Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ryukyu Kingdom after 1609: The King and his Central Government

Although the Satsuma clan took control of foreign trade and imposed heavy taxes on Ryukyu, they did not change the basic government structure that had been in place before the invasion of 1609.  Instead, they continued to let Ryukyu use its governmental structure of choice. If anything, they formalized it.

Governmental Structure

The basic organization of the Ryukyu royal government was as follows:

Central Government
·         King
·         Council of State
o   Sessei   (chief councilor or prime minister)
o   Sanshikan (the three councilors)
o   The 15 officials in charge of the various governmental departments and bureaus 

Central Government Departments
·         Board of Finance
o   Department of Domestic Affairs
o   Department of Land Control
o   Department of Provisions
·         Board of General Affairs
o   Department of External Affairs
o   Department of Place Affairs
o   Department of Tomari
o   Department of Justice 

Local Rural and Outer-Island Governments
·         Majiri or District Offices
·         Mura or Village Offices 
The King, Sessei, Sanshikan, and the 15 Officials, all aristocracy, were the men who ruled Ryukyu.  These 20 people made all major high-level decisions regarding the internal affairs of the kingdom.

Duties and Responsibilities


The king's position was basically the same as before the invasion, except Satsuma had to formally approve successors.  This was largely a formality.  There were  12 successive kings from 1609 until the end of the Ryukyu dynasty. 

The king was theoretically the supreme authority in government.  All business of importance needed his approval.  All appointments and decisions made by the king were based on recommendations of his councilors.  In court trials, the king always had final decision.  He also had certain religious duties and ceremonial functions to perform throughout the lunar calendar year.   

The head priestess, her three assistants, and all positions down to the local village noro priestesses were appointed by the king.  The kingdom-wide priestess organization was a system that had been in place since the 1400’s.  

The head priestess was granted the fief of Chinen, and received a government stipend, as did all priestesses down to the local village noro.   Their function was to care for all the religious holy sites, and pray for the long life of the king and the country. 

Council of State 

The Council of State included the Sessei, or Chief Councillor, the Sanshikan, or “Three Councillors”, and a group of 15 men who supervised the seven central governmental departments of the Shuri  government.  The Council of State controlled all the activities of the kingdom.  They acted as a group with shared responsibility for the country, and were the sole policy formulating body.  The king, although theoretically in ruler of the kingdom, essentially became a figurehead.    

The Chief Councillor (Sessei) 

The Chief Councillor was advisor to the king.  This office first created in 1253 by King Eiso.  It was formalized in 1611 after Satsuma invasion.  The King chose the Chief Councillor, and it was usually someone from his own family.  The appointment was for life.  Most Chief Councillors had travelled to Japan for several years prior to assuming the position.  The Chief Councillor handled formal relations with Japan.  

The Three Councillors (Sanshikan) 

The Three Councillors were also chosen from royal families, but those families were more removed in lineage from the king than the Chief Councilor.  The first written evidence of this group is 1522, and the first mention of the term “sanshikan” is 1562. They were also appointed for life.  

The sanshikan took initiative on internal state affairs.  They also ruled over the Board of Finance, with each one supervising one of the three departments in organization .  They were also more involved in affairs with China, and often were sent on tribute missions.  In principle they were all equal, but in reality seniority was often a factor.  One of Okinawa’s most influential statesmen was a man named Sai On, a Councillor who served for 25 years. 

The Fifteen Officials:  Boards of Finance and General Affairs 

Fifteen officials controlled the operations of the seven central government departments.   Anything related to financial matters (taxes) was under the jurisdiction of the Board of Finance.  Tax collection was so important that each of the sanshikan also supervised one of the Board of Finance’s departments.  The Board of General Affairs handled all other matters.

Mitsugu Matsuda, “The Government of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, 1609-1872”. Gushikawa City, Okinawa, Japan: Yui Publishing Co., 2001.

George H. Kerr, "Okinawa: the History of an Island People, revised edition". Tokyo: Tuttle, 2000.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ryukyu Kingdom after 1609: Geographic Districts and the Tax System

The invasion of Ryukyu by Japan in 1609 led to many changes in Okinawan life.  In particular the government of the kingdom had to change to meet the new demands of Satsuma that were put upon the kingdom.

Prior to the invasion, activities of foreign affairs and maritime trade were controlled by the royal family.  After the invasion, these functions were controlled strictly by Satsuma. 

Ryukyu still conducted tribute missions to China to pay homage to the Chinese emperor.  Now in addition they had to pay annual taxes to Satsuma, and make tribute missions to Edo (Tokyo) as well.

Satsuma on the one hand wanted to “Japanize” Ryukyu and curb Chinese influence, but on the other hand wanted it to appear to foreign traders that Ryukyu was still completely independent of Japan.

The Ryukyu government’s primary role now was to collect taxes and to handle the internal affairs of the kingdom. 

Administrative Districts of the Ryukyu Kingdom

The traditional administrative divisions of the country were formalized after 1609 by Satsuma.  The country was divided administratively into three major groupings with subdivisions as follows:

1.       Four urban districts:
o   Shuri
o   Naha
o   Kume
o   Tomari (which included Torishima island) 

2.       Rural districts of Okinawa Island known as majiri - similar to the original territories of the three kingdoms:
o    Kunigami to north
o   Nakagami in the central area
o   Shimajiri in the south
o   Each majiri was further subdivided into villages or towns, called mura 

3.       Sakishima - the “far-off” islands of Miyako and Yaeyama 

The Four Urban Districts 

The aristocracy (samure or samurai) and the urban commoners (machi hyakusho) were the only people allowed to live in the four urban districts, which were tax free.   

The district of Shuri was divided in three sections or fira, named Mawashi, Hae, and Nishi.  

Naha was the main port and Satsuma’s resident commissioner lived here.  Naha was divided into four towns called Nishi, Agari, Isumizaki, and Wakasa. 

Tomari was another port town and was informally divided into east and west sections. 

Kume had a special position. This was where the descendants of the Chinese “36 families” lived.  They had arrived in 1392 to assist the Okinawans in tributary affairs for the Ming dynasty.  There was no subdivision of Kume. 

The people living in these four areas were supported by the government with taxes paid by the people living in the 560 villages or mura throughout the kingdom. 

The Rural Districts 

The rural commoners (inaka hyakusho) were required to live in their respective villages.  No one could change residence without permission. This was to ensure that the social structure was maintained, and to preserve stable crop production.  If too many people were to leave the rural farming areas for the urban districts, this would put a strain on ability to grow crops and pay the taxes of the kingdom.   

Sakishima and Kume Island 

The Sakishima district (Miyako and Yaeyama) and Kume island were organized a bit differently. They were ruled by a class of people who were considered socially not as high as Okinawan aristocrats, but higher than peasants.  

The Tax System 

Tax collection was an important obligation of the Shuri government.  Taxes had to be increased to pay Satsuma, and to support local aristocracy. Local production had to make up for lost foreign trade revenue. Taxes also had to be collected more efficiently.   

Each mura or village was a tax unit, and was assigned land for the production of grains such as rice, wheat, beans, and millet.  Each individual mura was assigned a quota to be provided to the district chief, who reported to the Shuri government.  The village was collectively responsible for payment of their tax burden.  

Land was held as common property, and was assigned to individual households for cultivation.  Land allotments were changed periodically.  The tax obligation was the responsibility of the village, not individual households.  If one household failed to deliver, the others had to make up the difference. 

The community therefore had an obligation to meet any shortcomings of individuals for whatever reason - lack of skill, poor weather, illness, etc.   

Community of Mutual Obligation

Cooperation among the people of the village became imperative for survival.   Group responsibility in maintaining the welfare of the community members who suffered economic hardship fostered a deep sense of mutual social obligation. This sense of community responsibility also put a burden on the elite gentry, since they had a strong link and vested interest to the village leader in each district.  The system of accepted mutual obligations is a common trait to this day in Okinawan culture.  

Sakishima and Kume Island had slightly different tax obligations. For these islands there was a “head tax” levied on individuals.  Males age 15-50 were required to pay set amounts of millet in Miyako, and rice in Yaeyama.   Females of the same age group were required to produce quotas of woven cloth.

Peasants of Kume island were taxed according to the communal system used in Okinawa, and also taxed as individuals for grain and woven cloth.

Mitsugu Matsuda, “The Government of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, 1609-1872”. Gushikawa City, Okinawa, Japan: Yui Publishing Co., 2001.

George H. Kerr, "Okinawa: the History of an Island People, revised edition". Tokyo: Tuttle, 2000.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Okinawan Sweet Potato and Sugar Cane Save Ryukyu

Noguni Sokan and the Okinawan Sweet Potato

Noguni Sokan was a person from the town of Noguni, Okinawa, in a district that is today Kadena and Chatan towns.  He was a minor official (sokan) of a trade vessel to China. He worked for the central government of Shuri under King Sho Nei.  So, Noguni Sokan's real name is not known.

While stationed at the Ryukyu trading depot at Fuzhou, in the district of Fujien Province, China on a trading mission,  Noguni studied Chinese texts on farming and agriculture, and experimented with various plants in his own garden there. In the course of his work he discovered a new potato plant that had arrived in China just a few years earlier from other merchant traders.

From South America to China

The Chinese called it the barbarian potato (fan-shu).  It is believed to have its origin from the South American Aztecs, from where it was brought to Europe sometime between 1492 and 1500.  Spaniards brought it to the Philippines around 1570.  Although they ordered that it not be exported from the Philippines, traders took it to China about 1594 anyway.  Noguni first learned about it in 1600.

Noguni wondered if it could be grown in Okinawa, where it might help reduce periods of famine, which could often occur due to typhoons or bad yields of crops.  He brought some plant seedlings back with him when he returned to Okinawa in 1605.

The Sweet Potato in Okinawa and Beyond

The initial plantings in Okinawa were successful.  It could grow in Okinawa's thin soil, and withstand typhoons and drought quite well.  He was encouraged by his superior, Gima Shinjo to continue to pursue its potential value.

In 1615, an English trader named William Adams sent 500 potato slips from Naha to Richard Cocks in Hirado, Nagasaki, in northern Kyushu.  This was its first introduction to mainland Japan. 

It was so successful in Okinawa that by 1620, just 15 years later, it was being grown all across the islands as a major source of food for the people.  And it happened to arrive just as the Japanese dominance of Okinawa after the 1609 invasion had pushed many Okinawans into poverty due to the high tax burden they faced and the loss of foreign trade profits.  At that time in history, the Okinawans called it the Chinese potato (han shu).

Sometime between 1665 and 1675, some decades after the Satsuma clan had forcibly entered Ryukyu, it is reported that a Japanese man named Ryuiemon took the sweet potato  to Satsuma, and from there it spread throughout Japan, being called the Satsuma imo or Satsuma potato.

In 1700, a stone altar was built for Noguni near his grave in Kadena Okinawa.  In 1789, the Ryukyu government recognized his contribution to  the welfare of the country by promoting his family to Samurai status.

Today, the beni imo (crimson potato) is called the Okinawan sweet potato in America.  In Hawaii, it is also sometimes called the Hawaiian sweet potato.

Source:  recipe

Gima Shinjo Introduces Sugar Cane and Cotton

Gima Shinjo (1557 - 1644) was instrumental in more than just Noguni Sokan's sweet potato endeavors.  He was very interested in agriculture and was one of the original hostages that accompanied King Sho Nei to Kagoshima in 1609.  While there he studied Japanese farming methods and foodstuffs.

After he returned to Okinawa he was very involved in trying to improve the crop production of the Ryukyu kingdom as a means to compensate for the serious loss of income following the Japanese invasion.

In addition to his part in development of the sweet potato, Gima Shinjo sent a mission to China in 1620 to investigate sugar cane and to see if it could be successfully brought to Okinawa.  In 1623 he developed a sugar cane press and determined that the crop could indeed grow well in the Ryukyu climate.  Sugar plantings then began in earnest.

After realizing that sugar cane could be sold at a premium price in Japan, it was soon being planted all over the kingdom in place of lesser valued crops.  It was so popular that in 1662 a magistrate was created to put in place strict controls on how much acreage could be devoted to sugar cane at the expense of more important domestic food crops.  The government was worried that its food reserves  for the kingdom could come into jeopardy if agriculture was not regulated properly.

 So the Okinawans developed sugar cane as an export crop, and grew the Okinawan sweet potato for internal consumption as a major food staple of the islands.

 Gima Shinjo was also instrumental in bringing cotton plants to Okinawa from China and promoting a cotton textile industry for Ryukyu.

Two Great Men

In 1937 a shrine was built by the Okinawan Prefectural government at Naha to commemorate Noguni Sokan and Gima Shinjo.

In 1955 a shrine to commemorate Noguni Sokan was constructed at Kadena.  Kadena Town holds an annual festival in Noguni Sokan's honor every October.

Gima Shinjo's tomb is located in Shuri and is part of the Hijigaabira historical walk.