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.

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