Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ryukyu Life After the Japan Invasion of 1609

Following his successful invasion of Okinawa by Japan, Lord Shimazu of the Satsuma clan of Kyushu made several major changes to Okinawa that would strongly affect Okinawa's future development.

New Rules for Foreign Trade

Satsuma desired the Ryukyu kingdom because of its extensive foreign trade.  However, in theory, the Shogun of Japan had decreed that only the port of Nagasaki, Japan was sanctioned for trade with outsiders, and furthermore trade was only allowed with Dutch and Chinese ships.

Okinawa was in a difficult position, serving two masters. They feared reprisals from the Japanese Shogun for trading with China. Likewise, they feared reprisals from China if China were to consider them Japanese and therefore impose an embargo on Naha port.

In order for Satsuma to continue trade through the port of Naha in Okinawa, Satsuma needed to disguise its actions.  Lord Shimazu therefore ordered Okinawa to hide their true relationship with Japan to outsiders, so as to avoid reprisal from Japan's Shogun.  He also did not want to lose face with China and thereby lose that lucrative trade relationship.

The instructions to Okinawa from Satsuma were as follows to implement this scheme:
  • Whenever a foreign ship came into port, all Japanese personnel were to leave Shuri and Naha.
  • Chinese were henceforth forbidden to settle in Okinawa.
  • Okinawans were ordered to pretend to be ignorant of Japanese language.
  • An official list of questions and answers was prepared to deal with inquisitive strangers

 The “Japanization” of Okinawa

Despite any appearances to outsiders, Satsuma wanted to curb the Chinese influence in Okinawa and bring the country more in line with Japanese ways.  In particular, there was a clash of cultures between Chinese Confucian scholars and Japanese Buddhist priests. One of Satsuma’s first acts was to appoint a Japanese Buddhist Priest named Kikuin as Sessei, or prime minister, in 1611.

Okinawa was continually reminded to conduct business in Japanese-like fashion with Satsuma, and were encouraged to emulate the Japanese in all matters not relating to trade with China.  This included medical practices, religious beliefs (Shinto and Buddhism), wood and metal handicrafts, and agricultural methods.

From 1611 to 1626, Satsuma demanded that national hostages be provided as a sign of allegiance.  These hostages included royal sons, descendants of former lords, and princes of aji (lords). Each hostage served two years in Kagoshima.  This was not only a means of ensuring obedience from the Ryukyu government, but also an opportunity to expose these young persons to Japanese customs, philosophy, and culture.

Beginning in 1630, each of the Sanshikan were required to live in Satsuma for three years.  This practice ended in 1646.

In 1631, a Resident Commissioner position was established.  This person served a three-year term and represented Satsuma.  Essentially all communications and transactions between Okinawa and Satsuma went through him.

Tribute Missions to Edo

Okinawa was also now expected to make tribute missions to Edo (Tokyo) on a regular basis.  This meant that Okinawa was now paying tributes to both China and Japan, adding further to the economic burden on their country.

These tribute missions to Edo were fully controlled by Satsuma. They would start from Kagoshima and make their way overland to Edo.  The entourage from Okinawa included top members of the Shuri government and a large staff of scholars, craftsmen, administrative officers, and merchants.  They were accompanied by an armed Satsuma escort.  The Okinawans would then return to their home country with many new ideas, as well as new technology from Japan of importance to the Ryukyu economy.

These tribute missions had a strong influence on Okinawa, and were another major factor in the "Japanization" of Okinawa.  There were a total of 18 missions to Edo from 1611 to 1850.

Okinawan Economy Shifts from Trade to Agriculture

Satsuma took over all control of foreign trade for its own purposes, and this cut off a major source of wealth for Okinawa.  Independent trade with Southeast Asia was ended.  Satsuma also took most of the wealth of the country as taxes. Tribute missions to Japan were also now required of Okinawa, in addition to the Chinese missions. The Ryukyu kingdom was forced to find ways to survive, based on their own island resources. The standard of living steadily declined.

This led to an increased emphasis on agriculture in Okinawa.  There was tremendous pressure put on villages to produce enough to feed and clothe the people in Shuri, Naha, Kume, and Tomari, and to pay the taxes demanded by Satsuma.  And of course, the peasants and commoners themselves needed to produce enough so that they would have something left for their own survival.

It just so happens that an enterprising fellow named Noguni Sokan, while on a trading mission to China in the early 1600's, just a few years before the Japanese invasion, discovered a plant that would become a life-saver for  Ryukyu – the "Okinawan" sweet potato.

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