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 KoreaIn 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 HideyoshiIn 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 TokugawaFollowing 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.