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.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I just found this blog today and, will enjoy following. A long term resident of Okinawa, I blog as well.