Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ryukyu and King Sho Nei - Hostages of Japan

After the Japanese invasion of Ryukyu in 1609, King Sho Nei and his Sanshikan advisors were taken back to Kyushu as hostages while the Satsuma clan took control of the Okinawan kingdom.  Conditions in Okinawa changed dramatically.

Economic Hardship for Ryukyu

 Lord Shimazu of Satsuma valued Okinawa for its lucrative foreign trade, and took measures to make sure that Satsuma, rather than the Ryukyu Kingdom, profited the most from it.

A samurai from Satsuma named Honda Chikamasa was placed in charge of Okinawa during King Sho Nei's absence.   He led a group of 14 high commissioners and a staff of 168 men to evaluate the Okinawan economic situation and assets.  This included the island of Okinawa, as well as Miyako and Yaeyama. His conclusion was that Okinawa annual revenue was valued at around 90,000 koku of rice.  In the Japanese measurement system, one koku represented how much rice was needed to feed one adult for one year.  One koku equaled about 330 pounds of rice. 

In comparison to Okinawa, Satsuma’s annual revenue at that time was over 700,000 koku, and Tokugawa’s annual revenues were 3,000,000 koku.

Taxes were imposed on Ryukyu as follows:
  • An overall tax of 1/8 (12.5%) on "total revenue" was established.
  • In addition, the King was required to pay the equivalent of 8% of the total kingdom's revenue from his own reserves.
  • In total, Okinawa was taxed by the Satsuma clan at a rate of 20 - 22% of its total estimated revenue.
Furthermore, all foreign trade was monopolized by Satsuma and directed to serve its interests, not those of Okinawa.  All trade had to be approved by Satsuma.  Overall value of this trade was about 100,000 koku-equivalent.

So Ryukyu’s overall revenues (domestic production plus foreign trade) dropped by 75%, from approximately 190,000 koku annually down to about 70,000.

Additionally, the northern islands of the Amami group, Yoron, Toku, and Kikai, those closest to Kyushu, were annexed directly into Satsuma territory and were no longer considered part of the Ryukyu kingdom.

King Sho Nei's Two-Year Captivity

Meanwhile, King Sho Nei was held in Kyushu as hostage while the economic survey of Okinawa took place. During that period he and his escorts were taken to Edo (Tokyo) to see the Shogun Tokugawa.  This was a long overland journey which afforded the Satsuma clan to proudly show off the foreign king it had captured.

Upon returning to Kagoshima, the King was told he could return to his native Okinawa if he would agree to the following conditions:
  • First, he must agree that the Islands of Ryukyu were always a part of Satsuma's domain.
  • He must admit that he had disobeyed Toyotomi Hideyoshi's requisition for supplies in the past.
  • Therefore all the trouble that has befallen Ryukyu is his fault.
  • As a result he and Okinawa would be humble servants of Satsuma.
  • These conditions were to pass down from generation to generation.
  • Ryukyu will obey this edict and any future edicts that may come from Satsuma in the future.

King Sho Nei's Return to Okinawa

To consummate the agreement of the conditions for King Sho Nei's return, a formal signing ceremony was arranged in Kagoshima.  The King and his fellow captives were brought to a shrine for the event.

All were told to sign the formal agreement.  One of King Sho Nei's men refused.  That man was Jana Teido Oyakata, the man who had advised Sho Nei to ignore Japan's earlier demands.

Upon refusing to sign, he was taken to one side and immediately beheaded.  This clearly proved that the offer from Satsuma was one that couldn't be refused.  Everyone else signed the agreement.

King Sho Nei returned to Okinawa in the fall of 1611, some two years after he was captured in May of 1609.  However, three of his most important officers were held hostage until the King had returned to Shuri and demonstrated by his actions the acceptance of the new conditions. Sho Nei was still king of Ryukyu, but only if he followed Satsuma's wishes.

One year later, in 1612, the three officers were granted their freedom.  Two of them returned to Okinawa, but one stayed in Kagoshima, changed his name to a Japanese name, and joined Shimazu's camp.

Sho Nei was deeply affected by his exile, and the subjugation and the near impoverishment of his country.  As he neared his death, he ordered that his body not be buried with his ancestors in the royal tombs at Shuri.  Instead he was to be buried in a place near Urasoe, and a mask be placed over his face in death.

The King died in 1620,  nine years after his return from captivity.  He was 56 years old.

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