1598 Hideyoshi died, and so did his struggle with Korea.  Also because of his death, a power struggle broke out yet again in Japan over who would rule that empire.

Tokugawa Becomes Ruler of All Japan

The matter of who was to control Japan was decided decisively in 1600 at the famous battle of Sekigahara, where Ieyasu Tokugawa’s forces soundly defeated Hideyoshi’s men.   Tokugawa became Shogun of Japan in 1603, and moved the capital to Edo (current day Tokyo), where his family would rule Japan for nearly 300 years, until the Meiji Restoration returned power to the Emperor.

Under Tokugawa, feudal territories were redistributed based on whose side one fought on during the civil war.  Lords, or Daimyo were divided into two classes:  those who were loyal, called fudai daimyo, and those who had been on the opposing side, called outside daimyo, or tozama daimyo.

The Satsuma clan had sided with Hideyoshi and was therefore an outside daimyo.  Their leader was ordered to move back to Kyushu and to abdicate his title and become a priest.  His son Tadatsune Shimazu was made the new daimyo in 1602.

In 1603, the new Lord Shimazu went to Edo and paid his respects to the new Shogun. In return, Tokogawa confirmed him in Shimazu’s hereditary titles, including the title of Lord of the Twelve Southern Islands (the Ryukyu Islands).  Tokugawa also gave him the name Iehisa.

Sho Nei Refuses to Pay Respects to Tokugawa

Following Iehisa Shimazu's confirmation, he sent an envoy to Shuri and told  Sho Nei that Ryukyu should also submit to Tokugawa and pay their respects to the new Shogun.

In Shuri, competition had been building in the royal circles over the years between groups who were pro-Chinese and groups who were pro-Japanese regarding matters of both culture and politics.

A pro-Chinese advisor to Sho Nei from Kume Village named Jana Teido Oyakata advised Sho Nei to ignore Satsuma’s requests.  Sho Nei followed his advice, and refused to send a tribute to Edo.  This proved to be a very bad idea.

Upon hearing of Sho Nei's refusal, Lord Shimazu requested permission from Tokugawa to “chastise” Okinawa for its rudeness in not paying its due respects to the new Shogun.  In 1606 his request was granted.  He began making plans for an invasion of the Ryukyu Islands.

In February of 1609, the attack on the Ryukyu Kingdom by Lord Shimazu's samurai forces commenced.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Last of the Truly Independent Okinawan Kings – Sho Gen and Sho Ei

The Ryukyu kingdom flourished under the Second Sho Dynasty. Its royal family led Okinawa to blossom in culture and trade, making it an international crossroads for Japan, China, Korea, and Southeast Asia.

Part of this was due to the fact that China was not interested in anything more than trade with Okinawa, and Japan was too engulfed in civil wars to have time to think about expanding to the south.  That would change once Japan became unified.

The last three Okinawan kings to rule with complete independence from Japan were Sho Gen, Sho Ei, and – for the first part of this reign – Sho Nei.  It would be during Sho Nei’s monarchy that Japan would finally become unified and decide to show its muscle toward Okinawa.

Sho Gen - The Mute King and the Sanshikan

After Sho Sei passed away, his mute son Sho Gen took the throne at the age of 29.  Being unable to speak, it was a very difficult task for him to run the kingdom, and this is where the Sanshikan or “Council of Three” emerged.

The Sanshikan was established in 1556 when Sho Gen came to the throne in order to help him rule the kingdom.  However, the council developed into an established and powerful government organization in its own right. They came to have great influence and established themselves as a strong part of the government operation.  Even after Sho Gen’s death in 1571, the Sanshikan remained active, and continued to act alongside all the kings that followed in the management of Ryukyu’s government.

Sho Gen ruled for 16 years.  During this time the trends around the region that began in Sho Sei’s reign continued, but the Ryukyu kingdom carried on in cultural splendor fairly independently.  This was primarily due to the fact that Japan was still preoccupied in internal chaos with civil war upon civil war, as different factions fought for control of all Japan. 

Ominous things for Okinawa were brewing however.   During Sho Gen’s rule of Okinawa, a man named Oda Nobunaga became Japan’s de facto shogun, and his right hand man was Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Sho Ei

Sho Ei, the second son of Sho Gen, took the throne in 1571 after his father died at the age of 44.  Sho Ei was only 13 years old at that time.  No doubt the Sanshikan played a strong role in guiding him and his decisions, especially in his early years as king.

During Sho Ei’s reign, the Japanese Daimyo who controlled Amami Island was in a conflict at his home in Satsuma.  Sho Ei seized the opportunity and sent a military force to Amami to retake the island which Okinawa had lost control over some 20 years ago under Sho Sei.  They were successful in doing so.

In 1577, Oda Nobunaga, de facto shogun of Japan, was assassinated.  Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Nobunaga’s loyal lieutenant, hunted down and killed Nobunanga’s assassin and asserted himself as the de-facto shogun of Japan.  He now held great power in Japan, and intended to use it.

Sho Ei died in 1588 at the young age of 30.

Sho Ei's successor, King Sho Nei, would suffer the full fury of a soon to be unified Japan.  His miscalculation of events that were happening in Japan would soon spell disaster for the Ryukyu Kingdom and for him personally.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sho Sei – 4th King of the Second Sho Dynasty

Following the death of Sho Shin in 1526, his fifth son Sho Sei became king at age 29.  He ruled for 31 years.

While the Ryukyu kingdom was still prosperous, the peak years under Sho Shin had faded, and Sho Sei would find himself fighting battles on several fronts to maintain that prosperity.

Pirates Threaten Naha

The wako, or Japanese pirates, were becoming a bigger and bigger problem, ransacking coastal towns and seaports and stealing whatever they could get their hands on.  They operated all along the coastlines of the area, including China, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Formosa, and eventually Okinawa.

Before 1500, Okinawa was not attacked by pirates, but raids began after 1500.  The wako began attacking ships leaving and entering Naha harbor, and also made raids on villages along the Okinawan shoreline.

In 1527, Naha was under threat of a serious attack from pirates.  Pirate ships typically held 200 to 300 men, and sometimes they would band together to make total manpower strength in the thousands – enough to invade and control a port town.

Responding to the threat, Sho Sei mobilized the villages and issued weapons from storage for every man to prepare to put up a defense.  He also posted watchmen on both the north and south of Naha as lookouts.  In this way, he held off the pirate threat to Okinawa as best he could.

Discord in the South and North Ryukyus

 In 1530, the Nakasone family clan, which had ruled Miyako since the time when Sho Shin sent forces to conquer the island in 1500, was ousted by Meguro Mori Toyomioya, who was shortly thereafter overthrown by Yonaha Sedo Toyomioya. The stability that the Nakasone family had provided in the southern islands was gone.  Sho Sei decided to end local rule there and sent in a magistrate from Shuri to take direct control of the island.

Several years later, in 1537, a rebellion occurred on Amami Oshima Island to the north, and again Sho Sei sent forces to suppress it, which he was able to do.  However, in 1550 he lost control of Amami again, and it would take 20 years to get it back.

More Pirate Troubles – And Firearms Enter the Picture

In a major change in modes of warfare, firearms entered Japan for the first time via an Okinawan trading depot on Tanegashima, brought in by the Portuguese.  This occurred in 1542. 

Sword smiths in the southern part of Japan quickly learned how to reproduce these guns, called arquebuses by the Europeans, but colloquially referred to as "Tanegashima" by the Japanese.  Within a few years they were being produced in large quantities and used by military forces.

By around 1552, the wako pirates were using them in their raids on ports and villages.

The pirate situation around Okinawa in general and Naha in particular was getting worse.  It was so much worse that Sho Sei had two permanent forts constructed on either side of the entrance to Naha harbor, called Yara and Miei.  Construction began in 1551 and was completed in 1553.

Okinawan Culture Continues to Flourish

Despite the military troubles abroad, this was also a time of great culture and refinement for Okinawa.  It was in 1532 that the famous Omoro Soshi was started.  Finished in 1623, it is a 22-volume collection of the ancient poems and songs of different villages and islands that had been passed down orally for generations.  It was a tremendous accomplishment of the royal dynasty for preserving old traditions and culture of Okinawa.

It was based on the Omoro Soshi that a University of Hawaii professor named Mitsugu Sakihara developed a picture of Okinawan life and times in the days of before recorded language arrived.  He wrote a book about his findings entitled “A Brief History of Early Okinawa Based on the Omoro Soshi.”

The Ming China Government Formally Recognizes Okinawan Decorum

 The royal court also continued to host visiting dignitaries in grand style.  In fact, the Ming Chinese government was so impressed with Okinawa’s diligence in following Chinese protocols that in 1554 they presented King Sho Sei with a large tablet called the Shurei No Kuni  or “Land of Propriety”. 

The king was so proud of this honor that he placed the tablet at the entrance Gate of Shuri Castle for all to see.  The name of the gate is "Shureimon."

The original was destroyed in World War II but was reconstructed in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  It was the first part of Shuri Castle to be reconstructed.  When you visit Shuri Castle today you pass through this gate and can see the tablet. 

Shureimon and the Shuri No Kuni Tablet.  Source: the author

 Sho Sei died two years later in 1556 at age 59, passing the throne to Sho Gen, the mute king.