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.

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